A Perspective on the Establishment of the Book of Faith Initiative
Wilhelm, Mark, Currents in Theology and Mission
The purpose of this article is to describe some of the concerns in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) that spurred the creation of the Book of Faith Initiative (BFI). To do so, I will briefly summarize the purposes of the BFI as enshrined in the 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly's resolutions that established the initiative. This will be followed by a discussion of some of the impulses driving interest in creating the BFI from my perspective as a churchwide staff member involved in planning, implementation, and continuing oversight of the BFI.
The 2007 ELCA Churchwide Assembly resolutions
The ELCA Church Council brought two lengthy resolutions to the 2007 Churchwide Assembly about the BFI. The first resolution reaffirmed the centrality of the Bible in the ELCA. The second established the BFI as an effort to strengthen and deepen engagement with the Bible throughout the church. The upshot of both was that the churchwide staff, Church Council, and Churchwide Assembly agreed with the North Carolina Synod's memorial to the 2005 Churchwide Assembly that it was time for the ELCA to explore anew this church's engagement with the Bible, the authority of the Word, and the Lutheran understanding of the interpretation of the Bible. These were the concerns to be addressed through the BFI.
The first resolution affirmed the ELCA's constitutional statement of faith about the Word of God and that the Bible is the written Word of God. It described the historic commitments of the Lutheran tradition to the Scripture, beginning with Martin Luther and continuing through the ministries of the ELCA. It recognized that "... one of the six constitutionally stated purposes for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America through its congregations, synods, churchwide ministries, and related institutions and agencies is to nurture members 'in the Word of God so as to grow in faith and hope and love, to see daily life as the primary setting for the exercise of their Christian calling, and to use the gifts of the Spirit for their life together and for their calling in the world.'" The resolution noted that thankfulness for the Word of God is shared with the church universal and that several anniversaries and celebrations, including the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran reformation in 2017, provided a context for fresh attention to the Bible in the life of the whole church. Finally the first resolution thanked the North Carolina Synod for inviting the ELCA to explore the authority of the Scripture in the life of this church.
Having set the context for creating the BFI through the first resolution, the second resolution called for establishing the initiative. The resolution called upon the ELCA to collectively "invite and encourage all members, expressions, institutions, and partners of this church to commit themselves regularly and increasingly to hearing, reading, studying, sharing, and being formed by God's Word." The resolution further asked the "members, congregations, synods, churchwide ministries, and institutions and agencies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to engage in a five-year collaborative initiative--identified as "Book of Faith: Lutherans Read the Bible"--with the goal of raising to a new level this church's individual and collective engagement with the Bible and its teaching, yielding greater biblical fluency, deeper worship and devotion, and a more profound appreciation of Lutheran principles and approaches for the use of Scripture." The resolution specified no tactics, other than to refer the concerns to staff of units in the churchwide organization, but outcomes set forth in the resolution defined the goals of the BFI. (1)
A personal recollection
What follows below is a personal reflection based on my involvement with creating, implementing and managing the BFI. The themes and topics described below as motivating creation of the BFI are my own construction. …