Lutheran groups find new and old ways to make scripture study available
Opportunities for Lutherans to study the Bible in depth will be increasing
greatly in the months ahead.
To a large extent, this will be the result of publication and distribution of the
first materials in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) “Book
of Faith” initiative, which was set in motion by the denomination’s
Churchwide Assembly in 2007.
Besides the resources that are officially part of the “Book of Faith” project, a
couple of other major ones that will supplement it are also scheduled to
appear within a year. And publishers of several Bible study programs that
were launched in recent decades intend to keep promoting their curricula.
“We plan to make quite a push to use the ‘Book of Faith’ materials,” said the
Rev. Glenndy Ose, bishop’s associate in the Minneapolis Area Synod. But she
added that she hopes the new study materials will not displace others that
are being used successfully today. “It’s our hope that this [the ‘Book of Faith’]
provides yet another resource for congregations to use in Bible study, and
whichever one a congregation starts with, it will encourage them to step into
another one,” Ose said.
The first publication in the “Book of Faith” project, a 120-page booklet titled
“Opening the Book of Faith: Lutheran Insights for Bible Study,” was issued in
March by Augsburg Fortress Publishers. In it a group of Lutheran scholars
explore four methods of Bible study and apply each to four Scripture texts.
The booklet, organized as a seven-session course, has been given to
delegates at all ELCA synod assemblies across the nation this year, and a
guide for study leaders has been made available for downloading from the
Internet. In the fall congregations will be able to get a package that includes
“Opening the Book,” a leader’s guide and a visual presentation explaining the
“Book of Faith” initiative.
Another option available in the fall will be “a short course about how the
Bible came to be our book of faith,” according to Scott Tunseth, special
projects editor at Augsburg Fortress.
Two major events scheduled for the spring of 2009 at Augsburg Fortress are
the publication of a new Lutheran Study Bible and a big new Bible study
The Study Bible, in which several Lutheran pastors and teachers combine a
variety of study notes with the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible,
“very much supports the Book of Faith initiative,” said Arlene Flancher, senior
curriculum developer for Augsburg Fortress.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is also engaged in a big new
study-Bible project. Concordia Publishing House has announced an October
2009 date for release of its new volume, which is based on the English
Standard Version of the Bible
The new Augsburg Fortress Bible study, which is still in the development
stages, will offer a variety of ways for congregations to engage in Bible study
and is a key element in the Book of Faith project, according to Scott Tunseth
of the Minneapolis publishing house. It will have both print and online
elements, and new resources for study will probably be added over a period
of years, he said.
On another front, Luther Seminary will launch an interactive Web site called
Enter the Bible.org in the fall of 2008, and will offer it as a free resource to
“Book of Faith” congregations. It is also expected to be used by the 15,000
persons Augsburg Fortress and the ELCA Vocation and Education unit plan to
train to lead “Book of Faith” classes, said Sally Peters, manager of the
Besides these uses linked to the “Book of Faith” project, Enter the Bible.org
will be a major new resource for congregations, colleges and seminaries, and
persons who are leaders or participants in Bible studies, Peters added. Any
individual will also have access to it. “This will be a wonderful resource for
people doing a Bible study, but it isn’t a Bible study itself,” she explained.
For every chapter of every book in the Bible, the Web site will provide a
summary, outline, theological themes, information on people and places,
related art work and maps, a glossary of terms used, and answers to
frequently asked questions, Peters said. There will also be short videos in
which faculty members discuss key themes in the various books.
Almost every professor at Luther Seminary has contributed to the Web
project, which has taken three years to complete. Professors Matt Skinner and
Fred Gaiser served as editors of the New and Old Testament sections,
One of the oldest Bible-study programs being used today, the Bethel Bible
Series, is marking its 50th anniversary this year with newly updated materials.
The series offers a historical overview of the books of the Bible with the aim
that participants will see how God’s plan of salvation through Jesus Christ
The Bethel Series offers 40 illustrated lessons, which are covered in two years
of intensive study. Some 6800 congregations representing 47 denominations
in the United States and abroad have used the course over the years and
remain enrolled, said Betty Mansfield, director of the program in Madison,
Wisconsin. This includes 2,400 ELCA parishes and 1,000 LCMS ones.
However, the Bethel Series is not as dominant in the Bible-study field as it
once was, she said.
Other programs have emerged as competition over the years, including
Crossways International (with Lutheran roots), the Methodists’ Disciples
series, and the Presbyterians’ Kerygma program, Mansfield noted. And she
senses that the current culture isn’t conducive to the commitment of time
Bethel requires. However, she said that a Lutheran pastor from China, who
came to the U.S. two years ago for training in the Bethel Series, has now
translated the materials into Chinese and is conducting classes in China using
them. In addition, one Wisconsin synod of the ELCA has notified her that it
will use the Bethel Series in conjunction with the “Book of Faith” program.
“The Bethel Series is not nearly as big as it once was, but even though fewer
churches use it, we still have the same excitement among pastors attending
our annual training sessions,” Mansfield asserted.
Crossways International, headquartered in Bloomington, Minnesota, now
offers 10 Bible study courses, according to Harry Wendt, its main author, who
was originally trained as a Lutheran pastor in Australia. The courses range
from a two-year one that covers the entire biblical narrative and basic
doctrinal themes in 60 units, including 160 teaching pictures, to a biblical
timeline that can be covered in three hours.
Wendt says the Crossways program has had a life-changing impact on many
pastors and lay people, and he describes the key emphasis this way:
“Lutherans focus very much on law and gospel, but they don’t focus on Jesus
the Servant Messiah. Jesus who came was the Messiah and he lived the life of
a servant, and he calls us to live the same way, to follow him in servanthood.”
Now in its 29th year, Crossways is used across denominational lines in 92
countries, according to Wendt. Some 50,000 pastors, teachers, and other
workers have been trained to lead the courses, he said. Its greatest use in the
United States is among ELCA Lutherans.
Chloris Wendt, who leads the Crossways program with her husband, said that
so far there hasn’t been a negative impact from the ELCA’s “Book of Faith”
project. Rather, she said, there has been an increased interest recently in
Three years ago Augsburg Fortress published a new Bible study series written
by Luther Seminary professors Rolf Jacobson and Kelly Fryer. Titled No
Experience Necessary, it is intended for use in small groups and can be led
by anyone rather than a trained expert. The course has 56 lessons that can
be covered in two years, and it doesn’t attempt to deal with every book in the
“The series is organized around the theme of mission — God’s mission in the
world and our part in that mission,” said Laurie Hanson, Augsburg Fortress
curriculum editor. “The material really encourages everyone to join in the
conversation about what they hear God saying to them through the text.”
Another Augsburg Fortress product, Augsburg Adult Bible Studies, has been
available for at least three decades and is one of the most long-lasting
products the publishing house has produced, according to Scott Tunseth, the
special projects editor. Congregations obtain the material by subscription
and receive studies every quarter on timely topics based on selected books of
the Bible. The program covers the complete Bible in six years.
Another ongoing Bible study is the monthly series published by Women of the
ELCA in their magazine Lutheran Woman Today.
LCMS congregations looking for a published Bible study program are likely to
choose from the variety of print and electronic materials offered by the
synod’s Concordia Publishing House, said David Roth, assistant to the
president of the LCMS Minnesota South District for education. Those
materials have gone through a doctrinal review committee to make sure that
they fit with the synod’s emphasis and beliefs, he said.