Great Expectations? The challenge of cultural engagement

Great Expectations? The challenge of cultural engagement

Great Expectations?

The challenge of cultural enagement

BY DARRELL L. BOCK 
Dr. Darrell Bock is senior research professor of New Testament and executive director for cultural engagement at Dallas Theological Seminary.

C hristians discussing cultural engagement often do so with a wide range of expectations. For some, it is fear that comes with the prospect; for others it involves a challenge; for still others there is an expectation of triumph. Does the Bible hold great expectations for us as we engage culture? Are we to major in the results or in the call?

We face great challenges in cultural engagement. Our world is becoming both bigger and smaller simultaneously. There are more people all the time, reflecting an array of cultures, religions and worldviews. Yet we also are more tightly connected by technology and by global movement, so our neighbors are becoming reflective of the diverse world in which we live, and our children are more aware of those varieties and differences than my generation was growing up. That is what makes engagement a challenge. It also can engender a fearful hesitation, because we instinctively sense that we know so little about the kaleidoscope of perspectives we might encounter. Am I prepared for that? Others, almost oblivious, just head in bravely expecting God to work, knowing we have the truth.

But how did the earliest disciples see engagement?

They also saw it as a challenge, one that required preparation. Jesus literally spent the entire second half of his earthly ministry preparing the disciples for what they would face after his death. His words hardly pictured a cake walk. He talked about the fact the world would reject them as it did him (John 15:18–19). He said they would be lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3). These words hardly give comfort that engagement will meet with open arms and a series of easily achieved victories. The point is important because often the church complains about how the world reacts to them, but for Scripture it is no surprise and something believers should be prepared to face, just as Jesus’ earliest disciples were prepared to face it.

1 Peter is a great book, much of which covers engagement, written by one who sat at Jesus’ feet and took the engagement class Jesus held as he prepared the disciples to go out into the world. One of my favorite engagement passages is 1 Peter 3:15, a verse that often appears in Scripture memory programs. It reads, “But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts and always be ready to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the hope you possess.” (NET) What a great verse. We are to be ready to explain what we believe, our hope. Our faith is not ultimately about ideas, though it certainly has those, but is about hope, about understanding and appreciating why we are on earth and how we can connect to the Creator, who made us. It is an exciting call and a wonderful verse. But we often miss what is around it, and that helps us answer our question about what kinds of expectations should we have as we engage.

It starts in 3:13, picturing a world as it ought to be:

“For who is going to harm you if you are devoted to what is good?”

So, if we do good, things should go well. Simple enough. Only, we live in an upside-down world. So, the next verse reads, “but in fact, if you happen to suffer for doing what is right you are blessed.” Now just look at that verse. It anticipates we will suffer for doing right. It sounds like Peter actually understood what Jesus taught the disciples. That is the world we engage in and with. Yet we are blessed, because we are being who God asks us to be, and our understanding and acceptance does not come from the world.

The next part of the verse is even more amazing.

“But do not be terrified of them or be shaken.”

There is to be no fear as we engage even though we can anticipate rejection and injustice. Now I have to be honest. A lot of what I see in the Church responding to our culture looks like fear or our being shaken. Those responses never help us engage well. Our hope and identity rests in God, so fear should not be present. It is at this point the famous part of the passage that we cited earlier appears. We connect to Christ as our hope and march into the world ready to engage.

Often, we stop reading in the passage right there. But reading on is worth it. Look at 1 Peter 3:16:

“Yet do it with gentleness and respect, keeping a good conscience, so that those who slander your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame when they accuse you.”

