Inductive Bible Study

Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics,

David R. Bauer and Robert A. Traina

Baker, 2011

Hardcover, $34.99

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Before anyone is prepared to work out his salvation with fear and trembling, he must understand how to study the Bible. Before one can preach, counsel, mentor, and articulate an answer for this faith, he must study the Bible. Christian faith assumes the Bible, without which we are rudderless ships.

Here is the irony: God’s word is the necessary means for growing in conformity to the image of Christ, and yet there are few comprehensive resources to help people engage this process. Over the years as a pastor, I have typically recommended Fee and Stuart’s How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, which is especially helpful in explaining techniques required of different genres. However, despite its accessible style, some students circled back to me and admitted that there remained ambiguity concerning the initial steps of the interpretive process. This is the strength of Bauer and Traina’s book, Inductive Bible Study: it trains people to attend to the content of Scripture, to follow a text’s argument, map its narrative flow, and grasp its implications. I wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone. It is too dense for new Christians and may assume too much for those who aren’t accustomed to studying Scripture. But if you are one who enjoys digging into the text, this is a helpful resource.

If you know anything about the legacy of Robert Traina (1921-2010), you will appreciate how readily accessible his approach is. Many years ago, Traina popularized the three-fold method for extracting meaning from the biblical text through “observation, interpretation, and application.” So axiomatic is this triad that it can be heard in most small group Bible studies across the land. On one level, the volume under review is that simple; but it is certainly not simplistic. It pushes forward to analyze the nuanced questions that this method naturally begs. Thanks to coauthor, David Bauer, Professor and Dean at Asbury Theological Seminary, the volume is rife with helpful discussions about the range of contemporary hermeneutical debates. Dots are connected from these technical considerations to the inductive method, resulting in an exegesis handbook that is both practical and substantive.

The book consists of five major sections.

Part 1. Theoretical Foundations

Part 2. Observing and Asking

Part 3. Answering and Interpreting

Part 4. Evaluating and Appropriating

Part 5. Correlation

There are also six appendices which include the role of presuppositions in contemporary hermeneutical discussion, original languages, and outlining (discourse analysis).

The authors express the book’s purpose in the Preface:

Our intention is to present rather comprehensively our understanding of the approach to the study of the Bible known as inductive Bible study, and to direct this presentation primarily to seminary students and those engaged in Christian ministry. But we anticipate that this volume will be useful also to scholars who are engaged in advanced study of the Bible and who are conversant with contemporary hermeneutical discussions. (xiii)

In keeping with the authors’ intention, this book is not for the new or young Christian. For that person you might consult Howard Hendricks’ Living by the Book or, a step beyond that, Grasping God’s Word by Duvall and Hays. Because Inductive Bible Study is part hermeneutics, part exegesis, part philosophy, and part logic, it is for the motivated reader. It reads like a textbook, but, then again, it doesn’t pretend to be anything else. The upside is its comprehensive scope, fastidious indexing, and bibliography.

Finally, as one whose ministry is often located at the Catholic/Protestant intersection, I see another reason why this book is so critical. The question that I most commonly hear from my Catholic friends concerns the evangelical position of sola sciptura, particularly how we can claim to have reached an authoritative interpretation of the Bible. In this regard, I think the work of Bauer and Traina is also helpful. Their treatment of the issue is too extensive to reproduce here (you’ll need to read the book), but, in this vein, their closing statement bears repeating, “[I]t is potentially helpful to come to the text with a faith perspective only if one is prepared to submit that faith perspective to the corrective judgment of the text” (384).

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