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  • Writer's pictureTom Marshall

A Strategic Discipleship Alternative to Online Bible Studies

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

Author: Tom Marshall, Academic Dean, Maritime Christian College

Do you have Bible questions but cannot find the answers? Or do you want to get serious about your walk with Jesus but do not know where to begin? Have you gone through several Bible studies but felt disappointed because they didn’t satisfy your longing to know more about God?

As a new believer I was frustrated because I wanted to learn more about God but when I asked my Sunday school teacher a question he laughed, shook his head, and went on without answering my question. Later I found out the answer on my own when I enrolled in an Old Testament survey course at a local Bible college.

The difference between a Bible study and academic course is the depth of knowledge one attains. Bible studies are like journal articles. They are polished, discuss a specific topic, and overall make an impact in one’s life with an “aha moment” like Oprah coined on her shows.

But have you considered what was left out of the journal article? What did the author of that article learn? A Bible college course is like all the research the author gleaned in their in-depth study. It is a deep dive into a specific topic like the book of Genesis with readings from scholars, class discussions, research, and writing. It is intense! It forces you to think and to examine things up close and discuss and defend a position you might take on a topic.

Another way to describe the difference are the two types of books you will find in a Christian bookstore. Devotional books which are inspirational, give principles to live by, and are quite practical. The other type of book is academic which looks at a particular topic in depth. Go to the local Christian bookstore and ask the salesperson if they have anything on textual criticism. They will invariably walk you past a whole bunch of books on the sales floor and to an out of the way shelf where the university or academic books are located. You will probably see commentaries in this area as well. Open the textual criticism book and look for a capital A as one of the topics of discussion. This “A” is a reference to a copy of the Bible name Alexandrinus. Take a few minutes and learn about Codex Alexandrinus.

When you’ve had enough put the book back or buy it. Now walk over to any of the other shelves in the middle of the store or in front and grab a book. Open it and read a bit. Can you tell the difference? Devotional books have their place just as academic books are useful as well. But just as you find online bible studies and devotional books everywhere you will have to search a bit to find academic books or a Bible course at a local Bible college.

Is one type of book better than the other? No. It is good to have a blend, but if you want to know more about God then you will have to go deeper.

Commentaries are another way to tell the difference between devotional and academic. Devotional commentaries will be thin compared to their heftier academic cousins. Also open the commentary. Are there Greek or Hebrew words on the page? Are there lots of footnotes? A good academic commentary will deal with the original language. Word Biblical Commentary is an excellent academic commentary series, which have blue or green covers based on Old Testament or New Testament books. These types of commentaries deal with grammatical issues and point out the meaning of words in each text along with all the possible other interpretations for the same text. An excellent critical commentary will provide years of service and are considered tools by Biblical scholars.

Remember the question I had when I was a new Christian. Do you want to know what the question was? We were studying Acts 15 and one word kept popping up again and again. So, I asked the teacher the following question:

What is circumcision?

I was the only young person in the class of adults, and everyone giggled and hemmed and hawed. I guess they thought I was cracking a joke. But I wasn’t. Obviously, circumcision was an important concept to the early church. It was the center of the discussion in Acts 15 but what was it?

Little did I know then, but my one question was the key to understanding quite a bit of the Old Testament and the New Testament. Of course, on my own it would have taken quite a bit of time to figure it out. But even then, I still wouldn’t have understood all the nuances behind the word. This is where Bible college became a huge resource for understanding God’s Word.

Let’s consider the word “circumcision” for a moment. Within the Old and New Testament, circumcision is a sign of the covenant. But what is a covenant? Are there different types of covenants? In the Ancient Near East there were three major types of covenants: Suzerain-vassal, Kinship, and Royal Grant. The Suzerain-vassal type of covenant is the type God makes with Israel, and it is this type of covenant that is marked by circumcision. But if you want additional details about these covenants you will have to look it up.

In a bible study you might not go in depth into different types of covenants when discussing Acts 15; in fact, you probably do not want to go in depth during a bible study because it will turn people off. But what if you do?

Bible colleges have instructors who can guide you through the overwhelming amount of information available in today’s world. They have navigated the way and can aid your search and keep you from getting lost. Likewise, Bible colleges have fellow students like you who are also learning and may discover something from the lesson reading you might have missed. And the comradery from sharing with one another adds to the pleasure as well as the insight into God’s Word.

