Friday, June 26, 2015

Word Magazine # 38: Review: M:28 Bible Study

Note:  I posted to today WM # 38:  Review:  M:28 Bible Study.  Below are my notes for this episode (that I did not always follow) along with links to various sites related to the M:28 Bible Study and to ISI, the organization promoting it. 

Purpose:  I am doing this review in response to a request from a CRBC member who is doing short term mission support service in another country. While there he has encountered missionaries using a Bible study called “M:28.”  He had some negative intuitive reactions to the some of the concepts being used in the study and asked me to look at the material and offer a critique.  This WM is the response to that request.  Hopefully others might find it helpful.

Where does M:28 come from?

If you google something like “M:28 Bible Study” you will be directed to the website for this ministry:

The homepage has the title heading:  “M:28 Global Discipleship Initiative”

I assume that the M:28 name comes from Matthew 28:19-20, the Great Commission, though I could not find a place where this is clearly explained.

On a welcome page, the M:28 is described as an initiative of a para-church organization (ministry or business?) called ISI (International Students, Inc).  The welcome page is signed by Dr. Doug Shaw, President and CEO of ISI.

This led me to the website for the organization.  It is apparently based in Colorado Springs, CO with multiple affiliated persons (staff?) located at various college and Universities across the country where the focus is ministry to international students.  The Virginia page, for example, lists a number of schools where ISI apparently has some ministry to international students including both UVA and PVCC.

One page linked on an alternative website offers a brief history of the organization noting that it began in Washington DC in 1953.  It shifted to “a conference-based strategy” in 1972 and moved to Star Ranch in Colorado Springs that same year.  In the mid-1980s it began to focus on “equipping local church members to reach out to international students on nearby campuses.”  Shaw, the President, joined the organization in 2001.  Another page does list a board of twelve persons, mainly business leaders.

Shaw, howewer, is the only staff member I could find with a profile.  Even that one is a little vague.  For example, it says he has both an earned MA and PhD but it does not say in what field he earned these degrees or where he earned them. Was either degree in theology?

The ISI website does include a brief statement of faith that does affirm things like the inspiration of the Bible, a Trinitarian understanding of God, etc.

Furthermore, a statement of ISI’s Mission and Core Values does mention cooperation with and dependence upon local churches, though I could find no links to supporting churches.

Back to the site, there is an M:28 background page which indicates that this method has been around in some form for about 20 years (since 1995?).  It also includes some other interesting information about M:28.  Here is the page’s content (with some sections underlined for emphasis by me):

Some 20 years ago, God moved in the hearts of a number of church planters to reconsider the church planting process. They went back to the Scriptures and discovered that today’s western church may have made the process too complicated, and burdened it with western cultural baggage. As they stripped the process down to just the essentials, churches in their spheres of influence began to multiply rapidly. This movement became known as the organic church movement or CPM (Church Planting Movements). It is based on the Discovery Bible Study approach to truth discovery. According to this model (David Watson and others), the Word of God and the Spirit of God are sufficient for anyone to follow Jesus. Anything we give people other than the Word of God (e.g., interpretations, background, theology, definitions, examples, etc.) carries with it cultural baggage which will thwart the natural growth of new churches in their culture.

The foundation of ISI's M:28 Global Discipleship model is the Discovery Bible Study process. Once a spiritual seeker, or a "person of peace" has been identified, we meet with them and go over a simple 4-step bible study. Afterwards, they are encouraged to share truth they have discovered with others (friends, family, acquaintances, etc.) and report back what happened.

After 2-3 weeks of meeting, the group is closed. Group members are encouraged to meet with any additional people who want to join by forming another group with that person and their friends. Many people are ultimately part of two groups.

When a student, or group of students come to know Christ personally, we begin discipleship bible study with them, following the same truth discovery model. The discipleship process is based equally on sharing results of obedience, learning new truth from God's Word, and practicing obedience to new truth for the next step. Key passages are provided for M:28 discipleship bible studies, which can be done one-on-one, in small groups, or even over Skype with returnees.

