Looking for BSF's website? Go HERE
BSF International (BSF), formerly known as Bible Study Fellowship, is a popular "interdenominational lay Christian organization with Bible study classes in cities across the United States and the world." This para-church group was founded by A. Wetherell Johnson, a former, unmarried female missionary with the China Inland Mission (Hudson Taylor). In 1958, Ms. Johnson accepted an invitation to go to the liberal vortex of San Francisco to conduct bible classes for the revival converts of Billy Graham's neo-evangelical crusades. She then formed a board of directors and incorporated Bible Study Fellowship--BSF.
Upon Johnson's retirement, Rosemary Jensen
became Executive Director (ED) and served for nearly twenty years. In
2000, she reportedly moved to the ministry of Wall Watchers, Matthews, NC.
Mrs. Jean Nystrand assumed the position of ED. Ms. Jensen maintained close
ties to the
largely Reformed/Presbyterian, anti-dispensational
The organization's headquarters, along with a paid staff of approximately thirty, are currently located in San Antonio, Texas. Their 'enhanced' website contains little information regarding the content of their Bible studies. It is primarily a conduit for directing interested individuals to local study groups in select geographic areas. BSF's emphasis on being "non-denominational" or "interdenominational," under the leadership of women, most often results in a de-emphasis of doctrine, an aversion to both the tension and conflict found in common life, and an elevation of religious "unity". As one would expect, class discussions are carefully monitored by the leader to avoid "doctrinal" issues which might lead to disagreements (an anathema for both secular and religious liberals as well) and undermine the apparent success of the group.
The group's curriculum consists of seven studies, each taught over a nine month time frame and staggered by years. Topics include: Genesis, Matthew, Life of Moses, Romans, John, History of Israel and the Minor Prophets, and The Acts of the Apostles. Upon completion of the studies, students will have been indoctrinated into a largely non-dispensational view of the Word of God. While they increasingly claim to understand the Bible, they regularly fail to see or discern the difference between Jesus' pre-Cross, earthly Gospel for Israel as their Messiah and the Risen Christ's heavenly Gospel for the Church. While the goal is to familiarize students with the Bible (honorable), the Reformation perspective creates a particular bias of which they are unaware of. Little to they realize the negative effect upon the believer's spiritual growth. BSF is clearly a step in the wrong direction for anyone attending a dispensational fellowship or those wanting to study the Bible without a Reformed/covenant theological spin.
Being neo-evangelical in approach and receptive to an "end justifies the means" philosophy, BSF's popularity coincides with the rise of postmodern "diversity" and New Age inclusivism. When evaluated within the context of today's ultra-liberal denominations with their low view of Scripture, BSF study groups certainly appear to be 'high ground', but only by comparison. BSF currently holds to the inerrancy of Scripture, but inerrancy is no guarantee of either present or future doctrinal soundness.1
While BSF increasingly offers classes for men and young adults, the organization was initially founded, attended, and controlled by women. Historically, it has promoted itself via female-to-female networking in ecumenical, liberal, and inter/non-denominational community churches. On the downside, the organization has proven attractive to some women who have a bent toward feminism, some who loathe male authority (so-called patriarchy), and those suffering from gender-inversion. Some women have rationalized their domineering attitudes with the claim that their husbands have granted them "permission" to engage in their so-called "spiritual leadership," contra 1 Cor. 14:34 and 1 Peter 3:4. Others proudly testify that BSF, in conjunction with the Bible, has entirely alleviated their propensity to assert authority, reversed their loyalty to feminism, and has even endowed them with a submissive spirit. Maybe so. Nevertheless, be aware that BSF can provide an opportunity for some women to remain entrenched in their gender-inversion and to deceptively disciple younger women in the cause of so-called "evangelical feminism". These influences and individuals must be firmly resisted.2
If you are recently born-again and find yourself in a liberal or ecumenical church, BSF may provide a step forward in biblical truth and hopefully a stepping stone to a safe and sound church environment. This is the personal testimony of several women who have written us. We fully acknowledge that each group can be unique, based on both the leader and/or composition of women in attendance. However, for the sake of your spiritual well-being, we recommend you find a safe and sound local church. While no church is perfect, some are definitely better than others. Seek spiritual nourishment within a dispensational, Bible-centered fellowship. If you are a pastor, elder, or deacon of a conservative and dispensational meeting, do not allow BSF entrance into your local church. Let the liberals and neo-evangelicals rage--and trust me, they do quite often. Remember, "A broad path is not a broad heart, but a broad conscience."
