Blogging Through Biblical DoctrineHave you wanted to read a theology book, but haven’t known where to begin? In this series, Jess is blogging through John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue’s book, Biblical Doctrine. Print the study guides at the bottom of each post (or on the Resources page) and follow along! Also, be sure to join the associated women’s Facebook page to discuss the study with other Christian women. Finally, if you want to go back and start at the beginning you may find the Introduction article here.
At this point you should have book in hand, binder prepped, lined paper on which to answer your study guide questions (you won’t have room on the handouts), some highlighters (orange, blue, green, yellow, and pink), pens or pencils at the ready, and a warm cuppa’ by your side.
It was quite a few weeks into our real-life study (the study with my own church ladies) that I discovered the women were having some trouble navigating the text. I know for some of us it’s been quite a while since we’ve cracked open a mighty tome. So I wanted to get this article out, right at the start, to help remind you of the best methods of studying a textbook, along with a few tips I’ve made my own. I recommend following these tips consecutively, but there is always flexibility as you find a study groove that works best for you.
Read all of the headings for the required section. Highlight the headings in orange. Familiarize yourself as best you can with these key topics.
Skim the text, focusing on the first and last sentences of each paragraph; that’s where the meat of the information is located. Once you’ve skimmed the assigned section, you’ll have a general understanding what the section is about, and now you will be able to glean much more from the second reading.
Read the section a second time. Read slower, more methodically, and apply tips 4-8 as you read.
Highlight terms and definitions in blue. This way you can find them easily when you go back to study, complete the study guide, and discuss the section.
Highlight Scripture references in green. I like to do this because I may not look up and read every Scripture verse in my Bible on the first reading, but I almost always go back when I’m finished reading the section and solidify my understanding with the references, reading the Scriptures directly from my Bible.
Highlight key information in yellow. Whatever you come across that is particularly important or notable, highlight it. Write questions or comments in the margins.
Highlight any personal application in pink. We don’t always realize how personal and devotional the study of theology is. We often chock it up to head knowledge that we must drudge through for the sake of our edification. But that is not the case at all. Doctrine, rightly divided, spurs the soul toward meditation and reflection, toward sanctification and spiritual maturity.
Never hesitate to pen a hearty “Amen,” a smiley face, an exclamation point, or a little heart in the margins! Make this study your own. Add your personal flare.
If you are doubting the value of color-coding or highlighting your text, if you are approaching these tips with some skepticism, allow me to share a quick “why” behind this highlighting system. There are several reasons why it is helpful and important. One, it makes it so much easier when you are flipping back through to answer the study-guide questions. (By the way, it’s also helpful to read the questions before you read the text each week as well.) Two, this textbook will be a resource you’ll return to time and time again, so once you learn this method, the highlighted parts will help you navigate those references quickly. And finally three, this highlighting method also helps you navigate through the section quickly and easily during discussion.
Lastly, before you jump right into chapter one, go ahead and read the Preface. It’s good to do that. Don’t worry if you don’t understand every word in it. Get the gist and move on. Take some time to familiarize yourself with the textbook. Take a look at the “Contents,” “Analytical Outline,” “List of Hymns,” and “List of Tables” at the beginning of the book. Peruse the “Basic Glossary” in the back.
Before I wrap up this article, I want to say one more thing: these are tips. You have to do what works best for you. If you start to apply them and they cause you more frustration than help, go ahead and ditch ’em. And if you want to give this highlighting system a whirl you can print out this cheat sheet/bookmark from here. (Be sure to fold it the “hot dog way,” and stick it in your textbook.)
One more thing! As requested by some lovely ladies in the Facebook group, here is the reading plan for the first 21 weeks. This takes us all the way to chapter 4: Christology.
And now, what you’ve been waiting so sweetly and patiently for, here is the study guide for the first section of the Prolegomena. Also, you may always download these guides from the Resources page at any time (that way you don’t have to find the specific article each time).
See you next Thursday as we discuss the what and why to the study of systematic theology.