When the VOW Board met on April 24th, we reviewed carefully the Horizons Bible Study for 2008-2009, Jubilee! Luke’s Gospel for the Poor, by Dale Lindsay Morgan with Suggestions for Leaders by Louise Lawson Johnson. As we discussed our individual assessments of the material, it became clear that this year our board is not of a common mind. The majority of the board members are prepared to recommend the study for use by women in the Presbyterian Church. Other members strongly believe that its theological insufficiencies are so striking that they are unable to concur. Therefore, we voted to make that division known to those who look to us for guidance. Below you will be able to read the opinions of both the majority and the minority.
We continue to believe that the final responsibility for the use of all curriculum in the congregation rests with the Session (often through its Christian Education committee) and the pastor. As always, we encourage those who use the Horizons material to voice their concerns directly to PW Horizons staff at 100 Witherspoon Street, Louisville, KY, 40202.
After careful reading and study, five members of the VOW board determined that the Horizon Bible Study for 2008-2009 is appropriate for use by the women of the Presbyterian Church.
As in the past, we used six standard questions to assess the suitability of the study. These questions are as follows.
1. Does the author take the scriptural context seriously? That is to say, does she carefully note when the passage was written, why it was written, and to whom it was written? Further, does she set forth the clear and plain sense of the passage before she attempts to apply its meaning to the lives of women today?
2. is there a contemporary political, philosophical, or theological “agenda” that the author “reads into” her understanding of the text, or is the text allowed to speak for itself?
3. What speaks with the most authority to the author the plain meaning of scripture itself, or other, extra-biblical sources?
4. Does the writer consistently write from a Trinitarian perspective, lifting up the one God who has been revealed to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
5. What is the mission emphasis of the study? Does it hold up the person and work of Christ, and his power to transform individual lives as of equal importance to political, social and economic change?
6. When you have finished studying each lesson, do you have a deeper understanding of what it means to be an obedient disciple of Jesus Christ?
Our findings are as follows:
1. Yes the content of the study materials fulfills the criteria required by these questions.
2. Yes there is no twisting of the scripture to make it fit an agenda other than that to which the scripture itself.
3. The plain meaning of the text takes priority for the author. Extra-biblical sources are used appropriately.
4. Taken as a whole, the study upholds the doctrine of the Trinity. However, this is an area in which the bible study leader should take care to assure that this is emphasized and understood. Particular care should be taken in Lesson 5. Jesus, being fully God, was never diminished in his power to heal.
5. This is the area in which we, as reviewers, found the study to be somewhat problematic. Its mission emphasis is prominent in the sidebar section entitled “Join the Journey,” as well as in some of the suggested questions for discussion. In general, the named mission projects are worthy of consideration. However, the associated discussion is sometimes written in a way that appears to twist and distort the meaning of the text to serve an extra-biblical agenda. On the other hand, it should also be noted that the “Join the Journey” section was not written by the Bible study’s author, but was appended by the Horizons editors.
6. Yes each lesson challenges us to follow our Lord faithfully and obediently.
General Comments and Suggestions:
As always, the leader should read all materials carefully and critically. Criticism is the activity of judgment or informed interpretation and, in many cases, can be synonymous with “analysis.”
Trust your own knowledge of the Bible, and what you have learned during your own faith journey. If something in the lesson does not sit well, do further study on your own. Use standard resources from your church library (i.e., commentaries, Bible dictionaries, etc.). Talk to your pastor.
The majority of the “suggestions for leaders” are good. However, as always, be choosy. Use only those suggestions that suit the needs of your particular group, and/or be resourceful and fashion your own.
Some of the suggested discussion questions are excellent; some are not. Again, use only those that are appropriate for your particular group, and that will help the individuals in your group grow in their understanding and application of the scriptures to their lives.
Some of us this year voted not to recommend the Horizons 2008-09 Bible study, Jubilee! Luke’s Gospel for the Poor for one main reason: Jesus.
It was our perception that the study as a whole was deficient in making a solid affirmation of the deity and Lordship of Jesus Christ. For example, the question on page 17 appeared to us to be the most extensive statement in the entire study about Jesus as Lord. Even in this instance the Lordship of Jesus Christ was not affirmed; it simply was acknowledged that the Gospel of Luke “referred to Jesus as Lord’” and then asked participants, “How do you feel when you think of Jesus as the Lord’?” This is the closest the study comes to the ancient Christian affirmation, “Jesus is Lord.” In other places (e.g., page 48) Jesus is acknowledged as “Son of God”, but the study always stops short of identifying Jesus as God himself among us in the flesh.
It was also our perception that the study came dangerously close to committing a theological error known as “Adoptionist Christology”, which was condemned early on in church history. Throughout the study, references are made to Jesus’ baptism as the point in time when He was “given” or “anointed with” (page 36) the Holy Spirit. The nature of the Son as “eternally begotten of God; true God, from true God” is nowhere clearly affirmed. As a result, the statements such as occur on pages 43 and 75 which appear to indicate that Jesus’ relationship with the Holy Spirit began at His baptism (and ended with His death!) could be construed as an Adoptionist Christology. Adoptionist Christology is a belief that Jesus was no more than a human being who was “adopted” as the Messiah, God’s Son, and given a measure of divinity at His baptism. This belief was declared to be an error by early church councils, most notably Nicea in A.D. 325.
There are positive aspects to this study, as our fellow board members have outlined. However, in light of what we perceived to be this foundational flaw concerning the person and work of Jesus Christ, we could not in good conscience recommend this Bible study.