Review: Simple Faith Bible

Review: Simple Faith Bible

Subtitle: Following Jesus into a Life of Peace, Compassion & Wholeness

I find it hard to fairly review study Bibles. On the one hand, I am a bit hesitant to have so much text combined with the text of scripture, because everything we do to add to the text, even arranging it into chapters and verses, tends to bias our viewpoint. But on the other hand, it is possible to provide people with necessary background and help them get more out of their study.

In this second sense, a study Bible is a bit like having a number of teachers gathered to help you understand the text. Few benefits come without some downsides. As I like to say, while every cloud may have a silver lining, silver linings tend to come with clouds.

So when the opportunity arose to review this Bible, I found the idea fascinating. Former U. S. president Jimmy Carter has been a Sunday School teacher for decades. While I confess that I worked diligently to get him out of office back in 1976 and 1980 as a precinct captain for Ronald Reagan, my appreciation for him as a person has grown remarkably since.

The Bible itself is the NRSV, one that I regard as quite good. The copy I received was hardcover. There is a leather bound edition, which can be found using the cover widget at the left hand side of the page. I don’t believe I need to add anything to my previous comments on the NRSV.

The paper is thin “Bible” paper. The text is of adequate size, though there is a certain amount of crowding required for the amount of text included in the edition. The introduction makes the purpose of this edition clear.

The introductions to the book are time-limited as one might expect in a Sunday School class dedicated to getting to the things the class wants to talk about. They make no effort to cover the book introduced in any detail. They are more a theological note of introduction, leaving any content to follow-up studies.

The devotional content is, well, devotional. While I could quibble theologically with some of it, most of it is just encouragement drawn from scripture, and the Baptist roots of the author are evident, though not thrown in anyone’s face. Titles like “Love That Covers” (1 Kings 2:3,9) or “Encountering God in Creation” (Romans 1:18-32) give the flavor.

The problem I had with this Bible was in classifying it. Is it a study Bible? No, I don’t think so, as it is missing most of the landmarks that would help a student understand the Bible better. Is it a themed devotional Bible? This is much closer, as the devotional content is quite strong. But I still don’t see it fitting the definition.

I recall the Spirit-Filled Life Bible that looked for the work of the Holy Spirit throughout scripture. Well I was concerned that this focus on one subject would prevent readers from hearing the main point of the text, the Bible had a devotional theme that followed through.

Unfortunately, in the Simple Faith Bible, it seems to me that the editors and layout designers of the Bibles have failed to truly wed the devotionals to the text, so that you have loosely collected devotionals bound in one cover with the text of the NRSV Bible. Yes, the content is placed with the scriptures, but there is so much that has no comment, even limited comment, and there is so much that is skipped, that the two never come together.

I would add my personal complaint. There is a view in the study of scripture that says, “Let’s study the stuff that makes us feel good and skip the stuff that annoys one.” I personally have written in defense of some form of “cafeteria Christianity.” We all do some picking and choosing, but try to deny it. Some do it by just reading the stuff we like and skipping over the stuff we don’t. Others explicitly choose, which is more honest, I think. Yet others interpret away the things they would prefer were different.

In fact, a blind selection, or one that is denied can create more divisive debates as people build their Christianity on different scriptures while pretending they are doing otherwise.

In the Simple Faith Bible we have a number of interesting cases. For example, in Romans 1:18-32, where many root debates on homosexuality, we have the “Encountering God in Creation” article, which mentions nothing about sin of any kind. Now this passage is not primarily about homosexuality, though this is not mentioned, but it is also not primarily about encountering God in creation. It is rather saying that humanity is wicked and lacks a good excuse. This leads up to informing us that God has an answer for the humanity God created.

In Numbers 31, as the Israelites slaughter infants, we have a note about God’s attitude to wealth. I once called this an “unpreachable passage” while trying to propose ways from preaching it. We may not like it. In fact, we probably don’t, but if this is a devotional Bible, might someone decide to read it from cover to cover? If so, what about the difficult stuff?

