7 Mar 2022

Lenten Devotional, Day 5, Tracking, part 2, Inductive Study (episode #65)

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Inductive study can help you rapidly grow as a disciple. In today’s post I will explain, what inductive bible study is, the benefits, and offer you tools to get started.

This past Saturday rather than sitting outside as I have for my lenten discipline, I decided to go animal tracking. I found a couple of dog tracks and engaged in intense focused observation of them. I likened this focus of time and attention to contemplative prayer in my last post.  I also spoke about how this can create greater understanding and a more intimate relationship with God. If you, missed that post you can read it here.

My deeper insight came in part by coupling my observations with a series of questions. Specifically, I journaled around the six questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. For some of those questions I had distinct facts that led to answers. For other questions, the best I could do was come up with a working theory or likely scenarios.

For example, when I was answering the question of who, I could come up with clean answers. I was looking at a track with four toes on the front and back paw. The overall tracks were oval. There was the hint of claw marks, and the overall size made it clear I was looking at canine tracks, likely a domestic dog.

Answering the question of when the track was made, wasn’t so clear. You basically have two core criteria for aging a track: track degradation and event sequencing. Track degradation involves educated guesses on how much a track has eroded. This can be tricky. Track erosion is a dance between the substrate, the condition of when the track was made, and any subsequent weather.  So for example, a track made in moist clay that gets baked hard by the sun could last weeks, or even months. Whereas, a track made on a dry day in loose sandy soil could be wiped away in minutes by  wind. You just have to come up with scenarios and run simulations in your head and see what fits your observations. And, you may be left with lingering questions that you then must research. This is the nature of inductive study.

So, for example, here’s the highlights of my analysis of the age of the dog tracks. The track was deep and had to have been made when the soil was rather wet. Probably the consistency of play dough. Likely, the track was made after the rain was done or finishing; otherwise, the track would have gotten wiped out by the same rain that produced it.

A heavy pile of pine litter was inches downhill from the  track  This indicated both the heavy rain that created the conditions and that the track was made after the rains because it had not caught any of the debris as it rinsed down the hill. This is what I mean by event sequencing.

Lots of small crumbled dirty in the the track indicated a subsequent dry period. There was really only one window of weather that allowed all these events to align – a period of warm days after an intense series of rains and prior to a  heavy snow and ice fall. The snow and ice had also created sufficient precipitation to create muddy conditions, but the intense cold would have frozen the ground preventing a soft enough substrate to produce the track.

I want you to notice the dance between observation and interpretation that goes on. For example, I observed pine needles washed below the tracks but none in the track. Interpretation – the intense rain must have happened before the track was made.

You can see a copy of my field notes at the bottom this page if you want to actually see how I recorded and processed my observations.

This kind of extensive questioning process helps you internalize information, recognize patterns, and elevates critical thinking skills. This process also generates more questions that prompt further curiosity and research. So how does all this translate into inductive bible study.

What is Inductive Bible Study?

For inductive bible study you do a remarkably similar process of questioning and theorizing. In short, there are three main steps to inductive study:

  1. Observe – Read a passage and ask lots of questions about the text. At a minimum ask the questions: who, what, when, why, where, and how. You can look for many other features like comparisons, lists, descriptions, patterns, etc. For an great template to complete your own inductive bible study download two Inductive Bible Study Method worksheets here.
  2. Interpret –  What does this passage mean to you? Are there truths revealed by the text? What principles can you take away?  What does this say to you about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit?
  3. Apply it – We have a saying in wilderness education, “The knowing is in the doing.” Your deepest understanding and internalization of God’s word will come when you actually live what you learn. Create specific and measurable goals from what you learn and you will grow rapidly.
  4. Lastly, I would add listing any unanswered questions you have. This isn’t normally included as a part of inductive bible study, but my experience has been that a tremendous amount of future learning hinges upon how much you push your observation to the limits. The unanswered questions are what reveal your limits and learning edge.

The Benefits of Inductive Bible Study

  1. You will quickly gain deep understanding of God’s word.
  2. You will internalize and retain what you read much better.
  3. You will sharpen your critical thinking skills so that you read with a more discerning mind.
  4. If you act on what you learn, you will experience growth both in your faithfulness as a disciple and your relationship with God.

Inductive Bible Study Resources

Extensive Method

The worksheets I mentioned above are extensive, and will yield maximum growth. You can access both worksheets here:
Download Inductive Bible Study Worksheets

Quick Method

However, what if you are in a hurry? Then, try the SOAP (Study, Observe, Apply, and Pray) Bible Study Method. This is a quick devotional practice that is kind of a low-resolution inductive bible study. That said, consistently following a short simple framework like the SOAP method can literally be lifesaving.

This simple method tightly aligns with how I did bible journaling in college. This method played crucial crucial role in one of my most formative periods of faith development. So, I can tell you from experienc the SOAP method is a deceptively powerful process.
Download The SOAP Bible Journaling Method

Question: When could you download and apply one of these two methods to a familiar Bible story?
A Collect for Insight:
Holy God, whose wisdom surpasses our deepest understanding, anoint us with the Holy Spirit that it may teach so that we have greater insight and a more intimate relationship with you, through Christ we pray. Amen.

My tracking field notes

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