Inside the Bible Journey Curriculum

An interview with Bible Journey co-founder Dr. Tim Laniak

Q. Why are churches and ministries in the Middle East prominent “In Front of the Text”?

1. This is the region where the Bible took place and where there is an often unnoticed (to the West) continuity of faith through the centuries till today. 

2. This is also where persecution and hostility to biblical faith is challenging the Church today. It is striking to witness the growth of the Church – and opposition to it – in the very places where growth and opposition took place in the book of Acts.

 We will certainly be looking to add content for our community from the rest of the Global Church. God has been at work in every corner of the world and we want to celebrate how the Gospel has, in fact, gone from Jerusalem to Judaea and Samaria to the uttermost parts of the earth. (Acts 1:8 cf Mat 28:19-20)

Q. Where did the rubric “In, Behind and In Front of the Text” come from?

The first use of a “three worlds” rubric entered academic literature about the Bible with complementary interests in the worlds of the author/history (behind), text/literature (in) and reader/theology (in front). The rubric has resonated with many scholars who study the primary lenses or movements of biblical interpretation (the field of “heremeneutics”). There have been various mutations of the rubric (like “of” instead of “in”), including one of my earlier publications which oriented Hebrew students to the worlds “in, behind and beyond the text. “In front of the text” is a phrase more widely used for the final movement, and that’s what you find in Bible Journey.

All of these lenses or movements are important for complete biblical interpretation and they each mean a lot to me personally. My conversion had a lot to do with what was “in the text.” I read the Bible through and through, underlining, outlining, memorizing passages from Genesis to Revelation. I heard God speak in his “Word.” It was foundational and transformational, but I can now see that I was more limited in my understanding than I could have known.

My first trip to the lands of the Bible in 1978 opened up my eyes to the world “behind the text.” I knew the Bible well “in the text,” or so I thought, but didn’t know what I didn’t know about so much of what it referenced. This was my second awakening to Scripture. My future education included studying in Israel for a year on two separate occasions and focusing in my studies on the historical, geographical and cultural world of the Bible.

 My education also included the study of biblical and other Semitic languages and literatures. This opened my eyes to the rich “intertextuality” of Scripture, especially in its narratives. I began to see the hyperlinks that make it all one story. And I began to appreciate biblical theology –  a field devoted to the larger topics the Bible addresses on its own terms (rather than ours). Interpreting the intriguing worlds “in the text” and “behind the text” was a mutually reinforcing endeavor. My doctoral dissertation, Shame and Honor in the Book of Esther, brought both worlds together.

The final movement “In front of the text’ has been a growing emphasis in my teaching and it takes a full third of the Bible Journey curriculum. While many Bible studies are written with a predicable “What does this mean to me?” application emphasis, the final movement in our lessons takes into account how the Historical and Global Church has interpreted and applied each passage. We trace the ministries and movements and music that the Bible has inspired. Bible study should lead to discipleship and that involves personal application understood in the context of our identity in the Church – all those who submit to the authority of Scripture, humbly listening to each other. This part of our study is the most open-ended. We will continue to see Scripture through the eyes of our brothers and sisters and let them stir us to reverent obedience by their examples.

Q. What are your favorite lessons?

I often show Joseph (CML) because the 3-part rubric yields so much insight. In the Text, we dive into the narrative and find a pattern that will give shape to many future stories in the Bible. Behind the Text, we join an Egyptologist in the Land of Joseph. Jospeh’s role as dream interpreter is followed by his new role as an administrator. We may actually be standing at the site where Joseph built granaries during the 7-year famine. But the 3-fold rubric yields even more. Two interviews with Africans (Egypt and Rwanda) show resonance with Joseph through today on his continent and how much richer we are when the Global Church is engaged in interpretation. Contrast Potiphar’s wife and Prince of egypt, technicolor dream coat with reconciling with brothers who tried to kill you.

Q. How did you decide on the format for the curriculum?

The digital revolution has done two things to all of us. It has increased our appetite for various media while it has decreased our attention span. So we’ve presented our content using a mix of media and we’ve “chunked” everything so that you’re engaging most topics for no more than five minutes.

 You’ll also notice that the curriculum is interactive. That means you have to “do” something periodically. Learning is inevitably limited when you passively watch a video. We have prompts to think and read and write so you’ll process. The field of adult learning has shown us that we all need to continually reflect on what we’re learning, to consider connections and implications. If knowledge were our only goal, it would have been different. Ultimately, Bible Journey is for discipleship, even when used in an academic/high school, college or seminary context. And discipleship requires us to respond.

 If you’d like to learn more about the pedagogy (learning theory) of Bible Journey, you can find a statement here:

Our Pedagogy and Methods 

Q. Who was Bible Journey designed for?

Although marketing in our world has increasingly segmented (and isolated) people into demographically distinct groups, the Bible is meant for the whole church. It promotes a multi-cultural, multi-generational faith. We think of our “market” like the market of Google’s search engine: For anyone interested in anything! Our curriculum is for any one interested in and motivated enough to dig into Scripture. We’re looking for disciples – learners willing to immerse themselves in Scripture for a transformational payoff. It’s been fun to watch home-schoolers engage the whole family in the curriculum

 We have learned that there’s not a significant difference between a motivated volunteer or staff person in a church staff and an entering seminary student. A lay person may choose to go at a slower pace while a person seeking a certificate or degree will move according to a syllabus and engage the bonus content. But the overall experience is virtually the same. One of the benefits of this merging of markets is that students in Bible schools, Christian colleges and seminaries can use their “text” outside of the classroom in their ministries.

 A final footnote: High schoolers can use Bible Journey for Advanced Placement (dual credit) when they go to participating colleges and seminaries.

Q. What is the biggest challenge for people going through Bible Journey? 

Once you’re past the simple ramp of getting acquainted with a new platform, the real challenge is the discipline of serious Bible study. For many this has an academic feel to it in contrast to a more common inspirational approach. Inspiration is good but sometimes we’re looking for a good feeling for our personal situation rather than hearing God speak in various ways in his own terms on topics of his choosing. You’ll be learning a lot of new terms and concepts. You’ll also see how the Bible fits together into a unified whole.  You’ll be studying the Bible. This is educational, what you might call “loving God with your whole mind.” Unfortunately, the academic study of the Bible often fails to be transformational while the inspirational approach to Scripture often fails to be educational. When you begin to see the combination of both in Bible Journey – how we connect the dots between what God said then to them and how that relates now to us – you’ll be hooked.

 By the way, this all happens best when you study together in a group, even if that is virtual. The Bible was written for a community of people he called not just to himself but to each other. Bible Journey will cultivate your sense of identity as a member of this covenant community – past, present and future. That’s the kind of take away that you get from a full immersion in Bible study.

Q. What is the importance of the Guiding Questions at the end of each biblical book?

These questions keeps us focused on what the whole Bible is about – God and his relationship with people – to see how each book contributes to the overall story. We also ask how the Bible is interconnected, to reinforce our awareness of its unity. Then we ask what we’ve learned about the Bible itself as a form of revelation: How is it unique and how is it similar to the literary genres and cultural institutions and ideas around it? You’ll have a growing awareness in Bible Journey that God has communicated timeless truths in time-bound, culture-bound and language-bound.

The final Guiding Question gets at what Bible study is often limited to. We wait till we’ve done thorough study before asking the personal application question: What has God spoken to you? This is appropriate, especially in light of the promises about the role of the HS. He will guide us into all truth (John 16:13).  I like the term “implications” for this question because it’s broader than “application” and also opens the door for “impact” – looking beyond ourselves to the movements, ministries and music that a given passage has inspired.