Terry: so interesting/insightful -- i've not read about other religions being so educational. you don't have to answer this, but in your opinion, what church/religion would one attend for knowledge - real study of the Bible and not just social structure. i visited a small, neighborhood, baptist and it was great (corporate setting -- in a bldg.) but they stand and sing like forever. great kids w/the guitars, piano, etc., (i loved the music) but it was a tad long. i probably should have checked out a bible-study group but decided to visit other churches and haven't. guess the brainwashing of the w/tower was stronger than i imagined re/their education being tops and no one had the literature/study aids they made available - duh!
While working in the Religion section of a bookstore here in Fort Worth for the last six years I've talked to a great many curious and studious people who attend various venues, churches, seminary, etc.
I'd break it down like this.
1.Anybody who is intelligent and curious who knows others with similar drive can create their own study situation. The drawback is that there is USUALLY (not always) a Type-A personality in charge who wants to LEAD the others. This is unfortunate.
2.Different groups have different goals. A lot of studying is presupposition driven. Meaning what? They are trying to prove some point they already believe.
They might be trying to prove evolution is false, for example and only study writings polemical rather than reading everything on both sides.
3.Seminary students fall into two distinct personality types (as far as I've encountered). The genuine, humble, social driven person and the smugh, know-it-all. They mostly study what the Seminary tells them. But, I have encountered a genius or two who are brilliant and read EVERYTHING they can lay their hands on. One fellow from Africa was the smartest person I've ever met.
I don't think Bible study per se is beneficial!!
That means you've started with the presupposition (or "given" ) that the bible is inspired and containes a coherent, inerrant truth.
I believe it is wise, prudent and honest to BEGIN BY INVESTIGATING how the bible was put together.
Quentin has started a thread topic about WHO WROTE THE BIBLE that is extremely neutral and honest. Give it a look.
Back to your question......historically, the Methodists were methodical in their investigations of scripture. But, I have never met one who knew anything that wasn't superficial.
The equation boils down to this: THOSE WHO INVESTIGATE historically are skeptical in the end. THOSE WHO STICK WITH SCRIPTURE stay fervent and convinced.