Wesley Study Bible: Part I (Review)

In an interesting essay*, Randy Maddox argues that Methodists are just now reclaiming John Wesley as a theologian: “…Wesley’s significance as a theologian had been receiving little positive attention among his Methodist descendants up to 1960″ (p. 213).  Most books written in the 19th century were biographies that highlighted Wesley’s zeal and piety, not his theological perspective.  One of the criticisms of Methodism, as a group that tried to distance itself from Anglicanism, was that it had no comprehensive outlining of its theology (in the 19th century).

The work of Albert Outler in 1961 was a watershed and now there are numerous studies of both Wesley’s theology and his hermeneutical approach to Scripture.  Thus, The Wesley Study Bible (Abingdon) is long overdue, but serves as a sign that the Methodist re-claiming of the life and thought of John Wesleyan is not a fad, but will help re-shape and renew these communities of faith.

I could not imagine better editors for this project than Joel B Green and Bishop William Willimon.  Joel has written, not only extensively on NT texts and their interpretation, but also on theological hermeneutics.  Bishop Willimon is an expert in homiletics, liturgics, and pastoral care.  These gentlemen assembled a fine group of theologians and biblical scholars in the wesleyan tradition to give notes and sidebars for the study Bible.

There are essentially three kinds of items in the study-note section of the Bible.  First, biblical scholars have written short comments to guide your reading of the text –  especially historical, literary and social elements that illuminate the text.  Second, theologians have produced a large number of sidebars focusing on a “Wesleyan Core Term” – these are central ideas about various aspects of the church’s life and doctrine (e.g., Assurance, Atonement, Baptism, Christian Liberty, Classes, Election, Ethics, Fasting, Heaven, Inward Sin, Justifying Grace, Lay Leadership, etc…).  Thirdly, pastors have written “Life Application” sidebars that bring the biblical message into modern life (e.g., Envy, Giving, Hope, Mission, Self-Seeking, Temptation, etc…)

As for the biblical scholars involved, you will recognize many of the names: Bill Arnold, Bruce Birch, Mark Boda, David deSilva, Michael Gorman, L. Daniel Hawk, Andy Johnson, John Levison,  Thomas Phillips, Emerson Powery, Ruth Anne Reese, Brent Strawn, J. Ross Wagner, Robert W. Wall, and Ben Witherington (among a number of others).

I think Green and Willimon have produced an excellent resource for wesleyan communities and it will offer parishioners insight into the Bible and its meaning (from a wesleyan perspective), while also introducing them to distinctives of John Wesley and also pointers for application.

The editors offer a nice explanation of what they hope to achieve: “We need to know who we are.  Even more, we need to be who we are.  Therefore, we offer the Wesley Study Bible to the people called Methodist across the world, trusting that it will serve as God’s instrument to help us be clear about who we are, shape us as people going on to perfection, and encourage use to live lives that truly reflect our faith in Christ.” [NB: the translation is NRSV]

*see RL Maddox, “Reclaiming an Inheritance: Wesley as Theologian in the History of Methodist Theology,” in Rethinking Wesley’s Theology for Contemporary Methodism (Kingswood, 1998).

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