Scripture as a cookbook, blueprint or trail map

8 Habits of Evangelism author on teaching says the Bible is for ‘living’

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger is pictured teaching during the Presbyterian Foundation’s Stewardship Kaleidoscope in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Gregg Brekke)

LOUISVILLE — What do a cookbook, a blueprint, a trail map and the Bible have in common?

According to the Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger, associate professor of a leadership formation at Fuller Theological Seminary, they are all performative documents.

“My grandmother, who had an Italian restaurant, taught me how to cook, so we have cookbooks everywhere,” Bolsinger said. “My wife likes to read recipes aloud. They sound so good I want to lick the magazine — but what if that’s all she did? The whole point of the recipe is to make the food.”

In the same way, his dad was an architect, so Bolsinger grew up looking at plans. His cousin even has a set of blueprints of the house his grandparents built framed on his wall.

“It’s a beautiful monument, but it would’ve been terrible if that was just a set of plans and the house never got built,” he said.

For Bolsinger, the point of a performative document is that it’s meant to be turned into something — cooking a dish or building a house.

Which begs the question, “What is the Bible used for? What does the Bible do?”

Bolsinger chose to write about the Bible as a performative document in his lesson on teaching for the new 8 Habits of Evangelism resource, produced by Theology, Formation & Evangelism in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

On Wednesday during an online discussion about teaching he told participants that many people think the point of the Scriptures is just to read them, to know or memorize them so that they can do well on Bible quizzes.

“Nooo,” Bolsinger said. “The Bible is for living.”

Too often, he added, evangelism is seen as preaching and proclaiming the gospel after someone is good and converted. But Scriptures don’t separate evangelism that way. In the Great Commission passage (Matthew 28:16-20) Jesus tells his remaining 11 disciples to “go and make [more] disciples.”

“So, you’re making people who are learning, being instructed in the way of Jesus and baptized into a community learning to grow into this way of life,” Bolsinger said.

Seen this way, evangelism and the habit of teaching becomes very practical, like another performance document, a trail map. If you’ve ever been on a hike in the woods and the weather turned bad, or it’s getting dark, you know how important this is to have something to guide you, Bolsinger said.

His point: Sometimes you have to trust in a bigger picture that will lead you out of being lost. That somebody has been here before and has mapped it out.


The Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger, bottom row, speaks with, from left, the Rev. Dr. Ray Jones III and the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill of Theology, Formation & Evangelism. (Screenshot)

As Bolsinger talks with church leaders, he finds talking about Scriptures this way is helpful, particularly with what we’re all going through, which he describes as unprecedented in our lifetime.

“We’re in 1918 (the flu pandemic), 1929 (the start of Great Depression), and 1968 (the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the ensuing race riots), all at the same time,” he said. “We’ve had a health crisis, an economic crisis and a crisis of social injustice, which has led to political rancor and division in our society. Many of our churches are at the edge of tearing apart.”

What Bolsinger stresses with church leaders is what Scriptures teach us, that God knows — and that God has been through this.

“It’s like the, ‘Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me,’ idea” (Psalm 23),” he said. “Somebody had to write that down, which is wisdom being passed down. And we believe the Holy Spirit inspired it to be canonized, so that it could talk to us, so that we have it.”

Bolsinger hopes his teaching lesson restores the notion that teaching is meant for people who want to experience the wisdom and love of God  The way we teach, he said, should nourish people and make them hungry for more.

His grandmother’s restaurant, where she cooked his grandfather’s recipes, wasn’t fancy. It was more like big family suppers where everybody ate.

“This is what Bible studies should feel like,” Bolsinger said.  “A big family meal, where everybody is so full that they want to do it for somebody else. Teach people how to read the Bible wholeheartedly so that people learn to set the table for others. Be curious, honest, brave and inquisitive of Scripture, so people are hungry for the next meal.”

The next 8 Habits of Evangelism webinar will be at 3 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, Oct. 27, with  Dr. Leanne Van Dyk  discussing the habit of generosity.

Go deeper with each of the 8 Habits authors who will be featured at the REvangelism Conference from Montreat Conference Center Nov. 1–3. The first 200 people to register save up to 40%. Individuals receive $30 off the $100 registration fee.

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