Book Review – “Reading the Bible Supernaturally” by John Piper

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I had previously reviewed John Piper’s A Peculiar Glory, and while it was good, it wasn’t my favorite book by Piper.  His newest title, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, sounded better, and I am thankful for Crossway for providing me a copy to review.

I am always looking for anything that will help me read the Bible better and apply it to my life more.  Piper’s book sounded like a good candidate, and indeed it was!  Piper helps the reader understand why it is so important to read Scripture, what the ultimate goal of our reading should be, and how to be better readers.

The book is divided into three parts.  Part 1 is “The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible,” part 2 is “The Supernatural Act of Reading the Bible,” and Part 3 is “The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally.”

The first part is the foundation for the other two.  He begins by giving a brief overview of the ideas contained in the previous book, A Peculiar Glory.  This serves to either refresh one’s memory if they had previously read the book (which was my case) or to provide an overview to those who hadn’t so that they would know where Piper is coming from.

After providing this brief overview, Piper begins to lay out the ultimate goal in Bible reading.  Piper defines it this way: “Our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.” (p. 41)  I like that summary very much, and the rest of part 1 unpacks this proposal in great detail, taking it step by step as Piper lays out his argument for why we should accept his proposal that this is the ultimate goal in Bible reading.

In part 2, Piper emphasizes that apart from the Spirit of God working in our lives to open our eyes to God’s word, we would never be able to receive anything from Scripture as we read it.  He emphasizes that this is not because of any natural lack in ourselves and our ability to read.  Rather, our fallen nature prevents us from seeing God in the Bible, until the Holy Spirit does a work in us to open our eyes.  There is a definite Calvinistic slant here, but overall I don’t think it is anything that most people would disagree with, whether they identify as Calvinists or not.

Part 3 begins to focus on what things we can do as we read the Bible to be sure we are understanding what is written.  Some of the aspects we need to cultivate, according to Piper, are humility, prayer, faith in God’s promises, learning to identify the meaning of the authors, and active reading by asking questions of terms, phrases, propositions, and paradoxes.

Part of the way that Piper says we can read better is by using a method called arcing, and he provides an appendix that very briefly explains and demonstrates how arcing works. He also mentions that there is a Web site that is more interactive to help understand the concept.  I have to admit that I would need something more interactive, as the appendix did not help me visualize how this would work that well.  It may be enough for some people, however.

The back of the book also has a general index and scripture index.

As with many of Piper’s books, Reading the Bible Supernaturally will probably take more than one reading to really grasp some of what he argues for.  But it is a book that is definitely worth more than one reading.  I have to say that it also has caused me to want to go back and reread A Peculiar Glory to try to put the ideas from the two books together into one coherent whole.  I believe that Piper may be working on a third book in this series, and after reading the second book, I cannot wait to see where he goes next.

If you are looking for something to ignite a spark in you for searching the Scriptures, Reading the Bible Supernaturally is one book I would definitely consider picking up.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Update on the ESV (No Longer) Permanent Text Edition

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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?

Bible Review – ESV Journaling Bible Interleaved Edition

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Ever since I heard about Jonathan Edwards’ blank Bible he used for taking notes, I have been fascinated with interleaved Bibles.  In my experience, there have been very few of them.  When I found out that Crossway was releasing one for the ESV, I was very excited!  As always, Crossway has gone above and beyond in delivering a great Bible.

For the basics, the ESV Journaling Bible Interleaved Edition comes in several editions.  I received the tan cloth over board edition, and it arrived in a sturdy slipcase.

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The layout on them all is a double-column text in a smyth-sewn binding.  The type size is smaller than most at 7.5 font, but it has to be for the size of the Bible.  In terms of thickness, it is about as thick as the ESV Study Bible.  This is due to a couple of factors.  One is that there is a blank page inserted between every page of text (more on this later). The other is that the paper itself is thicker than traditional Bible paper, which is great for taking notes without bleed through or ghosting. For most people, this will be a Bible that stays at home instead of being carried around to church and Bible studies.  The paper is cream colored, which I am appreciating more and more in Bibles. It does come with one brown ribbon bookmark.

