The Swedish Method

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Sweden is the country of origin for many inventions: the adjustable spanner, three-point seat belts, TetraPaks (which replaced milk bottles), and even the pacemaker.

But Sweden has made another quiet contribution to the world: Bible study. Christians have always been keen to engage with God’s word (Acts 17:11), but the Swedes have brought a Scandinavian simplicity to reading God’s word.

You may have noticed the three pictures which have appeared on the bottom of the sermon notes recently. They are the three symbols of the Swedish Method for Bible study. Like IKEA instructions, they’re all in pictures, but they’re much easier to follow than those for making flat-packed furniture. You don’t need any special tools, just a Bible (perhaps a pen and paper) and a heart that’s happy to hear what God has to say.

A Swedish study group developed these visual reminders for the three main tasks of Bible study:

  1. Understanding – finding out what the passage says (what shines out of it)
  2. Investigation – asking questions of the passage (what I’d like to ask).
  3. Application – identifying how to apply the passage to ourselves (what changes my life).

The light bulb, the question mark and the arrow can help us to engage with God’s word to us, rather than simply reading our Bibles and putting them back on the shelf. Jesus says that failing to understand and change when we read God’s word is a dangerous thing to do:

“Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” Luke 8:18.

James is equally insistent that how we hear is of central importance:

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak… 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:19, 22-25.

As we ask what the Bible is saying, we are better prepared to know and obey God, to know ourselves and where God wants our lives to change, and to encourage and correct others. That’s why the Swedish Method symbols are on the sermon notes: to help us recognise what God is saying to us.

It’s also a great way to read the Bible with someone else (your spouse, another believer, or someone who is interested in finding out more about Jesus). For ideas on how to do that, I’m happy to give you a copy of David Helm’s great little book, One To One Bible Reading: A Simple Guide for Every Christian (2011: Matthias Media).

However we do it, our personal Bible study and our engagement with God’s word as it is preached should change us. And they can both provide discoveries for us to discuss when we meet after church and during the week. I look forward to sharing what we’re learning together.

Yours in Christ’s service,

Stephen McDonald

Published by Stephen McDonald

Christian, preacher, broadcaster

%d bloggers like this: