This lack of confidence can undermine their ability to grow in Christ, especially to study the Bible—it is, after all, a huge book, in some ways unwieldly and complicated. So I want new Christians to feel friendly toward the Bible, to gain confidence that they can use the Bible themselves, to feel the Bible is their book.
Older Christians are roadblocked not by lack of experience but by experience itself. For instance, some get roadblocked in the prophetic mode: they can't get beyond the Bible's teachings about the need for justice and our responsibility to the poor. Others may be roadblocked by evangelism: they can't see anything but a call to evangelize. At some point, such people have heard a sermon or had an experience that significantly shapes their outlook and hinders them from seeing the full sweep of the gospel.
Others are roadblocked by bad experiences: their encounters with extreme charismatics, for instance, may make them unwilling to consider openly the role of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Or an unanswered prayer may make them cynical about prayer.
So for older Christians, I have to help them see beyond the roadblock, to expose them to the full dimensions of the Christian faith.
The Common Response
It would appear that these diverse challenges would demand diverse responses on the part of the teacher. In some ways, yes, so the teacher should keep this diversity in mind and shape the study accordingly.
Yet, in the end, the way to meet these temptations and overcome these roadblocks is the same: inductive Bible study.
The wonderful thing about the Bible is that it is a great discipleship tool no matter where we are in our journey. Given the chance, the Bible molds and shapes us, and remolds and reshapes us for a lifetime. Young believers have limited information—a lot of the language, categories, images, and symbols of faith are unknown to them. But older Christians have essentially the same problem: they have information, but they often don't understand the information they have. Underconfidence or overconfidence simply compounds the problem.
So, I have the same goal for both groups—to make the language fresh, to make it come alive, helping them discover what it means. Both groups need to see how exciting the text is, how filled with meaning it is.
I've found that happens especially when I let the Bible speak for itself, when I study it inductively, not coming at it with preconceived categories, but attempting to discover what it says about itself.
Journey into the Word One Step at a Time
Inductive study alone, of course, is no magic key. I still have to shape the study so that it helps people see the text in a fresh way. I use a number of techniques to do that, the first of which is studying short passages—and just those passages.
For example, I might play this game with my class. "I'm a Roman soldier living in the first century," I'll say. "Late one night, a young man with a scroll tucked under his arm comes running down an alley. He looks suspicious, so I grab for him, but he's too quick. All I get is a little piece of his manuscript. So I take the evidence in to headquarters. They fold it neatly and send it over to the Roman cia, Caesar's Intelligence Agency, because they want to know what kind of a document might be carried by a mysterious runner in the middle of the night. The agent unfolds the scrap of manuscript and spreads it out under the light of his lamp.