Let Us Value God’s Word!

holding bible

I received a Voice of the Martyrs magazine the other day that focused on smuggling Bibles into various countries.  There were several articles throughout describing some of the hardships and lengths people have to go to just to get a copy of the Bible into people’s hands (and hearts).

I couldn’t help but think, as I was reading the article, about how blessed many of us are when it comes to access to the Bible.  Right now, I can think of at least seven different English translations of the Bible sitting on my shelves (not including two updates of two of them that are slightly different).  I have some of those translations in different editions of study Bibles, increasing the number of Bibles I have access to.  In addition, I have two different audio Bibles in my room (plus two in the car).  If I need more insight, I can pull out my laptop, iPad, or phone and immediately access probably another 20 or so English translations there.  Again, let me say, most of us are blessed beyond measure!  Some may call it an embarrassment of riches.

Yet, at the same time, it seems that this blessing has also led us to be somewhat . . . well . . . spoiled, ungrateful, and somewhat desensitized to just what a treasure we have.  I don’t mean for that to sound harsh, but it struck me hard today.  The magazine articles, coupled with a video I have seen a few times now of people literally weeping, hugging, and kissing their Bibles when they finally received copies in their own language, really hit me and made me think about their perspective on having Scripture they can read versus ours.

Let me speak for myself.  I truly don’t feel I memorize, read, and pray over the word like I should.  There is no sense of urgency, I suppose, because I know that it is always there.  I can pick it up and read it any time, so there’s no pressure to read it right now.  Especially after a hard day’s work, I just want to relax and watch TV, mindlessly scroll down the unending social feed that is Facebook, or play a game.  When I do feel like reading, for some odd reason, I will reach for other Christian books about the Bible, but not necessarily reach for the Bible itself.  (That, too, is another blessing we take for granted, but I will focus on just the word itself in this blog post.)

Maybe if we lost access to the Bible we would actually respect it and value it more.  Maybe that is what it will take to cause us to yearn for the word of God more than anything else.  Maybe if access to the Bible is restricted, our hearts and spirits will finally be stirred to realize how much we need it.  Maybe then we would hug our Bibles, read them until they fall apart, and memorize and recite Scripture more than our favorite songs (even Christian ones).

Or maybe, just maybe, we can learn from seeing how other Christians who are not as fortunate (part of me wants to put quotes around that word) as we are treat their Bibles and access to the living and powerful word of God.  Maybe we can realize the blessing we have been given without having it taken away, and we can begin to treat our Bibles as the gifts they truly are.  Maybe we can pray for ourselves and encourage one another to hunger and thirst for God’s voice in His written word as much as we hunger for food and thirst for water.  Maybe we can really believe that we do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matthew 4).  Maybe we can let the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Colossians).  (Reread that last sentence a few times, focusing on the words “dwell” and “richly.”) Maybe we will hit a point where we carry our Bibles as lovingly as if we were carrying the most expensive treasure on Earth.  Maybe we will learn to hug our Bibles as we pray; to shed tears over them every time we open the pages and realize the lengths that people have gone to so that we can have access to the word of God.  Maybe we will learn to reach for our Bibles (in whatever format) in our spare moments rather than for games and social media, meeting with God as often as possible and learning from Him.  Maybe we will start hiding God’s word in our heart more, memorizing as if our lives depend on it because maybe, in a way, they do.

Maybe, just maybe.

“God, forgive us for taking your word for granted.  Forgive us for failing to see the treasure we have in front of us.  Forgive us for treating your word as an accessory to be used at suitable times rather than as your very words to us that we need to live.  Please help us to love your word more.  Help us to hunger and thirst for it.  Let us reach a point where nothing else can satisfy us.  Thank you, Lord, for giving us this blessing.  Let us treasure it for the riches contained in it.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.”

