The Baptist Center for Ethics is offering a free resource to support Bible studies and sermons from Luke 4 to help prepare churches for next year’s New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta.

Excerpts from a developing “Baptists’ Bible Project” tracking how Baptists have read and interpreted the Bible over four centuries are available here for use with an eight-week study previously offered free of charge by BCE in partnership with other organizations.

Sample lessons of “The Agenda: 8 Lessons from Luke 4” are available now to help churches plan studies in preparation of the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 gathering to unite Baptists from North America around Jesus’ moral agenda as announced in his first sermon recorded in Scripture to his hometown synagogue in <Nazareth. The full lessons will be available soon, with additional resources for study and sermon helps to come.

Jan Turrentine, managing editor of Acacia Resources, the BCE publishing imprint, said The Baptists’ Bible excerpts will add insights for study both into the meaning of the text and the diversity of interpretation that has characterized Baptists through history.

“Our goal in offering it, the eight-session Bible study, the commentary and the worship resource is to move Baptists from mental assent to concrete actions that reflect genuine commitment to Jesus’ moral agenda,” she said.

The supplemental resource, offered in collaboration with Mikael Parsons of Baylor University and Bill Leonard of Wake Forest Divinity School, offers a sneak preview of The Baptists’ Bible, a work in progress due to be completed and published in time for the 400th anniversary of the founding of the first Baptist church in Amsterdam in 2009.

The project, the first of its kind, gathers Baptist interpretations of the Bible from Baptists across their four-century history. Parsons and Leonard focus on Luke and Acts as “a textual laboratory” for the experiment.

The on-line excerpt on Luke 4:18-19–the foundational Bible passage for planning the New Baptist Covenant Celebration–is taken from the larger project and represents only a part of what Baptists have written and thought about Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Nazareth.

The excerpt includes commentary as early as 1649 and as recent as 2006. Citations include Bible scholars from the past like A.T. Robertson, W.O. Carver and Frank Stagg, ethicists like T.B. Maston and Henlee Barnette, reformers like Walter Rauschenbush and Harry Emerson Fosdick, champions for civil rights like Ralph Abernathy and Martin Luther King, as well as contemporary voices.

The interpretations are arranged around a translation of the text an American Baptist woman, Helen Barrett Montgomery, first published in 1924.

“In the late 20th and early 21st century we have extensive commentary (and debate) regarding what Baptists ‘believe about the Bible,’ then and now,” said Leonard, dean and professor of church history at Wake Forest Divinity School. “What we often overlook is how Baptists used and understood the text itself.”

“The materials from Luke 4 in the Baptists’ Bible project allow us to consider historic responses to this important New Testament text, some of which is born of the older Hebrew text,” Leonard said. “Listening to these voices will not necessarily make the text more ‘manageable’ but it will surely inform our own journey in and through a text that ‘resists domestication.'”

Parsons, a professor of religion at Baylor University, said Jesus’ inaugural sermon at Nazareth, quoting from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, “revealed this blueprint for his ministry, a vocation that found him working among the poor, the imprisoned, the physically disabled, and the disenfranchised.”

“These verses serve also as a clarion call to Christ’s church to engage in His name in compassionate ministries of deliverance and healing, of justice and mercy,” Parsons said.

“The opportunity for North American Baptists to join together in a ‘New Covenant’ of compassion is exciting, and I encourage fellow Baptists to take advantage of these rich resources as we attempt to hear fresh insights into this text, and having heard, then to become doers, together, of God’s Word,” Parsons said.

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