Accordance graced me with an early preview copy of the Interpretation Series (Westminster John Knox) for use on my Accordance 12 program (review to follow). I have some of the series in print — I was given my first volume by a United Methodist preacher in Madison, WV — and on another platform. However, with this bundle, I get the entire set including the bible studies as well as the topic studies, both new to me.
If you are unfamiliar with this series, the first thing you’ll wonder about is where has the commentary gone. Maybe that isn’t fair; however, this commentary is geared to the exegete who intends to deliver something without heady academic jargon but is readily useful for the audience. It is a commentary without reading like a commentary. Rather than hyper-analyzing the original languages or social science context (both valid and needful in some areas), the Interpretation series focuses on the text as if it is part of the story. For instance, in Mark 5.1-20, Lamar Williamson, Jr., creates a narrative about the text that dives into the essential parts about Mark’s pericope. He does address the almost disjointed parts of the story, brings to light what is unique and noteworthy, and then offers various interpretations as well as the interpretation’s gestalt. This is one of the features many of us have come to like about the Interpretation Series.
The larger volumes (Interpretation Bible Studies) lead the reader some place else. According to the series’ preface,
IBS was developed out of three primary convictions. First, the Bible is the church’s scripture and stands in a unique place of authority in Christian understanding. Second, good scholarship helps readers understand the truths of the Bible and sharpens their perception of God speaking through the Bible. Third, deep knowledge of the Bible bears fruit in one’s ethical and spiritual life.
Each IBS volume has ten brief units of key passages from a book of the Bible. By moving through these units, readers capture the sweep of the whole biblical book. Each unit includes study helps, such as maps, photos, definitions of key terms, questions for reflection, and suggestions for resources for further study. In the back of each volume is a Leader’s Guide that offers helpful suggestions on how to use IBS.
Once again, for clarity’s sake, I turn to Mark (written by Richard I. Deibert). In the section on Mark 5.1-20, Deibert (who does refer to Williamson in a neatly hyperlinked fashion), speaks to the student, most likely in a bible study class, that has chosen to go deeper than the usually lighter fare offered in Sunday School. Here, the narrative of Mark is interweaved with Deibert’s somewhat poetic flair and passages from the Old Testament. The narrative flows, referring to Mark in a way that keeps Mark’s Gospel separate, but stands with it.
Finally, Interpretation: Resources for the Use of Scripture in the Church provides something of a sourcebook for those of us interested in particular theological topics. This series is not fully developed yet, but according to the publishers,
The Bible as used in the Christian community is not only a collection of books but also itself a book that has a unity and coherence important to its meaning. Some volumes in this new series will deal with this canonical wholeness and seek to provide a wider context for the interpretation of individual books as well as a comprehensive theological perspective that reading single books does not provide.
Other volumes in the series will examine particular texts, like the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sermon on the Mount, texts that have played such an important role in the faith and life of the Christian community that they constitute orienting foci for the understanding and use of Scripture.
A further concern of the series will be to consider important and often difficult topics, addressed at many different places in the books of the canon, that are of recurrent interest and concern to the church in its dependence on Scripture for faith and life. So the series will include volumes dealing with such topics as eschatology, women, wealth, and violence.
I also note Ronald P. Byars, who writes the volume on the Sacraments, pointedly refers to Mainliners with some rather forceful words that Evangelicals can appreciate. He writes as a pastor and a theologian, a welcomed recovery of the better years of the American pastor. Further, his references to the Churches of the Reformation, the Revised Common Lectionary, and other fruits of American Mainline denominations is another highpoint of this particular volume. He is writing to congregations and denominations in transition – to recover what separates us as Christians and as Protestants. He makes use of all of our canons.
I like the feel of these volumes. I like what Bayers does with the Eucharist. He supplies Scripture, liturgy, and history in giving something to preachers that they are unlikely to have received elsewhere — a chance to recover Protestant theology of something besides the right word to use in describing salvation. The first section, for instance, of the Lord’s Supper goes deep into the phrase “Do This.” He connects it to the grand sweep of Scripture. He explores how the Synoptics differ on the institution of the Eucharist. He even explores our word choices. Finally, he connects the Christian practice with the Jewish forebearer.
Throughout the many volumes are hyperlinked references, verses, and other resources. You will also find a scholarship taken from the lectern and placed behind the pulpit, something desperately needed by all too many.
I am eclectic mix of liberal and conservative; mainline and evangelical; high church and charismatic. I preach and I teach. And I judge those who do. I find something in the volumes to satisfy my various mixes, some things that challenge me, and some things that cause me to look anew at a passage.. As one who uses his Macbook Pro, iMac, and iPad to do research and write sermons, having these volumes on Accordance is near-miracle.
Why is that important (to me?) – because it helps in searching, saving time and energy. I like this feature a lot, actually, have have come to rely on it as a way to look at what different authors may say about the same concept.