Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bible Review: The Gospel Transformation Bible

Gospel Transformation Bible (ESV). 2013. Crossway. 1904 pages. [Source: Review Copy]

THE CHRISTIAN IS ALWAYS pleased and delighted when he can see Christ in the Scriptures. If he can but detect the footstep of his lord, and discover that the sacred writers are making some reference to him, however indistinct or dark he will rejoice there at: for all the Scriptures are nothing except as we find Christ in them. ~ Charles Spurgeon, "A Wise Desire"

How is the Gospel Transformation Bible different from other Bibles? Is it a necessary or beneficial publication? Who is the best match for the Gospel Transformation Bible?

I hope to answer these questions in this review of the Gospel Transformation Bible.

New Bibles are being published every year. Every translation, it seems, has something new to offer each year. Some of these are truly new, such as the case with the Gospel Transformation Bible, and others not quite as much. For example, bibles being released in personal size; bibles being released as e-books; bibles being released in different translations. (2013 sees the release of the NIV MacArthur Study Bible. It is now available in NKJV, NASB, ESV, and NIV). Some seem a bit superficial. (Text-only bibles with the focus on the cover image: puppies, kittens, cupcakes, oh my!)

Is the Gospel Transformation Bible different from other Bibles? Yes. Is it different from other study Bibles? Yes. Is it REALLY different from other study Bibles? Yes! Despite what you may think, not all study notes are the same, are created equal. The Gospel Transformation study notes are different from the notes you'll find in the MacArthur Study Bible, are different from the notes you'd find in the ESV Study Bible, are different from the notes you'd find in the ESV Student Study Bible. Every Bible has a purpose. Here is the purpose of the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible:
The goal of the Gospel Transformation Bible is twofold: 1) to enable readers to understand that the whole Bible is a unified message of the gospel of God's grace culminating in Christ Jesus 2) to help believers apply this good news to their everyday lives in a heart-transforming way. (vii)
The focus is on the gospel, on grace, on Jesus Christ. God gets all the glory with this one. It is all about helping readers connect-the-dots so that they see the big picture of the Bible. The focus of the study notes is not overly scholarly. It isn't Hebrew this, Greek that. It isn't about historical background or archaeology or geography. The focus is on what Christ has done and how that translates into your life--if you're a believer.

I love the book introductions; I love the study notes. Here are examples from both:

From the introduction to John
Setting out to find a gospel-focus in John's Gospel might seem like the "challenge" of finding a mountain in a photo montage of the Swiss Alps--an exercise in the obvious. Yet there is a great difference between holding a travel brochure in your hand and actually standing at the base of the Alps. It is the difference between pleasant thoughts and soul-gripping wonder; a curious imagination and awe-fueled adoration; being well studied, and being knee-buckling stunned. John's Gospel is written not just to inform our minds but to inflame our hearts. Think of John's Gospel not so much as a book but as a destination. John is a tour guide of the Alps of the gospel. 
From the commentary on John 5:18-47
Our adoption is secured by Jesus' propitiating (turning away, satisfying) God's wrath. According to Jesus, the only way we can derive life from the Scriptures is to see Jesus in the Scriptures, for all the Scriptures bear witness to him (John 5:30-47; cf. Luke 24:27, 44-47). The entire Bible, Genesis to Revelation, is ultimately about Jesus. Throughout Scripture God is unfolding the grace that culminates in Christ (John 5:39-40). The Bible is therefore not fundamentally about what we do for God but what God does for us.
From the commentary on Micah 6:8
This text is frequently quoted summary of godly living, and rightly so. This is the godly life, the beautiful life. To it we are called. Let us strive to embody Micah 6:8 in our lives. And let us do so in a way that gladly acknowledges that we will never "do justice" and "love kindness" and "walk humbly" with God as we should. Only Jesus lived this way perfectly. But the wonder of the gospel is that he did it in our place and transfers his record of perfect righteousness to all those joined to him by faith.

From the commentary on Ruth 1:6-13
But death of loved ones is ultimately the result of living in a fallen world; it comes to all. Far from being against her, the Lord is working through Naomi's grievous circumstances to bring into the world One who ultimately will redeem her and all his people from death forever. (Col. 2:13-15, 2 Tim. 1:10;Rev. 21:4)

Audience. Who is the best match for the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible?

New believers of all ages. It could easily be read if you're 11 or if you're 81. The notes are clear, relevant, and are not condescending. I thought the notes and introductions were quite accessible, very reader-friendly. Some "study" Bibles are way too intimidating to recommend to new believers. The goal should be to encourage them to read and grow, to fall in love with the gospel, to fall more and more in love with God. The goal should not be to overwhelm them with technical details that have little impact on their lives.

Old believers who are new to the Word. For better or worse, it is TRUE that most Christians do not read the Bible on a regular basis. It is true that most Christians are anorexic--spiritually starving. If you believe, as I do, that

Scripture reading is our spiritual meal time. Sound the gong and call in every faculty to the Lord's own table to feast upon the precious meat which is now to be partaken of; or, rather, ring the church-bell as for worship, for the studying of the Holy Scripture ought to be as solemn a deed as when we lift the psalm upon the Sabbath day in the courts of the Lord's house. If these things be so, you will see at once, dear friends, that, if you are to understand what you read, you will need to meditate upon it. ~ Charles Spurgeon, How to Read the Bible
We shall be the people that get the profit out of it if we make it to be our food, our medicine, our treasury, our armour, our rest, our delight. May the Holy Ghost lead us to do this and make the Word thus precious to our souls. ~ Charles Spurgeon, How To Read the Bible

Believers may have been saved ten, twenty, thirty years ago, but it is NEVER too late to start reading the Bible and growing in the faith.

Believers who LOVE the Bible, and KNOW the Bible, but, feel that the gospel cannot be outgrown. That the gospel is something we need to preach to ourselves daily.

In Note to Self, for example, we read:
Preaching to ourselves is the personal act of applying the law and the gospel to our own lives with the aim of experiencing the transforming grace of God leading to ongoing faith, repentance, and greater godliness. (Joe Thorn, Note to Self, 24)
To preach to yourself is to challenge yourself, push yourself, and point yourself to the truth. It is not so much uncovering new truth as much as it is reminding yourself of the truth you tend to forget. (Joe Thorn, Note To Self, 32)
And from Don't Call It A Comeback:
Once God rescues sinners, his plan isn't to steer them beyond the gospel but to move them more deeply into it. After all, the only antidote to sin is the gospel--and since Christians remain sinners even after they're converted, the gospel must be the medicine a Christian takes every day. Since we never leave off sinning, we can never leave the gospel. (Tullian Tchividjian, "Worship It's A Big Deal", 221)
And from Jesus + Nothing = Everything:
By daily preaching this gospel to ourselves, we can more readily see and confront all the idols in our lives--including those we may not be quite as aware of. We will be able to recognize that every temptation to sin is a temptation to not believe the gospel... when we succumb to temptation, we are failing to believe in that moment that everything we need, in Christ we already have. (Tullian Tchividjian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, 96)

The Gospel Transformation Bible will not take the place of other study Bibles. The MacArthur study notes, for example, are outstanding in their depth, their quality. For those that want to dig, dig, dig into the Bible and study it, make a lifelong study of it, then substantive resources like the MacArthur Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible are well worth buying. The notes are expansive, informative, thorough. The notes in the Gospel Transformation Bible, on the other hand, are focused, are narrow. The notes don't tell you anything and everything you might need to know or want to know about a particular verse.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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