This Covenant experience will guide participants in a comprehensive, in-depth study of the Bible over twenty-four weeks. Unlike the learning participants may have experienced in other groups, this in-depth study of the whole Bible emphasizes the biblical concept of covenant as a unifying pattern through all the books in the Old and New Testaments. It underscores the unique relationship that God chooses to have with us as God’s people. This relationship is grounded in the faithfulness of God’s love and on our ongoing commitment to stay in love with God while we share signs of that love with others.
Each episode connects to an aspect of this covenant relationship, which is summarized in the heading of each participant guide.
LIFE, AS WE ALL KNOW TOO WELL, IS IMPERFECT. Difficulties are inevitable. That’s why the final eight-weeks, Trusting the Covenant, looks at the crises that sometimes call covenant life into question, and how we are restored to trust in God when troubling things happen.
This module discusses the loss of hope, and how it is restored by faithfulness in the midst of suffering. From the story of Job, to the Hebrew exile, to the apocalyptic visions in Daniel and Revelation, we learn how faithful love is at work in everything—to restore hope, freedom, and wholeness to our lives.
Each participant in the group needs the Participant Guides and a Bible. The CEB Study Bible is preferred.
The Trusting Participant Guide is 8 weeks long, and has a lay flat binding making it easy to take notes in the generous space provided on each page.
The Trusting Participant Guide contains the following episodes:
Episode 17: John; 1, 2, and 3 John
For John the God we meet in Jesus is the one who keeps coming into the world, going out of the way to be in relationship with us. Jesus meets his followers in whatever ways they need with new and abundant life. Jesus draws people back into community and promises the Holy Spirit to those who follow him.
Episode 18: Psalms
Psalms are songs, poems, and prayers to and about God. There is diversity of authorship across the Psalms. Three major types of psalms are laments, thanksgiving psalms, and psalms of praise. The psalms are user-friendly and give voice to our conflicts, confessions, and cries for God’s rescuing help. The Psalms teach us how to pray and that God’s primary character trait is faithful love.
Episode 19: Job
Like the Bible as a whole, the book of Job offers a number of voices or perspectives. Job stages difficult human questions such as, “Why do human beings worship God?” or “Why do people suffer?” and even, “what is God’s role in suffering?” The book of Job also asks, “Does good behavior bring blessing?” and “Does bad behavior bring curse and suffering?”
Episode 20: Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel
Jeremiah, Lamentations, and Ezekiel offer three different perspectives on the same catastrophic event: the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587 CE and the exile of God’s people to a foreign land.These books affirm the power of lingering with sorrow so we can hear the voices of those who are suffering. Any hope found in these books remains in the promise that God will bring life to dry bones or write a new covenant on hearts in a blessed but distant future.
Episode 21: Isaiah 40-66
The story of how Israel gained and lost the land becomes a treasure that they carry with them into exile. The poetry in these passages is written to inspire and invite God’s homesick people in Babylon to become pioneers and return home to Israel. The God of Israel is no regional deity but is the one and only God of all, everywhere and all the time. Through fire and water, chaos and captivity, the people called by God and redeemed by God also belong to God.
Episode 22: 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah
The people returning home from exile in successive waves must rebuild their whole way of life. Ezra and Nehemiah look at the practical need for city walls and a center for worship. The Chronicler stresses the importance of “re-remembering” our story in the right way in order to understand who we are in this new life. The practices that sustained the people in exile will define a people who weren’t old enough to remember life before exile.
Episode 23: Apocalyptic—Daniel
Apocalyptic literature is not primarily about future events. It looks at traumatic events in the present and finds a divine plan at work. By using vivid symbols and imagery, the court tales and visions ofDaniel stress that God is ultimately controls human events. The identity of faithful people is defined by living faithfully according to the covenant teachings in a context where those values are under threat. Faith has its price, but our hope in God empowers us to never give up.
Episode 24: Revelation
Revelation is a book written for poor people struggling under great duress. It uses vivid, terrifying images to express God’s unswerving faithfulness and the faithfulness of those who stand firm in the face of dehumanizing forces in the world. The symbol of hope in Revelation is the new creation and loyal love between God and the faithful. This symbol provides comfort, courage, and assurance that the one who made a covenant with all things at the very beginning will be with us at the end of all things.