There is a lot to digest here. Let me make three quick points.
  • Our engagement is to come with gentleness and respect, not fear, not anger, not resentment, but with hope for the hope we share so we need not be threatened but be gentle and respectful. This is another thing I see less of what I might hope to see from the Church as it engages the world. We can do better here. My blog will consistently be coming back to this theme of “gentleness and respect as we engage” as it is crucial in engagement. Tone matters because it communicates our love for those we challenge with the gospel.
  • Our good behavior will be slandered. This is the second time Peter says your good will meet with bad.
  • We are to have a good conscience while knowing God knows the wrong we have experienced. The shame our accusers will have is before God. This is one of the reasons we need not fear as we engage. Peter explains why we can think this way in 3:17: “For it is better to suffer for doing good [yet a third mention of injustice!], if God wills it, than for doing evil. We are not to respond to the world in kind, even in the face of the injustice of some responses. Disciples engage and show a different way of relating, even to those who reject them. The reason for this is what Peter says next. It is the example of Jesus himself in 3:18. He was a just One who served to draw the unjust to God. He is our model. We suffer because we mirror that he suffered.

So where does that leave our question about expectations on engagement? Engagement will be challenging, but it can be engaged in with hope as we rest in our identity in God. We do not need to be fighters, but witnesses. We speak to hostility with hope. There is much more that could be said, but this is enough for now.

Engage but expect push-back. Do not be surprised if it comes. Do not fear. Rest in the hope we have in God. Engage with gentleness and respect. Mirror the way God drew you to him when you were a sinner.

Remember how Christ served you when you were not interested in him.

Remember where we came from and how God’s grace and love turned us to a new direction.

Model that.

When we mirror the way of God in our engagement, and leave the results to him, we are faithful to our calling and witness to the way of God being different than the world. The expectations of engagement are to live the call by mirroring him as a witness and leave the results to God.

Mirror the call, and our engagement will be great in God’s eyes.

Mirror the call, and our engagement will be great in God’s eyes. 

BSF News: Discussion Group Options

BSF News: Discussion Group Options

BSF News: Discussion Group Options

"See I Am Doing A New Thing"

BSF News: Discussion Group Options

BY JANIE STEPHENS | BSF EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
T he past few months have been for me a season of new things. In August 2017, I joined the staff at BSF HQ. That meant a new city, new friends, new home, new church, new BSF class, new things to learn and many new opportunities to depend upon the Lord. New things are wonderful. But new things can also be hard. Familiarity takes its time to settle in.

BSF has had a year of new things as well. This blog article would be one example. Before this year, BSF never had a blog. And this blog was delivered to you via mass email, which is also new for BSF.

Another new thing introduced this year in BSF is Discussion Group Options. These rolled out about the same time I moved to San Antonio — August 2017. The original intent of these options was to accommodate those who are either new to BSF or new to studying the Bible. Throughout this year, more and more BSF classes have embraced these options, and we continue to learn new and exciting things from their experience and feedback.

What are discussion group options?

Wouldn’t you say time with Jesus is the ultimate goal of in-depth Bible study? In fact, have you ever thought about what in-depth Bible study truly means? How would you define the word “in-depth” as it relates to Bible study? Would you define it in purely academic terms? Is the true meaning of in-depth Bible study simply that we can recite facts and knowledge about biblical content? Or does “in-depth” go far beyond that? In-depth Bible study should go straight to the heart — God’s heart, our own hearts and the hearts of our fellow group members, with whom we so desire to connect through the truth and love of God.

Discussion Group Options are a way to help group members conversationally engage with God’s Word. Each option presents a different approach to the Bible passage. We can think of these options in two categories:

  1. Options that use the BSF questions
  2. Options that use the “Three-Question Bible Study Method”

Discussion groups that choose to use the BSF questions may conduct their group discussion in a variety of ways. They may choose to discuss all the questions. Or they may choose to discuss only some of the questions. Or they may choose to discuss some of the questions with freedom to discuss other questions raised by the group members.

“We are never having to rush through a question, but can take time on the questions that we are confused about or touched our hearts and minds or convicted us. It makes it less of a question-and-answer, and more of a conversation.”

