The VOW Board of Directors
When the VOW Board met in April, we carefully reviewed the Horizons Bible Study for 2009-2010, Joshua: A Journey of Faith, by Mary Mikhael with Suggestions for Leaders by Joyce MacKichan Walker and contextual information by W. Eugene March. We reflected on the lessons in light of the evaluative questions that appeared in our March 2004 newsletter:
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?
A. The author did take the Scriptural “context” seriously, but her assumptions about the late authorship and non-inspired nature of the book of Joshua led her to a different “context” than would be explored by women who hold to the authority and inspiration of Scripture. Moreover, she does not set forth the clear and plain sense of the passage, seeing it instead as “folkloristic” (p. 8). Indeed, the plain meaning of Scripture was obscured by her political agenda.
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?
A. The fact that the author was from the Middle East added an interesting and important dimension to the study. However, it was a disappointment that she started promoting a political agenda before her exegesis of the biblical text. The one-sided political agenda does in fact permeate the entire Joshua study (e.g. the Preface, pp.23-26, Lesson Four, and p.60). In addition, she misrepresents some historical events surrounding Palestine and Israel, casting the State of Israel in an unfavorable light.
3. What speaks with the most authority to the author — the plain meaning of Scripture itself, or other, extra-biblical sources?
A. We commend the author’s instruction to participants to spend time reading the entire book of Joshua before beginning the study and to use different translations in the Circle groups in order to better get at the meaning of the text, as well as the exercises in the Suggestions For Leaders sections that involve Circle members in more in-depth Scripture study. Nevertheless, it appears that what holds most authority for the author is not the Scriptures, but her own experience as a contemporary Middle-Eastern Christian, and the experiences of all who will use the study. Rather than submitting our experience to the Word of God, she asserts: “We want to put the traditions of Joshua into conversation with our own experience” (p. 9).
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?
A. This a tough call. We were delighted to read that the author does affirm that the God of the “Hebrew Scriptures” is the same God we know through Jesus Christ, and that he is our Savior. She also clearly states that we need the gift of the Holy Spirit in order to engage in profitable study of the book of Joshua (p. 5, paragraph 2). While the author sees the Holy Spirit as necessary to us today she does not attribute any of the composition of or events in Joshua to the activity of the Spirit, but rather to religious writers with an agenda to explain the Exile.
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?
A. It is not evident to us that there is one particular mission focus. Issues of pacifism, environmentalism, advocacy for the oppressed, and of course, Middle Eastern politics, all make an appearance. She does affirm the saving power of Jesus Christ and our mission to share that with others: “We already enjoy being in God, and with God, through Jesus Christ, our high priest now and forever. We can invite others to share this rest with us right now, no matter what the circumstances are” (p.82). She also points out that our relationship with Jesus Christ will lead us to pursue obedience to God, emphasizing action in various social justice causes (e.g. p. 82, paragraph 2).
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?
A. We are grateful for the author’s emphasis on the holiness of God and the importance of obedience to God’s will. Yet there does seem to be a confusion between law and gospel (p. 89, last paragraph implies that our response to God and others is what secures our fellowship with God). Rather, it is the gift of the righteousness of Jesus Christ to us that secures our fellowship with God and establishes us in the good works he has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).
We also considered the needs and concerns of the various women in our constituency. As a result, we adopted the following statement:
While we believe this study is seriously flawed by a political bias and inadequate understanding of the authority of Scripture, we think it could serve as a springboard for study of the book of Joshua if supplemented by materials that offer a more balanced view of the Middle East situation and an understanding of the authority of Scripture that is in line with our Reformed Confessions.
For those who choose to use the Horizons study, we will post some suggestions for your consideration on our website, as well as some supplemental resources for each lesson.
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.