Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

ReformationStudyBible2012It has been my practice for about 40 years to take a different edition or translation of the Bible each 1-2 years and read all of it. I suppose I’ve done so about 30 or more times now, although I haven’t kept track so I can’t say for sure. Most times I read it through within a year’s time. Sometimes I’ll take two years to read it. I recall one that I spent three years reading. It’s a great practice of exposing myself to nearly all of the translations of the Bible available and to the wealth of commentary and notes available in study Bibles that are filled with articles and nearly as many notes from scholars as Bible text itself. As long as one remembers that the primary content is the Bible text itself and the eternal Author behind that text, it never hurts to glean from the insights and wisdom of others who have spent far more years studying particular books of the Bible and periods of history than you or I ever will.

For 2015 my goal was to read through The Reformation Study Bible for the first time. At the time of purchase in late 2014, the latest edition available was a 2012 printing, so that’s what I got. I chose to go with one that uses the English Standard Version (ESV) translation since it is one of my personal favorites. It has over 1950 pages of content, so reading 3-4 Bible chapters a day along with the corresponding study notes and commentary accomplishes the year-long goal on schedule. (OK, I confess I finished it on January 1 and not December 31.)

It did not take long into my 2015 reading before I knew I had finally found a study Bible that I was very much at home with in terms of its theological outlook and commentary – one I was inclined to settle in with for multiple readings over many years. I’ve read several other study Bibles and benefited from each, but this one stood out as… well… outstanding to me. With the general editor being R. C. Sproul – pastor, theologian, author, and founder/chairman of Ligonier Ministries – I already trusted as biblically sound the general editor and looked forward to reading the work of the 50+ additional editors and contributors.

The introduction to The Reformation Study Bible explains why it is so named:

The Reformation Study Bible contains a modern restatement of Reformation truth in its comments and theological notes. Its purpose is to present the light of the Reformation afresh. The Reformed accept the Christian faith as expressed in the ecumenical creeds and believed by Christians everywhere. The distinctive ideas of the Reformed are the result of accepting the Bible as the supreme authority for faith and practice. The words of the Bible are true and its message is powerful. It conveys the infallible promise of God, its Author, that it will not return to Him empty, but will certainly accomplish His intended purpose.”

Since some of my personal study in recent years has been about the Reformation and Reformed theology, this study Bible seemed a perfect match for me at this particular time, and it was.

Let me provide two caveats up front before I discuss more of the specifics of this study Bible, especially as a warning to my fellow Southern Baptists and like-minded folk:

  1. If you can’t handle what the Bible says about election, then you may want to avoid The Reformation Study Bible. Of course, if you claim to be one who loves and cherishes what the Word of God teaches, then you ought to be open to what it says regardless of how much your church or denomination may avoid the topic. It’s a soundly biblical subject and this study Bible isn’t afraid to point that out and remind the reader of it regularly.
  2. You may need to agree to disagree with the study note contributors on the subject of baptism, particularly infant baptism. While they fairly treat the traditional Baptist view of baptism as a believers-only act, you will be exposed to another view within these pages. Being exposed to other views, though, is not a bad thing. Perhaps it will help us understand one another better. With general editor Sproul being a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (the largest conservative Reformed denomination in the United States), one would expect some denominational differences between them and their Baptist (or many other) brethren on the subject.

Now, on to more about this study Bible…

In addition to the Bible text of the ESV, you’ll find the following as listed in the Table of Contents of The Reformation Study Bible:

  • Introduction by R. C. Sproul;
  • List of 50+ contributors from around the world along with their place of employment;
  • An explanation of features (cross-references, footnotes);
  • A preface to the ESV;
  • Nearly 100 brief articles (called theological notes) inserted as appropriate near relevant Bible passages from Genesis to Revelation;
  • 19 in-text maps and a dozen in-text charts also scattered throughout the biblical text from Genesis to Acts;
  • A list of the Old and New Testament books;
  • Old Testament introductions to the Pentateuch, Historical Books, Hebrew Poetry, Wisdom Literature, Prophets, and the Intertestamental Period;
  • New Testament introductions to the Gospels and Acts, and the Epistles;
  • 72-page concordance;
  • Bible reading schedule;
  • Six full-color maps.

