Bible Study Or Art Exhibition?

Journalig BibleYes, I highlight my study Bible (which happens to be e-Sword software on my computer). Because I’ve assigned a specific meaning to each color, my highlights are not about my artistic sensibilities.As a matter of fact, sometimes the colors clash terribly, making the page decidedly unappealing even though they help me trace themes in my study of God’s Word.

I also take notes to help me keep my mind on the text as well as to make sure I understand a verse in proper context. I don’t write a journal entry using the verse as a springboard for exploring “personal revelations” that I imagine the Holy Spirit to be “speaking to my heart,” nor do I pull up any of my digital art programs to illustrate how a verse makes me feel. If I do type out an application of the Scripture before me, I do my best to first make sure I interpret the Scripture correctly.

Furthermore, I study a book of the Bible verse-by-verse, using commentaries, dictionaries and cross-references to best apprehend the original meaning and intent of the book as a whole. Understanding how verses fit together and how they work with other parts of the Bible helps me guard against twisting Scripture and applying it subjectively.

In other words, I do my best not to let my time in God’s Word degenerate into a time of introspection and self-flattery. The Lord certainly speaks to me through my study of His Word, often in ways that apply to my everyday life, but He speaks in a straightforward manner directly from a correct reading of the text.

Before you accuse me of spiritual boasting, let me hasten to say that my intent is not to elevate myself as an accomplished Bible student. Embarrassingly, after being a Christian for 45 years, I’m only just now learning proper methods of Bible Study. But I have an important reason for detailing why I mark my Bible and how I write my study notes. Although I still have much to learn about studying the Word of God, I’m grieved and troubled  by a new form of “Bible Study” becoming popular with Christian women.

The new trend of “Bible journaling” contrasts with more traditional Bible Study methods, especially as blogs, Pinterest boards and Facebook groups encourage Bible journalists to  “share” their journaling pages. As much as they post disclaimers that Bible journaling isn’t about showing off your artistic skills…it basically is.

Marking a Bible with a specific color scheme to assist in understanding Biblical themes is one thing. Posting pictures of how you’ve prettied up John 3 or 1 Corinthians 13 is quite another. Peter’s instructions to Christian women don’t merely apply to how we adorn our bodies, but also perhaps to how we decorate our Bibles.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. ~~1 Peter 3:3-4  (ESV)

The ostentatious nature of Bible journaling represents only one concern with this fad, and not even the most serious concern. But as we begin to examine this trend, we should ask ourselves why we want to turn our Bibles into art projects and why we post photographs of them to social media. Are we truly interested in serious Bible Study, or in showing off our creative interactions with isolated verses that give us emotional butterflies?

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