Book Review – “The Lost World of Genesis One” by John H. Walton

lost-world-genesis

As someone still studying various issues related to science, the Scripture, and how to interpret them both, I have been reading books by authors on various perspectives.  One recent author who has gained some attention is John H. Walton.  He has written a few books now trying to understand Genesis in its ancient context.  The Lost World of Genesis One starts, quite literally, “In the beginning.”

The subtitle of the book is “Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.”  Walton’s view is that we must understand the ancient context of cosmology and creation origin stories in order to better understand ancient thought on the issue of origins and creation.  By understanding the ancient mindset, we can then better understand Genesis 1 and what it is trying to say.

The layout of the book has Walton presenting 18 propositions to help us understand his arguments.  These include propositions such as “Genesis 1 Is Ancient Cosmology,” “Ancient Cosmology Is Function Oriented,” “The Cosmos Is a Temple,” and “The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins.”

From here on out, please excuse any mistakes in my understanding or representation of Walton and his arguments.  The views he presents are very new to me, and I may not be understanding him perfectly.  If so, I fully accept any mistakes on my part.

I was raised understanding the Genesis creation account as explaining “how and when things were created.”  This would essentially be a material origin view.  Walton’s argument is that Genesis is not concerned with material origin (when and how things came into being).  Rather, he believes that Genesis is concerned with functional origin (why things came into being).

As a result, Walton argues that science may present one understanding of how things came about, with Scripture providing the importance of the creation.  This, of course, results in allowing science and Scripture to not be at odds with one another, unless science is saying God is not involved at all.  While Walton argues that his goal is not to defend evolution or any scientific views in particular, one cannot help but wonder if that may not be at least an underlying desire, if not explicitly discussed.  I suppose that crosses into judging motives, however, and we do have to be careful about doing that.

Walton’s central argument is that the Earth is viewed in Scripture as God’s cosmic temple, and that the creation account deals with the establishing, filling, and functioning of that temple.  It is, to say the least, a novel view compared to many I have read.  I cannot, at this point, say whether I agree with him or not, as I still have to think through many issues related to his perspective.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his book was his last proposition that public science education should be neutral regarding purpose.  It almost began to feel a little like the old “non-overlapping magisteria” arguments presented elsewhere.  Science and faith are in different fields, and the two have no contribution to each other.  I’m not sure I can fully agree with that perspective.  Primarily, I would argue that there is no such thing as total neutrality; one’s worldview will always at least partially color one’s perspective, and I’m not convinced we can escape that, although we can try to account for it and minimize it.  At the same time, his view, if adopted, could solve some issues in teaching science as a Christian in a public arena.  It would also have to apply both ways, so atheists could not push a purely materialistic view of science anymore than Christians could push a supernatural one.

Despite Walton’s claims, I think one would be hard-pressed to understand how Walton is not arguing ultimately for evolution, however.  In one proposition, he argues how other theories of Genesis and science either go too far or not far enough.  In this chapter, he argues against Young Earth Creationism, Old Earth Creationism, Literary Framework Hypothesis, and forms of the Gap Theory.  He also seems to explain that since Intelligent Design is concerned primarily with purpose, it has no place in public education of scientific ideas.   At least from my studies, I cannot figure out what would be left, short of some view of Evolutionary Creationism.

Granted, Walton would argue that I am asking the wrong question.  His emphasis is that the Genesis account is not trying to discuss science, as we think of it, since it deals with material origins.  But if all the above views are thrown out, I cannot see any view left other than the current standard evolutionary view of material origins, as far as science is concerned.

Also in his defense, Walton explains that he is concerned primarily with the best way of understanding Genesis 1, regardless of what science currently says.  As a result, his view of Genesis would not change, even if our scientific understanding of how things developed does change.  This provides some sense of solidarity on understanding Genesis that does not require one to argue that science is wrong in what it says, as the two are not even addressing the same questions.

If Walton is right regarding how to understand Genesis 1, it would be a huge relief to many, as it would allow them to let science speak on its own, and however one interprets Genesis it would have no bearing on our pursuit of scientific understanding.  I admit that is an attractive thought.  At this point, however, I am not sure if it stands up to total scrutiny yet.  I admit, I am new to both understanding science and trying to look deeper into the creation account in Genesis, so I am not able to provide an in-depth critique one way or another beyond my thoughts listed here.

