IVP - Strangely Dim - What I'm Editing: A Deeper Look at James, by Andrew and Phyllis Le Peau

May 9, 2012

What I'm Editing: A Deeper Look at James, by Andrew and Phyllis Le Peau

This past Sunday I was in Charlotte, North Carolina, visiting college friends and tagged along to a pre-church ministry team meeting. Before singing and praying, we spent a little time discussing Matthew 17:14-21, where Jesus returns from his transfiguration to find a demon-possessed boy whom his disciples were unable to heal. It's a hard passage, and raised several questions for us, like

  • Why couldn't the disciples heal the demon-possessed boy? Did they really not even have "faith as small as a mustard seed"?
  • Jesus' reprimand seems harsh. What, exactly, is he reprimanding them for?
  • What role does our faith play in how God chooses to answer our prayers?
As we talked, I was struck by the layers in the verses. Our questions turned us back to the text, which gave new insight, which sparked more questions, which made us go back to the text and to the surrounding verses, which provided new insight . . . In our very brief time of discussion, a familiar passage took on new life for me, offering encouragement and challenging me to pray in new ways.

I've been similarly struck by the richness of Scripture in my small group this spring as we studied the Psalms using a method called manuscript study. With a print-out of our chosen psalm for the week in front of us, sans verse numbers and paragraph breaks, we'd spend some time marking it up individually: circling repeated words and phrases, underlining similes and metaphors, highlighting contrasts, writing down questions. And then we'd discuss, looking again and again at the text, answering questions as we could and drawing from other resources when we weren't sure, keeping in mind the historical and literary settings. And the psalms--at once seemingly self-evident ("How precious to me are your thoughts, God!") and yet full of interjections that seem to come out of nowhere ("If only you, God, would slay the wicked!")--came alive in new ways as we saw the implications for our lives.

Inductive Bible study--looking back at the text to make observations, to answer questions and interpret passages in their broader context, and to draw conclusions for our own lives--has long been a core element of IVP's publishing program. Of the many, many inductive Bible study guides we've published over the years (starting with Discovering the Gospel of Mark by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff worker Jane Hollingsworth in 1943), perhaps our best-known series is our LifeGuide Bible studies. The first seven were published in 1985. Today we have well over a hundred guides with over ten million sold, and we continue to publish new ones every year. They provide a fantastic inductive study for individuals or groups.

Because Scripture is so cohesive and often so confusing, so accessible and yet so complex, so simple and yet so multifaceted and many-layered, though, we wanted to offer inductive study plus--a resource that builds on our original LifeGuides to take people even deeper into the riches of Scripture by examining the same passage from multiple angles. And so our LifeGuides in Depth series has been born.

As the LifeGuide guru around here these days, I have the privilege of editing the inaugural volumes. I'm currently about two-thirds of the way through my first one, A Deeper Look at James. In addition to the original James LifeGuide, this new resource includes, for each study, an interactive "Connect" section that highlights other portions of Scripture James was drawing on in his letter, a short reading that gives space for deeper reflection, and a group discussion guide that allows for lively interaction regarding the first three sections as well as nitty-gritty practical application.

The result? Well, let's just say if you and James were Facebook friends before, after this guide you'll be BFFs. Or if he was, say, your sister's boyfriend or a distant second cousin--well, you'll know him like he's part of your immediate family. But you won't just know James and his teaching; as you'll learn in the guide, to hear (in this case, "read") in biblical times was to do. Our hope is that this new series will help us all in just that way--to become not just hearers of the word, but people who do it.

I realize that Christians tend to have a love/hate relationship with James. He does have some pretty hard things to say, after all (such as, "You adulterous people"; nice to be hit with that in your morning quiet time, huh?). But, as we see the historical context James is drawing from, starting right with verse 1 where he addresses his letter to "the twelve tribes scattered among the nations," his sometimes harsh words, though still challenging, make more sense and are a bit easier to absorb.

Editing this first study in the series is drawing on all my faculties--my knowledge of Scripture (Was James really drawing from the Old Testament when he said this? How would James's readers have interpreted this phrase? Is the connection to James clear in this exercise on Hosea?), my text-copyediting skills (Do these paragraphs in the reading flow together? Is the punctuation conformed to our house style? Will the reader be confused by this sentence?) and my Bible study-editing skills (Does this question make sense? Will it generate good discussion? Does it have the larger context of the passage in view? Are the most important points in the passage covered?). I'm being challenged in new ways as an editor--and as a studier of Scripture myself, as I learn new facts and, albeit somewhat subconsciously, take in and reflect on James's exhortations, even when I'm not working on the guide. Thankfully, seasoned Bible-study authors Andy and Phyllis Le Peau--longtime studiers and teachers and lovers of Scripture--have made my job easier by all the work they did (in their vast amounts of "spare" time between work and ministry and Very Cute grandkids) on this first draft.

Unfortunately for you, eager reader, the fact that I'm editing this great resource now means that it won't be available to you till next June. Consider this your sneak peek at the menu of the great "solid food" (not milk, to reference another New Testament great) to come. And this is just one of four; three other LifeGuides in Depth will be appearing in the spring as well: A Deeper Look at Daniel, A Deeper Look at the Fruit of the Spirit and A Deeper Look at the Sermon on the Mount. While you wait, you can decide which one you want to do first. And you can pray that God would deepen your love for him and his Word, and your love for others. That's been--and still is--our prayer for you. And I think I know James well enough to say that that would be his prayer too.


Related books you might like: How to Lead a LifeGuide Bible Study, Transforming Bible Study and The Bible Study Handbook (forthcoming).

Also check out Andy's post on our first inductive Bible study at Andy Unedited.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at May 9, 2012 3:49 PM Bookmark and Share

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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