This week I taught a Bible Study class at the Chautauqua Institution in the Special Studies Program. It was entitled “A Novel Look at the Bible: Looking for Themes in Scripture.” When I applied to teach the class last fall I was not sure the Special Studies Department would be interested in offering a Bible Study class, but I have since learned that the founders of Chautauqua believe that religion is at the central to the programs here and fundamental to everything. But then when they accepted my proposal I started to wonder if anyone would take it. As it turned out I discovered that plenty of people are eager and interested to learn about the Bible.
It was a pleasant surprise to see people arriving early for class, and then come back each day. We have had some lively conversations every afternoon about stories in the Old and New Testaments. I tried to lead a class where the participants asked lots of questions about each story - when it was written, who was the audience, what was life like in the time of the story, and why was it included in the Bible. We had a diverse group of folks in the class- a woman from California, and a man from South Texas, lots of Roman Catholics and a Jewish woman who brought so much understanding of the Hebrew tradition.
I organized the Bible stories around some common themes so we could try to discover what the Bible says about topics like 1. Good and Evil, 2. Who is My Neighbor? 3. Starting Over and 4. Finding Life’s Purpose. With every class we tried to see the connections between the messages of the Old Testament and those in the New Testament. The best part of the classes were the discussions. I tried to encourage people to refrain from repeating the things they may have learned in Sunday School and look at each story like detectives who did not need to answer every question immediately. I also encouraged us to try to discover the timeless truths in these stories, and see modern connections between what the Bible says and what is happening in our world today.