More Questions? Visit http://covenantbiblestudy.com/ for more information.
About the Author
William P. Brown is Professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, Decatur, GA
Assistant Professor of Hebrew Bible, Iliff School of Theology, Denver, Colorado
Chaplain, Assistant Professor of Old Testament, Hiram College, Hiram, OH
A.B. Rhodes Professor of Old Testament, Louisville Theological Seminary
mail checks and correspondence to home address: 308 E. Market St., Jeffersonville, IN 47130
Vice President of Academic Affairs and Associate Professor of Old Testament, Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA
Thomas B. Slater is Professor Emeritus of New Testament Language & Literature at McAfee School of Theology. He teaches introductory and advanced courses in New Testament studies and New Testament Greek. His Ph.D. is from King's College London. He is an ordained elder in the Georgia North Region of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church and holds positions on denominational committees.
Daniel L. Smith-Christopher is Professor of Theological Studies and Director of Peace Studies at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles. A widely published scholar, he is the author of A Biblical Theology of Exile, Subverting Hatred, and Religion of the Landless, as well as the commentary on Daniel for The New Interpreters' Bible.
Shane Stanford (MA, Duke University; Doctorate, Asbury Theological Seminary) is Senior Pastor of a 5,000+ member church in Memphis, Tennessee. Dr. Stanford is the author of numerous books, including The Seven Next Words of Christ, The Cure for the Chronic Life, and The Eight Blessings: Rediscovering the Beatitudes. His memoir, A Positive Life, details his life as an HIV+ and HepC+ hemophiliac, husband, father, and pastor. He is the co-host of the Covenant Bible Study program, now used in over one thousand churches. Dr. Stanford married Dr. Pokey Stanford, and they have three daughters.
Christine Chakoian is Pastor and Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church in Lake Forest, Illinois, one of the largest congregations in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to be led by a woman. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois, Yale Divinity School, and McCormick Theological Seminary (D.Min). She is an editor and writer for Feasting on the Gospels, a contributor to the Day1 radio program, 30 Good Minutes television show, and the Presbyterian Outlook magazine.
Read an Excerpt
Covenant Bible Study: Trusting Participant Guide
By Abingdon Press
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
John; 1, 2, and 3 John
Abundant, eternal life with others
Day 1: John 1:1-18; 3–4
Day 2: John 5; 9; 11
Day 3: John 14–17
Day 4: John 18–21
Day 5: 1 John 2–4; 2 John; 3 John
Day 6: Covenant Meditation on John 15:9-13
Day 7: Group Meeting Experience with John 13:1-17
For those who walk in darkness
The word was life, and the life was the light for all people. (John 1:4)
For those who flourish for others
This is the testimony: God gave eternal life to us, and this life is in his Son. (1 John 5:11)
John's Gospel points us to an authentic community characterized by trust, intimacy, love, and abundant, eternal life. The purpose of the Gospel is clearly stated in John 20:31: "These things are written so that you will believe that Jesus is the Christ, God's Son, and that believing, you will have life in his name." The fourth Gospel is a narrative, not a newspaper account. John writes not simply to convey information but to draw you into an encounter with the risen Christ, into a relationship that from then onward will shape every minute of your precious life — every thought, deed, habit, and desire.
John's Gospel was written in stages over decades, taking its final form in approximately 100 CE. This makes it the last Gospel of the four in our New Testament, and right away you'll notice that it's quite different from the other three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), called Synoptic Gospels because they share many phrases and stories in common. (A good tool for comparing the phrases and stories in these books is the CEB Gospel Parallels.) We avoid trying to force John into the framework of the Synoptic Gospels. More than 90 percent of John's content doesn't appear in the Synoptics. Many of the dearly loved stories about individuals who encounter Jesus (Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, Lazarus, Thomas) appear only in John. Sometimes we see characters who appear elsewhere, but the particular stories about them told in John are stunningly unique (Mary and Martha, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Thomas). Events sometimes even occur in a different order: In John, the "temple tantrum" occurs at the beginning, not the end, of Jesus' public ministry. Jesus also dies on a different day in John. Don't fret over the differences, but instead ask what John is trying to signify through his way of presenting the story.
