But he has discovered a surprising problem: They don't know their Bibles.
"There have been some moments where I'm talking about a biblical story and am getting that stare like, 'I'm not really following you here,'" said Thornbury, dean of the school of theology and missions at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. "I began to realize that what happens in the Bible, story for story, scene for scene, is just not something that is really being done that well in churches."
Thornbury began administering a Bible facts quiz on the first day of class, asking for information such as the name of Isaac's brother and a list of the Ten Commandments. Most students failed.
Yet Thornbury believes he has found a remedy to such biblical illiteracy by partnering with a coalition of evangelicals, including several Southern Baptists, to launch BibleMesh.com, a website that teaches the Bible as a single storyline focusing on Jesus.
Published by former American Standard CEO Emmanuel Kampouris, the website tells the entire biblical story through 90 minutes of video animation anchored by New York City pastor Tim Keller, author of the bestseller "The Reason for God." The website also features commentary by a plethora of noted evangelicals: Hundreds of one-page articles introduce key Bible ideas while short teaching videos expound crucial points.
A personalized learning tool tests users' knowledge, shows them what they need to study and monitors their progress. The site also features social networking for individuals and churches.
Access to the Biblical Story Course is $49.99 for individuals, with discounts for church groups. Pastors receive free access for one year if they sign up on the site before Jan. 1.
"BibleMesh is not just facts. It's a whole-Bible theology approach to learning the Bible," said Thornbury, the project's theological editor. He added that he plans to use the site in Old and New Testament survey courses, biblical theology classes and even his adult Sunday School class at Englewood Baptist Church in Jackson.
Among the other Southern Baptists on the BibleMesh editorial team are Mark Coppenger, professor of Christian apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and C. Ben Mitchell, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union.
Teaching videos feature an IMB missionary and professors from Southern Seminary, Union University and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Appearing in videos on the importance of the Bible are Southern Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr. and Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.
Non-Southern Baptists involved include Alistair Begg, senior pastor of Parkside Church in metropolitan Cleveland; Philip Ryken, president of Wheaton College in Illinois; Peter Akinola, longtime Anglican archbishop of Nigeria; and Christopher Ash, director of London's Cornhill Training Course.
Coppenger, who also is pastor of Evanston Baptist Church in Illinois, plans to use BibleMesh as a discipleship tool.
"We have a lot of people come to the church who have little or no Bible background," Coppenger said. "Many are students at Northwestern University, and they come from countries where they have not been exposed to the Bible or have been barely exposed to the Bible. It's going to be a joy this fall to give them complimentary access that our church will purchase."
For Mitchell, BibleMesh represents a deep personal interest. When he was saved at age 18, he knew little about the Bible and developed a voracious appetite for studying it. Now he hopes to pass that appetite on to others.
"Both as a pastor then as a seminary professor and a college professor, my interest in others knowing the biblical story has only deepened over time," Mitchell said.
David Roach is a pastor and writer in Shelbyville, Ky., and a contributor to BibleMesh.com.
Copyright (c) 2010 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net