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One of the first things I noticed when checking this Bible is the text edition change.  I expected to see that it was the 2011 text edition.  Instead, I saw that it is the “ESV Permanent Text Edition (2016).”

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A few weeks later a Web page was created on the Crossway site that explains the edition.  You can read the page here.  There were changes to 29 verses (52 words total).  This will be the definitive edition of the ESV, with no more forthcoming changes from Crossway.  As someone who tries to commit large passages to memory, I am actually pleased with this decision, although I can understand the need for further revisions with new manuscript discoveries and/or insights into Greek and Hebrew.

The selling point of this Bible is that it includes one blank page for every page of Scripture. For those who like to take notes, make cross references, or draw in the Bible, this space should be more than enough for a lifetime of note taking.

At this point, it has not been decided whether this Bible will be mine or my wife’s.  She tends to write in her Bibles more than I do, so it will probably become hers.  In order to keep from writing notes she may  not want later, I tested the writing on the Introduction page of the Bible and the reverse of that page.

What I really like about the format of this note-taking Bible is that it is not text on one side and blank on the other, but each page either has text on both sides or is blank on both sides.  I think this was a great decision on Crossway’s part.  When you write over the text (underlining, circling, etc.), the text on the other side helps hide it from show through or ghosting.  The writing in the blank parts show through more, but it will only occur in the margins and on the blank pages of notes, so it won’t distract from reading the text of Scripture itself.  I tested three different pens and a highlighter, which you can see below. There is some ghosting, but I noticed no bleed through.  (At least with the pens that I tested.  Other pens may have different results.)  The pictures below are how the two sides of one page looked for me.  The circle on the blank page was drawn so I could see if I could spot it on the text side on the reverse; I really couldn’t.

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If you love writing in your Bible, but don’t like the bleeding and ghosting that appears with most of them, or if you feel like there isn’t enough space in traditional Bibles for the notes you want to make, the ESV Journaling Bible Interleaved Edition would be perfect for you!

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

Book Review – ESV The Psalms

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One thing I have to say for Crossway, they know Bibles, and they know how to produce some beautiful editions.

I requested a copy of their standalone edition of the Psalms to review, and Crossway was kind enough to oblige.  I am very glad they did.

The ESV Psalms contains nothing in it but the Psalms from a traditional Bible.  Each psalm is a standalone section, unlike most Bibles where one psalm immediately follows another on a page.  The paper is a thicker, more book-like paper as opposed to a traditional thinner Bible paper.  The overall size is 4.5 inches by 6.5 inches.  It comes with a smyth-sewn binding and a ribbon bookmark.

I received the top grain leather edition, and it is wonderful to hold.  It comes in a clamshell box to protect the book. When you take it out, the leather has a matte finish, and it is very soft.  If this were a traditional Bible with thin pages, I have no doubt it would lay flat on every page.  Because of the thicker pages, however, it will not really lay flat.  This is in no way a defect of the Psalms, as the thick pages were intentional. The leather cover is also wrapped around the edges of the front and back cover.

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As with all of Crossway’s genuine leather Bibles, it comes with a lifetime guarantee against manufacturing defects with normal use.  I can personally attest that Crossway honors this guarantee, going above and beyond what they have to.  Their promise is to replace a defective Bible with a Bible of “equal or greater value,” and they stand by their promise.

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The text itself is 11 point font, and it is presented in a single-column format (which is quickly becoming my favorite Bible layout).  The text color is black, except for the psalm heading, the verse numbers, and the book dividers (the psalms are actually a collection of five books).

At the bottom of each page is the psalm number, a one-line title/summary of the psalm, and the page number.

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This edition of the psalms is a wonderful edition to any library.  It is a nice break to sit and read the psalms with this edition since it causes the reader to focus on each unit rather than getting lost in multiple psalms per page.  I could see this being used as part of a prayer time, praying through various psalms as Donald Whitney recommends.

