Willard Swartley may not remember, but I was in a class of his at Eastern Mennonite University in 1967-68. I’ve often said that I am glad I was taught to doubt by a man of such simple faith. Our class was in the first period in the day, and customarily opened the session with a simple prayer. He always prayed, as I remember, that the Kingdom would come.
Now that I am about to teach a class on how to study the English bible, I think of Swartley. I was an eager student of the Bible, but he recognized that I would likely never be able to study it in Greek or Hebrew. So he pointed me to “The Joy of Discovery,” a book written by Oletta Wald. He assured me that this small book held the keys to fruitful study of the bible in English.
So I read the book and put to practice what it taught in my next years when I prepared to preach and teach the bible. Certainly, I have learned from others, but Swartley helped me to study and discover independently.
From my father I learned that a teacher is teaching only when the student experiences a change in behavior. I understand that how one behaves is more important than what one believes. My students may challenge that. I hope they do. Then I will know they are thinking, and I do want them to think.
The students will likely already know that study is a way to pursue knowledge. I will try to teach them how to attentively scrutinize a particular bible passage before trying to interpret its meaning or apply it to life in the twenty-first century.
Finally, I hope the students will see the value of listening intently when I talk to them, but will quickly agree with me that their own dedication to systematic practice of bible study is essential to skill development. They will learn little without personal practice.