John is obsessed with the power of words, so much so that he identifies Jesus as the Word (Greek logos). Words can surely lead to life. In John 6, Jesus speaks difficult words that cause him to lose many disciples. At that point he turns to his other disciples and asks them if they, too, would like to leave their committed community. Peter responds, "Lord, where would we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68).
But words can destroy, as well. That's why any responsible study of the fourth Gospel requires a word of warning about the role of "the Jews" in the narrative. Obviously, Jesus and all of the first disciples were Jewish, as was the early Johannine community. Before the destruction of the temple in 70 CE, Christianity was another form of Judaism. But after the destruction of the temple, Christianity began the lengthy process of becoming a separate tradition. As that happened, sadly, this separation sometimes led to Christians using John's Gospel to insult or harm Jews because the original historical context of the Gospel's composition wasn't properly and intelligently tended. To avoid anti-Semitism, unintended or otherwise, the CEB translates the phrase the Jews as "Jewish leaders" or "religious leaders" to indicate that the debate was between the Jewish establishment and the Jewish reformers (for example, Jesus of Nazareth).
When the Gospel reached its final draft, the community that read John's story consisted of an amazingly diverse population in terms of culture, religion, race, and ethnicity: Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, John the Baptist's former followers, Greeks, and Romans. Such diversity is always a gift and sometimes a challenge.
The fourth Gospel engages us with a masterful literary design:
Prologue — John 1:1-18: This rich text reveals much about who Jesus is and who we are in relation to God and each other. Think about how Genesis begins (covered in Episode 2). The prologue establishes all of the major themes that matter to John; everything after 1:18 fills in the details.
The Book of Signs — John 1:19–12:50: This section tells about Jesus' public ministry. He performs seven signs in John (as compared to approximately twenty signs in Mark), and they are never called miracles or deeds of power. They are signs, and signs point to something. In John, they point to the fact that Jesus is equal to God and, therefore, has power to grant life even in the face of death, especially in the face of death.
The Book of Glory — John 13:1–20:31: At this point in the narrative, Jesus turns inward to train his closest disciples as he prepares for his crucifixion, exaltation, and glorification on the cross. The words glory and glorify appear forty-two times in John, far more than in any other book of the New Testament, and they congregate in these later chapters. Jesus is not a victim — he knows what he has come to do and does it all with calm and peace.
Epilogue — John 21:1-25: John's Gospel has two endings. The first occurs at John 20:31. Chapter 21 was probably added later, perhaps by the same author or perhaps by a later editor. The last chapter is deeply poignant and speaks to our various diverse callings, including our tendency to get into competition with each other even as disciples; the importance of love in action; and the potential sacrifice and humility involved in answering Christ's call.
1, 2, and 3 John: The letters of John reflect a later phase of the community that produced and read John's Gospel. We don't know whether all three letters were written by the same person (the elder) or whether that person had a hand in writing the fourth Gospel. Thematically speaking, the letters care about many of the same issues that we saw in the Gospel: testifying to truth, believing in Jesus as the incarnate Word, and unity among believers. Upon what should that unity be based? Doctrine, behavior, or love? How are those three related?
But most importantly, the letters announce God's love for us (1 John 4:19), the call to love each other (1 John 4:11), and the promise that fear is not our fate: "There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love" (1 John 4:18).
Day 1: John 1:1-18; 3–4
God's children love the light.
When you read John 1:1-18 in the CEB, you will see that it's indented and presented in poetic form because it's a hymn. If you compare John's opening to those of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), you will see that John goes back farther than anyone else, to the very beginning when God and Jesus created every single thing that exists. Jesus is presented in terms of Woman Wisdom, whom John would have known from Proverbs 8. She tries to teach wisdom through the Instruction (Torah), but people tend to prefer foolishness, even though that path never leads to life. But those who do listen to Wisdom, to God's Word, become enlightened by the light of the world and enjoy life as children in God's household.