PS. I have received emails from women and a few men, either currently or formerly, involved with BSF. A few confirm my evaluation, while the majority protest loudly. While I've attempted to acknowledge exceptions to my generalization of the group, many involved in BSF universalize their own experience and envision a perfectly homogeneous organization. They can't imagine any variation from what they experience in their particular group. Some claim a dispensational approach to Scripture (in perfect agreement with this site) is taught in their group, while others make the lofty claim that not one shred of feminism exists among the women in attendance. According to their testimony, they are the pure embodiment of 1 Peter 3:4. :-/ Yet, my very favorites are those who argue that discernment of error should be "left to Jesus," then proceed to write a multi-page diatribe accusing me (trash talking) of all forms of evil and having alliance with the Devil himself.
Explorer's Bible Study
Explorer's Bible Study (EBS) is similar to BSF. Its headquarters is located near Nashville, TN. This group organizes "interdenominational" study groups using materials authored by their all-woman staff. The founders have roots in BSF and the organization's statement of faith is generic evangelical. Explorer's operates both inside and outside local churches. Based on recent emails, this ministry shares some, if not all, of the same adverse, feminine-centric dynamics found in BSF, as well as the doctrinal deficiencies.
The organization's approach to the Bible is to "emphasize a Chronological approach to study. Explorer’s believes that it is important to look at Scripture as it is presented in the Bible - to begin in Genesis before moving on to Exodus, each book building on the history and foundation of the books before."
While chronology is important, this 'idealized' and naive approach to Bible study spells certain disaster for believers wanting to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. In America today, only one in a thousand have the mental fortitude and stamina to study through the entire Jewish OT. To quote Christian author, Miles Stanford,
In practice, any A-thru-Z approach to bible study will require readers to plow through all 39 books of the Old Testament (in excess of a 1,000 pages in most Bibles), the Synoptic Gospels, John, and Acts (another 200+ pages) before arriving at the first of the Apostle Paul's epistles which were written for the Christian! While interesting, much of the OT is tedious detail and intricate history--of which few have neither the time nor patience to endure. This approach to Bible study ensures a very high burn-out rate and the handful of individuals who do endure will likely wind up more Jewish-oriented than Christian. To follow the A-thru-Z approach, is to fall into a ditch--Mt. 15:14; Lk. 6:39.
For the Christian, a proper study of the Word of God begins with Paul's epistles. Once the believer is established in the specific truth meant for him, he or she becomes free to move on to the remainder of the NT, and then to the OT, as pictured below. Once mature, there is liberty to move freely throughout the Word of God and to profit thereby.
Similar issues exist for the following non- and interdenominational ministries. All are non-dispensational, and thus the believer is largely placed under Scripture from the OT, Synoptic Gospels, and General Epistles. At best, law and grace are co-mingled, end in a 'Galatianized' believer. Beware, these ministries lead to bondage!
Some Thoughtful Responses
Thank you for your article on BSF!! You are “spot on”!!
Without rambling on, a few of us in BSF have been very frustrated about the organization's eschatology--doctrine of End Times. This year’s study is a new one--Isaiah. They are totally ignoring the Rapture, and their views on the Millennial Kingdom and the Tribulation are very cloudy. The notes were written by Walt Kaiser [a Covenant theologian].
The Lord used BSF for our good while we were in weak teaching churches, but NOW that we are under solid dispensational teaching, the lessons, notes, questions have become more and more maddening...we are in BSF leadership.
