In Defense of Study Bibles: Why Dave Could Be Wrong

So, we have a good discussion going on about the pitfalls of Study Bibles over at this post. I did chime in on the pitfalls that I found, for me, when preaching out of a Study Bible. My first pastorate I had a tendency to chase rabbits, even in the pulpit, and given my restricted prep time as a bi-vocational pastor, there were weeks that my outline was so skeletal that He-Man would have taken pity on it. At times, I would preach out of my NASB Study Bible and see notes that I hadn’t caught before, and then go off on that tangent—then I learned better. Now, I transfer all the rabbits into my outline and chase them while preaching from a plain-text Bible.

Does that mean, though, that we ought to set aside the Study Bible? I would offer a counterpoint to the dangers that were highlighted in the first post.

First of all, we need to acknowledge that not every one has access to top-level hermeneutics courses. Unfortunately, too much of our time in church is spent on program promotion, fundraising, and internal strife rather than equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. And that equipping should be more than just the end results of pastors, teachers, and authors doing the Biblical study. Every church should be training Christians to read and understand the Bible for themselves–even if that means congregants reach different conclusions from church leaders. It won’t hurt you to have an amillennialist, a Calvinist, or a dispensationalist in your pews even if you aren’t one.

Since we haven’t done a great job with this, really and truly we have left our fellow Christians with two options: rely on preachers, teachers, and authors to do the hard work or drift through Scripture and hopefully hit on something.

Now, at this point, a word of note about the work of the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit can and does illuminate Scripture and you can grow as a follower of Christ with your Bible, the Holy Spirt, and precious little else. However, the isolated Christian is an anomaly in the New Testament and we should note that a fair bit of the material in the New Testament itself was written in correction of people’s misunderstanding of what God had already said (cf. Paul’s rebuke of Judaizers and James’ rebuke of idle, dead ‘faith’). God works not only directly but through the one-anothers of the Body of Christ.

So, what does this have to do with Study Bibles? While we must acknowledge that the authors of study notes are just as likely to make mistakes as pastors in pulpits and teachers in Sunday School classes, there is value in having the observations of men and women who have diligently studied and examined the text of Scripture fresh and at hand. There are many who God has enabled to dedicate a lifetime of study in His Word, and we would be poorer for neglecting that gift.

Therefore, I would suggest that not only are Study Bibles helpful, but they should be recognized as useful tools for those who are working to understand the Bible themselves. The strengthening of a person’s understanding of Scripture benefits if they are gathering information and being challenged by more than just one or two sources–a Sunday sermon and a Tuesday night fill-in-the-blank discipleship course will help some but being able to, day-in, day-out, see extra insight into the Word of God is invaluable. And the stronger the individual believers are in the Word of God, the better off the church will be.

Now, this is not to say that some Study Bibles are better than others–and that some are really just awful and should never have been made. I have several on the shelf right behind me, and a few more here and there in the study at church. I recommend the Bibles by reputable scholars that provide textual insights above most others–the newer Zondervan NIV Study Bible (edited by D.A. Carson) is a good one, though I’d love to see it with the NASB or CSB. The ESV Study Bible is another good one, and I liked my old HCSB Study Bible. I haven’t seen the new CSB one (yet). There’s an older NASB Study Bible which I loved, and I’m enjoying the full-color Faithlife Study Bible and NLT Study Bible.

There are also some specialty ones, like the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible and the Archaeological Study Bible that, really, should have just been one-volume commentaries. The information is useful but not primary in most of these. As to “bad” Study Bibles, none come to mind at the moment, but I know they exist.

So, without being too blunt, it’s possible that Dave is wrong and we should all dust off our Study Bibles and read a few extra insights from others alongside what we can find ourselves.

SBC PC: Mark Dever Speaks about John Onwuchekwa

As you know, each of the speakers for this year’s SBC Pastors’ Conference in Phoenix, AZ was nominated by someone.  I asked each speaker’s nominator to answer a few questions about the person they nominated, and we have been posting their responses here at SBC Voices over the last few months.

John Onwuchekwa is one of the speakers for the conference.  He will be preaching Sunday evening from Philippians 1:12-26.  John is the pastor of a church plant in Atlanta, GA called Cornerstone Church.  He was nominated by Mark Dever.  I recently had the opportunity to speak with Mark Dever about John, and I want to share some of the highlights of that conversation with you.

Capitol Hill Baptist Church, where Mark Dever pastors, does a number of things to equip pastors.  One of those things is the 9 Marks weekender where they host around 100 pastors, seminarians, and church leaders for a full-on immersion in the life and inner workings of CHBC.  It was through one of these weekender conferences that Mark first got to know John.  Their friendship continued to grow from there.  CHBC also has a pastoral internship program where they receive 6 interns for a five or six month period of intense discipleship and training in pastoral ministry.  John was able to participate in that internship program several years ago at an important time in his life and ministry.