Not long after the prologue we meet Nicodemus, who comes to Jesus "by night" and hears about being born from above. He misunderstands and is stuck at the literal level, wondering how he might be born again, a second time. But Jesus is speaking metaphorically. He appears again in John 7:50 and John 19:39-42 (where he is once again identified as the one who came by night).
Does Nicodemus ever see the light? If not, what stands in his way? If so, how does it affect his life?
The next individual to encounter Jesus is the Samaritan woman in John 4. Unlike Nicodemus, she encounters Jesus in the brightest light of day, at noon. Notice that she engages Jesus in a theological debate and, as a result, receives a revelation that Jesus is God (John 4:26). She then immediately testifies to her neighbors and invites them to encounter Jesus for themselves.
Why is the time of these meetings, night or day, a crucial detail, given what has been said in John 3:17-21?
Day 2: John 5; 9; 11
From healing to discipleship
These chapters share the idea that Jesus provides healing, but the stories differ in certain ways. Compare the behavior of the man in John 5 to the behavior of the Samaritan woman one chapter earlier (John's placement of material isn't accidental) and the behavior of the blind man in John 9. Both the Samaritan woman and the blind man are models for the kind of discipleship that John has in mind. John 9 opens with the disciples revealing their assumption that illness is caused by sin. Throughout the chapter, Jesus reorients our vision to show us what true sin and true blindness are: the willful rejection of God and of abundant life, and resignation to existence in a dark, dank spiritual tomb where fear, death, and violence reign.
What makes the blind man an exemplary disciple? First, he is open to the creative power of Jesus: When Jesus spits and makes mud and wipes it on the man's eyes, we are supposed to remember the Genesis story where God uses the earth to create human beings. Second, the man tells his truth as he knows it, and he never allows anyone — the neighbors, the educated or powerful religious authorities, not even his own family members — to deny his own experience. He keeps his integrity throughout, no matter what the cost. Third, he publicly testifies to his healing relationship with Jesus. Fourth, the more he encounters Jesus, the deeper his knowledge and faith become. He first calls Jesus just a man (John 9:11), then a prophet (John 9:17), and finally he proclaims, "Lord, I believe," and worships him (John 9:38).
Compare this story about the blind man with John 11.
Day 3: John 14–17
So that they will be made perfectly one
John 14–17 is known as the farewell speech. Here Jesus teaches the disciples everything they will need to know to be mature Christian leaders who can create spaces for healthy, authentic, and fruitful communities of dearly loved disciples. In John 14 he assures them that though he will no longer physically be with them, he is always present, as is the Companion. Against the notion that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are "up there" somewhere, and that we will all eventually get a room in God's heavenly resort, Jesus once again insists that the movement is always in the other direction. God has always come to us and is always coming to us. In John's Gospel, Jesus is described as "the one who is coming into the world" (John 11:27). There is no separation between heaven and earth (see John 1:51). As Jesus says of himself and God in John 14:23, "we will come to them and make our home with them."
In John 15, Jesus warns the disciples that their future won't be easy, but as long as they love each other and stay connected to him, they will experience peace and joy, even in the midst of the world's hatred. The discourse concludes with Jesus' prayer on behalf of his disciples, then and now, that we may all be one in Christ expressly for the sake of the world (John 17:20-21) — the very world that may hate them.
Think of a difficult time in your life. Did you experience peace and joy by loving someone else and staying connected in thought and prayer to Jesus?
Day 4: John 18–21
In John 14:6, Jesus confidently declares himself to be the way, the truth, and the life. Yet by John 19:30, the truth is put on trial and killed at the hands of the same Pilate who had recently wondered aloud to Jesus, "What is truth?" After birthing the church at the foot of the cross (John 19:25-27), blood and water come out of Jesus' side — and one is reminded of all the language in John about birth and wombs (John 3:4; 7:38; 16:21). Then one thinks of our rituals for baptism and holy communion. All the makings of being in God's family are there, but Jesus' followers are too blinded by grief and fear to move forward into their future story. Only Mary Magdalene ventures to the tomb and finds it empty. Peter and the dearly loved disciple come to see for themselves, but they go back home. Mary remains, stays put, and, by doing so, she receives the first vision of the resurrected Christ and becomes the apostle to the apostles, proclaiming the good news to her community. The disciples fearfully lock themselves in a room, but nothing can separate us from Christ, so Jesus appears to grant them peace and the gift of the Holy Spirit that he had promised earlier. So what do the disciples do? They go back to living their pre-Jesus life. Again, Jesus comes to them. He frees Peter from his shame and infuses them with a sense of calling. They answered it, and the world hasn't been the same since.