Each Bible book contains its own introduction with sections discussing author, date and occasion, interpretive difficulties, characteristics and themes, title, and outline (although not all books will contain all sections). The introductions are fairly brief – usually 2-3 pages.

The text on each page is split into two columns (something that has changed with the 2015 Reformation Study Bible) with a center column for the ESV cross references and footnotes at the bottom of the second column. Study notes are at the bottom of each page except for the theological notes (brief articles) mentioned earlier that are inserted into the main text as needed.

I purchased the brown imitation leather binding and find it attractive with a good feel and very sturdy. After a year of daily handling, it hardly looks used at all from the outside. On the inside, my only complaint is that the pages are so thin that the simple task of underlining with a mechanical pencil would with some regularity start to punch a hole in the page – nothing really noticeable and something I easily stopped each time before doing any damage, but still annoying. It may just be the size and sharpness of the lead I use, but I don’t recall experiencing that with other Bibles I’ve read through in recent years using the same pencil.

One minor content annoyance relates to the ESV footnotes and not the unique writings of this study Bible’s contributors. I’m referring to the repetition of some ESV footnotes in full countless times as you read through books. It seems like there is an unnecessary quantity of notes repeated in full in each chapter of the same book or at least once per book where relevant. That’s an ESV decision, though, and not a decision of the editors of The Reformation Study Bible.

Saving the most important unique quality for last, the content of the introductions and study notes from The Reformation Study Bible contributors are superb. They are informative, helpful, consistent across the books of Old and New Testaments, and a pleasure to read – a great source of knowledge and inspiration. I did not read any Bible book’s notes or supplemental material where I thought there was a noticeable and unwanted difference in the quality of scholarship as I did in 2014 reading through The Apologetics Study Bible. Any reader will learn much about the biblical text by taking the time to read these notes along with the related biblical text. It is a spiritual exercise well worth the time.

I’ve read several study Bibles – ESV Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible, Apologetics Study Bible, Evidence Bible, and maybe a few I’ve forgotten after too many years – and I can say without reservation that The Reformation Study Bible is at the top of my list of preferred ones. I suspect that is because it came at a time where its theological foundations and mine converged around the Reformed tradition.

For 2016 and beyond I have purchased the newest Reformation Study Bible that was released in 2015. It has about 500 more pages of notes and resources such as the text of numerous historical confessions of faith and more. I look forward to tackling this version over the next 1-2 years. I won’t commit to reading it all in one year because I’m taking a different approach in 2016 of Praying the Bible rather than trying to read it all in a specific time frame, so however long it takes me this time is fine with me.

It’s important for Bible readers to focus on the primary text of scripture and not on what others say about that text. Only one Author is perfect and infallible and He has arranged it so that all who read His word seeking to know Him and His will can understand what He has written through the inspired human authors. It’s also helpful, though, to continually learn new insights that come from the shared research and writings of others who have devoted their lives to such study and scholarship.

If you are looking for a new Bible to read or just a great one to add to your shelf of Bible study resources, I heartily recommend The Reformation Study Bible. Why let it just sit on your shelf, though, for special studies? If you get it, read it all. You’ll be glad you did.

ChristianBeliefs-GrudemOne of my modern heroes of theological writing is Wayne Grudem, Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary. I recently read one of the several books he has written and which his son, Elliot Grudem, edited – Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know. I read it because my pastor and I are team teaching a class using the book as our guide over the next four months. It’s a small, 159-page paperback that is quickly read and digested.

On the other end of the depth spectrum is Grudem’s 1290-page Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine which has kept many seminarians and pastors occupied for countless hours of study (myself included). I’m nearly finished reading the monster and will write another review soon this month when I complete it.