In Leviticus 19, verse 32 elicits a note on caring for the elderly, but skips verses 33 and 34 about treating the aliens living among you well. On the other hand, we miss Leviticus 18:22 which is famous again in the homosexuality debates. My hermeneutical challenge to both sides is to create a hermeneutic that applies the texts you want to apply and bypasses the others without using some form of special pleading. Of course, the very challenge I am making calls for special pleading, so no takers so far!

Bottom line on this is that I find quite a number of the notes by Jimmy Carter quite uplifting and helpful in a devotional sense, and appreciate them, but I would probably prefer them in their own devotional volume to be read separately. In a devotional book, you understand that you are dealing with passages that happened to strike the author in a particular way.

As a Bible, this is fine. The devotional that happens to be bound with it is uplifting. The combination … I find troubling.

I received a free copy of this Bible from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review, and blog as a #BibleGatewayPartner.

Link: The Temptation of Jesus and Intertextuality

Link: The Temptation of Jesus and Intertextuality

Donald C. McIntyre is writing a series about the temptation of Jesus and the texts Jesus used. Do we understand this usage correctly? He titles this What If We Got the Temptation of Jesus Wrong?, and I’m calling attention to part II of the series.

I am always interested in intertextuality and the way it is used. I suggest a couple of things to consider regarding McIntyre’s post:

  1. Would this interpretation depend in any way on how one dates the Pentateuch or on one’s conclusions about authorship?
  2. What about one’s view of progressive revelation? Trajectories?
  3. How does one guard against incorporation of material that the author does not intend?

None of these questions result from concerns about McIntyre’s presentation, which I appreciate. These questions are ones to carry with you as you relate scripture to scripture.

Following Polls

Following Polls

One of the least accurate elements of the news, in my opinion, is the reporting of opinion polls. If you think this is always someone else, you may be part of the problem.

Polls are not precise measurements and results vary. That’s why you have a probability (often 90% or 95%) that the results fall within a range. Headlines that report a rise or fall in poll results are frequently based on changes that are within that margin or error.

I’ve seen several reports on polls regarding president Trump, as in his approval is falling, or no it’s not. This is not for or against the president. It’s about accurate data.

Got to FiveThirtyEight.com, scroll down the sidebar until you see the graph of the president’s approval ratings. You can get a good deal of information just looking at the graph, but you can also click on the link to get more. This graph represents an aggregate.

In general, I dismiss all headlines. But I definitely do not believe any headline that talks about polls, or generally about numbers.

Link: Bible Criticism – A Common Sense Approach to the Bible

Link: Bible Criticism – A Common Sense Approach to the Bible

This article is quite helpful in understanding what biblical criticism is, how it is helpful, and also how it may be threatening to some.

Here’s a quote:

The basic point, however, is an important one: until we know what kind of material we are dealing with, we don’t know what questions it is sensible to expect it to answer for us.

TheTorah.com

Read the rest and enjoy!

Choose Your Shape!

Choose Your Shape!

Well, perhaps, “choosing” should be “recognizing.” Weird? Doesn’t make sense? Read on!

In the late 1990s I participated in a program here in Escambia County called CommUNITY Dialogues, led by a creative and interesting communications specialist (and I had not, up to that time, used “creative” or “interesting” with regard to such people!) named Dr. Dolly Berthelot.

It was a great program, and I learned a great deal. The reason I’m writing about it, however, is that it was the first diversity training program I’d experienced that I considered personally valuable.

While I valued and value diversity, I felt that many interfaith and diversity programs negated their own value by asking people to give up their own beliefs on entry. The result was a debate largely centered around whether divesting oneself of one’s own “diverse” views was a good idea or not.

What Dr. Dolly did was invite us to explore our beliefs and those of others and to look at ways in which we could understand one another and work together by celebrating and taking advantage of our differences. I have always believed that this would be valuable, but in my experience people of strong convictions tend toward excluding others, and those advocating diversity want to diminish the value of one’s own values.

You may, in fact, decide to change your belief on some topic as a result of dialogue, but eliminating the differences before they are experienced and understood is, in my view, suboptimal. (I like that word!)

