The Five P’s of Study
About the Guest
The goal of Bible study is for God's Word to change us. So we want to make sure we're approaching the Scriptures correctly. Jen Wilkin, a long-time Bible study leader and author of the book, Women of the Word, takes listeners through the "Five P's" of Bible study: purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer.
Jen Wilkin takes listeners through the “Five P’s” of Bible study: purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer.
The Five P’s of Study
Bob: Years ago, author, J.I. Packer, said the problem with the evangelical church was that the gospel had become man-centered instead of being fundamentally God-centered. Author and Bible study leader, Jen Wilkin, agrees.
Jen: Most people approach the Bible, wanting to see a vision of themselves—“What is this going to do to change my life?”—but the Bible is a vision of God, high and lifted up. Beginning to end, that’s what its job is to do—is to declare, to us, the nature and the character of God. So, when we study, we should be looking for that.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, March 11th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Before we look to God’s Word to see what it has to say to us about us, we ought to be asking, “What does it have to say about God?” Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. So, you think we’ve offered any help this week or just explained to people how they are messed up? [Laughter]
Dennis: I think we have dusted some minds with itching powder. I think that there are all kinds of people beginning to scratch, spiritually, in their hearts and in their minds to figure out: “How do I do a better job of studying the Bible?”
Bob: We’ve been having this conversation about getting into the Word in a different way than a lot of us have been trained to spend time in God’s Word. The goal here is for God’s Word to change us; right?
Dennis: It is, and Jen Wilkin has been helping us do that. Jen—welcome back.
Jen: Thank you!
Dennis: She’s a speaker, writer, teacher of—not just any women’s Bible study, but over 650—and they cap it off at that—got a lot of folks coming out.
She is on staff at The Village Church. That’s who actually wrote the Foreword to this book, Women of the Word—that’s Matt Chandler, who wrote the Foreword.
Jen: That’s my pastor; yes.
Dennis: You know, we started this by you talking about your own personal crisis of faith as you became a mom and realized you were next in line to pass on the truth of God’s Word to your kids and realized how inept—at least, you expressed that—how you felt in passing it on. In the process of discovering how to study the Bible, you came up with an approach that is around five “P’s.”
Dennis: I think it’s a good way to look at Bible study. Explain what those five are and, then, let’s go back and unpack each of them.
Jen: So, I know it sounds so Southern Baptist—
Bob: I was going to say—[Laughter]
Jen: —but I am a child of many denominations—but that alliteration bug did get lodged in there. So, it’s: “Study with Purpose,” “Study with Perspective,” “Study with Patience,” “…with Process,” and “…with Prayer.”
Bob: So, we start with purpose.
Jen: “Study with Purpose.”
Bob: What should our purpose be when we sit down to study our Bibles?
Jen: Well, our purpose should be to see what God’s purpose is in giving the Bible to us—and that would be to make sure that we have a grasp on what the big story of the Bible is anytime that we sit down to read. It’s expressed in different ways by different people. The way that I talk about in the book is that the Bible is trying to tell us about creation, fall, redemption, restoration. We’re learning something about the nature and character of God—just knowing what that big story or, as some people call it, the metanarrative is.
Bob: But Jen, people hear you talk about this; and they go: “But this has no application to my daily life. I mean, I’m dealing with a marriage issue,” or “…parenting issues,” or “…job issues,” or “…struggles in my life with eating disorders,” or “…struggles in my life with peace. I need comfort.” How does understanding creation, fall, redemption, and restoration apply?
Jen: Well, that’s something that requires a little bit of patience, which is why that’s one of our five “P’s.” I can’t convince you of that, probably, in a radio broadcast; but what I can tell you is that—if you will take a long-term approach to your study rather than a short-term approach—rather than saying, “Hey, fix my immediate problem,”—if you can look at the things that transcend your problems—we think that by getting an answer to my immediate problem, that’s where we are going to find peace or we’re going to find relief; but ultimately, we find peace when we rest in the character of a God who knows all and sees all. We become aware of who He is; and we begin to recognize that I’m limited / God is unlimited. I can trust my limits to Him—my limits point me to Him.
