Early responses to The Wesley Study Bible
By Bill T. Arnold
Since its arrival in January, The Wesley Study Bible has created quite a buzz. Before it was even released, a Facebook group had been created by interested readers anxiously awaiting the new Study Bible, wanting to connect and talk about its potential. The group quickly grew to over 800 members. As of this writing, the Study Bible has only been out a few weeks and sales “are exceeding all expectations,” says Dr. Kathy Armistead of Abingdon Press, who adds that copies are “flying out of the warehouse.”
When Good News asked me to reflect on my participation in the project, I was pleased to respond with a few reflections on the arrival of the Study Bible, which we all hope and pray will have a long life of service to the Church.
I was privileged to serve as one of two editors for the Old Testament notes, along with Professor Karen Strand Winslow. From the start, all of us on the editorial team believed we were contributing to something with the potential to impact the Church and the world. But frankly, we always believe that about the projects we accept; otherwise, we wouldn’t spend our time researching and writing for them. Yet the early response to The Wesley Study Bible has been particularly gratifying, suggesting that we have indeed been a part of something special, and raising the question: Why has it generated so much interest? Why the stir?
Perhaps the most obvious answer is the breadth of participants in the project. On the one hand, The Wesley Study Bible combines biblical scholars (study notes at the bottom of each page) with Wesley scholars (sidebars of key Wesleyan Core Terms) and leading pastors (Life Application sidebars). This sort of collaborative effort is rare, and is itself enough to provoke excitement. But this is not the “breadth of participants” I have in mind. Rather, this new Study Bible is genuinely pan-Wesleyan like few others before it.
Abingdon and the editors brought together authors from across the Wesleyan world, who eagerly joined together to contribute to the common good of the movement. Honestly, I cannot recall such an event in which large numbers of leaders from denominations tracing their history to the Wesleys worked together, including scholars and pastors from the following denominations: African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Church of the Nazarene, Church of God (Anderson), Free Methodist Church of North America, The Salvation Army, Wesleyan Church, United Church of Canada, and The United Methodist Church. Perhaps for this reason alone, The Wesley Study Bible is profoundly historic.
Another reason The Wesley Study Bible has done so well at the start is the rather obvious niche it fills for Wesleyan-Methodists. The last half of the twentieth century saw an explosion of resources for Bible study. Most of these were produced by denominations or parachurch groups of other theological traditions, or who at least gave little attention to the particular emphases of the Wesleyan understanding of the Bible, much less our theological distinctives. Here, finally, is a Bible study resource that is intentional about presenting the central tenets of Wesleyanism—especially grace in its prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying power—but also a host of other important topics, such as our understanding of atonement, free will, the witness of the Holy Spirit, imparted righteousness, and more.
I am pleased to say that these Wesleyan distinctives are presented in clear and compelling ways, and their inclusion in sidebars alongside the biblical study notes illustrates our conviction that these truths grow directly from reading and interpreting the Word of God. The very assumption that the way we read the Bible must have an impact on the way we live our lives is, itself, Wesleyan. And I believe these theological distinctives form an overall message that the world today desperately yearns to hear.
One final reason I am enthused about The Wesley Study Bible is its potential ministry in the denomination I serve, the United Methodist Church. The exercise in self-flagellation we put ourselves through every quadrennium in General Conference often leaves us with an identity crisis, asking essential questions such as “Who are we?” and “What is our mission?” In light of the contentious conferences in Pittsburgh and Fort Worth (2004 and 2008 respectively), we need to remind ourselves that we are part of a larger movement of Wesleyan Christians committed to these theological truths and to offering the liberating effects of Christ’s gospel to a world in need.
We certainly have our differences of opinion, and I have no doubt that our denomination will continue to struggle with the most challenging issues of our day. And we will, no doubt, continue to ask precisely what our role should be in meeting those challenges, as we should. But my hope and prayer is that The Wesley Study Bible will contribute in positive ways to that process by reminding us of our Scriptural heritage in the Wesleys, thereby providing guidance and instruction along the way.
Bill T. Arnold is author of Genesis, The New Cambridge Bible Commentary (Cambridge University Press, 2009) and one of the editors of The Wesley Study Bible. He is an elder in the United Methodist Church and serves as the Paul S. Amos Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Director of Hebrew Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky.
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