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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Biblical Teaching and Critical Thinking

Written by: on October 25, 2018

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Recently, I taught on the story of David and Bathsheba, from the perspective of a Woman.  Being a woman myself, this was not hard to do. In my preparation for the teaching, I not only prayed, but I also read many scholarly commentaries and journal articles on the interpretation of the story.  Although I came with many preconceived ideas, I tried to think critically about all that I read.

The problem with teaching a Biblical story that many have heard over and over again is that most have decided the merits of the story based on “Egocentric Thinking”.   Elder and Paul describes Egocentric thinking in The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, Kindle ed., as resulting from not considering the rights and needs of others and also not appreciating the point of view of others nor the limitations in our own point of view (Elder and Paul 2009, Kindle loc. 247).  Unfortunately, many teachers and preachers of the Word of God do not use critical thinking when reading and teaching the Bible.

I cannot be too hard on these well-meaning proclaimers of the Gospel.  I have done this many times myself with stories I have heard several times.  I did not know how to ask the right questions when reading the stories.  Some, like the story of David and Bathsheba, did not sit well with me, since many taught that Bathsheba was partially at fault for bathing in plain view.  I remember arguing at a Bible study why this did not make sense in the society of Bathsheba’s day, but I was told I was wrong.

I believe the lack of critical thinking has caused many to abandon the Bible and churches because their questions or objections cannot be answered by their teachers.  People find today’s Christians as polarizing in a bad way, with many unable to explain why they believe what they believe.  It is no longer enough to say, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it”.  Society wants real answers to their Biblical questions and not just empty platitudes. Although we know that many will not agree no matter what we do, there is another solution to this dilemma.

Critical thinking does not have to be incongruent with faith.  I found “The Elements of Thought”, described by Elder and Paul, to be quite helpful in examining Scripture for the purpose of teaching. Knowing the purpose of the story or pericope assists teachers of the Bible in understanding what is being said and helps us articulate the same to others.  The questions being asked by the writer, such as “Is there no balm in Gilead?” asked in Jeremiah 8:22, should be articulated as well and should also raise other questions in the mind of the hearer. Asking ourselves if the writer or the book is making any assumptions, of those reading or hearing the story also helps us understand the point of view of the writer. Examining any historical data or evidence in the story, such as the measurements used, types of coins mentioned, give us additional information that adds meaning to the story, helping us to understand the society in general that was being written about.  Additional concepts and theories held by other scholars, such as the various theories of atonement, aid in understanding symbols and ideas that are frequently found in Scripture.  Knowing what inferences or interpretations we are intentionally making and communicating with those we are teaching, contribute to our accuracy and relevancy of interpretations. Finally knowing and communicating implications and consequences of what we believe presents a stronger case for the faith we proclaim.

All of the tools I am gaining from The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts & Tools, Kindle ed. are crossing over into all of the areas of my life and I am glad.  Re-reading the story of David and Bathsheba with critical thinking tools aided in articulating with clarity those ideas I believed so many years ago, but was unable to articulate.  I was also able to read articles and commentaries and understand why I disagreed and be okay with others positions.  Truly, the church today needs help with critical thinking.  Hopefully, we can all become modern day ambassador of critical thinking in Biblical teaching and preaching.

References

Elder, Linda, and Richard Paul. The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, Kindle ed. Tomales, CA: The Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2009.

 

 

 

About the Author

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Mary Mims

I am a licensed and ordained Baptist minister and have worked with the children and youth for the last seven years. I have resided in the Washington, DC area for the last 30 years, but I am originally from Michigan. I am also bi-vocational and work at the US Patent and Trademark Office in the Scientific Library.

10 responses to “Biblical Teaching and Critical Thinking”

  1. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    Mary, I love your clear integration of faith and critical thinking. If I’m honest, I really struggled in this. I think that critical thinking is incredibly helpful in so many ways, but it cannot solve all biblical conundrums. I think there is a mystery in faith that can be really powerful. But I do agree that at times, we need to examine the aspects of critical thinking, like point of view, when looking at biblical texts. Also – can you give me your message on David and Bathsheba? I have struggled to articulate this from a woman’s perspective to others around me, so I’d love to hear your thoughts!

