Wesley Study Bible: Part II: Interview with editor W Willimon

In a recent post I mentioned The Wesley Study Bible (eds. Joel Green William Willimon; Abingdon).  I am pleased now to offer you an interview that I conducted with co-editor William Willimon, Bishop of of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I first encountered the work of Bishop Willimon through the work Resident Aliens which was co-authored with Stanley Hauerwas (1989).  I also know his commentary on Acts in the Interpretation series.  Most recently, he wrote This We Believe: The Core of Wesleyan Faith and Practice (Abingdon), a book that is particularly geared towards complementing the study Bible.

Without further ado,

Q1: How did you come to be involved as an editor in the Wesley Study Bible?

I was invited by the Abingdon editorial team and jumped at the chance to be part of the project.  I knew that it would be a great gift to the church.

Q2: What is your vision for how it will benefit the lives of Methodist churches and others within the wider wesleyan movements?

I think that it will provide a wonderfully Wesleyan read on the scripture, “practical divinity” exemplified.

Q3: For a long time, Wesley was not considered to be a real theologian or a skilled biblical interpreter.  There is some discussion that this has been changing in the last 50 years.  Why do you think this change is taking place?  Put another way, how and why is the production of theWesley Study Bible a sign of the times?

Well, I disagree with that reading. Wesley was a marvelously Trinitarian theologian.  Alas, too much “theology” today is practiced outside the church, in the service to the academy alone, so probably these “theologians” can’t tell a real theologian when they meet one!  Wesley is a theologian in much the same way that Luther or Calvin are theologians – thought in service to the church and its ministry.

Q4: For those that use this study Bible, but do not identify with the Methodist/wesleyan traditions, what do you hope they will take away from it?  What kind of messages are in this study Bible for the worldwide church?

I would think that they would find this Bible to be quite useful, if they are open to an unashamedly Wesleyan read on scripture.

Q5: Are there other Bible-related/reference resources you would like to see produced for the Methodist/wesleyan faith communities? (Personally, I hope to see, someday, a Biblical studies journal from a wesleyan perspective)

I hadn’t thought about it but I like the idea of a Wesleyan Biblical Studies Journal.  Great idea.  Maybe God is calling you to produce such a resource for the church?

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).