So, it might take a little while—I’ll be very honest—before you feel any real need to be able to use this creation, fall, redemption, restoration rhythm.
But, ultimately, you are going to have a more clear understanding of who God is and what He purposes to do—not just in your life—but on behalf of mankind when you begin to look for these things.
Dennis: I want to go back and re-quote a statement I have made—who knows how many dozens of time—here, on FamilyLife Today.
Bob: I probably do. [Laughter]
Bob: I probably know how many dozens of times.
Dennis: You probably know, but it’s a statement by A.W. Tozer. To me, this really gets at the heart of it. He said, “The most important thing about you is what you think about God.” Now, why is that so important?—what you think about God is the most important thing about you because you can only find out who you are as you get to know Him.
Jen: The way that I say it in the book—you just quoted from my favorite book, by the way—that’s The Knowledge of the Holy, for all of our listeners out there. The knowledge of God and the knowledge of self always go hand-in-hand. That’s the way that—actually, it’s James’s voice, who puts it that way. He then goes on to say, “There is no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God.”
Dennis: Okay, that leads me to a question I’ve just been looking forward to asking you. You’re a student of the Bible; okay? I’m going to ask you—out of everything you’ve read in the Bible, what is the most disturbing thing you’ve discovered—out of all your study of Scripture?
Jen: I think it would be that the heart is deceitful and deceptive—that its defining characteristic is wickedness apart from God. Then, the good news becomes so infinitely good because, with no reason at all to extend mercy to me, He did.
Dennis: Okay. From Genesis to Revelation, then, it’s about this redemption story.
Dennis: What’s the next “P” and how does it fit in to this process that we’re going through here?
Jen: Okay, “Study with Perspective” is what comes next. Picture us, sort of zooming in—we’re getting closer and closer.
We started with the big story—of the metanarrative—and now, I am saying, “Study with perspective for an individual book of the Bible.”
That means that we are going to—in the book, I think I refer to it as “We’re going to ask some archaeological questions before we begin to study something.” We’re going to say: “Who wrote it? When was it written? To whom was it written? What are the major themes of the book?”—those kinds of questions that kind of nail down for us just a general historical and cultural context.
And no, you don’t have to become a Bible scholar. You need to know reliable Bible scholars that you can go to, and that does take some time. Anytime that you are reading someone’s interpretation of what the Bible’s—even historical and cultural contexts—you want to make sure that you’re using a good source. Many of us don’t know how to identify that. So, it’s important to be asking people that you trust to point you in good directions.
But then, begin by asking / framing up: “What it is I’m going to study,” so that we are not just reading indiscriminately.
Dennis: So, you ask the questions: “Who wrote it?”—that’s authorship.
“When was it written?”—that’s the context. That really is important, whether it is Old Testament or New Testament. Then, “To whom was it written?”
Dennis: Unpack that a little bit.
Jen: So, every book—before we can read it as written to us, we have to understand that it was first written to someone else. The Pentateuch—the first five books of the Bible—they are written to the nation of Israel at a particular time in its history. You know—during the wandering in the wilderness—probably being handed down to them during that time and, then, as they enter into the Promised Land and begin to settle.
Those books—just as an example—they are written to give the nation of Israel a sense of its history and a sense of its future. Sometimes, it is said that they are given to them to give them both roots and shoots—something that anchors them and something that points them toward future promises.
So, understanding that that’s why they were written and to those people, at that time in the history of the Bible.
Also, we have to place them within the history of the world: “What was going on in human civilization, at that time, in these parts of the world?”
Bob: It’s also important to understand that not every part of the Bible is the same as every other part of the Bible.
Bob: A psalm is different than an epistle, and that’s different than a history, and that’s different—
Bob: —than an apocalyptic allegory; right?
Jen: Yes, and that’s part of this idea of getting perspective—is you have to ask, “In what style was the book written?” That’s when you need to have a basic understanding of genres: “What kind of genres are in the Bible?” I know I sound like your high school English teacher right now; and somewhere, she is shaking her finger at you saying, “I told you this,” and you have pushed it out of your memory. [Laughter]
We need to understand that poetry is not read the same way that history is read—historical narrative. We need to understand that prophecy is to be read a different way than the Law books are read. Once we learn some basic general rules—you know, start by—don’t feel like you have to completely understand the genres—
—but understand enough so that you can honor the one that you are reading and not do things with it that you wouldn’t do if you did understand what the rules were.
Bob: So, when you read in your Bible that God protects us with His wings, you shouldn’t come away with the theological impression that God has wings; right?
Jen: That God has wings—that’s right. Or when we read something about the sun, moon, and the stars in Revelation—before we start wondering if the sun, moon, and the stars are going to actually fall from the heavens, we need to understand that, in prophecy, those are often referred to because they were worshipped by the ancients as deities. Perhaps, they will actually fall from the sky; but before we get into those speculations, we need to address that what’s being said there is that there will be no other gods before God in the new heavens and the new earth.
Dennis: A great book in the Bible to kind of take this “P”/perspective and apply it to is the Book of Proverbs—
Dennis: —because it’s a unique / very unique book; isn’t it?
Jen: Yes. Yes. So, we want to read Proverbs as promises.
I’m sure that one you all run into a bunch, here, at your ministry—
Bob: “Train up a child….”
Jen: Yes—“…in the way that he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” When you understand the genre of Proverbs, you understand that they are a general principle—they are not a promise. It doesn’t make them any less precious to us—it just means that we don’t read them the way that we would have and ask them to do something they are not intended to do.
Dennis: And they are warnings.
Dennis: They’re warnings to a—
Jen: And encouragement.
Dennis: —young man from a father.
Dennis: Okay, let’s move onto the third “P”—patience.
Jen: Yes, we need it!
Dennis: You—oh, we do. [Laughter]
Bob: Well, how does it apply to studying the Bible well?
Jen: Okay, so, just in general, we don’t have this. I don’t know if anybody else noticed this—we generally do not have patience. We stand in front of the microwave and yell, “Hurry up!” So, in our—a generation ago, people would have said, “You can boil water in a minute, and you’re”—
Bob: —“you’re impatient.”
Jen: —“out of time with that?” So, we generally have a fast-food culture mentality. When we come to the Bible, we need to understand that the Bible is not to be treated as a debit account—
—where, each morning—I get up, and I put my card in, and I withdrawal my little bit that I need for the day.
The Bible is more properly viewed as a savings account, where I may read for 15 minutes. I may not take away a nugget for my day, but I can trust that it’s all going somewhere and pointing to something that is ultimately going to reap a reward. So, I make those faithful deposits every day or as often as I am able to have the time to be in the Word. There is a cumulative effect to that. The Lord compounds the interest on that because I always—people always say, “What should I study when I’m crisis?”
I’m thinking, “Who studies when they’re in crisis?!”—you are hanging on for dear life. Those are examples of times where we draw on that savings account. If the Word of God has dwelt in us richly—if we have meditated on it / if it has been in our hearts and then overflowed onto our lips—then, when we hit those times, we are able to, now, draw on that savings account.
Dennis: Yes, you don’t build a roof in the middle of the storm.
Dennis: You build it over a period of time when the sun is out so, when it does rain, you are protected.
You use an illustration that any parent, who has seen their kids go in to algebra—the first class—they immediately will get it. All four of yours—
Dennis: —what do you call it?
Jen: “There is no crying in math.” [Laughter] That’s just basically what we say. You know, we ripped it off, obviously, from A League of Their Own, where Tom Hanks—
Dennis: “There’s no crying in baseball!”
Jen: —famously—yes; exactly. The reality is—there is a great deal of crying in math—and that’s why we have the slogan. So, every year—and my children are—we had four in four years. So, we hit algebra, basically, four years in a row. By the time the youngest child started into algebra, and the tears began, and we said, “There is no crying in math,”—his response was so different than the older children.
The older children would just look at us like: “What do you mean? I’m dying here! This is never going to change.” But Calvin, the youngest one, kind of got this little grin on his face because he knew he had seen the other children start the year with the tears and then grow into a proficient understanding with discipline. That word, discipline, is related to that term, disciple. It means that we work hard, and we practice, and we repeat, and we repeat until we understand what it is that is required for us to become proficient.
Bob: So, somebody hears you talk about this, and they think to themselves: “Okay, Jen, you have just put Bible literacy out of reach for me. I don’t have time. I don’t have patience. This—
Dennis: They are thinking about algebra. [Laughter]
Bob: That’s right! They’ve just said: “I can do 15 minutes a day, where I just plop open the Bible, and I read it and try to get something devotional for my soul out of it. I can work that on the subway on my way to work.
“But you’re talking about a level of study that is—I just can’t fit it into my life now.”
Jen: Yes. I would say back to you—that not one of us was told that we didn’t need to be a disciple—that in the Great Commission we were all told to be disciples and to make disciples. Think about what the end of the Great Commission says because I think we get to the first part—and we love that part so much that we don’t finish—but the final statement, after “baptizing them into the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit” —is what?—“…and teaching them to do all that I have commanded.”
Jen: Well, how can we teach what we don’t know? That means that whoever you are—whether you were excellent at algebra/never cried a tear or whether you sobbed your way through the whole first year—everybody needs to know a little algebra, probably—maybe that’s a bad example. [Laughter] With Scripture, everybody needs to know—everybody needs to know. To the extent that the Lord has given you the ability to love Him with your mind, you ought to. I don’t know what that extent is—
—you’re going to know that better than me. For some of us—yes, there is going to be more of an intellectual engagement because the Lord may have wired us differently; but we are all called to be students of the Word,—
Jen: —which is going to lead us into the rest of the—
Bob: —the “P’s”—the other two “P’s.”
Jen: —the “P’s”—yes, the “P’s.”
Dennis: The fourth one is “process.”
Jen: “Study with process.”
Dennis: I loved this one because it ends with satisfying the vitamin A deficiency that we all lack when we come to studying the Bible.
Jen: Yes. So, basically, studying with process just means that we’re going to fight through three different stages. I shouldn’t say “fight through”—it makes it sounds so futile.
Dennis: It makes it sound like algebra.
Jen: We are going to waltz through three different stages—[Laughter]
Dennis: Now, there you go.
Jen: —of coming to grasp what a passage has to say to us. We start with comprehension. Some people use the term, observation, for this first step. I don’t use the term, observation, for a couple of reasons.
First is because I was teaching for a long time, using the term, comprehension, before I even knew that people had written books that had said observation. When I heard the term, observation—I don’t hate it—like I get that people flesh that out—and it means pretty much exactly what I’m saying when I say, “comprehension.”
But I found, on the ground level, that when you say, “Hey, observe what you see here in the text,”—that it was just too subjective. People heard it as “Oh, well, I see purple butterflies in the text!” So, it’s—no, it’s not that there is intent to it. You’re not just looking at what you see—you are trying to look at what the author was wanting to show you. So, I say, “comprehend.”
So, our first step is comprehension—and that’s just asking, “What does it say?” That means that, after you read through the account—the creation account in Genesis 1—you should be able to tell me what God created on each of the six days of creation—that is just knowing what it says. And then, next, you want to move onto the interpretation piece.
The comprehension piece takes a lot of time. It takes, really, lion share of the time that we are going to spend in the Word—
—so, it’s the repetitive reading, it’s the annotating, it’s the making notes in the margin, it’s me trying to get inside what the words are just saying, it’s the paraphrasing—all those things.
After we spend time on comprehension, we move onto interpretation. Interpretation—if I’m looking at the creation account, again—interpretation is where I begin to ask the question, “What does it mean?” I’m looking at the creation account—I know that God created in six days. When I begin to look at it, I recognize that what it is wanting to tell me are a couple of key things: The first is that it’s God who created and that He did so in an orderly way. So, those are stepping toward interpretation. This is what is being communicated by this text. You notice that what is not being communicated by that text is “I was created on the sixth day of creation”; right? God is the focus—
Bob: That is true.