Let me return to the two underlined sections from this page:

1.  The creators claim that the Western church has made Christianity too complicated and they simply want to strip things down to the essentials.

2.  The creators believe that things like “interpretation, background, theology, definitions, examples, etc.” carry too much “cultural baggage’ and so are to be avoided.

Oddly enough and contrary to this claim, this sounds like a typical, modern Western evangelical approach to the Bible (solo scriptura rather than sola scriptura).    This reflects a primitivism that suggests one can read the Bible with no preconceived notions of tradition or doctrine.  But reading and study of the Bible must necessarily involve theological presuppositions and theological interpretations.  Unless you are going to read the Bible in Hebrew or Greek, for example, you are going to be dependent on the interpretation of the translators!

What is the M:28 method of Bible study?

Let’s turn now to discuss the M:28 Bible Study method.  Now, admittedly I am making these comments based on the brief, sample material shared on the website.  There are apparently longer and more documents that one receives if he goes through their training.

But on the site, one can find a pdf which gives both the “Facilitator Guide” and the “Bible Study Guidelines (also called Group Rules)” (also available as pdfs here).
Let’s look at each of these:

First the “Facilitators Guide”:

1.  The leader is called a “facilitator.” If we are stripping things back to Biblical practice why is he not called a teacher or an elder or a pastor?  What restrictions are there on this role?  Must one be a mature Christian?  Is there a confessional or church membership requirement?  Can a woman lead the study?

2.  Each study session is base on three segments:  connect, discover, respond (and then close with prayer—by whom?  A volunteer?  Does this include non-believers leading in public prayer?).

The connect segment seems designed to be an icebreaker.

The discovery segment focuses on a Bible passage being read aloud twice, retold, and then discussed with the facilitators asking questions like, “What does this passage mean?”

The Respond segment uses application questions that begin, “If this passage is true…” giving room for response for those who do not accept the Bible as true.

Second, the “Bible Study Guidelines” (Group Rules):

The guidelines include instruction to limit discussion only to the passage being read.  What about Scripture interpreting Scripture?

The facilitator is also told “don’t teach” and “Don’t contribute your answer/comment to every question.”  If a “strange” or “wrong” interpretation is given (note the quotation marks) the facilitator is given strategies for redirection, including letting the group develop a “culture of self-correction.”  But what if the group also agrees with the wrong interpretation?

Note: The pdf handout include a note that these questions are adapted from “David Watson’s CPM [Church Planting Movement] Resources.”  David Watson is a former SBC missiologist.

Note:  M:28 includes at least three series:  Discovering God series (evangelism) and the Following Jesus Series and Growing in Maturity Series (discipleship).

Some concerns about M:28:

In the end, I believe I understand why the young man who had been part of our confessional RB church had some intuitive reactions against the M:28 Bible Study method.  Here are several concerns:

1.  M:28 is promoted by a para-church, non-denominational organization with seemingly only weak ties to existing local church ministry.

2.  It assumes that Bible study can be done without interpretation and theology.

3.  It promotes a method of evangelism based on small group discussion meetings.  Is this the NT model?  No.  The NT model for evangelism is based primarily on the means of preaching.

4.  It promotes leadership by non-authoritative facilitators rather than by elders, persons gifted and called to preach and teach the gospel.  It therefore represents a revolt against Biblical, ecclesiastical authority.

5.  By promotion of relativistic and non-directive methods it actually reinforces the ways of this world rather than promoting a Christian worldview, ecclesiology, and authority based on Biblical teaching.

6.  It explicitly rejects the Reformed and Biblical notion of “Scripture interpreting Scripture.”

Conclusion:  God can use whatever means he is pleased to use.  I would not, however, suggest or promote the M:28 Bible Study as a means for either evangelism or discipleship. Contrast the method promoted by M:28 with the models given in Acts where the revealed means of evangelism and discipleship is the public preaching and teaching of the Word of God by appointed officers (not small discussion groups) (cf. Acts 8:31, 35; 9:20, 22; 10:30-32; 13:7).


No comments: