RAYMORE — Folks who want to know more about the Bible and improve their English can do both through a unique study that uses sentence diagramming to unlock biblical understanding.
A retired English teacher, Shirley Forsen of Raymore developed Diagramming the Scriptures because she believes the art of sentence diagramming is dying. "It's needed, basic and foundational…like phonics and spelling," she said.
That need, she thinks, "is why the Lord wanted me to do this."
"Homeschoolers do it [diagramming] all the time. [The book] fulfills a need that doesn't seem to be fulfilled in public schools," she added.
Forsen believes those who complete the book — as an individual, with a group or in a classroom — will see their writing skills improve and may find it easier to express themselves.
But her overarching reason to write the book is to help people understand the Scripture. The study uses Scripture to teach the five basic sentence patterns or formulas, beginning with the simplest — subject plus verb, such as "Jesus wept" (John 11:35) — and progressing to more complex sentences.
The book includes practice sheets and quizzes to emphasize each part of speech at least three times, and a comprehensive test is provided at the end.
Every sentence to be diagrammed comes from the King James Version of the Bible, with more than 300 verses included in the book. Diagramming verses "helps people memorize Scripture and it brings God's Word to mind," Forsen explained. "It helps in understanding some of Paul's writings."
The retired teacher included several references from the Psalms and Proverbs, particularly for simple sentences early in the book. Breaking "the Bread of Life into edible bites" makes it easier to understand and digest, she said.
"The value of knowing the Bible is inestimable. Without knowledge of the Bible, understanding of much literature, music, law, history and government is limited," she wrote in the preface.
Born and reared in St. Joseph, Forsen is thankful she grew up in a Christian home. She earned degrees at what was then Southwest Baptist College and at William Jewell College, and completed a master of religious education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1956.
"My background has just created the opportunity for me to write," she explained, even though she had never anticipated writing a book.
"I had asked God, 'What can I do to bless the whole world?' I thought at one time I would go overseas as a missionary, but it didn't work out."
Instead, she became an English teacher, first for two years at Butler High School in Butler and then for 28 years at Grandview Junior High School in Grandview.
After retirement, the question of service came to mind as she studied 1 Chronicles 4:10, the story of Jabez's prayer.
God led her to draw from her background as an English teacher and Bible study leader.
"I give all the glory to the Lord," she said. "This is all his doing, and I just praise his name for sending the people I've needed to help me. It's been a hard but wonderful journey."
Indirectly, she witnesses each time a student picks up the book — John 3:16 is diagrammed on the front cover. "There's the gospel right there," she said.
Forsen worked on the study for three years and then spent about another year revising it. "I didn't intend to write a book but I just like diagramming," she laughed.
Several people have used it, and Forsen has taught a class at the retirement complex where she lives.
Now she might have the opportunity to touch the world — requests have been made to have the work translated into Spanish and Tagalog so that it could be used in English as a Second Language classes.