If we acknowledge that each person can find a calling or purpose in life, what calling gives you purpose? What type of service or ministry is engaged through that calling?
Day 5: 1 John 2–4; 2 John; 3 John
Hospitality is Christian love in action.
The Johannine letters worry about Christians who deny the incarnation, the fleshly nature of Jesus, preferring to keep him an abstract doctrine. The author knows that the minute we deny the true humanity of Jesus and the scandal of that uncomfortable, messy truth, we are also likely to turn our eyes away from the true humanity of each other. Incarnation means that Jesus had flesh and blood like us and that we, too, live on this earth embodied and located in very specific circumstances, including our gender, sexuality, race, class, ethnicity, and levels of able-bodiedness.
Do we value certain bodies more than others in our society? In our church?
Surely these letters teach us about Christian hospitality, which is love in action. We see this in 1 John 3:17: "If a person has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need and that person doesn't care — how can the love of God remain in him?" Compare 3 John 1:5: "Dear friend, you act faithfully in whatever you do for our brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers." Since there was no hotel system in the New Testament era and certainly no welfare system, Christians depended on each other for sustenance, and Christian travelers stayed with other Christians as they traveled.
But the letters display a real tension between hospitality and hatred, between orthodoxy and tolerance. For every verse that commands hospitality, one finds a verse that commands one to refuse hospitality to those who don't subscribe to proper belief (see 2 John 1:10-11). The letters reveal the tendency for disagreements to lead to schism. It is clear from 1 John 2:18-19 that this church has experienced the painful loss of some of its members. The author goes on the attack and declares those who left to be antichrists and deceivers.
Is it inevitable that Christians (or even human beings) consistently choose sides over issues so that the choice is either/or? Reflect on a situation where someone left a church or a group where you participated. What might have prevented that separation?
Instead we can rely upon the truth expressed, ironically, by the very same author just a few verses earlier: "The person loving a brother and sister stays in the light, and there is nothing in the light that causes a person to stumble. But the person who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and lives in the darkness, and doesn't know where to go because the darkness blinds the eyes" (1 John 2:10-11).
Excerpted from Covenant Bible Study: Trusting Participant Guide by Abingdon Press. Copyright © 2014 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsTrusting the Covenant,
Episode Theme Title,
17 Life Together John; 1, 2, and 3 John,
18 Praise and Lament Psalms,
19 Tragedy Job,
20 Crisis and Starting Over Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel,
21 Exile and Renewal Isaiah 40–66,
22 Restoration 1 and 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah,
23 Hope Apocalyptic: Daniel,
24 New Creation Revelation,
Other Covenant Participant Guides,
Creating the Covenant,
Episode Theme Title,
1 Relationships Creating the Covenant,
2 Who Are We? Torah: Genesis,
3 Freedom and Instruction Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers,
4 God's Kingdom Gospels: Matthew and Mark,
5 Grace Letters: Romans and Galatians,
6 Witness Hebrews,
7 Logic of the Cross 1 and 2 Corinthians,
8 Covenant Renewal Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, 1 Samuel,
Living the Covenant,
Episode Theme Title,
9 Faithful Love Ruth, Esther, Song of Songs,
10 The Spirit-Led Community Luke and Acts,
11 Leadership 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings,
12 God's Household 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus,
13 Discernment Wisdom: Proverbs and Ecclesiastes,
14 Reconciled Philemon, Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians,
15 Act Like a Christian James, Jude, 1 and 2 Peter,
16 Doing the Right Thing Prophets: Isaiah 1–39 and the Book of the Twelve,