In between the small paperback and the large volume is yet another middle-sized book, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, a 528-page condensed version of the larger Systematic Theology written by Grudem and edited by Jeff Purswell. So, the reader can certainly pick the size and depth of study he wishes to undertake from tackling the original, massive Systematic Theology, to the subsequent half-sized but still meaty Bible Doctrine, or the latest and much simpler Christian Beliefs. And for those not even inclined to invest the few hours it takes to read Christian Beliefs, you can cut right to the 6-page laminated book summary of either Systematic Theology or Bible Doctrine. Hopefully, though, your interest in biblical theology warrants more than a 6-page cheat sheet – nice to have around, but not all you need to know on the subject.

So, given that background of relevant Grudem texts, let’s get back to the subject of this review – Christian Beliefs: Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know

As the subtitle suggests, this book focuses on 20 Christian doctrines (or teachings) considered basic to the Christian faith. To include 20 topics as well as a few historic confessions of faith and a list of recommended reading in 159 pages demands that only a few pages be written per doctrine. Because of this, the book is appropriate for someone new to the faith or wanting a refresher across the spectrum of doctrines included. It will not (nor is it intended to) provide an in-depth look at any of the 20 doctrines included. By comparison, Systematic Theology has 57 chapters of about 20 pages length each in addition to the confessions of faith and other appendices in its nearly 1300 pages. You get what you pay for.

Still, as a guide for further exploration of what the Bible teaches, the book serves a valuable purpose of pointing the reader to a variety of biblical texts for each of the topics discussed. As Grudem does so well in all of his writings, he presents a faithful explanation of what each doctrine is and a sound, biblical basis for all conclusions drawn. He never shies away from presenting dissenting opinions by those in various faith traditions, being careful in the appendix listing further reading to provide some background about each author’s theological tradition and perspective. The book is not intended to present biblical teachings from any one particular denominational perspective; it intends to answer the question of what the Bible teaches on the subjects – a healthy approach that ought to cross denominational biases.

Like his other texts, the starting point of Christian Beliefs is Grudem’s discussion of the Bible as the word of God. If the Bible is the authoritative basis for beliefs, then its authority and reliability is crucial to establish up front before using biblical texts as the basis for additional doctrinal positions. The full list of 20 doctrines covered is as follows:

  • What Is the Bible?
  • What Is God Like?
  • What Is the Trinity?
  • What Is Creation?
  • What Is Prayer?
  • What Are Angels, Satan, and Demons?
  • What Is Man?
  • What Is Sin?
  • Who Is Christ?
  • What Is the Atonement?
  • What Is the Resurrection?
  • What Is Election?
  • What Does It Mean to Become a Christian?
  • What Are Justification and Adoption?
  • What Are Sanctification and Perseverance?
  • What Is Death?
  • What Is the Church?
  • What Will Happen When Christ Returns?
  • What Is the Final Judgment?
  • What Is Heaven.

In addition are the appendices that include a few historic Christian confessions of faith and Grudem’s recommended reading list, plus an index. Each chapter concludes with a few questions for review and application that are good for personal reflection or for group discussion.

I suspect that most churches have members who are differently inclined to tackle the three Grudem’s works mentioned above, from the quick Christian Beliefs to the weighty Systematic Theology. I still have a desire to take about a year to walk through Systematic Theology with a small group at some point in the future. Laymen can handle it. We need not “dumb down” theology as though the preaching class are able to understand things that the people in the pews cannot. We are all led by the same Spirit of God into the truth of His word, and God can surely speak to whomever He pleases regardless of position or formal theological education. In fact, if I had the benefit of a few current study Bibles and works like Systematic Theology when I attended two seminaries decades ago, I may have been just as well off studying those on my own as spending five or more years in the classroom, but I digress…

As for recommending Christian Beliefs, I do recommend it to those new to the Christian faith, those new to Protestant faith (as opposed to Roman Catholic), those interested in the faith, or to those wanting a quick refresher on important biblical doctrines. Then, assuming your appetite is whetted, advance to either Bible Doctrine or, better yet, Systematic Theology for an incredible, long-term, more in-depth study of what the Bible teaches on the above and many additional topics.