I am in no way saying Walton is wrong; for all I know, he is spot on.  The view is so novel to me, however, that I am struggling to reconcile it with the interpretations I was raised with.

If you are a student of the science/religion questions, and if you like trying to see if we can “harmonize” (for lack of a better term) the two and how best to do it, then The Lost World of Genesis One (as well as the follow-up The Lost World of Adam and Eve) are great books to add to your list of books to study.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “The Good and Beautiful Life” by James Bryan Smith

beautiful-life

I am always looking for fresh ways to explore who God is and how to live the Christian life.  When I originally read The Good and Beautiful God, I found some fresh ways of understanding who God is.  That book is the first in a three-book set by James Bryan Smith.  After finishing the first book, I wanted to continue to expand my views by reading the next book in the series, and InterVarsity Press graciously agreed to send me a copy of The Good and Beautiful Life.

Where the first book attempted to help us reexamine our views of who God is, The Good and Beautiful Life sets out to help us get a better sense of how to put on the character of Christ, to borrow from the subtitle.

Smith draws a lot of his inspiration from Dallas Willard, and, as I understand it, Smith’s three books are a sort of “curriculum of Christlikeness” that Willard encouraged him to write.  If you are familiar with Willard, you will certainly sense a lot of the same ideas coming through Smith’s writing.

The book takes the Sermon on the Mount and breaks it down by representing it as Christ’s blueprint for what a disciple’s (or to borrow Smith’s term, “apprentice’s”) life should look like as he or she increasingly follows Jesus.

The chapters follow the Sermon on the Mount in order, tackling ideas such as learning how to live without anger, without lust, and without vainglory, as well as learning how to bless those who curse you and living in the kingdom day by day.

After each chapter is a brief “Soul Training” exercise to try to apply the material to one’s life and help the process of inner transformation.

At the end of the book is a 32-page appendix that is a small group discussion guide to help walk small groups through that material as a way of supporting and encouraging one another to grow.

Smith points out throughout the book that the idea is not one of changing one’s outward life only (or even primarily).  The real focus is on allowing Christ to change one’s inner self so that the outward actions follow as a natural result.  It brings back the idea of Christ’s talking to the Pharisees and explaining that rather than cleaning the outside of the cup and dish while leaving the inside dirty, they should have cleaned the inside first, and the outside would have been clean also.

There are a few areas where I am not sure I agree with Smith, but I am still considering what he has to say.  For example, he tackles the idea of casting one’s pearls before pigs and argues that Jesus is not saying to withhold something precious from those who don’t deserve it (pages 192-195).  Rather, he interprets it as saying that pigs cannot digest pearls, so they will get hungry and turn on the owner, whom they can digest.  The idea being that the pearls represent condemnation and judging and that people cannot “digest” that, or handle it, so it won’t help them but will leave them starving for help.  Based on most interpretations I have read, Smith is definitely in a minority view here, and he acknowledges as much in the book.  I have to say that I am not totally convinced by his view yet, although it would make the passage flow better.  But to me, pearls always represent something expensive and precious (pearl of great price, the gates of pearl in Revelation, etc.); this would be one of the only places, if not the only, where that would not apply, especially if Smith’s view is correct, as judging and condemnation could not be interpreted as precious.

Overall, however, I found this book very refreshing, and there are many great ideas to take away from it.  Where Willard provides a lot of the theoretical side of kingdom living, Smith works more on the practical side, so combining Smith’s work with Willard’s will give a more well-rounded idea of the type of kingdom living they advocate.

If you are looking for a “curriculum” for Christlikeness, this book (and this series) is a good one to consider.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Bible Review – ESV Reader’s Bible 6-Volume Set

esv-6-base

In previous reviews, I have talked about how much I love reader’s editions of Bibles.  The current review is no exception.