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Thank you Karen. I understand that critical thinking cannot answer all questions of faith. I have seen discussions on faith become so emotionally charged and that is what we need to get away from. At least that is what I want to get away from. I can send you a transcript of my sermon, if you like. We record it, but it’s on CD.

    • mm Sean Dean says:

      I think of faith like a suspension bridge. On the one side you have critical thinking and research and logic. On the other you have faith and tradition and community. If the bridge isn’t tightly connected on both sides it’ll fall or collapse when the wind blows too hard. I think that’s what we’re all aiming for. This book didn’t do much with the faith side of the bridge, largely because that wasn’t the point of the book, but thanks to Mary now we have that side of it as well.

  2. Mario Hood says:

    Great post Mary and as an encouragement keep preaching the word with boldness!

    I’m reminded of the story of Paul at Mars Hill in the Bible (Acts 17:22-31) and the fact that he took a “secular” saying at the time and now we quote it as the word of God. You have done a great job taking a secular book and seeing it through the eyes of faith. I agree that we need to become more critical in our thinking aka “revelation” because the world has their own prophets/preachers and if we cannot articulate our faith as clearly as what they are already hearing why would they be intrigued to “come and see” Jesus! Again, keep preaching and using your unique viewpoint as you approach the scriptures as it will add a voice that we so need today!

  3. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Mary,
    Thanks so much for reminding us that, “Critical Thinking does not have to be incongruent with faith.” Asking the right questions in the right way is the essence of critical thinking skills and powerful questions (a key coaching skill.) Also, thank you for reminding those of us who come from an earlier generation that, “The Bible says, I believe it, and that settles it!” is not only an empty platitude but also intellectually dishonest. Thanks again for your challenge to all of us to keep learning, keep growing and keep applying critical thinking skills to ministry leadership (including hermeneutics and homiletics!) Blessings, H

    • mm Mary Mims says:

      Thank you Harry,
      I did not realize that the phrase was from an earlier generation! Guess I’m showing my age. People keep asking why I am still in school, but I realize there is so much I don’t know. I was on the phone to 3 am with someone that was asking many questions about Jesus Christ, and said she was ready to give up on Christianity because no one would answer her questions. That conversation let me know that I am on the right path. Blessings!

  4. Andrea Lathrop says:

    Mary – I love this. I took a Biblical Interpretation class recently and we tried to look at the David and Bathsheba story from Bathsheba’s perspective. It was enlightening as we worked through it in groups and tried to lay our decades of assumptions aside. Why would we assume any guilt on Bathsheba? Was she in an appropriate place and at an appropriate time? Was David? I was reminded through this exercise to be more critical, to question my assumptions and assumptions of others. Love the integration you are talking about and glad the next generation has you in their corner!

  5. mm Nancy VanderRoest says:

    Thanks for sharing, Mary. Your post was well presented, my friend. I would have loved to hear your message on David & Bathsheba from a woman’s perspective! I agree that often pastors do not use critical thinking when teaching about the Bible and, because of this, it has caused many to walk away from churches because they are not receiving the answers they are seeking. Utilizing critical thinking may provide answers to the ‘wanderers’ through analysis a Biblical story to help others look at it from a new perspective. Insightful post, Mary!

  6. Mary, your application of critical thinking to biblical interpretation is very practical and challenges me to try it out the next time I prepare the message. The story of David and Bathsheba is definitely widely known and it would be interesting to have access to your sermon, to see it from a woman’s perspective.

  7. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent post, Mary. I agree with your thoughts regarding the lack of critical thinking when studying and communicating scripture. It is amazing how we use those tools on many genres of literature but not the scripture as much (if at all). Unfortunately we fail to understand the dire consequences for the congregation who often are not studying for themselves and are being shaped by what they hear. I will join with your hope that “we can all become modern day ambassador of critical thinking in Biblical teaching and preaching.”

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