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Church must wrestle with Scripture says Suderman


July 15, 2011
- Barb Draper

Waterloo, ONT. — The account of Jacob wrestling in Genesis 32 is an analogy for Bible study, said Derek Suderman in his seminar, “Wrestling with Scripture: Moving from Biblical Illiteracy to Biblical Engagement.”

The seminar was one of 21 selections offered for youth and adults at Mennonite Church Canada Assembly 2011, It’s Epic, Remembering God’s Future. The assembly took place in Kitchener-Waterloo July 4-8.

Suderman pointed out that it is not clear from the text whether Jacob was wrestling with God, with a man, or, as suggested in Renaissance paintings, with an angel. When we ask questions about specifics in the Bible, it challenges us to pay attention and to have another look.

“I’m not sure what a believers’ church looks like if we don’t wrestle with the Bible,” said Suderman. “The goal of Bible study is to encounter God through something that seems human and nitty-gritty.”

To have an effective Bible study, it is helpful for the facilitator to know something, otherwise the Bible study is reduced to a pooling of ignorance. He also encouraged leaders to ask questions that are open-ended and that draw attention toward, not away from, the Bible. A wide-ranging discussion over coffee and doughnuts that wanders far from the text is not a good model. An engaging Bible study calls people to be part of the interpretation. Resources should be used judiciously; the Bible should not be a secondary resource.

It is obvious that Suderman’s familiarity with Hebrew and his knowledge of Old Testament culture makes him a wonderful Bible study facilitator. He himself clearly enjoys wrestling with the text and raising questions that encourage others to also become engaged.