Questions as volleyballs

Q. Our small group study in Genesis is going really well, both the other leader and I think so.  Our group is fairly large (8-12 each week), so discussion generally flows pretty freely.  Your questions are good, although we don’t stay on them for very long.  I guess the discussion typically goes like a volleyball game.  The question serves the ball, then everyone hits it around for a while.  When the ball finally hits the floor, whoever is leading the discussion serves up the next question.  It works well.  The group has talked quite a bit about chiasm and the chiastic structure of the narrative (we just finished Genesis 15), and that’s been really enjoyable.  It’s definitely a new concept for most everyone in the group.  I’m just curious—is our study working the way you hoped?

I’d say your study is going exactly the way I hoped.  Once you pose the questions to the group, the goal isn’t to get everyone to “stick to the subject” or “find the right answer.”  As the guide explains in the instructions for leaders at the beginning (p. 4), the goal is to help you all reflect on “the meaning of the whole passage, in the wider context of Genesis, in light of your personal experience.”  That approach is necessarily going to generate a wide-ranging discussion.  But I think that should be welcome, as a counterpart to times when we may have been led to focus on the minutiae of details in the Bible at the expense of the big picture.

Postmodern young adults who have little or no biblical background are one of the main intended audiences for these guides.  I find that they’re accustomed to looking for meaning through the lens of their own experience.  While our personal experience can’t be the primary authority in our lives, I believe it does provide one legitimate avenue into the authoritative truths we find in the Bible.  In fact, it’s been said that we can’t understand anything in the Bible unless we have some partial kind of experience with it already.  So I’d encourage you to continue allowing and fostering the kinds of discussions you’re already having, even if you feel that you don’t stay right on the questions for very long.  From what you describe, I’d say they’re working!

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is a writer and biblical scholar who is also an ordained minister. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the Scriptures that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He has an A.B. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

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