For further reading:

BibleDoctrine-Grudem     SystematicTheology-Grudem

ApologeticsStudyBibleI finished reading trough The Apologetics Study Bible earlier this week and want to write a bit about the experience. It has been my practice for nearly four decades to read through a different translation, version or edition of the Bible every 1-3 years. I haven’t kept track, but I’m guessing I’ve done it now somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 times since college. My preference is for study Bibles because of the wealth of notes and supplemental articles provided. There is value in exposing oneself to as many translations and commentaries as possible in a lifelong, systematic way, so this approach works for me. Of course, the thrust of any trek through the Word of God is to hear from the primary Author of the original scriptures and not the notes and commentary on it by others. Still, it doesn’t hurt to hear from both!

In January 2014 I started reading through The Apologetics Study Bible both because (1) it focused on defending the Christian faith with its supplemental reading, and (2) because I had never read completely the translation it uses – the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB). It took me a few weeks longer to complete it than planned, spilling over into 2015, but I won’t tell anyone if you won’t. It was definitely a worthwhile endeavor.

Like most study Bibles, there are ample footnotes on nearly every page, worthwhile introductions to the books, helpful reference materials in the back, plus those articles and short inserts scattered throughout the text that address a host of questions, issues, interpretations, and ways in which some religions try to twist the meanings of certain passages to stray from historic, biblical teaching. I found these brief “Twisted Scripture” segments to be among the most helpful features because they specify how particular groups misinterpret certain passages, and they are located right by the verses in question, easily standing out visually on the page.

While I have certainly benefited from study Bibles that are largely the effort of a single person (e.g., The MacArthur Study Bible or The Evidence Bible), I generally prefer editions that contain the thoughts and writings of many contributors as is the case with The Apologetics Study Bible with its many dozens of contributors. Of course, that method lends itself to potential inconsistency in the type and quality of notes provided. This isn’t a major concern, though, as there were only one or two books where I found the notes to be very repetitious and, frankly, frustrating to read after a few chapters.

For example, after completing the Old Testament book of Numbers, I wrote the following note in it:

“The notes in Numbers are very frustrating to read. The writer correctly rejects the idea that it is a composite of various priestly, Yahwist, and Elohist sources. However, instead of addressing that point once in the introduction or in an article about it, he constantly references it in the notes. There is no value in filling notes repeatedly with “some think such and such, but I disagree.” Tell us more about what is true about the text – not what is not true about it.”

Fortunately, such objections were limited to no more than a couple of books, so the objections shouldn’t and wouldn’t keep me from heartily recommending the edition to anyone interested.

At just over 2000 pages, it isn’t an overwhelming size compared to some other study Bibles on the market, so it tends to be a quicker read than, for example, the ESV Study Bible at more than 2,700 pages which is what I read through over 2012-2013.

With this being my first time reading the Holman Christian Standard Bible, I found it an enjoyable, readable, understandable translation that seeks to be true to the earliest and most reliable manuscripts. Like any translation, it sounds a bit odd at times when the wording is very different than what I may have grown up memorizing or hearing frequently, but that is to be expected and is not at all a fault. I consider the HCSB a worthy translation for use, although I drift more toward the English Standard Version (ESV) and New American Standard Bible (NASB) as my go-to translations.

Overall, I can heartily recommend The Apologetics Study Bible as a valuable resource for helping the reader build up a strong, rational defense for the faith. After all, that is what Christian apologetics is all about. It is well worth the time to read every word of it and to keep it handy, especially for its plentiful articles and helpful resources in addition to the biblical text. It may not be the study Bible you choose to be your primary, permanent Bible to carry to church, but it deserves a place within arm’s reach as you explore the meaning of various texts.