Sophie, 19, Second Year BSF Member

The second category of options incorporates the time-tested “Three-Question Bible Study Method.” This method utilizes variations of the following three questions:

  1.  What is the passage about? (fact question)
  2. What do you learn? (lesson question)
  3. How will you apply it? (application question)

Each BSF group leader is free to use this “Three-Question Method” in a variety of ways. One group leader may choose to forgo discussion of the BSF lesson questions all together and instead use the “Three-Question Method” entirely to guide conversation about the passage. In this way, the group leader trains his group members in proper Bible study techniques. With practice, group members are equipped to sift through the facts of the passage to ultimately draw out, discuss and personally apply truths embedded within the passage. Another group leader may choose to use the “Three-Question Method” as a grid to select five to six questions from the BSF lesson for their group to discuss.

“One of the best benefits of this approach is that it allows us to go very deep none or two questions… In allowing more time to share and discuss these questions, I find the relationships deepen and that we are more vulnerable and authentic in areas where we are struggling with particular Scriptures. I appreciate the insights others bring in these discussions that we would normally have time for in the standard format.”

 Anne, 42, Fourth Year BSF Member

Why would a group leader choose not to discuss every question on the BSF lesson? Because to discuss fewer questions in the same amount of time creates space for group members to flesh out their thoughts, ask questions and have a real, fluid conversation about God’s Word. Every BSF lesson includes fact questions, lesson questions, doctrine questions and application questions. By utilizing the “Three-Question Method” as a grid for question selection, a group leader is assured his group will experience a well-rounded conversation about the Bible passage.
“These options have allowed historically quiet group members to get in on the action. Guys who took a bit longer to speak up were cut off in the old way (we conducted discussion groups). Now that talking might go on for six to ten minutes unimpeded, the can get in. The group leaders were amazed at the spontaneous contributions of their ‘quiet men.'”

 Mike, BSF Teaching Leader

Why Offer These Options?

Our goal is that every BSF discussion group member encounters the heart of God through the Word of God, so that we may know, love and follow God. This goal will never change. However, the method and means by which we accomplish this goal can change.

Since BSF’s inception, our approach to in-depth Bible study has been a four-fold method:

1. Questions for personal study
2. Discussion Group
3. Lecture
4. BSF Notes on the passage

This four-fold method is tried and true. However, we’ve realized two of the four folds — questions for personal study and discussion group — have become somewhat fused.

The questions are meant to be a tool to prompt our thinking and capture our hearts as we personally engage with God through His Word.

They are a springboard for our discussion, but they should not be the limit of our discussion.

When we have spent significant time with the Lord throughout the week, meditating upon His Word and applying it to our lives through use of the BSF questions, we won’t necessarily need the lesson questions to prompt our thinking during group discussion. We will have plenty of material to discuss simply because we have spent time alone with Jesus.

“I love the concept because it leads to a more robust conversation between members of the group. I’ve noticed some members who have been hesitant to share opening up more. I think it’s led our group to become closer in Christ together without the pressure of being rushed through the questions.”

 Kari, 39, Second Year BSF Member 

Wouldn’t you say time with Jesus is the ultimate goal of in-depth Bible study? In fact, have you ever thought about what in-depth Bible study truly means? How would you define the word “in-depth” as it relates to Bible study? Would you define it in purely academic terms? Is the true meaning of in-depth Bible study simply that we can recite facts and knowledge about biblical content? Or does “in-depth” go far beyond that? In-depth Bible study should go straight to the heart — God’s heart, our own hearts and the hearts of our fellow group members, with whom we so desire to connect through the truth and love of God.
“God is moving our class and in the guys in ways I have never seen before in BSF. It is amazing. This past Monday, I asked the guys to put away their lessons as we began discussion. They were shocked. We had a rousing conversation… one of the guys asked if we were going to do this regularly. Thank you for your vision and implementation of this new format. I think it will breathe new life into BSF.”

 Gregg, BSF Substitute Teaching Leader 

If “heart-connection” is our aim, then our hope, prayer and desire for these new options is simply that they begin to break down the barriers that hinder the “heart-work” of in-depth Bible study.

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