10 Oct Bonus Episode: Understanding God’s Word with Dr. Tom Constable
As you’ve heard me reference throughout this series, there is a set of notes available to you by Dr. Tom Constable.
Dr. Constable has taken the aggregate of commentaries, quotes, outlines, and synthesis and has put them in a simple form for you and me to use in personal study.
One of my goals for the big book cover to cover study was, for one, personal: I needed to review and rethink how I am teaching the Bible and my personal study.
I’ve been encouraged beyond measure, learning things and the stepping back and going, “There’s so many good resources out there available that do this already. Why do we need another overview of the Bible?”
So what I’ve been trying to do is emphasize some of the things that maybe are key to a book, or are not necessarily addressed as you’ve listened to the podcast.
Today I’m thrilled to have Dr. Constable here and to answer some of my questions, and to talk about the creation of these outlines.
In addition to teaching thousands of young men and women in the Bible Exposition Department for the last 45 years, Dr. Tom Constable also founded and directed the Field Education Department (1970-85), founded and directed the Center for Biblical Studies (1973), directed the Doctor of Ministry degree program (1979-96) and over the last 15 years served as the Department Chairman of Bible Exposition. He has written commentaries on all 66 books of the Bible that continue to influence countless people all over the world through “Tom Constable’s Expository Notes on the Bible”. Through the years, Tom and Mary have also ministered in more than three dozen countries and have regularly hosted seminary students and families in their home. Their relational ministry has changed the lives of so many. Tom’s practical ministry of training pastors and missionaries to teach the Bible continues to multiply exponentially. Tom and Mary’s influence is not just global – it’s personal. In 1968, the Constables founded Plano Bible Chapel and Tom served as pastor until 1980. He has continued to serve as an elder and elder advisory council member, teacher and pulpit speaker to this day. The Constables impact in each of our lives cannot be fully expressed or measured in earthly terms. Tom retired from DTS in July 2011 after 45 years of faithful living, teaching, and leading. PBC celebrated God’s faithfulness through both Tom and Mary on that occasion as they continue serving the Lord around the world today.
Tom, it’s great to have you on in context. Thanks for being here.
Thank you, Mike.
So let’s go back. Was this something for personal study on your own teaching as a pastor? Why did you start assembling these notes?
Well, I started teaching in the Bible exposition department at Dallas in 1980. And my goal was to teach all the books of the Bible there. And I was able to do that, by God’s grace, several times. So I ended up writing notes on all the books of the Bible. And as people became aware of it and wanted access to it, I became more and more aware that, yes, a lot of people were interested in this. So that encouraged me to keep going.
Your research, though, is pretty extensive. And as a pastor, you know, for almost 40 years now – I had a little hiatus not being a pulpit – but the hours back when we had textbooks as opposed to software, it takes lots of time, you’ve got to be a bookworm, and disciplined to sit in the chair and read and take notes and synthesize it. Did you have like a wiring to do that?
Well, that’s interesting how it’s really a gift from God that I’m able to read as much as I do, because when I was a young man, in high school, for instance, I wasn’t interested in reading at all. It was only when I got into Bible study that I began developing an interest in reading commentaries and Bible study helps various kinds. And I think the Lord just gave me that as a gift.
Well, a lot of us on the receiving side are glad you have the gift. And sometimes when I’m in a bit of a crunch, I always tell people, there are certain commentaries I don’t look at first. If I look at Derek Kidner, or Tom Constable, I just want to rip it all off and cheat.
You gotta do some spade work on your own before you cut to the chase, but the thing that I appreciate is the what you and I call support or ancillary material that you might come across this way out of, you know, normal bandwidth of a Bible student or a BASF, or preceptor, they’re not going to have some of the anecdotal information, some of the great quotes you come across.
So that’s why I’m, you know, continually encouraging our little church Stonebridge Bible Church to say, go look at these outlines, print them off when you read your Bible. And we’ve had a lot of great response.
Let me let me change gears a little bit, Tom. So number one, what’s your assessment of the Bible Church, evangelical church teaching in America? And are they teaching the Bible?
