Is Bible Journaling Good For Bible Study? Three Cautions to Consider

Is Bible Journaling Good for Bible Study?

If you walk through your local Christian bookstore or scroll through Pinterest these days, you’ll notice that “Journaling Bibles” have become incredibly popular.

If you’re unfamiliar with this concept, here is a brief description from Christianbook.com, which offers a large selection of wide-margin Bibles meant for this purpose:

If you love to read the Bible—and to draw and journal—welcome to the world of Bible journaling.

As you read each page and meditate on the concepts of Scripture, make the truth of God’s Word come alive by adding your own personal artwork and typography right on the page of your Bible. It’s a creative way to meditate and reflect on your reading.

An amazing array of Bible journaling tools makes it easy to create a visual Scripture entry, using pens, highlighters, markers and watercolors that will not bleed through thin Bible paper.

Gather your tools and head to a quiet spot for your own interactive Bible study and quiet, artful meditation.

In short, in Bible journaling you break out the pens, pencils, and even paint and express yourself artistically in the margins–or, for some folks, across the pages–of your Bible. (Some of the Bibles for sale are specially formatted with “400-plus hand-drawn illustrations ready for you to color.”)

The journaling method of spending time in the Word is being marketed primarily to women as an intimate way to spend time in Scripture. Though I don’t expect I will ever be one to recommend this method, I also do not think that there is anything inherently wrong with it. No doubt, many have found it to be a helpful way to spend consistent, meaningful time in the Bible.

However, just as there is a downside to digital Bibles, the potential exists for the practice of Bible journaling to hinder, rather than help, your time in the Word.

I would humbly suggest that believers keep the following cautions in mind when making Bible journaling their primary means of Bible study.

Caution 1: Any Artistic Expression Must Compliment, Not Replace, Bible Study

It is not my purpose to suggest that artistic expression has no place in personal worship. To the contrary, I think that creating art can be as worshipful as writing a hymn when it comes from a heart filled with love for God and a mind filled with the truth of His Word.

However, artistic expression is not a substitute for studying the Word of God. Spending thirty minutes sketching out and coloring a visual representation of Mathew 5:14 is not the same as spending thirty minutes reading, praying about, and contemplating what it means for us to live our lives as the “light of the world.”

There is a place for creativity. God gave you that and so you should use, cherish, and share it.

Be sure that your artistic expression is the result of what you spent time reading, studying, and praying about.

That being said, our time in the Word is about us taking in God’s truth and learning how to apply it to our lives. Be sure that your artistic expression is the result of what you spent time reading, studying, and praying about.

To put it another way: Beware the subtle tendency for your time in Scripture to become a time merely for relaxation or self-expression.

Caution 2: Let the Word, Not Your Creativity, Be the Focus

The Bible is not the medium for your artistic message. The Bible is the message.

The inherent danger in the practice of Bible journaling is that your Bible can become a portfolio of your creativity.

Is it not a fitting metaphor that covering over the words of Scripture with pens, pencils, and paint can very easily obscure the text?

Don’t forget that the Bible is God’s Holy, inerrant, infallible Word. As John Piper said, “God wrote a book. That reality blows me away every time I stop to think about it. Pages and pages of God. His thoughts, His words, His heart. Right there, just a few inches away.”

May God impact all our hearts regarding His Word. It would be a red flag if:

  • The words of God become secondary to your own self-expression
  • You neglect entire pages of His revelation to you because your art didn’t turn out well on that page.
  • The pages of His eternal Word become as temporary and disposable as a sketchbook.
  • Most of your time is spent with visual imagery and little time reading His words.
  • You’re more apt to share your creation with others than your glimpse at the heart of God.

 

Drawn on Bible

In my opinion, this is an example of bible journaling gone wrong. I don’t mean to pick on the person who made this, and the art itself is very well done. Still, it is an example where the pages of Scripture have become the medium rather than the message.

It is of great concern that the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior as recorded in Luke 24 is literally cast into the shadows.

