Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Taking issue with Beth

We're only into our second week of my first Beth Moore study and I'm already chafing. My heavily hand annotated workbook is running out of margin space. I've crossed out and reworded whole passages. I've been tempted to call the author some not very nice names for her treatment of Scripture.

This frustration is partly my own fault. I chose to do this study because of the women, not the material. I kind of knew what I was getting myself into; Beth Moore is sort of a household word in Christian circles.

My ideal Bible study would:
1) Be contextual
2) Offer plenty of space for interacting with and discussing the text
3) Encourage actual study and engagement with the issue at hand, rather than mindless repetition

This study doesn't fit the criteria. I'm frustrated every time I pick up the book and wiggle in my seat during the video presentation. The fill-in-the-blank and check box question format almost doesn't require any study of the text. The check boxes, in particular, are so jarringly obvious that she might as well just offer one option and spare us her attempts at being clever. Even so, it's not only the format that drives me nuts. I could deal with the shouting and the elementary workbook if the content was solid.

I take offense at her pot-shot humor that places husbands as the butt of many jokes, whether in the video or in the text. (Ex. "Have you noticed, oddly enough, that spirituality seems to be taxed by husbands and children?") That kind of accepted disrespect is popular in women's circles, but acceptance doesn't make it right. The smug tone and gooshy uber-feminine Christianese, the proof-texting and the assumption that the Bible is a teacher's guide, complete with color-coded answer key are just some of the things that drive me to my mad scribbles all over the page. Beth's "answers" rest on a visible belief that questioning is non-productive, that God's "word" as reinterpreted through creative verse picking-and-choosing will bring us to right belief and right action. She assumes that her readers will swallow her words whole and spit them out, beautifully regurgitated. Questioners are left on the sidelines, whether they're non-Christians or just non-Mooreified Christians, wondering if because we're not living an "Exclamation Mark! Lifestyle!" there's something wrong with our relationship with the Lord.

It might seem spiritual to jump all over the Bible, yanking verses from their context and pressing them into service for a predetermined aim, but it doesn't do us any favors and doesn't do justice to the text. And it leads to misinformed, speculative comments that lead us down emotional and silly rabbit trails. If we're going to speculate, we need to be fully immersed in a passage, IN CONTEXT within the Bible, and IN HISTORICAL CONTEXT. Worse, such "study" effectively limits our ability to truly grow and be challenged in our assumptions, especially for those already in the faith. Without discussion, without conversation, without questioning, there is no dynamic, living relationship with God.

I could go on and on, but I'm saving it. Fixing Beth's study isn't my problem. There are things I can learn, even if I have to shuffle out 90% of what she's writing and saying. But...can anyone recommend a Bible study for me to use in my recovery in about 8 weeks? Doesn't even have to be a study, maybe even just a book.

Speaking of books, this book received a nice write-up on Slacktivist. I'm tempted to have it sent to the mothers so we can read it together when they come down at the end of the month...maybe studying a book of the Bible contextually, especially one as beset by poor interpretations and wacky theology as Revelations has been, will be good for my soul.


Brad Polley, Esq. said...

Well said, Jenna. Read "Everything Belongs" by Richard Rohr. I would also recommend "Kingdom, Grace, Judgment" by Robert Farrar Capon. That's actually three books in one, but they deal with all of Jesus' parables in their context. It's a thick read, but well worth it.

anne said...

will send book possibles anon. Don't know Beth, as I don't run in Christian circles, but I know the style of that sort of "study".

Jeff K. said...

I second the recommendation of Richard Rohr, though I'd recommend 'The Naked Now' since I've not read 'Everything Belongs'. But be careful: much of Richard's writing deals with the openness that is required to experience/hear/see God in all aspects of life. And many people find themselves made vulnerable by this stance, and then reject the ideas that Richard is suggesting. There's almost a circularity to the idea: you have to start with an open mind to be able to appreciate his ideas about open-mindedness. I'm sure, Jenna, that you'd appreciate it, but it might be a hard sell, depending on your co-readers.

Anonymous said...

I have a shelf of Beth Moore studies, and I was just thinking the other day that I should dispose of them. I haven't touched them in a couple of years, but I did learn some things. However, the videos were difficult for me, too. I hated the time spent on the stories about her husband/dogs/children/past abuse.

Which study are you doing? Her older ones were more meaty... the one on the tabernacle was pretty good. I can still draw out a rough sketch of it. (Maybe I'll keep that one!)

Hopefully, your circle will permit discussion, because the guide suggests that you "allow" only a certain amount of time for the limited questions to be discussed. Thankfully, our leaders always asked if anyone had questions about a certain day's study. I often thought that we had better discussions over the non-dove/heart/starred/ questions.

I read a book called "Bruchko" recently. It's not your typical missionary story, and he annoyed a lot of the established groups - probably a good sign he was doing something right. I passed it on to Anne, so wait and see what she thinks.

Love you, Mom

--jenna said...

I will Amazon-ify your suggestions, Brad, Anne and Jeff. (Though, I must add, this will probably be personal. The BM study has been a feature in Rio for quite some time with plenty of happy ladies. I doubt they'd want to come over to the dark side!)

Mum: Have read Bruchko, though I owned a copy but maybe Ellen "borrowed" it...and we're doing the Fruits of the Spirit study. Unfortunately, there isn't really a lot of time to talk, what with her teaching taking up an hour...but we do what we can!

anne said...

the one author I suggested (Gully) mentions in his book about the tendency to "teach" in such a way that the church continues to have people w/the same views, etc, rather than any sort of growth or change...perhaps the BM studies in Rio follow that path. Oh well, reading etc on your own is good too, very cleansing, sometimes.

--from me, somewhere on the dark(er) side, for sure ^_^

Anonymous said...

hey jenna - i second the Richard Rohr recs. two that i've come across recently that i've been appreciate for both their perspective and challenge are "Unclean" (by Richard Beck) and "Reading the Bible with the Damned" (by Bob Ekblad)... just thought i'd pass on some of the newly discovered gems. =)

Rebecca said...

i definitely agree with a lot of what you have to say about beth moore and this bible study in particular. i would love to see the group do some different types of studies. at the same time, i think that god can use even beth moore to reveal Truth and there is value in meditating on and studying scripture related to the holy spirit and the fruit of the spirit.