If you are looking for a unique presentation of the psalms, look no further.  This edition from Crossway is both useful for devotions and elegant in its artistic design.  You will not regret purchasing one for yourself.

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

Book Review – “A Peculiar Glory” by John Piper

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After reading several books by John Piper (as well as reading articles by him and hearing him talk about a few things), I have discovered that Piper seems to be hit or miss.  Some of his books I really love, while others I truly find myself struggling through.  A Peculiar Glory falls into the latter category, and it is primarily the writing style that got me this time.

This book is Piper’s defense and explanation of the way we know the Bible is the word of God.  It takes a very Reformed stance, arguing primarily from an internal witness perspective rather than from an evidential perspective.  For some this is a great thing, and I definitely think that the Spirit must help us believe, as do most evidentialists.  I cannot put my finger on it, but I just felt something was missing in Piper’s working it out.

Piper starts by explaining how he feels the Bible held on to him, rather than the other way around.  I love reading biographical information about people, so this was a great part. He then moves on in Part 2 to explaining how we know what books and words make up the Bible.  This was a pretty common explanation.  Part 3 examines what the Bible claims about itself.  To some, this will seem circular; but I think we have to take into account what a book says about itself.  This may not be the only thing we rely on, but it must be considered.

Parts 4 and 5 are where the book takes a turn, in my opinion.  These parts deal with how we can know the Bible is true and how they are confirmed to be true.  The basic argument, as I understand it, is that we primarily know the Bible is true by the confirmation of the glory of the gospel of Christ throughout the text and as it comes alive in our lives.  That is, we mainly know that it is true by the revelation of the Holy Spirit in our lives as we read and are transformed by the word.  Ultimately, then, it is not about the proofs (although they may come, and Piper does not totally discount evidentialist proofs), but it is about the Spirit of God causing people dead in sin to come alive to the truth of the gospel in the word.  If anyone is convinced of the veracity of the Scriptures, it is because God caused them to believe it through exposure to it.

While I believe there is some truth here, it seems to me that it doesn’t put enough weight on evidence.  True, we don’t want to elevate evidence above the Scriptures themselves, but neither do we want to border on ignoring it.  Again, Piper does not argue for ignoring evidence; throughout he talks about using it.  It’s just that external evidences (history, archaeology, etc.) seem very minimally considered.

Piper’s goal is noble.  He wants to know how someone in a culture very distanced from all the information we have access to could come to know the Scriptures are God’s revelation.  If they don’t know about the textual evidences in manuscripts, the historical reliability of the text, etc., how could those people know that the Bible is God’s word?  Piper writes:

“What turned my focus (not my approval or my interest) away from historical reasoning as a support for faith was the realization that most people in the world–especially in the less-educated, developing world–have neither the training nor the time to pursue such detailed arguments in support of their faith. And yet the Bible assumes that those who hear the gospel may know the truth of it and may stake their lives on it–indeed must stake their lives on it.” (Kindle location 2196)

Piper’s answer certainly alleviates that problem.  I credit him greatly for showing us that we do not have to have knowledge of those other areas to know the Bible is God’s word.  But as a lay apologist, I struggle with minimizing so much great knowledge that we have.

Let me state clearly that I read this book a little along, as the style just seemed harder for me to get into this time, and I struggled reading it for long stretches at once.  So I may have spaced it out too far and missed something that would make it all click better.  I may have to read it again sometime and see if it flows better the second time around.  So if I have misrepresented Piper above, it is unintentional.

It is a good book, and I would recommend it to others, with the head’s up that if they are not Reformed/Calvinist, there may be things here they disagree with.  If you are an apologist looking for detailed arguments in favor of the word of God along the lines of McDowell, Craig, Koukl, or others, this book is not that kind of apologetic.  If you are looking for a way to see how to defend the word of God using the Scripture itself, I think you will find this a valuable book.

*I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book from Crossway in exchange for my honest review.