Photo courtesy of Sara Saunders/The Carter Center
Former President Jimmy Carter is a man of great faith whose life's work includes enacting social justice with the Carter Center, building homes with Habitat for Humanity, and uniting Baptists with the New Baptist Covenant. While he has been a part of influential international discussions and has received the Nobel Peace Prize, one of his greatest pleasures is teaching Sunday school every week in Plains, Georgia. Through his latest book 'NIV Lessons From Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter', people all over the world will be able to experience the wisdom he has garnered through his long and accomplished life. I was honored to speak to him about this new book, his views on Scripture, and what he has learned about accomplishing peace and justice in the world.
What brought about the idea of doing a devotional Bible?
I’ve been teaching Bible lessons since I was eighteen years old. I was a midshipman at Annapolis and I taught Sunday school every Sunday. I taught Bible lessons on the submarine, I taught Bible lessons when I was a farmer, I taught Sunday school at the First Baptist Church in Washington about fifteen times while I was actually president, and since then I’ve been teaching at my local church in Plains (Georgia). We have about a hundred people on the roll, we have about thirty who come to church every Sunday, but we have several hundred people come to hear me teach the Bible. I think I’ve just finished teaching six hundred eighty five lessons (laughs), so I teach every Sunday that I’m home in Plains. So last summer I had both of my knees replaced and I was relatively inactive for awhile so we went through all of my Sunday school lessons and picked out about two hundred parts of them that have gone into this living Bible. I try in all my lessons to bring the Bible up to date to say “how does the ancient Biblical Scripture apply to our modern day lives?” So that’s why I think Zondervan was willing to have me participate in this new Bible.
How has your view of the Bible changed since you were President?
Well I’ve learned a lot more! When you’ve studied several hours each weekend preparing for the lesson and you know that you’re going to have people in your class who are very knowledgeable about the Bible, Pastors and missionaries come, the Sunday school teachers come, people who are Jewish and Muslim come, people who are Mennonites and Amish and Quakers come, and all kinds of Protestants, I really have a give and take lesson and I like to be well prepared. So in studying the Bible in preparation for those sessions you’ve got to dig in deeper and try to analyze what the meanings of the Scriptures are. Also, for the last thirty five or more years my wife and I have read the Bible as the last thing every night. One night she reads aloud and then the next night I read aloud. Then we have discussions about what we read to each other. It’s just a probing and inquisitive attitude towards the Bible, and a desire to learn how those ancient Scriptures can affect our modern day, fast changing, technological world and life.
We have a lot of people tell me after church is over that they’d never been in church before in their lives and they came just to have a chance to see me and to have a conversation with a former President. So I know that I have many people in my Bible classes that don’t know much about my faith and don’t have any faith of their own. Then as I said we have people who are quite devout Jews who like to discuss elements of the Old Testament with me in a friendly way. I really don’t know what the overwhelming reaction is but a few people tell me that they enjoy the lessons and that they have a new concept of Christianity after I teach. Most of them don’t express a view because they leave after church, but they keep coming back. Like this Sunday we had a very large crowd. The church overflowed, we had people sitting in the choir loft, and had chairs in the aisles and so forth. I’m really enjoying the give and take of a free discussion of the Scriptures.