Crossway released a reader’s edition that is certainly not your typical carry-to-church Bible, since it is divided up into multiple books.  But what it sacrifices in terms of portability, it gains in terms of aesthetics and design.  The ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Set is a beautiful edition of the Scriptures that anyone would do well to have in their library.

For all of the strengths of previous reader’s Bibles, they still have the typical setbacks that one-volume Bibles have: thin paper, ghosting of text as a result, a lot of lines per page, etc.  Crossway found a way to remedy some of that by dividing the Bible up into six volumes: Pentateuch, Historical Books, Poetry, Prophets, Gospels & Acts, and Epistles & Revelation.

The six volumes come in a sturdy slipcase to hold them.  This slipcase is not a mere afterthought, but has been beautifully designed as well.  The foiling design on the side is astonishing (and I believe there is meaning in the design, which you can find on the ESV Reader’s Bible Six-Volume Edition website, and there are “blocks” set at the bottom of the case to help prop up the books themselves so that they retain their shape and don’t sag over time.

rbs-1

rbs-2

rbs-3

rbs-4

Each volume is printed on thicker, traditional book paper.  Because there is no pressure to fit the Bible into one volume, the lines per page have been spaced out, allowing easier flow on the eyes by providing some blank space for the eyes to rest with.  Each volume has a ribbon bookmark for marking where you leave off in reading.  The edition I have is a cloth over board edition, and the binding is a sewn binding.

The text is in a single column format and is set at a 12-point font (the single volume Reader’s Bibles have a 9.5-point font).  Words of Christ are in black text.  There are no chapter numbers or verse numbers anywhere on the page, except for the psalms, which retain their traditional numbering in a red font.  There are occasional section headings in a red font, but they are greatly reduced over most Bibles.  For example, Genesis has 7 headings total and Matthew has 9.  If you compare that to a traditional Bible, you will find that is a great reduction, and these headings serve to help guide the reader with minimal intrusion and disruption to reading.  Each volume does contain an index in the back which provides some guidance as to what page chapters of the independent books of the Bible would start on, if someone needed it for reference, but this edition cannot be used to locate specific verses or even verse ranges.  Of course, that is by design, as this is truly meant to be a Bible for reading, not study.

rbs-5

rbs-6

rbs-7

 

rbs-9

The only place that the layout makes it a little more difficult to read, to me, is in the book of Proverbs.  Everything seems to run together a little more there for me, but it may just be because I am used to a traditional layout.  It is certainly not a deal breaker on this set.

rbs-8

When you compare a volume of the six-volume edition to the one-volume editions, you can see the difference.  Here, I’ve opened to the same passage in Numbers, and you can see the ghosting on the one-volume edition as well as how close the lines are to each other, whereas there is almost no ghosting of text on the six-volume edition, and the spacing is much more pleasing to read for long periods.

rbs-10

rbs-11

If you are looking for a Bible that can stay at your house and provide long periods of reading of Scripture with minimal interruptions, the six-volume edition of the ESV Bible is perfect for you.  The cloth over board edition retails for $199.99 at Crossway’s site, and I have seen them as low as $100 at other sites.  It is money well spent!

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from Crossway in exchange for my honest review.

 

Book Review (and Comparison) ESV Reader’s Bible Top Grain Leather

rb-cover

Forgive me for posting so many reviews.  Work has me a little behind, and I have a break right now, so I am trying to get caught up.

I have been very impressed with Bibles designed specifically for reading as opposed to studying lately.  It is nice to be able to sit down and just get lost in the words of Scripture without all of the distractions that come with Bibles designed for reference (as helpful as those features can be).

One edition I have owned for a while is the ESV Reader’s Bible cloth over board edition.  I was thinking of upgrading to a TruTone edition, and when I looked, I noticed that they were releasing a top grain leather edition.  I love good leather Bibles, and Crossway is known for producing some great ones.  I asked about being able to review one, and Crossway generously agreed.