Well, this is just my personal opinion, of course, I’m not an authority in this area.
But it seems to me that Christians generally are not really that familiar with all of Scripture.
So I conclude that they are not being taught this in the in their churches, and they’re not studying it on their own to the extent that I think it would be helpful for them to do that. Studies have been done about the biblical illiteracy that now characterizes American culture.
I see it in my church as you do in years, kids come to Awana or Sunday school, and they have no idea who David is or who Jesus is, or who Adam was. It’s just not part of our culture anymore. These things are not general knowledge. So there’s a dearth of this in the church today. And even among Christians who have been there a long time. I think it’s sometimes rather startling when they make comments that reveal that they really haven’t even read through the Bible, or they’re unfamiliar with all of it, or even important parts of it.
Do you think and you know, you and I have dear friend in Prof, who is with the Lord now, Dr. Hendricks, he made the comment that every incoming class, he saw a drop in biblical literacy, and the law of diminishing returns after he taught what, 60 to 63 years, I guess that meant there was a negative aggregate for incoming classes. But, I know there’s no like the issue we could point the blame to, and I’m not asking that, but what do you think contributed or contributes to the fact that people are not reading scripture, or are not interested in it and don’t want to do the work?
Well, I think a couple of factors come to mind. One is the view that has become so widespread throughout the world, that the scriptures are full of errors, and that they have been disproven by scientific discoveries, and by other discoveries, so people don’t respect the Bible, they don’t have confidence that what they’re reading is reliable. And I think that’s a major influence.
The other thing is that, because they have that background, when problems arise in their personal lives, they tend to get angry with God, because they don’t know God. They don’t know what God is doing, and so they turn their backs on God.
And if they are going to turn their back on God, they’re not going to be interested in what He has to say. So they abandon scripture.
I find it striking how many people have told me over the years, whether it’s, you know, allegedly a Christian, or just a person I’m trying to be a friend to, and they will say something to the effect of, :well, I could never love a God that–” you know, fill in the blank: the lets evil, lets AIDs occur, lets war, lets one person be president, or whatever.
And, you know, I’ve tried to be diplomatic, which I’m not very, and say, so what you’re telling me is you’ve just created God in your image.
Because when you say “I can’t believe in a God who–” you’ve revealed two things: You’ve revealed, you don’t know the God of the Scripture, or you don’t know him well, and you’ve exposed that you think you know better.
Not very diplomatic.
And the other thing I want, I want your take on this. And I don’t know, Plano may not have this issue, but that I love technology. I’m looking at three devices, as you and I are talking actually four including the audio tech. We’re not even using tablets, we’re using our phones for everything.
They’re reading the Bible on their phone. And I’m going, what’s happened between just the content of holding a book in your hand, the aesthetic value, the kinesthetic of marking your Bible, taking notes, taking notes on a piece of paper – Have you given thought to that, and how that affects people?
Well, some, Yes. I think there are fewer readers than there used to be. And that, of course, impacts Bible reading.
But the Bible is still available on all kinds of electronic media. And I don’t think there’s any excuse for ignoring it.
If, if people will download it, or just view it on their device. It’s there. It’s the same Bible. So whether you read it electronically or on a page, doesn’t make much difference. I have a good friend who says every time he sits down with a book, he falls asleep. Well, that’s the way some people are, and that’s fine. But he handles electronic media fine. So he needs to read his Bible on his tablet or his phone.
And I’d say, well, maybe you shouldn’t sit in a comfy chair at 10 o’clock at night to read your Bible. Maybe sit in a stiff-backed chair at the kitchen table in the morning.
But I do think, and these little factoids run together, but I saw something at the bottom of maybe USA Today that talked about, you know, literacy and reading. And I remember when I was with the Moody Bible Institute, asking our Moody Press, “okay, we produce all these books, we sell these Bibles, do people read them? When we sell a book, or they download it, do they read it?” Of course, there’s no way to measure that unless someone subscribes to a reading program that you could follow.
You and I both came from a masters level background where it was academic, and you had to read – and that was part part of the joy of it as well, but also somewhat laborious. So I tell people going to college, you’re paying someone to make you do what you would not do on your own. Right?
