Book Review: “Bible Study: A Student’s Guide” by Jon Nielson

Title: “Bible Study: A Student’s Guide”
Author: Jon Nielson
Publisher: P&R Publishing
ISBN: 978-1-59638-637-2
Pages: 224
Release Date: March 27, 2013
Rating: 5/5 (highly recommended)
Purchase: Amazon.com, WTS Bookstore

When I received this book from P&R Publishing, I didn’t have high hopes. I’ve seen enough “for students” books that are big on form and light on substance: lots of “commit your life” and “do big things” sentiments that are more emotionally charged than Scripturally exposited. When I saw the title of this book, I thought it would be more of the same. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. This book is so helpful and so on point in what it intends to do that I am impressed by it and thankful for it. I am glad to say that my prejudice toward this book was wrong, and gladder still to say that I learned a great deal from it.

The purpose of this book is indeed to equip students–high school students, to be specific–to be able to study the Bible in student-led groups. It is possible, Nielson assures us. By God’s grace, it is possible to have groups of high school students with the desire and training to study the Bible on their own, without veering into tangential topics or asking the rather unhelpful question, “What does this passage mean to you?” So Nielson builds this book around five truths: the Bible is God speaking, it is powerful, it is understandable, it is literary, and it is one story. The first three points are meant to persuade students of the importance of reading and studying the Bible. I think this is a wise choice. Once students are convinced that the Bible is breathed out by God, they will be bound by conscience and a love for the Word to study it. Then Nielson encourages them with the doctrine of perspecuity, that Scripture can be understood by everyone, so that they will not be discouraged by how daunting the task may seem.

One of the strengths of this book is that Nielson uses a tone and language that is comprehensible by high school students, and yet is not done in a way that shows he is talking down to them. In fact, as far as I know, this is not an adapted version of another book called Bible Study. This is a good thing, as books that are adapted for younger audiences tend to have oversimplified language and an almost condescending tone. Here, Nielson’s years of high school and college ministry show: he knows how to communicate with high school students, to respect their intelligence. (And shouldn’t we, if we are asking them to use their intelligence to study the Bible?) He does not shy away from difficult concepts or terms–such as “perspecuity”–but always takes the time to explain them. In doing so, he creates a book easily understandable by anyone in high school, and at the same time brings them up to a greater understanding of Scripture and doctrine. This is not easy to do, and rarely happens in books for high schoolers. I’m thankful for Pastor Nielson’s wisdom here, and I can easily recommend this to be read by high schoolers.

But in my opinion, the greatest strength is in the next two points that Nielson covers: the Bible is literary, and it is one story. This is the section where he addresses the interpretive difficulties of studying the Bible. I found this to be the greatest strength of this book because it’s where I learned the most. Nielson discusses how to read the different genres of Scripture, and how to view all the genres and books in a connected way, as they relate to God’s kingdom and to Jesus Christ. Nobody taught me those things, much less mentioned the importance of genre distinction or the singular storyline, when I was in high school. Yet they’re vital to getting a full picture of the gospel and God’s character. Without it, the most serious students of the Word will probably only read the epistles because they are the easiest to interpret and apply. I owe Pastor Nielson much thanks for teaching me more about these things, and for including them in this book. They are necessary for all students of Scripture to learn, and I commend him for not shying away from them because of his audience’s age.

I found this book very helpful, and I am not in high school. So don’t be deterred by the trendy design, or the fact that it’s aimed at high school students. This is a good book to pick up as a reminder of what it means to study the Bible, and how to study it. Buy it for your children, for your youth pastor (in a humble and shepherding way, of course), and for people who lead Bible studies. For Bible study leaders, there are two chapters at the end that talk about practical ways to incorporate these things into a Bible study. For pastors, there is a chapter with suggestions on how to make Bible study (led by students) a greater priority in the ministry. This book isn’t only for those who want to learn, but also those who lead. It is my pleasure to recommend this book to you, in the hopes that you will learn, as I have, how to study the Bible better.

NOTE: a preview of this book is available on the P&R website. You can read the first chapter and view the table of contents. Also, my deep thanks to Virginia at P&R Publishing, who sent me this book unsolicited upon hearing that I would be leading a small group next year. I didn’t ask for this book, but I’m thankful that she saw an opportunity to care for an unknown brother in Christ and provided it for me. I learned and was reminded of many things, and I will definitely be thinking about them as I start leading a small group in the fall. Thank you!

(This book was provided free for review by P&R Publishing, but the opinions contained herein are solely my own.)

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