Heather M. Brooks
“I always end with an application—what am I going to do with this? What is this challenging me to do?” says Dr. Gary Chapman. While Bible study methods vary, studying Scripture should always end the same way—with a response. “I try to make the application as specific as possible, not an informational application but an action application.”
Chapman is a senior associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He speaks in the US and internationally on marriage, family and relationships. “A Love Language Minute,” Chapman’s radio program, airs on more than 100 stations nationwide. He has written more than 20 books, including The Five Love Languages and Love is a Verb.
Chapman holds an MA in anthropology from Wake Forest University, and both an MRE (Education Administration) and PhD (Adult Education) from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Bible Study Magazine spoke with Chapman about applying the Bible to all areas of life.
Start with prayer, end with application
Chapman uses biblical reference books that allow him to explore the meanings and linguistic origins of biblical terms. He realizes, though, that not everyone shares his interests: “It’s okay to be who you are” when studying the Bible.
He keeps this in mind when preparing sermons and Bible studies—“The congregation can get lost in the process. I have to realize [that] not everybody’s like me, and if I’m going to communicate to people who are not like me, then I’m going to have to lose some of the details, and get into more of the things that relate to people.”
“First, I pray and ask God to speak to me. I say, ‘I’ll listen to you, and I’m asking for your guidance.’ Then I read the text. I underline points that jump out at me. I’m looking for the message, the main point and any sub-points. I’m not coming with a preconceived idea, but I’m looking for what the text says.… Then I’m asking myself, ‘How does this relate to other passages that I’ve read on a similar topic?’ ”
“The last thing I do is look for illustrations on this point in Scripture,” says Chapman. “If I’m preaching then I always end with an application—what am I going to do with this? What is this challenging me to do? And I try to make the application as specific as possible, not an informational application but an action application. What might I do, or what might we do, in response to this passage?… I try to give people a challenge of at least one thing that they can do in response.”
Exposing ourselves to the life of Christ
Chapman says that life application is also important in individual Bible study. “We should ask ourselves, ‘What is my purpose in reading this passage? How do I apply it in my life, and then help other people discover this?’ ” He adds that individual Bible study also has its limits. The explanations of Bible scholars help prevent any misreading of the text.
“Studying requires more reflection. It involves asking more questions, and perhaps taking notes,” says Chapman. One possible note-taking method involves outlining or summarizing a chapter. For new believers, he suggests starting with the gospels and “record[ing] statements Jesus made about His death, His resurrection, and how to live our lives.” Chapman says we should always “expose ourselves to the life of Christ.”
He says, she says
Respect is essential when studying with a spouse. Chapman says that it is vital for couples to “respect each other’s … orientation,” especially when one partner is of an analytical bent, and the other places more emphasis on application. “Recognize that both points of view are valid and useful.… Learn from each other.”
To make these study times effective and harmonious, Chapman recommends beginning with “a common denominator.” Couples should choose a devotional that reflects on Scripture while asking themselves: “What can we learn together?” They should concentrate on “looking at Scripture passages, reading them, answering questions about them, and then making an application to marriage.”
These sessions should not become times of theological argument. “The important thing is, ‘How can we encourage each other and help each other with what we’re learning in the Scriptures.’ ”
The responsibilities of leadership
Group Bible studies present special challenges. One of the tasks of a leader is to ensure that respect is maintained. “It’s important that the leader recognize that when you pull any number of couples together, you’re going to have people of all different levels. You’re going to have some that are already good Bible students, and you’re going to have some that hardly know where the book of Genesis is.”
Respect like this assumes special significance in a couples Bible study, especially if one partner is unenthusiastic about participating. That can change, if the circumstances are right. Chapman uses the example of a man attending a couples Bible study for the first time. “If we treat him with respect when he … asks a question, he gets comfortable being there—then it can become a learning experience. By the time it’s over, he may say, ‘I’m glad we did this.’ Atmosphere is the big issue in group Bible study.”
When couples clash in a Bible study, Chapman says leaders should set a tone of acceptance. “It’s easy to be critical, and to perceive different levels of biblical understanding from our own as ‘shallow.’ Think [about] where other people are [in their spiritual journeys]. We need to know where they are if we want to have any kind of ministry at all. We’re not there to ostracize.… And as we move along hopefully we can help them move along and we can all grow together in this process.” Chapman says that leaders can also learn something along the way. “You’re there for a purpose. You’re there to minister to other people and, perhaps, be ministered to yourself.”