I say all of this to bring us to the present, and some of the work of Dr. Dolly Berthelot. I publish her book PERFECTLY SQUARE, and I have spent some time looking at a training program she has developed, SELFSHAPES. She has developed a simple quiz based on this program, and I have implemented it on our web site.

I’m not going to discuss it in detail here, because it is best experienced first. I have commented before that I have found things I’ve learned about human nature, including sociology and psychology, and definitely about different personality characteristics more helpful in Bible study and teaching than learning biblical languages. (I in no way regret learning the languages. I say this to emphasize the extreme value of learning to understand people for biblical studies and theology.)

And, of course, for life.

So head on over to the Energion Publications retail site and check out the quiz. It’s called Dr. Dolly’s SELFSHAPES. There are no pop-ups, and very little advertising. At the end we offer you the opportunity to share on social media and to sign up for an e-newsletter to keep up with developments.

Enjoy!

Changing Perspectives

Changing Perspectives

From time to time during my work day I’ll stop and play a (hopefully) quick game of Sudoku. For this purpose I usually choose an easier puzzle, one I can do quickly.

The purpose for a break like this is to unlock my brain, so to speak. When I’ve been working on a project too long, I can lose track of what I’m doing and become unproductive. There is activity, but no work. So I stop. Sudoku is just about right to distract my mind from what I was doing without tying me up for a long period of time.

This lets me refocus and reorder my thoughts, and I usually return to work ready to move forward.

The other day I was noticing something as I worked the puzzle. It’s not new. I just hadn’t thought of it.

In filling out the puzzle there are two ways I look at the board. I’m either looking for a list of possibilities for a particular space, or I’m looking for spaces that are blocked for certain numbers. I naturally do the first. The second usually works faster.

So why do the first?

In a word, habit. That’s how I’ve done it time out of mind.

Now I frequently switch tactics because I am failing to fill out what I know is a reasonably easy puzzle. It is unlikely that there is no clear move. On a complex puzzle other mental gymnastics might be useful.

Yet often I find myself running through rows, columns, and blocks repeatedly while finding nothing. Then suddenly I think, “Why am I doing this? Why am I not changing my perspective?”

Habit. Ingrained habit.

Changing perspectives can be hard. Learning to regularly look at something from a different perspective is even harder. Our habits intervene, and we can end up doing something repeatedly that isn’t working.

Usually when I change perspective on my Sudoku puzzle I almost immediately spot something that is obvious, but that I missed because I was in a rut.

Perhaps it would be a good idea to apply this to life. Try out a different point of view. Check for answers that are not on the list you had in mind.

It might help!

Keep Good Friday and Easter Together

Keep Good Friday and Easter Together

Easter services are much better attended than Good Friday services. I suspect this is inherent in human nature. We prefer the solution to the hardship getting there. We prefer the happy ending to the suffering that led up to it.

It’s not surprising that we do. Who doesn’t prefer those good times? Who doesn’t want to have as an affirmation of faith the proclamation: He Is Risen!

But our reality is much different. We live through hard times. We have those moments when it seems all is lost. We suffer through times of waiting, wondering whether things can get better or not. Moments of great victory come at a cost.

Holy week illustrates this so effectively. Jesus has toiled through the hardship of His ministry, facing rejection and opposition. Then all comes to a climax, not in victory, but in arrest, trial and death. Almost everyone concludes that things are all over. He’s dead. What are we going to do.

Then there is the silence and waiting of the Saturday between. What will happen as the new week begins? Will they be coming after us? What do we have to do.

And then there is Easter Sunday morning.

We say “He is risen!” with enthusiasm and joy, but many of those who first heard it said it with doubt, fear, and concern. What were they to believe now?

But it becomes more and more certain. They know He has risen from the dead. Triumph!

But what happens now? Is it all an easy run to the end?

No! It is time to be witnesses, to face the trials that come after.

Whenever we pretend that the Christian life is going to be easy and without difficulty, we set someone up for a failure of faith.

So what good did it all do?

There is something more important that Good Friday has to say to us. Yes, it tells us that God knows our suffering. Jesus has been through what we go through. I like to emphasize that when we explain why Jesus had to die the death that He did, we include the simple fact that it was the kind of death that human power provided for someone like Him at the time He appeared. Something different would not be experiencing what we experience.

