The Debt I Owe InterVarsity

Years ago when I was graduating from college, my future father-in-law dropped by the little Christian bookstore on campus that I was manning for him. After a few pleasantries, he asked me what I was going to do when I graduated. At that point, I really had no idea. Find a job was all I could think of.

So, in his very pastoral way, he told me that I had three choices. Choice #1 was that I could get married. But the problem with this option was that I had not yet met his son. Choice #2 was that I could get a teaching job. This he assumed was a safe bet, seeing that I was an English lit major and all. But I had no desire to teach. In fact, not only had I determined that I would never, never teach, I had also taken the precaution of never enrolling in an education course just to make sure that I would never, never teach.

So I awaited choice #3 with baited breath. His final suggestion was that I go on InterVarsity staff. Now at that time, IV was a happening thing on the campus, and I had been enjoying their meetings and conferences and books. So, at the next conference, my future father-in-law took it upon himself to talk to the regional director about me going on staff with IV, and I became an associate staff member some months later.

One of the strengths of InterVarsity back in the seventies was their emphasis on the inductive Bible study. They taught us to read the text and then (surprise!) to ask what the text was saying. Fair questions were what? who? when? where? how? And they were only fair if the answer was in the text. Forbidden questions were things like, “Why do you think…. ” We were taught that our own opinion was not what mattered; the important thing was what the text revealed. It is a startling thing to realize that this concept, simple and straightforward as it seems, is novel to many Bible teachers and readers.

Over the decades that have lapsed, I have come to appreciate more and more the training I received from InterVarsity. They taught me how to prepare and lead an inductive Bible study, and even though I think they were a little lax on Bible study leader qualifications (after all, they had me doing it!), I still believe they trained us well.

I remember my first conference where I was going to be one of the small group leaders. I had my list of discussion questions, and I was hard at work preparing. The text was the first chapter of Romans, and I remember well when my leader suggested to me that I might want to get another version of the Bible. Really? I asked. Which one? At the time I was using the Living Bible, and he suggested I get an RSV. So I dutifully bought a Harper’s Study Bible. It was only later that I learned the difference between a translation and a paraphrase!

Two years in a row I went off to an IV conference over spring break called a Dig-In. They handed us typed copies of the book we would be studying with no verse or chapter markings. One Dig-In we spent the week studying Colossians, verse by verse; and the other year I remember we covered the first half of the Gospel of Mark. There is something wonderful about simply going through the Bible one verse at a time. And though there is obviously much need for topical studies in the church, the inductive study really acquaints you with the text.

So a long overdue thanks for the good work InterVarsity was doing back in my college days. I don’t know much about their college ministry these days. But God was blessing their work abundantly back in the  seventies.

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6 thoughts on “The Debt I Owe InterVarsity

  1. Any comment on how your desire to “never, never teach” changed? 🙂 I know you as a fantastic English teacher.

  2. Wow, we had similar experiences– I was also an English lit major and swore I would never, ever teach (ha!). 🙂

    I also love InterVarsity for this same reasons as you!

    (I was thisclose to being an IV staff assistant post-college, but ended up working with a different ministry as a CARES Team with my husband. We’re doing it again starting this summer!)

    It was only a few years ago that I graduated college (6?), but I am grateful for the inductive Bible study I learned from IV– at least where I was, they taught us the same method that you learned. I especially loved reading the NT epistles with no chapter/verse numbers all at once. It was like a lightbulb went off: “Duh, it’s a letter!”

    And even though I have come a long way from those college days (I never thought I’d be Presbyterian), IV set me on the road of proper Bible study, away from the “this is how I feel” camp and onto more exegetical roads. Yay for IV!

  3. Of course I now know that you never say what you will never, never do. And I did end up teaching for close to ten years at Logos School, and I loved it! But that is another story.

  4. I owe a huge debt to IV also. My best and most-lasting friendships I were also made there. But probably the best thing I did was meet my husband there. 🙂

  5. Mrs. Wilson, as an English lit major and a current student leader with my college’s chapter of IV, I too have appreciated the inductive bible study method. Unfortunately, recently IV has gone postmodern gooey on me, by which I mean that all the student bible study teachers use your forbidden question, “Why do you think . . .” They get so irritated when I helpfully and repeatedly insist we look at what’s actually in front of us.

  6. Yea, I know a little bit about never saying you will never do something. I once said I would never go to China for our Father’s work. While in college I ended up going on just such a trip. Of course it was through an IV Global Project.

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