Jen: —of that narrative. Clearly, we’re not—so, then, you move—once you feel like you are moving towards a sound interpretation, it’s finally time to start asking that application question, which is:
“How should it change me?” When we get there, we don’t just say: “Okay, enough about You. Let’s talk about me.” I have to frame up that application piece in light of what I’ve seen to be true about God.
I see that God is a God who creates, and I see that God is a God of order. Then, I see myself in relation to that. I see that I am not a person who has the power to create or sustain one thing at all—that nothing I see around me is mine to possess / that it has been entrusted to me by God. Then, I look around and see that, even though I serve a God who creates order; I tend to be someone who creates chaos. Then, I can look around and say, “I can apply this to my life in a particular way.”
Dennis: And the thing that helps application is the last “P,” which is prayer.
Jen: Prayer. I would say—when you hear that there are five “P’s”—we are such linear thinkers—that we tend to think, “Okay, I start at the first “P” and I work my way to the fifth “P.” There is not a strictly linear relation between them. You see that, I think, when you get to prayer—
—particularly, that it’s at the end. In the book, I encourage women—when they begin to study—that they should pray as they are beginning, and they should pray in the midst of their study, and they should pray when they conclude.
Now, I am a realist. I know how busy life is—particularly, for, say, a young mom. Depending on your life stage, you may not have a lot of time to give to this. The idea is not that we have some rigid set about praying before, during, and after a study—it’s that we see that as a good and beautiful thing. As we have the time and opportunity, we do imbue it into all parts of our study; but if we don’t, some days are days you sit down and you say, “Lord, give me ears to hear,” and you dive in.
Dennis: Well, Jen, it’s been great to have you with us on the broadcast. I appreciate you. I just appreciate the work you’ve done over the past 15 years of teaching so many and joining us here—because I think you just taught several hundred thousand, if not a million or two, folks, here on FamilyLife Today, how to study the Bible. I think it’s one of the greatest privileges we have on the planet because we get to know God.
Thanks for challenging us.
Jen: Thank you for the privilege of being here.
Bob: It is okay for guys to read the book; isn’t it?
Jen: All you do is—you place your fingers over the “W” and the “O” in the title, and then—
Dennis: It says, “Men”—“Men of the Word.”
Jen: “Men of the Word.”
Dennis: There you go.
Bob: The thing I would want—I wouldn’t want to give this to my wife because she’d be so far ahead of me in Bible study that I would be—I’d be hurting. [Laughter]
We do have copies of Jen’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to request a copy. Again, the website: FamilyLifeToday.com. When you go, online, look in the upper left-hand corner, where it says, “GO DEEPER.” Click the link. It’ll take you to an area on the site where you’ll see Jen’s book. You can order it from us, online, if you’d like.
Or you can call us to order. The toll-free number to call, if you want to order the book, is 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
Again, the website—if that’s easier for you— just go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “GO DEEPER,” in the top left-hand corner of the page. You can order Women of the Word or you can put your finger over the “W-o” and order “Men of the Word.” Order it from us, online, and we’ll get it out to you.
Now, Easter is just around the corner. In fact, FamilyLife created a tool, years ago, called Resurrection Eggs® to help kids learn the Easter story. You take a plastic egg, and you put inside of it a little symbol that reminds a child of some event in the last week of Jesus’s life—like the first egg has a donkey in it / a little plastic donkey—and that helps the child remember that Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding on the back of a donkey.
So, a child can learn all about Holy Week through a set of Resurrection Eggs.
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Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that says, “I CARE,” and make an online donation. Or if it’s easier, call 1-800-FL-TODAY. When you make a donation over the phone, ask for a set of Resurrection Eggs to be sent to you. Or you can always mail a donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; and our zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we are going to turn our attention to the needs of blended families. We had an opportunity recently to meet with folks who are actively involved in ministering to folks who are in second or third marriages and who want this marriage to be the marriage that goes the distance. We will get a chance to hear what Dennis Rainey had to share with folks at the Blended and Blessed™ Summit last fall. I hope you can join us as we hear what Dennis had to share with those folks.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, with some special help from Mark Ramey today. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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