We’ve had a couple of interesting conversations in the past week or so. One was with a proponent of the Socratic method of teaching, asking how the Inquiry method compares to Socratic method. The other was with our brother, David Nicholson, a curriculum designer and education theorist, who has applied the Inquiry method to small group Bible study (which will be employed under David’s oversight at “Falling in Love With the Lord,” the first Parenthesis conference, May 27-29).
As you probably know, the Socratic method is the technique used by Socrates to engage his students, highlight inconsistencies in their thinking, and draw them into learning. The method was based on questions. A participant states a hypothesis. The moderator asks a question—in essence cross examining the hypothesis. The group addresses the question. By this approach, the moderator leads the group into sound learning and thinking. It’s how almost all law schools are taught (among other things). And it is a valuable teaching tool.
By contrast, Inquiry method focuses the individuals within the group to examine a common text—say John 3. Then, having examined the text, or as they are examining it, each individual writes a list of questions—things they authentically wonder about. These questions become the fuel for the discussion.
“A really good Inquiry method Bible teacher will find ways to get the group to do all the talking…both the asking and the answering,” was David’s comment on the subject. The difference, then, is that Socratic method is more interactive than “direct instruction,” but it is still moderator-centric. An objective of Inquiry method is to provide tools for individuals to use in their personal study. So, the entire approach is built around authentic activities that simulate the best practices of the personal study time of good Bible students.
One potential problem with Inquiry method is that it allows everyone to interpret the Bible in a way that suits him or her. This, of course, would not be sound Bible teaching, since the Bible contains objective themes, doctrines, and truths. We asked David about that.
“People tend to want to go directly to application,” he said. “Before they really know what the passage says and how it connects with other passages of Scripture, they want to start applying it. As an Inquiry method moderator, whenever I see someone going for a premature application, or proposing some position that is foreign to any prior orthodoxy, I say, ‘prove it.’”
That’s why a mutual agreement regarding the authority of scripture is an underlying fundamental of the method. Once we agree that the final authority is the Bible itself, we can test (prove) our applications against the anvil the Lord has provided.
Parenthesis is a New Testament assembly work, created to inspire Millennials to look into the person of Jesus Christ, by looking into the Bible. Find out about (and register for) upcoming events here.