And all the more and engineering or medicine or theology programs, but the trend seems to be very brief, snippet reading, as opposed to, I’m going to sit with my Bible for half hour or an hour and read and take some notes and pray and ask some questions in the margin, and maybe share it with a friend next time I have coffee: What do you think about this verse?
When I do that mount, traffic and world experience, it’s always an easy conversation. You know, “I was reading in Psalm 51. And, you know, I never saw this before. Have you noticed that?” And it’s amazing how easy it is. And I’m talking about friends that I know, not some perfect stranger. But it just seems to be, we lead in a way perhaps that’s imperceptible, but we don’t realize how powerful it is just to bring up the fact, “Hey, I was reading this morning in Isaiah. And I noticed something I had never seen before.”
Well, I think what you’re doing in your present series, is very important to take a synopsis of each of the books of the Bible, so that people get a bird’s eye view of it. And having that, I think, encourages people to go back to it to find out more of the detail.
When you look across the church, how would you encourage us to, you know, reinvigorate interest in Scripture?
Well, I think it goes beyond whether we like to read books or not.
What it really is involves is the fact that God, who created the universe, has revealed Himself. He has spoken. And if He has spoken, we need to know what He has said.
And what He has said is scripture, it’s in the Bible. And so we ought to get into it for that reason. Every word of God that God has spoken is important. We need to pay attention to what He has said. He hasn’t said things just because He likes to talk, like some people.
But everything He has said, is important. And that should drive our interest in Bible study: To find out what He said, to understand it, and to respond accordingly.
When we I talk about prayer, and how most Christians struggle with you know, I don’t pray enough, I don’t know how to pray, prayer is boring, etc. I often say: prayer is a relationship, not a religion. And prayer is speaking to the God of the universe. And the only language I know how to speak to Him in is not the repetitions that I always say, but it’s what the Word tells me about Him.
We’ve got these great psalms and songs and discourses and little segments of Pauline prayer that make my prayer look like an ABC primer, versus these men and women who wrote scripture who are talking to the God of the universe.
To me that’s invigorating, is it? Okay, this is how I communicate with this Person I can’t see or touch or, you know, have a cup of coffee with – and I love your motivation. God’s word, God’s Spirit and God’s people has always been my repetition.
We know God through His Word.
We understand God through His Spirit
And we are sharpened, shaped, and discipled by God’s people.
God’s Word, God’s Spirit, God’s people. And it just seems almost a broken-record-task, today, to encourage people to get into the Word for the very reason you so eloquently described: to know the God of the universe.
Final comment: Some of our friends are listening to the podcast love hearing encouragement and recommendations. How would you encourage them to, not just get their nose in the book and read it, but how would you encourage them and their walk in their knowing the Word and knowing Christ?
Well, I think if they’ll just read the Bible more, they’ll find that their lives will be tremendously enriched.
There’s an awful lot of Christian literature out there, and I find that Christian people are reading hot writers, hot authors. And that’s fine.
But I think we need to read more of the Bible itself.
And when I’ve done that, it has changed my life more than anything else, more than any other one book.
When people ask me what my favorite book is, I say it’s the Bible. Because that’s the life changing Word of God that He uses by His Spirit to make us more like His Son.
Dr. Tom constable. He is the founding pastor of the Plano Bible chapel, author of the Dr. constables, Bible, study notes, we’ll put them in the show notes as well, easily accessible, I cannot encourage you enough to go download. Start with your favorite book of the Bible. Maybe it’s the gospel of John or the book of Ruth or the Psalms, and you will learn great insights, great synthesis.
Just to underscore what we’ve been talking about: one of the challenges for many people who study scripture is the big picture: How do I get the synthesis?
We get lost in the details or the hard passages or the genealogies, and Dr. constables notes will help you get a big picture.
Think through a grid time, date, author outline, main ideas, and then he will walk you through chapter by chapter, a very good synthesis of sometimes passages that are hard for us to keep our arms around.
So Tom, thanks for your love for the Lord for your love for his word. For your encouragement for students like me, and just appreciate your ongoing ministry brother.