It also tells us that Jesus is the Lord of Life, who has conquered death. He is not only sympathetic, but He has the power to do something about it.

But it also tells us that Jesus suffered with us for a purpose, and He takes us with us. I was strongly impressed with this as I read Ephesians 2 recently.

Here are some points:

  1. Jesus came to us when we weren’t ready for Him (2:1-3). We can know He means it, because it wasn’t our good looks or attractive personalities that brought Him here.
  2. It was because of love and mercy (2:4-5; see point #1).
  3. He makes us alive with Him (2:5). We have an eternal destiny.
  4. In Christ, we have a glorious purpose (2:6).
  5. It’s a gift. This is important because what we can earn, we can fall short of (2:8-9).
  6. We are his creation, so forget all the ancestry sites (2:9).
  7. We have work to do, but it is work that He planned, that He empowers, and that He carries out.

Ultimately, this lets us know that whatever we are, we are in the One who created us. We live for a purpose, a purpose that is created, assigned, and carried out through that one power. We do not live for futility, even in the greatest of darkness.

So if, on the Monday after Easter Sunday you don’t feel very much like an Easter person, remember that many who heard of the resurrection didn’t either, but God had a purpose for them.

In Him, everything (Ephesians 3:14-21).

Might I recommend slowly and meditatively reading the whole book of Ephesians, or at least chapters 2 & 3?

(The featured image is of my wedding wring, which has “Ephesians 3:14-21” inscribed inside of it. This passage was read at Jody’s and my wedding.)

A Note to Headline Readers

A Note to Headline Readers

Don’t!

Before you share anything, read the whole article. Check your facts.

But even before that … before you believe anything, read carefully, check your facts.

Headlines are often misleading. Their purpose is to get you to read, and in social media, they are aimed to get you to share.

In an emergency, misinformation can kill. Be the place where it stops!

Featured image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

Fear, Prayer, Trust, and Action

Fear, Prayer, Trust, and Action

As I write posts and various notes that speak against fear, I want to make sure some things are clear.

There are two quotes that have been going through my mind. The first is: “Prayer is not a substitute for anything, and there is no substitute for prayer.” I know I first heard this from a friend and author who was once my pastor, Bob McKibben, but he attributed it to someone else and I can’t locate it.

The other is from C. S. Lewis:

Perfect love, we know, casteth out fear. But so do several other things – ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity. It is very desirable that we should all advance to that perfection of love in which we shall fear no longer; but it is very undesirable, until we have reached that stage, that we should allow any inferior agent to cast out our fear.

C.S. Lewis, The World’s Last Night

I first heard that one from my teacher and undergraduate advisor Alden Thompson, who has it memorized and can trot it out at a moment’s notice.

I’ve gone into detail elsewhere, but I want to restate a few things.

Fear shouldn’t control us, but it should get us moving. The fear one feels at the edge of a cliff, for example, needs to be sufficient to keep you from jumping or coming closer than your manual dexterity permits, but not so great as to paralyze you or make you take unwise, uncertain steps.

Trust is a great thing. It is something that lets us walk with confidence in dangerous times. When our trust is in God, we can have peace, even in very frightening circumstances. But trust, even in God, can be dangerous. In politics I tell people to calm down and trust God. I also ask, even beg them to go vote.

Prayer is great. One of the greatest things prayer does is change our hearts so that we will take more action, and more effective action to help others. Praying for your enemies is also a means of softening your heart. Be prepared for God to use you in response to your prayers.

Right now, the question is carrying out actions in response to the pandemic, such as social distancing. This is a decision to be made rationally. You can make it without fear. I’ll simply note that the numbers are convincing to me, but that isn’t a real argument. I’m not an expert. The experts are nearly unanimous that this is a good thing. Your decision should be based on this information.

Fear of sickness and dying and fear of harming others by carrying infection can get you to the point of taking that action. Prayer and trust in God can help you with your peace as you carry out those actions. Calmness as you trust will make it easier to make each decision. Is this a necessary trip? Is this contact safe and important?

We’re human, and each of these elements plays a role. Live wisely!