Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

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

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?

 

Happy New Year 2014I set a number of goals for 2013, most of which were achieved as reported in this end-of-year progress report. After careful consideration of what worked and what didn’t last year, and after determining some directions I’d like to go in 2014, I’ve settled on the following personal goals for this year, not including those for my work. Like last year, I’m categorizing them as related to body, mind and spirit, although there are a few that might cross over to multiple areas or not necessarily fit well into any of those categories.

One thing I learned in last year’s pursuits is that some goals can become such daily habits that you no longer really need to call them out as goals and bother with tracking them. A few that are like that for me now are keeping my weight at or below 145 pounds, reviewing weekly the 100 Bible memory verses that I chose several years ago to burn into my brain and heart, and writing handwritten letters to my sons twice a year. So even though I’ll still be doing those, they won’t be recorded and reported here. I want the public goals I share to involve pursuits that add a new challenge and interest.

After feeling like I tackled too much in 2013, I’m setting some goals this year that reflect a desire to have a little more down time and rest. To do so, that time has to come from somewhere, meaning I have to do less in some areas than I did in 2013. Here, then, are my personal, non-work-related goals for 2014.

BODY

  • Average at least 10,000 steps per day every week. I’ve averaged more than that since getting my Fitbit Flex in September, but 10,000 is an easy-to-remember goal and the threshold for earning maximum rewards from the HumanaVitality program offered through my company’s health insurance plan. That’s the equivalent of five miles per day, so that’s a healthy, reachable number that takes about an hour less per week than I’ve been doing the past four months.
  • Do a stretching routine daily. I have a nice set of stretching exercises that I do before and after runs that I’ve done for years, but I feel the need to do them daily for the value they bring, whether or not I’m running.
  • Run 365 miles for the year. I haven’t run regularly for a few years. I walk a lot and occasionally jog some while out with the dog, but I want to do better at running this year. I don’t care how these miles are spaced out throughout the year. I won’t try for one mile every day. Some weeks will yield more miles than others, and that’s OK. All of these steps are included in the 10,000/day in the goal above, and actually save time since I run about twice as fast as I walk.
  • Average 7.5 hours of sleep a night. My 2013 goal for sleep was six hours per night – more than previous years, but my body is telling me I need more. This will be very difficult for me to do because the time to do this has to come from elsewhere. Tracking it accurately with the Fitbit is easy, though, and I’m determined to work at it.
  • Average no more than 45 hours per week for work. I can’t remember the last year I worked less than 50-55 hours per week on the average, so this will be a serious challenge for me. I’ll have to be better at letting some things go and at training and delegating other colleagues and volunteers to make sure all still gets done. I’m placing this goal in the body category since consistently working too many hours takes more of a toll on my body and time available for other things than it does on mind or spirit due to how much I love my work.

MIND

  • Author or co-author a book related to enterprise social networks. It’s time I wrote a book. I would like to create an e-book related to my profession because I don’t think there is enough in print to help guide others whose roles are similar to mine. The weekly Twitter chat I lead on the subject – #ESNchat – is an incredible source of information and knowledgeable contacts, so by the time I’ve led that for nearly a year in September, 2014 I should have a wealth of information to write or collaborate with others to write a very helpful guide for those that manage enterprise social networks. I’ll probably just give it away online when written to get the info out there. I’m not planning on writing it for profit. Making a positive impact on the profession and perhaps getting some conference speaking engagements as a result will be adequate reward.
  • Write 100 blog posts. For 2012, I wrote a post a day – 366 of them. In 2013 that went to one every other day. For 2014, I’ll back that down once again to one every 3-4 days. Since I’ll be writing some substantive posts for other websites in 2014, those will take more time than I typically spend on posts for my own blog. To account for that added time, I’ll write fewer posts on my this blog, although I’ll post a notice and link here to posts I write elsewhere.
  • Set up Pinterest boards and pins to coincide with my blog categories and posts. I’ve wanted to do this for a long while, so I need to make it a public goal to hold me accountable for getting it done. With over 70 categories currently on this blog, the plan is to create one Pinterest board per category and then pin all relevant blog posts to each board. Once caught up with all posts going back to this blog’s beginning in 2011, pinning new blog posts will be a part of the publication process for each post in order to keep the Pinterest boards current. I’m thinking about devoting one of my vacation weeks in 2014 for this task.
  • Reserve at least one hour per day for unstructured, unplanned time not related to any tasks or goals. This may seem like an odd goal, but it’s tied to feeling like I didn’t allow myself enough down time last year. By making a goal of giving time to not working on some goals, I’m forcing myself to have more down time and enjoy some spur-of-the-moment activity. (Of course, not having structured time is actually working on this goal, but you get the point.) I’m putting this goal in the mind category since its purpose is to give me more mental breaks.

SPIRIT

  • Finish reading The Apologetics Study Bible. I started reading it late in 2013, but still have 95% of its 2000+ pages to read in 2014. Each 1-2 years I pick a different version or study edition of the Bible to read through. This is the current one I’m working on which will be my first complete read of the version called the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB).
  • 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. All together, these three books total 2,400 pages of material that along with The Apologetics Study Bible will be a fantastic theological and apologetic emphasis for the year.
  • Have a daily Bible reading and devotional time. I’ve been too hit and miss with when I do my Bible readings and prayer. I want to develop the consistent habit of doing so daily without fail.

Some of the goals above save me time compared to similar efforts in 2013, while other new goals will, of course, require time not dedicated for those things in 2013. Cutting back my work hours to something more reasonable will go a long way toward finding the extra hours needed, as will taking advantage of the many weeks of vacation time I have or will have accumulated by the end of 2014. I also suspect the TV will need to be turned off more frequently in my man cave.

I have a little apprehension about the above goals – a slight fear that cumulatively I’m not cutting back enough from 2013’s sense of overload. I will reserve the right to adjust the above goals if I find that they’re too ambitious. I’m determined to make sure I have the free time and added sleep needed, so other things will have to go if necessary. Until then, I’ll proceed with the above goals and will report back here quarterly (not monthly as I did last year) on my progress.

What about you? What are you going to tackle this year?