I brought my concerns about Bible translations and BSF recommended books to the new Executive Director, Susie Rowan, last summer. That did not go over well, and she was definitely irritated with me. I also informed my Teaching Leader that this would be my last year. What a struggle it has been in regards to attitude. I am thankful to the Lord for not only getting me into the study of His Word initially in BSF, but also thankful now that He is showing us the errors in their teaching.
Can’t wait for May, when BSF is OVER!! Thank you, again.
What an encouragement your article was in explaining why we are having "issues."
I came across your website as I was surfing tonight on various theological issues. It has many helpful and accurate articles.
With interest, I read your article on BSF International, as I have been a discussion leader with the organization for 7 years and have close friends with several teaching leaders. There is much in your article which is very accurate, but I would like to clear up a few misunderstandings.
First of all, you are correct that BSF was/is "founded, controlled, and mostly attended by women," although the board that oversees the female executive director is composed primarily of males. Women teach the women's classes and men teach the men's classes, but there are women area advisors in authority over male teaching leaders and there are also couples who teach coed singles classes (the husband teaches one week, the wife the next). Through close study of the Scriptures, I have come to believe that women should not be in authority over men, and that is one of the reasons I am leaving after this year. I will say, however, that while there may be "feminist-minded" participants, the majority of them are part of the evening classes -- women who hold careers and attend BSF at night. The attendees of the day women's classes are primarily stay-at-home mothers and grandmothers like myself who do not subscribe to a radical, feminist agenda.
(BSF holds that women are permitted to teach and be in authority over men because BSF is "not a church." I, however, cannot agree with this position because BSF classes are composed of "THE" church. Why should para-church organizations be exempt from blatant biblical mandates?)
You mentioned "BSF promotes itself through female-to-female networking in ecumenical, liberal, and inter-non-denominational churches." Yes, BSF does consider itself ecumenical, but I can assure you that the teaching and the commentary notes each class member receives following the lecture strictly coincide with a conservative, evangelical perspective. Countless Catholics and members of liberal "Christian" denominations have left their churches as a result of BSF's teaching and pursued membership in more theologically conservative churches. (My husband and I are included in this group and now attend a church whose pastor is a graduate of the very conservative Master's Seminary, presided over by John MacArthur.)
BSF's curriculum does indeed consist of 7 studies, but each is taught over a 9-month time frame, not 12. You are incorrect in assuming that the material is non-dispensational. BSF believes in the eventual redemption of a literal Israel and does not spiritualize biblical truths like covenantal theologians do, although it does espouse the doctrinally correct position of God's sovereignty in election.
Our own pastor, when recently questioned about BSF, expressed his disapproval of certain aspects of BSF and encouraged church members to study the Bible within the framework of their own congregation. If he were pressed, however, he would have to admit that very few churches offer a program of systematic Bible study in which a new or unschooled believer can be "brought up to speed" in the course of 5 or 7 or even 10 years. Until more churches begin offering systematic Bible study courses, I will not hesitate to recommend BSF to those seeking a more thorough knowledge of the Bible. It is unfortunate that BSF's structure is unbiblical in certain areas, but our sovereign God has been known to work powerfully through flawed churches, groups, and individuals such as myself .
If you choose to use my letter in any way, please reprint it in its entirety, as I would not want any of my statements to be misrepresented or misunderstood. I appreciate your concern -- and share it to some degree -- but thank the Lord that he used BSF in my life to bring me to a deeper knowledge of His Word, a more disciplined walk with Him, and a growing conviction that I needed to find a more doctrinally sound church.
I moved to
I have struggled in this community finding a church that taught its way thru the Bible. I agree with you and MJS, if I were teaching, I would ground a new believer before taking them anywhere else in the Bible. But my wife and I are not new believers, I have read most of Stanford’s works and look at Paul's admonition, I "ought to be teachers" by now.