When asked why he nominated John to speak at the Pastors’ Conference, Mark said that in addition to him meeting the criteria of being the pastor of a smaller membership church, “John preaches the Bible really, really well.”  Mark’s confidence in John’s preaching ability is demonstrated in the fact that he has had John speak on several occasions at 9 Marks conferences.  John is even scheduled to speak at a pre-conference in Phoenix June 9-10.

Mark’s respect for John and thankfulness for what the Lord has done in John’s life was evident in our conversation.  Mark described John as a delightful person.  He spoke of John’s commitment to the Word and desire to faithfully shepherd God’s people.  We are excited to have John speaking at this year’s SBC Pastors’ Conference.

If you have not yet made plans to be in Phoenix for the conference, do so now.  It promises to be a great time as we gather to hear from God through His Word.  If you aren’t able to make it to the conference, be sure to catch the livestream beginning Sunday evening.

Confessions

The scripture tells us that we need to confess to one another, that it brings healing. If you look in our world, in our nation, our churches, and our lives it’s clear we need healing. I want to encourage you today to confess by taking some initiative today. I’m going to put myself out there and confess a few things today.

First, I know that my priorities as a Christian should dictate, but I have to admit. I didn’t care for Chick-fil-A. They are a great company and do great things, but I just don’t care for it. I don’t like it. I’m so ashamed.

I don’t enjoy golf. I have played, I own clubs and have tees and a nice bag. I just don’t enjoy it that much.

I don’t watch college football. I went to the University of Wyoming. I went to games as a student but after that, I just don’t care. I watch UW occasionally, but I don’t care about it. I didn’t care about Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, the SEC, and I can’t stand Nebraska.

I love Sunday School. Old school, Arthur Flake Sunday School. I think it works, it’s still relevant and can reach people and grow a church. I don’t really think the small group movement is all that great.

I’m a Calvinists. Please don’t stone me. I’m actually a Wovenist, you can read my older posts about that.

I think Dave Miller is a good guy. He has at down and talked to me seriously about problems. He can be serious and I appreciate him.

I think SBC churches should use and support Lifeway and use their material. I like Lifeway, I want to work there some day. David Francis is a hero of mine.

I hope that by making some confessions today that you can pray for me. We all have short comings in life. In all seriousness, we do need to have other people we can be accountable too. People who know us and can pray for us. How can I pray for you?

About that lawsuit against NAMB

I’d guess that most reasonably informed Southern Baptists are aware that our North American Mission Board is being sued by a former state convention executive.

Baptist Press reported the suit here and summarized the allegations against NAMB:

– NAMB leaders made “false and libelous” statements about McRaney in 2014-15 as NAMB and the BCMD attempted to work out details of a partnership agreement.

— In late 2015, NAMB posted McRaney’s photo at the welcome desk of its Alpharetta, Ga., headquarters, communicating implicitly “that he was not to be trusted.” The posting, the suit alleges, was “purposely designed to damage [McRaney’s] reputation.”

— NAMB President Kevin Ezell attempted “to interfere” with McRaney’s scheduled speaking appearance at the 2016 Florida Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference.

NAMB’s legal response was reported here. The answers to the allegations in the lawsuit were summarized:

NAMB’s response alledged that he BCMD “became a dysfunctional and difficult ministry partner” during McRaney’s tenure.

NAMB is informed and believes that [McRaney] voluntarily resigned his employment pursuant to some kind of severance agreement.”

NAMB’s response to the lawsuit claimed McRaney “caused the BCMD to violate the terms of the Strategic Partnership Agreement [for evangelism and church planting] and otherwise hindered and interfered with BCMD’s performance of its obligations.” According to the response, “NAMB was entitled” to notify the BCMD it would terminate the partnership “given the facts and circumstances as they existed at the time.”

— “NAMB denie[d] that it published any defamatory statement regarding” McRaney.

— NAMB denied it interfered with McRaney’s speaking engagements after he left the BCMD.

— NAMB acknowledged it “situated” a photo of McRaney “in the reception area at NAMB’s office in Alpharetta [Ga.] during some period of time.” But it denied McRaney’s claim the photo “has caused additional damage” to him.

— NAMB denied that McRaney is “entitled to any relief whatsoever in this action.”

NAMB claimed McRaney “seeks to unfairly enrich himself” in filing suit and alleged he “demanded in a letter to NAMB that it pay him … $7.7 million in damages.”

BP gave the additional information that,

NAMB told BP in a statement, “After [McRaney] rejected or ignored several offers to meet and discuss these matters biblically, we regret that Dr. McRaney has chosen to involve the courts, however, since he has chosen this venue, we will be good stewards of NAMB’s resources and defend the case vigorously.”

There’s not much new in the court filings that wasn’t alleged by the plaintiff, who is a frequent blogger and commenter, and denied by NAMB in earlier statements and responses.

This is all sad news. I doubt NAMB will be answering questions related to this while the matter is under litigation and there’s not much that can be discussed here about it. We can all pray for a positive resolution, though.