This post is focused on reviewing the top grain leather edition, but it will also have some comparisons to the cloth over board as well.

rb-8

The inside of both editions is the same (except for possibly the text editions; the cloth over board I have is the 2011 edition, while the leather is the 2016): 9.5 font, two ribbon bookmarks, single column text, smyth-sewn binding, maps in the back, words of Christ in black text, and so on.  There are no translation notes included giving alternate readings, original Greek and Hebrew, etc.  The verse numbers have all been removed and placed in a red font at the top of each page, giving a verse range for the page.  Chapter titles are still included, and are placed in a red font in the margin where each chapter starts, except for the Psalms, where the psalm number is in red font at the beginning of each psalm.  The titles of each book are also included in the same red font.  All of this serves to try to make the text itself stand out, which is the focus of a reader’s edition, and it works very well.

rb-6

rb-7

The top grain leather edition comes in a clam-shell box, whereas the cloth over board edition comes in a permanent slipcase.  The edges of the top grain edition are traditional rounded edges like most Bibles have, and the pages are gold gilded.  The cloth over board edition has no gilding and the pages are right-angle corners like normal books.  One other selling point for the top grain leather edition is that it has a lifetime guarantee on it, and Crossway goes above and beyond in honoring that guarantee (I know from personal experience). The spine of the top grain leather edition has raised bands on it, which give it a nice texture.  The corners of the inside of the cover are also folded over the inside cover rather than having the cover glued down on top of the leather.

rb-1

rb-2

rb-3

rb-4

The cover is very flexible and soft, which is a nice feel.  You can roll it up on itself and it will immediately fall right back into its original shape.  It truly has a nice feel to it.

rb-5

Most leather Bibles that I have seen have something of a “hinge” that attaches the cover to the text block itself.  This hinge is the one part of the top grain leather edition that could cause some people pause in purchasing this copy.

If you are holding the Bibles in your hands to read, there is not really an issue with it opening well.  If, however, you like to lay your Bible flat on a table to read, the hinge of the top grain leather edition sort of works against you.  When I tried laying the Bible open, I could not get it to remain open easily until I turned toward the middle to end of Exodus, and starting at about Titus or Hebrews, it keeps trying to close at the end.  The cloth over board edition, however, opened completely flat from the very first few pages (the Preface and Introduction), and lays flat all the way to the end of Revelation.  It is possible that with enough use, the hinge will loosen up on the top grain leather edition, allowing it to lay flat from beginning to end.  As I have read other Bible reviews in the past, however, there has been some caution about forcing the hinge to open, as it could break the bond between the hinge and the text block itself.  This may or may not be an issue to you.  Again, if you hold the Bible in your hands when you read, it won’t matter if it lays flat or not.  But if you do like to have your Bible lay open without having to hold it, it is something to consider before you purchase.

rb-9

All told, you really cannot go wrong with any edition of the Reader’s Bible from Crossway.  If you like leather Bibles, and cost is not a problem (the top grain leather edition retails at $109.99), then the top grain edition is a great purchase.  If you want your Bible to lay flat, and like the feel of older books, the cloth over board edition may be for you; it is also cheaper at $29.99.  There is also a TruTone edition, though it may be getting more difficult to find, and it retails at $44.99.

I would encourage everyone to try to get a Reader’s Bible of some sort, as it really does help restore the text into a readable format that helps grasp the text in its original context without the divisions that hinder our understanding of Scripture many times.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from Crossway in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review – “Star Struck” by Dr. David Bradstreet and Steve Rabey

star-struck

Now that I am teaching middle school science, I am realizing just how broad of a field it truly is.  There is so much to try to learn and know, and this knowledge covers multiple branches.  Right now, I am reading anything I can to try to help increase my knowledge base for science.

As a result, I jumped at the chance to read and review Star Struck by Dr. David Bradstreet and Steve Rabey, published by Zondervan.  I was not disappointed.