Here, BSF has been a light in a dark room, a drink of water in a dry and thirsty land that fails to recognize that it is thirsty.
I have only been in the
program for 2.5 years, but have been allowed in our sub groups to talk about the
separation of Israel and the Church - their earthly and heavenly distinctions -
how God will complete its promises to the Jews and a future Kingdom where they
will be a nation of priests and keep the law flawlessly at that time with a new
heart and mind. I find like minded men in our group. In our main
meeting our facilitator, a man, continues to show this distinction between
I have been there long enough to see that the over-seers for the [city] area for the men’s groups are men, and for the women’s group, they are women. There are no (mixed) men and women groups.
The local desire is to equip
believers to become Sunday school leaders or look at God's call on their lives.
I know that my son attends a
There is good coming from God's word. It appears to be coming from the Church, but that Church does not always have a steeple on it. It is coming from its people who are willing to teach where believers come together.
Peter was caught, likely by surprise, by the temple authorities who asked if his Master paid the temple tax. Jesus explained that the children of kings don't pay taxes. But he told Peter to take the coin from the fish and to pay the tax for the two of them so they (the religious system) would not be offended.
We talked the other day on why we attended BSF. By in large the answer was, "No one back at church is teaching the Bible." There are a few thirsty men in [city]. Our group represents about 50 different churches. I see the men making a difference in their home churches.
There are a few men who are called to teach others who will teach others. I don't think a good teacher will deliberately attempt to offend the organization where he seeks out those who want to be taught the Word of God and uses the local infrastructures to plant and water. When the child grows up, he will desire and seek the association of his Father’s selection.
Learning to look down
Thank you for taking the time to write and give testimony as to how the Spirit is working in the midst of your gender-segregated arrangement. I’m even told that “Men Only” Christian churches are coming into vogue. It will be interesting to observe whether anything similar [i.e. spiritual awakening] occurs amongst the BSF women’s groups, the resulting fallout upon the marriages, and whether integration will be possible in the future. My hope is that what you describe would be occurring elsewhere. To that end, I ask your permission to add your letter (sans name and geographic location) to the bottom of my BSF critique.
Blessing to you and yours.
I have never found anyone in a leadership position in BSF day or night classes who "loathe male authority, are gender inverted or bent toward feminism" Just the opposite we have been taught to respect a husband's authority to the extent that a woman is not allowed to go into leadership without her husbands expressed blessing! [Emphasis Mine]
Thank you. I didn't suggest that these women were necessarily in leadership positions. Second, I believe it is as you say it is…which from our perspective remains problematic. The husbands' so-called “expressed blessing” are typically the half-hearted acquiescence of men who are biblically illiterate. Even if he has some familiarity with the Bible, he is failing to assume his God-ordained role as spiritual leader of the home. He sooner-or-later subjectively knows deep inside that something is seriously wrong with this arrangement. Simply put, the husband is not allowed to grant his wife "expressed blessing" to violate Scripture... no matter how virtuous it may seem.
Are you ashamed of the gospel? All over the world this year the book of Acts will be studied, how many people will come to the Lord through the teaching of this study? Can you even imagine Dan? What a testimony it was to me to know that our President George W. Bush [United Methodist] and his wife Laura have both been a part of BSF study. [Excerpt from a much longer diatribe.]
The infallible President and First Lady's participation! I guess this settles the whole matter.
In your section on EBS, you indicate by word and illustration that Paul's epistles are the center of Scripture. I disagree with you in this observation; the Gospel is the center of the Bible.
Here we have the central doctrinal problem with both EBS and BSF. You fail to discern that the Bible contains more than one Gospel. Due to your religious background and the group's blurred training material, you have been mislead to believe that Jesus’ pre-Cross Kingdom Gospel to Israel as her Messiah is the Gospel for the heavenly Christian. Not so! This is the same error found in both Catholicism as well as denominations of the Reformation tradition. Please read: OUR GLORIOUS GOSPEL ~ vital distinctions for the growing Christian.
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