What’s next for me? I’ll tackle The Reformation Study Bible the remainder of this year. About a year from now, I should be sharing with you about that experience.

What about you? What version/translation/edition of the Bible are you reading now? Which have you found most helpful?

keep-calm-and-finish-strongI’ve been very goal oriented the past two years in publishing on this blog very specific goals in the categories of body, mind and spirit. The goals for 2013 were many and I was glad to accomplish nearly all of them. I started down a similar path at the beginning of 2014, but soon felt burdened by so many time-consuming goals outside of work and volunteer endeavors. By my March update I had reduced the goals a little bit, and by May I had decided to take a few months off from a couple of them entirely. My brain and my spirit needed a rest from the physical activity goals more than my body did. I still continued work on most of the goals, but filed a couple under “not gonna happen” and went on with life.

Now that we’re in the final third of the year and the end is in sight, I’m back in gear and ready to finish out the year completing those goals that are most important and putting aside officially those that aren’t. I’m already looking forward to a very different approach in 2015 which will not  have me listing all kinds of goals for body, mind and spirit. I’ll talk more about what it will include when the time comes.

With that background, here is where I stand with the original goals for 2014 and what my plan is to close out the year with each:

BODY

  • Average at least 10,000 steps per day every week. After taking the second quarter off from this, I’m back on track. My company has a 100 Day Dash going on right now until late November where we’re on teams recording and tracking steps daily. My goal for these 100 days is to never get less than 11,000 steps per day and so far I’ve done that. I’ll end the year strong and will keep at this pace until I reach our company’s top rewards program level which should happen around the end of the year.
  • Do a stretching routine daily. I started the year doing this faithfully but took a break after hurting my back. I never got back into the routine and don’t intend to for now. I’ll stretch before and after running, but not otherwise.
  • Run 365 miles for the year. I haven’t run 10 miles this year. I walk 5-6 miles a day between work and walking the dog, but I just haven’t gotten back into running. This goal will not be met. Walking will have to be good enough.
  • Average 7.5 hours of sleep a night. My average is more like 6.5 hours per night year to date. That isn’t enough. My body is calling for more and I have to find a way to make it happen. Of course, the 6.5 is more than years past, but I need more than years past.
  • Average no more than 45 hours per week for work. For the first year in the 11+ I’ve had with my company where I’ve tracked hours, I’m actually staying within the 45 per week limit. I’ve learned to adjust some things and manage my days differently to get to this point.

MIND

  • Author or co-author a book related to enterprise social networks. Now that we just completed the first year of the weekly Twitter chat I lead on enterprise social networks – #ESNchat – I’m planning on putting together a free e-book PDF that contains the first year’s chat archives plus a little background info on the experience. It’s the one and only book I’ll be responsible for this year, but I’m pretty proud of what it should be.
  • Write 100 blog posts. Earlier in the year I changed this goal to average one post per week instead of 100 for the year. Making that goal should not be a problem.
  • Set up Pinterest boards and pins to coincide with my blog categories and posts. In the interest of time, I abandoned this goal earlier in the year.
  • Reserve at least one hour per day for unstructured, unplanned time not related to any tasks or goals. I don’t track this and I know I don’t always accomplish it either, but I’m certain I’ve been better about allowing myself guilt-free free time this year. There is still room for improvement here, though.

SPIRIT

  • Finish reading The Apologetics Study Bible. I should be able to do this just fine. I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I’ve read Genesis – Isaiah so far, taking this one in order cover to cover.
  • Read these three major theology books: (1) Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem, (2) Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine by Gregg Allison, and (3) Theology of the Reformers by Timothy George. To date I’ve completed the third book and am about 2/3 through the first one. I should be able to complete this goal as planned. I have to say that Grudem’s book is one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read. I’ve love to take part in or lead a one-year study of the contents of this book with a group of people.
  • Have a daily Bible reading and devotional time. I’ve missed days from time to time which is disappointing. Nothing should crowd this from my schedule. There is really no excuse for that. I must do better.

