Help Me Teach the Bible: An Interview with Nancy Guthrie
TT: What led you to begin teaching the Bible? How have your life experiences shaped your teaching ministry?
NG: I am grateful to have grown up in a home in which going to church and serving the church was a given. I studied Bible in college and then began a career as a publicist in Christian publishing that lasted about twenty-five years. In that role, I worked closely with many excellent communicators of God’s Word, and I had the opportunity to observe how they handled and applied the Scriptures as well as how they operated—for good and for bad—in ministry. But what really kindled the desire to teach was sitting on the front row under an excellent Bible Study Fellowship teaching leader week by week for eight years. As I experienced the impact of the Word in my own life and observed it in others, I developed a growing sense that I couldn’t imagine doing anything more significant with my life than teaching the Bible.
TT: You launched a podcast for The Gospel Coalition called Help Me Teach the Bible in which you interview excellent preachers, teachers, and theologians on how to teach a particular book or particular aspect of the Bible. What do you hope to accomplish with this podcast?
NG: Teaching the Bible is thrilling, but it can also be intimidating—especially if you want to teach it rightly but haven’t had a lot of training. So I want to encourage and equip Sunday school teachers, youth group leaders, and Bible study leaders to teach through a book of the Bible with a sense of how that book fits into the whole of the message of the Bible and flow of redemptive history. I also want to introduce lay teachers to excellent sources and mentors they might not be familiar with. While some of those I’m interviewing are quite well known, others may be less known—especially those from the United Kingdom and Australia. They are all people I’ve learned from and want to learn more from.
TT: You have written about how God has sustained you and your family through the death of two of your three children. What counsel would you give to a couple whose child has died?
NG: Well, I should probably say that I wouldn’t presume to offer counsel unless they asked me for it. Sometimes, those of us who have experienced loss are quick to want to become “tour guides” in grief. But we never want to presume that we know how someone else feels in grief or what their loss is like.
When someone who has lost a child asks if they will ever feel better, I often say that it is going to hurt for a while. And it might get worse before it gets better. But God is a healer. As we pursue Him in the midst of our questions and despair rather than run away from Him, He works by His Spirit through His Word to bring acceptance and healing, and even joy.
TT: What encouragement would you give to someone who wants to minister to those who have experienced such a loss?
NG: Walking with others through this kind of loss is more of a marathon than a sprint, so come alongside with a willingness to share their sorrow over the long term. A parent’s greatest fear is that his or her child who has died will be forgotten. So keep saying that child’s name. Mark your calendar with the three-month, six-month, one-year anniversaries of the child’s death and beyond, and let them know on those days that you haven’t forgotten. Tell them something you remember and miss about that child. Give them an extra hug as milestones come and go that they are not experiencing with their child—starting school, graduation, weddings, etc. Even though our daughter Hope lived only six months, I keep track of the children who were born around the time she was. Next year, they’ll all graduate from high school. Just the thought of it brings fresh tears to my eyes.
TT: What are Respite Retreats, and how do they help parents who have endured the loss of a child?
NG: Since 2009, my husband, David, and I have been hosting three or four Respite Retreats every year. It’s just us and eleven couples at a lodge outside Nashville for a weekend. Couples come from all over the country and find a sense of relief to be with others who understand their tears and fears and regrets. We tell our stories and talk through things like what to do with your child’s belongings and how to mark the anniversary of his or her death. We shed a lot of tears, but we also laugh together—something some of these couples haven’t done for a long time. And we spend time together in the Word and in worship. To stand and sing, “You give and take away, my heart will choose to say: Blessed be the name of the Lord!” with these twenty-two people is a sacred experience.
TT: You travel a lot to speak at women’s conferences and at churches. What are you seeing take place among women in the church today?
NG: As someone who grew up generally evangelical but with no understanding of the Reformed faith, I am so encouraged by the young women I meet who love God’s Word and are theologically astute without being rigid. And it is really fun to meet women in their eighties and nineties who are leading Bible studies at their assisted living centers or in their homes. I am sometimes discouraged, however, when I go to the websites of churches that I know have strong, sound preaching in the pulpit, yet I find that the women’s ministry is offering studies that seem more oriented toward social causes, personal improvement, or felt needs than about the greatest need of every woman, which is to see and savor Jesus Christ.
TT: Tell us about your book and DVD series Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. What impact has the years you’ve spent developing these studies had on you?
NG: The series comprises five ten-session studies—The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis; The Lamb of God: Seeing Jesus in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; The Son of David: Seeing Jesus in the History Books; The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books; and The Word of the Lord: Seeing Jesus in the Prophets. Each week of study includes personal Bible study questions, a teaching chapter to read or watch on video, a discussion guide, and something I haven’t seen in any other study—a section on how that part of the Old Testament points to what is yet to come when Christ returns and establishes the new heavens and new earth. I’m trying to get participants to see how every part of Scripture fits into the larger story of redemptive history.
Creating this series has made me even more thoroughly convinced that the Bible has one divine author and that God guides the course of history and the future toward His appointed end. I love getting e-mails and letters from and having conversations with those who are participating in the studies. They tell me that though they’ve studied the Scriptures for years, they’re seeing things they’ve never seen before. The whole story of the Bible is finally coming together for them. Oftentimes, those who use the videos tell me that their group sits in silence for a few minutes when they’re done, overwhelmed by how these Old Testament texts reveal the person and work of Christ in ways they haven’t seen before. That is thrilling.
TT: What resources have helped you the most in your understanding of the Bible and how it should be applied in your life?
NG: My husband recently did some work on my computer and is now convinced that I must have the largest collection of audio sermons in the world. Of course I don’t, but I have done a lot of listening to excellent teachers and preachers of God’s Word—especially those who teach or preach with a strong sense of biblical theology. Because I’m not just trying to understand Scripture for myself but also trying to figure out how to communicate its truths to others, it is helpful to hear how respected pastors and theologians explain and apply the text, keep the person and work of Christ at the center, and point their listeners toward adoration of Christ.
Nancy Guthrie is an author, conference speaker, and Bible teacher. She and her husband, David, host Respite Retreats—weekend retreats designed for couples who have faced the death of a child. Nancy has written several books reflecting her compassion for hurting people and her desire to apply God’s Word to real life. Her many books and series include The One Year Praying through the Bible for Your Kids, What Grieving People Wish You Knew about What Really Helps (and What Really Hurts), and the Bible study series The Promised One.