I try to publish some reflections on each book that my company, Energion Publications, releases. Sometimes it takes me few months after release, but I try to get to it sooner. Please be aware that while I will say some things I might say in a review, this is not a review, and is intended to be subjective. It’s my reflections on publishing this book, why I did it, and what I hope for it.
This week, we’re releasing Ephesians: A Participatory Study Guide, by Robert D. Cornwall. Bob Cornwall is actually author of two releases in close succession, the other being Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer. Note that while you will not see it in stock at Amazon.com on Monday, January 3, you should see it at some point during the first week of January.
This book is a milestone both for Energion and for the Participatory Study Series, and it’s especially gratifying to me. When I first started the participatory series (for which this blog was named), it was a way for me to publish notes and handouts. I looked at what I was doing to provide materials for my classes, then at the costs involved in printing, and gathered the material together. I thought I could sell enough just for classes I taught to pay the expenses, and indeed I did. But I also sold quite a number more. (My study guides are to Revelation and Hebrews.)
Then my former student, Geoffrey Lentz, now a minister at First United Methodist Church in Pensacola suggested adding a study guide to the book of Luke. As a publisher, this meant some considerable changes. I’d put the whole series on the back burner. I was much more interested in publishing things written by others than my own work. But after some thought Geoffrey signed a contract and duly produced the study guide to Luke.
While Geoffrey followed the outlines of the method I had created and written about on the web, he also added some nuances, especially in terms of making the study guides reflect the emphasis on prayer. If anyone compares one of my guides to his, they will note that while I emphasize prayer while talking about the method, I don’t do as much to make it part of the structure of each lesson. Geoffrey also added a certain amount of art and iconography, amongst other things.
To summarize, I was much happier with his study guide than I was with my own, and I invited Geoffrey to join me in writing a basic guide to the method used in the series. I’d had a manuscript gathering the cyber equivalent of dust for a couple of years, so I dusted it off, and sent it to Geoffrey. We passed it back and forth several times, added many pages of his work, deleted some of mine, and I think the results were good. The book is Learning and Living Scripture: An Introduction to the Participatory Study Method.
The foundation was laid to make this a real series, with the vision of making guides that will help individuals, but especially small study groups dig into the Bible and study it for themselves, while at the same time not studying it in isolation.
Besides Ephesians, there are currently two other study guides in progress, and we’re looking for more authors who would like to write one of these guides. The method gives considerable leeway for individual approaches, while setting broad boundaries in terms of the level and the overall approach. (If you’re interested in writing a guide contact me, firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Bob Cornwall has taken hold of the vision of the series and produced a study guide that is thoughtful and challenging. He’s set a new high standard for what this series should produce. I hope some time to revise my two guides, and I’m planning on borrowing ideas from him (as well as from Geoffrey) when I do so.
Bob’s study guide plows head-on into the major issues raised by Ephesians, not in a destructive way, but in an open and honest approach that will allow groups to discuss and come to their own conclusions about many of the issues in the book. What about submission, gender roles, spiritual warfare, the demonic realm, and authorities in the heavens? They’re all here, and you’ll have a chance to think seriously about them and share.
One of the great distinctive features Bob has added is a historical reflection with each lesson. I wanted this series to emphasize looking at the history of interpretation, i.e. not seeing the community in which one studies as just contemporary Christians, but rather as those who have read, interpreted, and applied the book since it was written. These historical reflections are an extraordinarily effective approach to accomplishing this goal.
There is always a struggle in a study guide to decide what is included. Huge amounts of material ends up cut, either due to space, or because you don’t want to overburden or distract students who may be studying a book for the first time. In his introductions, Bob has chosen carefully and introduced issues that are profitable and more importantly that will tend to help build dialog.
One of the elements of the participatory study method is sharing, by which we mean not just (or even primarily) telling other people what you learn, but also listening to the community of faith and to others throughout history. If you are going to conduct dialog across various denominational and theological lines, you have to know what the issues are. A good example of this is the issue of pseudonymity. Was Paul the author, and if he was not, does it matter? Many church members are not aware of the alternatives on this issue. Bob gives them a good introduction. Whatever you believe regarding this issue, it’s a good idea to be aware of the possibilities.
This guide shares with the other guides good exercises and challenging thought questions. I think it’s “further reading” section is again exceptionally good.
I hope many church education coordinators and other leaders and teachers in the church will give strong consideration to using this guide in their teaching. I’m gratified and blessed that Bob Cornwall has been willing to offer his expertise to this series, and I am excited about seeing new volumes as they develop.
I should write one final general note about the series. This isn’t your “Bible in five minutes a day” series. Members of the class need to commit to reading the material in the guide and the scriptures for each lesson. It is also useful if they study the questions and are prepared to discuss. These questions are not designed for a quick sharing of existing opinions; they’re designed to challenge your existing opinions. I hope that you’ll come away from sharing with a group using these questions and reflections better informed, and better able to express and support your understanding.