Building a Better Bible

wesley-study-bibleIt’s hard to justify the need for yet another Bible — there are a whole bunch out there from the ridiculous to the sublime — but the new Wesley Study Bible distinguishes itself as a worthwhile addition (edition?).  Not that the Bible needs improvement, but anything that illuminates and explains it is a step in the right direction.  See, Christianity — a book-based religion — faces a real dilemma in the United States.  We love — absolutely love, revere, adore, worship, honor, praise, admire, idolize, and cherish — the Bible.  We treat the Bible with the utmost care, binding it in leather, gilding its pages, and emblazoning its cover with the word “Holy.”  The only problem is, we don’t actually read the Bible much anymore.  It is estimated that over 90% of American households possess at least one Bible.  However, only about 50% of Bible owners read the Bible “occasionally,” and just over one third read it at least once a week — the majority of these read it at church.  Women are more likely than men to curl up with “the Good Book,” but neither gender spends more than ten minutes at a time with it.  While many better, more accessible and understandable versions exist, the good old King James Version of the Bible is still a favorite, by a solid 3-to-1 margin over any contender.  When it comes to “serious study” of scripture, only 1-in-7 (14%) Christians are guilty.  Back in 1997, George Gallup reported in, The Role of the Bible in American Society, that only half of a random sample of American adults could name any of the four gospels, 37% could name all four gospels, and 42% could name five or more of the Ten Commandments.  Various studies show that 75% of regular church goers think the adage “God helps those who help themselves,” comes from the Bible.  Stephen Prothero’s 2008 book, Religious Literacy, updates these and other facts, but not in a positive way. 

In The United Methodist Church — a religious organization rooted in the teaching and leadership of John Wesley (and the hymnody of his brother Charles) — we are as ignorant of our theological roots as we are of our Bible.  Now we have a resource that has the potential of solving both problems.  The scriptures are the sublime New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), but the notes and commentary come from a broad and diverse selection of the best and brightest pastors and Wesley scholars alive today.  With any luck (and by the grace of God), the Wesley Study Bible will become the standard version in all of our United Methodist congregations.

This is a brilliant book.  (I may be biased.  My wife, Barbara, was the Study Bible project coordinator.)  Of course, the Bible is the Bible, and my endorsement isn’t of much value in promoting holy writ, but there is so much more here than a great edition of the NRSV Bible.  The notes are clear, informative and helpful.  The introductions, while short, are nice overviews.  But the short articles titled, “Life Application Topics” and “Wesley Core Terms” are the real “gold nuggets” that increase the value of this excellent work.  Each highlighted topic is worthy of discussion and reflection.  This is a wonderful resource for small group study in The United Methodist Church.

We, as a denomination, produce hundreds of new resources every year.  It is an important — and somewhat humbling — reminder that we’ve already got what we need the most: a rich and wonderful Bible and an insightful and challenging theological tradition founded on the teachings of our founder, John Wesley. 

What?  Why are you still here?  You ought to be studying the Wesley Study Bible.

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