The world’s most famous Sunday school class has come to a bookstore near you. Most weekends several hundred visitors visit Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Ga., to attend former President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school class.
Last month Simon & Schuster released the first of an ongoing series of those recorded weekly lessons on compact disc. Leading a Worthy Life: Sunday Mornings in Plains: Bible Study with Jimmy Carter Vol. 1 draws from an archive of 400 lessons recorded live over the past 25 years.
“The Bible offers guidance for a meaningful life for which we were created, a transcendent life that reaches above and beyond what is normally expected of us,” Carter says in a newly recorded introduction. “Studying the Scriptures can help us overcome our weaknesses, develop closer relationship with God and our fellows, and make sense of our life and our world.”
Leading a Worthy Life begins with four classes, recorded in January 1998. It focuses on basic tenets of Christian living as described in Paul’s New Testament letter to the Ephesians. Carter described Ephesians’ theme reconciliation as “the very essence of Christianity,” and applies it to modern issues like fundamentalism, war and daily living.
Carter first taught Sunday school as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy, teaching daughters of officers and enlisted men stationed in Annapolis, Md. He later taught Bible lessons while on Navy submarines. After 11 years in the Navy, he returned to Georgia to teach 9-11 year-olds.
Carter taught occasional lessons while president at First Baptist Church in Washington. Since leaving office, he teaches every weekend he is in town, about 30-40 weeks a year, in lessons open to the public in addition to the 40 families comprising Maranatha Baptist Church.
“I treasure the lifetime of opportunities that teaching has given me to help others find inspiring and empowering lessons from the Bible, and I’m honored to be able to share some of them with you in the classes that follow,” Carter said.
Carter opens each of the lessons with comments about where he had traveled and what he did in the week prior. He talks about current events of the day, and recognizes various denominations. The class is ecumenical, with guests from a wide range of faiths and denominations.. About one in six visitors is a Baptist.
The series’ second volume, Measuring Our Success is due for release May 22. The third installment, Bringing Peace to a Changing World, is scheduled for this fall. Each volume will present four or five classes, explored through Bible readings and infused with stories from Carter’s own experiences in personal and political life.
All proceeds from sales of Sunday Mornings in Plains are donated to Maranatha Baptist Church.
The new audio book series follows Carter’s last book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, his most controversial. Pro-Israel groups said it was biased and contained inaccuracies.
Carter is also currently involved in planning a major meeting in early 2008 of major Baptist groups to dispel the notion that all Baptists march in lockstep with the Religious Right.
The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant, scheduled Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Atlanta, will seek to build a unified prophetic witness including the promotion of peace and justice, concern for the poor, sick and marginalized and religious liberty and respect for religious diversity.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.