The book focuses on astronomy and trying to help increase believers’ sense of wonder at the cosmos that our Creator has made.  I believe the book succeeds at that goal.

It starts with a history of astronomy, starting as far back as the Egyptians and Babylonians.  It continues to trace astronomy to modern times, digging in to the lives of Kepler, Galileo, and others.

Bradstreet is not afraid to let his faith shine through, as he has Scripture references throughout, makes an argument for design, and even tackles the age of the universe (Bradstreet is not a Young-Earth Creationist, but seems to lean to Evolutionary Creationism, I believe).

In addition, Bradstreet discusses everything from binary suns (which fascinated me) to extraterrestrial life, and the ongoing “space race.”

There is a section of photographs in the book to illustrate what he discusses throughout, and he includes notes and resources in the back for those wanting to read and study further.

I think Bradstreet did a great job at taking a broad and potentially challenging topic and making it easy to understand for those, like me, without much background in the field.  At the same time, I think everyone would benefit from reading the book, regardless of how much knowledge of astronomy they may have.  It really will leave you “seeing the Creator in the wonders of our cosmos,” to borrow the subtitle of the book.

*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Update on the ESV (No Longer) Permanent Text Edition

copyright

In an interesting decision, Crossway has decided against their former plan to have a permanent text edition of the ESV.  You can read about their decision here.

I must say that the response to their original decision to establish a permanent text has been interesting.  I was not aware of just how many negative responses there were.  I read at least one that questioned one of their changes in terms of the impact it had on understanding the meaning, but that is to be expected in just about any translation, in my opinion.  I am not aware of a translation that perfectly captures the original Greek and Hebrew with no parts that are questionable.

It appears that all of the negative feedback caused Crossway to reconsider.  They have decided to follow after other translations in occasionally making minor updates as new linguistic and manuscript evidence leads, or to keep current with English usage.

I understand the reasoning behind it.  We will always make more headway in our understanding of the original languages, and I am sure there are more manuscript variants waiting to be discovered.  Sure, we need to take those into account.

But I have to say that in an other way, I am a little disappointed.  As someone who has worked on committing Scripture to memory, and since the ESV was my translation of choice for doing that, I was excited to think that translation, at least, had reached a point where I would not have to worry about future changes.  I could rest assured that what I had memorized would stay the same for the rest of my life.

My saving grace is that I have obtained permission from Crossway to continue to memorize and present the 2011 text edition, regardless of future changes.  Knowing myself, however, the draw of keeping up with the most current edition may override my desire to stick with one edition.

The other problem with changes is that even if I were to stick with a 2011 text edition, online editions and audio editions will always be changing to keep up with current editions.  Unless I have a dedicated back up of the audio, I will eventually no longer be able to find the 2011 edition, and whenever I look something up online, it will be the newest edition, not my usual.

We have seen this with the NIV.  If you still prefer the 1984 NIV (as I tend to) over the 2011 edition, you will be hard pressed if you want to find it digitally.  Biblica no longer promotes or supports the 1984, so any online or digital Bible will use the 2011, to the best of my knowledge.  The print editions are getting more scarce, and I imagine the audio editions may be as well.  If not now, they will eventually.  The hardest part is that the digital changes are often not signaled clearly, so digital editions can change without one’s realizing it until he or she starts to study deeper.

Is it a huge deal?  I suppose not.  But I still prefer to think I can have a text I can use for life with no changes that is easily accessible across all platforms.  Honestly, it is one reason I considered moving to the KJV.  The KJV has not changed since 1769, I believe, so it is a safe bet it will remain unchanged for at least the rest of my life.  Granted, there is still a question over the Oxford or Cambridge edition of the KJV, but most, I think lean one way predominantly.

So, while it is not unusual for a Bible publisher to decide to continue to update their translation rather than leaving it unchanged, a part of me is sad that Crossway has followed the same pattern, even though they had previously announced they would not.  I don’t hold it against them in any way; it is just my personal preference.

What are your thoughts?