So there you have my goal update for mid-September 2014 – on track with some things, abandoned a few and modified others. At least I’m in that mode now of seeing the finish line for the year ahead of me and I’m working hard at a number of the goals to finish strong those that are most important.

What about you? How are you coming on what you set out to accomplish this year?

 

HeavenIsForRealI watched the movie Heaven is for Real Friday night. I have not read the book like some others in my family have. I knew about the story line of a young boy, the son of a pastor, who has a near-death experience and then stuns his family and others with descriptions of what he saw while on the operating table. My wife tells me the movie followed very closely the book, so I assume that to be true.

Having read several mixed reviews of the movie months ago when it was released, and having read or heard the positive reactions of friends and family to the book and/or the movie, I entered into watching it with mixed expectations. I feared that even though the overall movie was positive, uplifting and affirming of the eternal realities of my Christian faith, it would lack in some significant ways in terms of the completeness of the message delivered – especially theologically – which is critically important.

To perhaps oversimplify my reaction to the movie, here are some quick thoughts about it – first three positives and then three more substantial negatives:

The Positives:

  1. Watching a movie on this subject is far better than watching so many others that fill the big screen that are littered with violence, foul language, gratuitous sex and nothing of any real redeeming value.
  2. The movie can serve as a discussion starter about the idea or reality of heaven and what must happen in this life in order to live in heaven for eternity.
  3. The movie is based on a true story which can (but doesn’t necessarily) lend credence to the experience.

The Negatives:

  1. There was a gigantic missed opportunity in that the movie asserts that heaven is for real, yet it never presents the basics of the Christian gospel message which answers the question of how one gets to heaven. So the message becomes, “Yes, heaven is for real, and I sure hope you figure out how to get there because we’re not telling you in this movie.”
  2. The one authoritative source of information about heaven is the Bible. We can be assured that whatever the Bible says of heaven is true, and we cannot be certain about any other beliefs about which the Bible is silent. I choose only to believe with certainty what the scriptures teach about heaven, and to take with a grain of salt anything else from other sources.
  3. Neither Christians nor anyone else should give an automatic pass to someone’s near-death or other experience as true just because someone claims to have experienced it. As the psychologist in the movie pointed out, people of different faiths may have very different near-death experiences. Who, then, are you going to believe? It might make for good entertainment, but it isn’t a valid basis for theological belief unless it is supported with scripture. And if anything in one’s “experience” is contrary to what is taught in scripture, then it is to be rejected as false.

HeavenIf you want to know if heaven is for real, and if you are curious about some aspects (though not all) of what it is like, look to the Bible. If you want a very thorough, complete, and well-reasoned look at all that the Bible says about heaven, then read Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven. It is an amazing treatment of every bit of scripture that addresses the topic and will both encourage the reader while also clearing up misconceptions that have their genesis in places other than scripture.

There’s nothing wrong with seeing the movie Heaven is for Real or with reading the book. It is wholesome and far preferable compared to the overwhelming amount of filth produced by Hollywood. But a Christian evaluation of it must begin and end with how it measures up to what the Bible teaches about the subject. We cannot base our faith or theology on what makes us feel good – movie or otherwise.

I may sound like an old curmudgeon who is taking the theological aspect of watching the movie too seriously, and it isn’t my intention to discourage anyone from seeing the movie or reading the book. Just do it alongside the Bible and perhaps Randy Alcorn’s book to make sure that you come away with a clear distinction between what is soundly scriptural and what is unknown this side of heaven. God has revealed in His Word to all of us what He deems important for us to know for the present about heaven. Stories, books and movies that suggest other glimpses may be interesting and thought provoking, but we should not require them to affirm the scripture’s teaching nor to fill in the blanks of what God has yet to make clearly known to all.