Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Review: The Modern Life Study Bible

The Modern Life Study Bible
Thomas Nelson

The two greatest commandments in Christianity are well-known to most Bible-readers. The first is to love God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength and the second is like it, to love one’s neighbor as one’s self. Many Christian movements, sects, theological books, doctrine, and denominations have struggled with upholding and balancing these two commandments. Oftentimes, a book, movement, or preacher will rise up to reaffirm some lost aspect of Christianity only to emphasize a teaching so much that another book or movement will soon rise up to balance. There seems to be a constant battle of over-correction and over-compensating; this struggle is reflected in the focus of Study Bibles throughout the ages.

The Modern Life Study Bible is a new study Bible published by Thomas Nelson which shows that the problems of modern life were common in Biblical times and are, in fact, eternal societal, familial, and ethical. This is the first study Bible which is focused on connecting the ethical, moral, social, political, psychological, and communal issues in the ancient world to the modern world. In short, this is a study Bible which aims to be relevant to those Christians who think the Bible doesn’t speak to modern people. It aims to show public and private faith and how these work in the policies, laws, values, beliefs, and traditions found in business, government, services, family, church community.

The book contains a brief introduction, Old and New testaments, a section on key New Testament passages which connect to modern concerns, a section on weights and measures, a glossary of the Life Studies found throughout the book, Bible Person Profiles, Themes to Study, Jobs found in the Bible and the corresponding occupations found in the modern world, and Acknowledgments. Each Book of the Bible includes, focuses, insights, character descriptions, land descriptions, charts, and life studies.

The Focuses and Insights are usually very insightful and focused on making a character or event relevant to modern readers, discussing sibling rivalry, warfare caused by desire for water, discussing refugees or employer-employee relationships. But there are moments when the reader groans or facepalms. The Life Studies or 66 inspirational biographies are either exciting or questionable depending on the reader’s prejudices or denomination. While some readers will accept John Milton, Mother Theresa, Queen Rananvalona, Watchman Nee, for instance, others might not be so keen on Charles Colson, Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, C S Lewis, Martin Luther King, Francis of Assisi, Johnny Cash, or Constantine.  Whatever one may think, these biographies definitely inspire and show the variety of the Christian Community.

This is not a relatavistic book. God and man remain at the center of all the discourses. It does not only focus showing the spiritual take on earthly issues. It also focuses on God’s power and on eternity. It balances its focus on the two commandments well….or well enough. But there are a few issues. Each believer in Christ has a special mission or focus to accomplish in this life. And what is important to one believer may not be important to another. There are Bibles that focus on the Prosperity Gospel or on women or on countless other western political movements or theological trends. The editor of those Bibles considered those aspects of the gospel important enough to create a Study Bible for them. However, there are a few aspects of Christianity that should be honored by ALL Christians.

The Bible declares the great mystery of Immanuel, God in us, that the same power that raised Christ from the dead lives in His people, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This is no mere human power of humans striving trying to do better to make the world better, but the idea of Him Who is able to do MORE THAN WE ASK OR THINK according to the power of the Spirit which He has placed in every one of us. Eph 3:20

The Modern Life Study Bible is a good Study Bible but there is this nagging feeling of “Isn’t there anything else?” It’s as if the Holy Spirit working in humans is mentioned but He is mentioned in passing, and not as Someone who is powerfully active in those who have truly had the Second Birth.  Consider, the insights, focuses, etc in the book of Galatians speak only of Paul versus legalism. Much is written about Christ being needed for salvation but one has to search to see the main point of Galatian that one continues growing in one’s salvation through the continuing work of the Holy Spirit. This is shown in a small Focus paragraph on the Ten Freedoms. Shouldn’t this important point be placed in the introduction? Or consider that although the book of 1 Corinthians says so much about the gift of the Holy Spirit, the editors do not so much as mention the importance and power of these gifts throughout this section. Instead, the writers focus (and give insights) on issues such as cultural clashes and corporate disagreements. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with the editors choosing not to discuss the most important aspect of a book but what is left is a conspicuous absence. Perhaps if a charismatic christian edited this book, a little more emphasis on the Holy Spirit would have been made. Or consider the focus and insights found near the Faith Chapter (Hebrews 11:1) where the editors discuss the faith hall of fame yet they don’t really discuss what faith is. Of course, if a Faith Preacher had been part of this editorial crew, there might be a greater focus on describing faith.  

So, what is the upshot?

The Modern Life Study Bible is wonderful, awesome, and --like many study Bibles-- it needs to be set beside other study Bibles. It is definitely unique and pastors and teachers will definitely benefit by having it. I will add though that this is the kind of Study Bible which will be both challenged and loved. It will help many priests, pastors, and ministers speak about the issues that challenge their congregation. But ministers who are prejudiced against immigrants, certain social progressive issues, or Black people might have a problem with it. In the same way, those who dislike some conservative stances will also find certain passages (about abortion and homosexuality for instance) annoying. That is the power of a book with integrity which declares the whole counsel of God, is it not?  

This Review copy was sent to me by Thomas Nelson in exchange for a fair review.
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