Some people love learning, and the average bible study does not satisfy them. This is normal. I wanted to know more about the Bible and spent 10 years in higher education plus another 20 years adding to my knowledge by teaching university courses covering Old and New Testament books, apologetics, church history, and practical ministry classes. In a recent Life of Christ course, a student asked, “How do you know so much about a verse in the Bible?” I laughed and referred to my 30 years of constant study—of diving deep into the text to understand it.

A university education encourages life-long learning. Think of it as a bank account. Instead of money the student is depositing knowledge/experience into their bank account. Every time you read an entire book of the Bible or read the whole Bible each year, you are depositing into your account. Every encyclopedia article you read or paper you write is adding to the savings in your account. And in time, with enough deposits, others will consider you an expert.

The best way to begin to invest is by selecting Maritime Christian College Disciple Maker Certificates: https: Ten courses have been selected and provide an excellent foundation for disciple making.

  • Old Testament survey reveals how God worked through the family of Abraham by promising them a nation, land, and a blessing.

  • Mission Perspectives reveals God’s master plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.

  • Jesus Christ and the Gospels reveals Jesus’ 3-year ministry and his death, burial, and resurrection.

  • Acts of the Apostles continues the story of redemption with the beginning of the Church and its expansion from Jerusalem to Rome.

  • Romans through Revelation reveals the various letters written to the early churches.

  • Apologetics answers the question of how we defend the faith.

  • Biblical Theology for Discipleship clarifies the various doctrines of the Church.

  • Becoming a Disciple Maker assists you on the task of fulfilling the Great Commission.

  • Disciple Making and the Local Church provides practical advice of how you can apply what you have learned in a local setting.

  • World Religions reveals the basic beliefs of other faith systems found within the world.

The word “Strategic” in the title raises an important point. How can someone with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or marketing be prepared to serve in ministry? The above courses cuts to the heart of the 4-year Bachelor of Bible degree. They are an excellent foundation for the individual with a BA degree from a university needing a quick biblical background for their employment or personal bible study.

Who has time to go back to school? We all have jobs and families, and our college days are behind us. But with today’s technology new possibilities to participate in classes online have changed the face of education. One no longer must move to a far city to attend school or commute to a class. Distance learning brings quality education into your home and with asynchronous learning (without being present for lectures) a student can complete the readings and assignments anytime during the week.

With the high cost of today’s education, online learning eliminates half of student expenses from a traditional college or university because they do not have to pay for room and board. And for the individual who is already employed the online option allows them to continue to work at their present job without fear of losing it to go to school.

But you want to make disciples?

Sharing Jesus with another person is simple and you’re already prepared by telling the other person how Jesus has made a difference in your life. It’s as simple as that. You’ve done you part now it’s up to God to do His part, and up to the person to do their part. That’s all you can do.

But what if they raise a question about Jesus not really dying on the cross. With the Maritime Christian College Disciple Maker Certificate, you can answer this question because you had covered it in your apologetics class. College course do not take away from disciple making but enhance it by preparing you with the foundational answers to God’s working through one family and Jesus being the culmination of His ultimate plan to bring salvation to all people.

When I first asked that question in my teen years about circumcision, I did not know it would lead to a deep and abiding relationship with God and Jesus. One day I was asked to speak at a senior’s college about Christianity. The lady who spoke the week before was Jewish and had shared the week before about Judaism.

During my presentation an elderly lady asked me if I was ever going to talk about Christianity and I looked at all my notes on the black board about Abraham, King David, and Jesus and said, “I have been all this time. The New Testament is based upon the Old Testament. Jesus was Jewish. He brought about salvation for all people by dying as a Jewish sacrifice during a Passover meal.”

After my presentation the Jewish lady asked me a question about why Miriam was turned leprous but not Aaron. Having considered this question during my own research, I answered, “Aaron was the High Priest, and he would have been disqualified from being the High Priest if God had turned him leprous.” I’m not a Jewish scholar but I could tell my answer impressed her.

I emphasize how it is not necessary to know much to make disciples. You must be willing to share your life with another person. Likewise having a biblical foundation can also give you opportunities to speak with someone whom you never thought you might be speaking to like the Jewish woman at the senior’s college.

Do you want to grow in your spiritual life? Discover how with Maritime Christian College’s Disciple Maker Certificate courses. Click to learn more:

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