Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Means of Grace

Alright this might sound peculiar to you (or at least like a very narrow niche to write about) but... I love my study Bible. Don't get me wrong, I have several study Bibles and they're all fine. But I am really turned on by my brand new Wesley Study Bible. So turned on in fact that I got one each for my wife and 2 kids!

So what is it that I find so attractive about this book? Well, it is well made with a soft, supple two-tone, faux leather cover and small sewn signatures (signatures are those bunches of pages that are sewn -- or (horrors!) glued -- together to make a book). But let's not dwell on the superficial.

This is the first study Bible I'm aware of that is crafted from the "Wesleyan" perspective. John Wesley and his brother Charles, you may know, were responsible for the Anglican renewal movement that eventually became the Methodist family of churches. There was another "Wesleyan Study Bible" that came out in the early '90's but it really represented only one narrow part of that family. This study Bible was created by scholars, professors, and ministers from the entire spectrum of Wesley-influenced churches -- United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, Wesleyan Church, Church of the Nazarene, Church of God, Salvation Army, and many more. You didn't know all these churches came from one person's work? Yes they did.

Wesley was facing a boring, fossilized old church that did little for the underpriviledged and thought the idea of God making a supernatural change in people's hearts was "a mere enthusiasm." He pointed out that actually that's what Christianity is, and their own foundational documents (i.e., the Bible) were crying out against them for drifting away from it. Wesley didn't make up any new teachings; he taught people how to get back the fire of the original Christian movement.

Specifically, he reminded the world that it is terminally sick and messed up, but the God who made it loves us so much that he is willing to go to any lengths to rescue it. Wesley insisted that Christianity is a discipline, that the goal is to become "all love," and that we have a duty to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and cure the sick. He proclaimed that a Christian should become intimately familiar with the Bible, that doing so is one of the ways God uses to mysteriously draw his children to himself -- a "means of grace."

Since I found it I have been entranced with the Methodist way of doing Christianity -- particularly since I was coming out of a church whose main preoccupation was figuring out exactly what day Jesus would come back. Now I have a Bible that, in addition to the words of God, has a running commentary on every page about this way of life.

And they don't just quote Wesley all the time. He lived in the 1700's after all and some of his thoughts don't apply the same way they did then. They do quote him, but they also apply him. There are actually 3 complementary sections: First there is the running commentary I mentioned. This is done by world class biblical scholars like Ben Witherington III and Joel Green who explain the actual text according the best current scholarship. Wesley wrote extensively on the Scriptures, and he is quoted where appropriate -- and it is remarkable how spot on he is after 250 years.

Secondly, there are scores of "Wesleyan Core Terms" boxes scattered throught the Bible. Each one of these explains one of John Wesley's key insights and they are facinating to me as a Methodist. Here is the kind of geek I am: I own Wesley's Complete Works (7 volumes!) and several other books about him, and I'm not even a minister. But as William Wilimson, one of the General Editors (and a Bishop) says, you could "have an entire course in Wesleyan Theology just by reading through the Wesleyan Core Terms sidebars." Which I am very much enjoying.

And third there are "Life Applications" scattered throughout in other boxes. These are done by some of our best pastors and, contrary to my expectations, frankly, they are pretty good. John Wesley was all about, "What does Jesus want me to do right here" and he answered that question repeatedly in his own day -- with clinics and schools and food for the starving, as well as announcing God's "free grace." The Life Applications either apply Christ's way or tell you how it's recently been applied in our era today.

And there's another thing too. Like I say, I have several other study Bibles: The NIV Study Bible, The Life Application Bible, Spirit-Filled Life Study Bible, Harper Collins Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, and others. Yeah, yeah, I know: "Geek." I really didn't realize I had so many until I started listing them! But my point is that I am very familiar with study Bibles.

This one "feels" different.

Maybe it's because I'm Methodist and it's a Methodist Bible (but I've only been an "official" Methodist for a year and a half. I've been attending longer, though). But this one doesn't feel like an instructor or a preacher; it feels like a wise friend, like a mentor. I'm not only going to the Wesley Study Bible for information (though I am certainly getting that), I am going to it because I want to hear what my friend has to say about a subject we are both consumed by -- the Holy Scriptures.

If you're interested you can get it from Cokesbury -- the official Methodist bookstore -- for only $28.95. But that's only good until the end of February. After that it goes up to its real price: $39.


Gary said...

Good points. I am enjoying my Wesley Study Bible too. Like you, I had to share with friends, who are also enjoying it.

Don't sell yourself short. You are a minister, just not an ordained elder. We Wesleyans have a fine tradition of lay leadership and ministering.

Pleonic said...

Thanks for the encouragement. I spent a lot of time in a church where "minister" *only* meant ordained and employed by them. I know what you're saying about Wesleyan way of looking at being a minister and that's one thing that drew me toward becoming a Methodist. But it's still easy to slip back into old ways of thinking.