Don’t let the Bible, the very Word of God, become an opaque and secondary element to your creative expression.

Don’t let the Bible, the very Word of God, become an opaque and secondary element to your creative expression.

Rather, focus your time on reading the truth of Scripture and journal (as in actually writing) or draw something with the goal that doing so will help you to reflect on and internalize it. When you do, do it in a way that does not obscure the text, but instead serves to highlight and draw attention to its truth.

Here are some practical considerations:

  • Stick to the margins of your Bible so as not to literally obscure the text.
  • All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Don’t neglect passages or pages of Scripture for subjective artistic reasons.
  • Remind yourself that you are interacting with God’s eternal Word. Reverence is appropriate.
  • Spend the majority of your time digging into God’s Word and let your journaling be an expression and reminder of what you have learned from the text.

Caution 3: Shallow Study Will Not Yield Strong Faith

I am not saying Bible journaling necessarily equals shallow Bible study.

However, this method of studying Scripture runs the very real risk of becoming shallow. Whenever that happens, it is unlikely Scripture will truly serve as a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path (Psalm 119:105).

Journaling in your Bible has the potential to be a great way for you to get more from your study of Scripture. But if you lose sight of what your primary purpose is, you can easily become sidetracked with artistic distractions.

It would be detrimental for someone to spend the vast majority of their study time reading footnotes, commentaries, and perusing the maps rather than actually reading Scripture.

Likewise, it would be detrimental to spend the vast majority of your time in the Word focused on artistic expression.

Sisters-in-Christ, please beware of the very real risk of allowing the opportunity for rich communion with God and His Word to simply become an opportunity to relax and get creative.

Recommended Bible Study Methods

Here are some recommended study methods for those who feel like they would like some help in digging deeper into God’s Word in addition to, or perhaps in place of, Bible journaling:

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin

My wife has been using this book recently and has had only good things to say about it. From the back cover:

We all know it’s important to study God’s Word. But sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. What’s more, a lack of time, emotionally driven approaches, and past frustrations can erode our resolve to keep growing in our knowledge of Scripture. How can we, as Christian women, keep our focus and sustain our passion when reading the Bible?

Offering a clear and concise plan to help women go deeper in their study of Scripture, this book will equip you to engage God’s Word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.

Look At The Book with John Piper

Head over to DesiringGod.org/LABs. Here you will find a large number of videos where John Piper walks you through a particular passage of Scripture.

Print off the passage (double-spaced works best), grab your highlighters and colored pens, and work through the text along with him. You will be amazed at how much you can dig out of a single verse, as well as the incredible connections you can make between multiple verses.

After you get the hang of it, try to tackle the passage on your own first, and then watch the video to see what other insights you can learn from Piper.

Kay Arthur, Precepts Study

Many churches have Precepts Bible studies to participate in. These can be excellent ways to learn how to study your Bible in a rich and meaningful way. From their website:

Precept Ministries establishes people in God’s Word using Inductive Bible Study. “Inductive” means we use the Bible as the primary source of study to learn about God and what the Bible teaches. Precept studies and training workshops are designed to equip you with inductive study tools so you can discover truth for yourself.

Conclusion

Does all this mean you shouldn’t write, sketch, or even color in the extra-wide margins of your journaling Bible? Not at all. These could be great ways to “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you” (Colossians 3:16).

While some are rightly concerned that Bible journaling might wreck their Bibles, an even greater concern is that it might wreck your study of the Bible.

To help prevent this, I would strongly encourage those who make use of Bible journaling as a part of their regular Bible study to keep the above cautions in mind.

Even good things can become a hindrance to your spiritual growth when used poorly.


Your turn. Do you have experience with Bible journaling?

How do you ensure that it deepens, not detracts from, your study of Scripture?

Clayton Kraby
Written by Clayton Kraby
I'm a full-time M.Div. student and created ReasonableTheology.org to help make theology accessible for the everyday Christian. You can find me on Twitter @ClayKraby. Help me attend seminary.