Friday, June 27, 2014

The Joys and Possibilities of Open Space: A Review of the ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible by Crossway

ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible
When I opened the box containing the new ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible, I was awestruck by all that clean, wide-open space. Broad one-inch margins surround the text of Scripture in all directions like a snowy meadow. That vast landscape surrounding my favorite Bible translation prompted three nearly simultaneous thoughts:

What possibilities! 

What an opportunity! 

What in the world am I going to write in those margins? 

Before I provide a technical analysis below of the beautiful setting of the ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible (hereafter: WMRB), let me dream for a few moments about what can be done with an edition of the Scriptures that is set up for copious note taking.
ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible: Brown Trutone Cover

Obviously, the wide margin design is purposefully geared towards those who want to actively record thoughts, observations, and otherwise interact with the text before them. Some of my first ideas were obvious. I could use it for sermon outlines! But then again, I'm more of a full manuscript preacher. Certainly one could use a Bible like the WMRB to take notes during church. But since I'm a pastor, I don't sit in the pews but a few times a year.

So I dreamed bigger. Here are a few of my best thoughts and brainstorms so far...

1. Personalized, One-of-a-Kind, Study Bible. Since I am in a doctoral program at Reformed Theological Seminary, I could use a Bible like the WMRB as my everyday Bible for the course of study in which I am engaged. As a doctoral student, I have the privilege of studying under some of the best scholars in the world. Since I am still early on in the degree and my dissertation reading is still dawning, why not use this Bible as the indelible chalkboard on which my mind is shaped for the next three to four years? I think anyone entering a formal course of Biblical or theological study should consider having a Bible expressly devoted to his accumulated knowledge. I wish I had done that much earlier in my formal studies.
Wide Margin Reference next to ESV Personal Reference Bible

2. Mission Trip Bible-Journal. When this idea struck me, I sorely regretted that I didn't have a Bible like the WMRB back in 1999 when I spent six months in the jungles of Equatorial Guinea in Africa. I could have used it as a veritable prayer journal to amplify my devotions, record names, and intercessions for those people groups I came to love. It could have become a verbal image gallery of my memories of living and serving in the third world.

3. Family Heirloom. As a father of three, I am in the stage of my life where I am thinking about legacy. How do I pass on my accumulated knowledge, my moral compass, and my doctrinal convictions to my children? I could use a Bible like this to record my learning experiences right next to the texts of Scripture that God impresses on my heart. Prayers for each of my children written in the margins could become like a living commentary of their Christian heritage. Again, if I had started earlier, what a treasure I could have written into those margins! New moms and dads should consider this early on.

4. I could take this Bible to Israel next year for our trip to the Holy Land. Imagine having an edition of the text like this just to record thoughts and ponderings about the land in which Jesus lived, taught, died, and ultimately rose. As I travel from city to city next March--from the Galilean hills to Jerusalem itself and finally to Mount Calvary--I could take as many notes about the hills, seas, rivers, landscape, horizons, and sunsets as my little hand could scrawl. If I could draw (I can't!) there's room for sketch making. What a valuable treasure it would be for the rest of my life to look back on my firsthand descriptions of a journey to the topography in which the drama of redemptive history unfolded.

What do you think? How would you use a wide margin edition? Add your ideas in the comment section below!


Technical Review
ESV Wide Margin Reference Bible: Brown Trutone

As with the last Bible I reviewed from Crossway, the WMRB is truly a magnificent production. The paper used is quite nice, but unfortunately, not as stunning as the ESV Single Column Legacy. I've never seen anything like that before or since. Nevertheless, it does not feel cheap like gift paper. It's crisp. It has some substance to it.

The line matching technology now used regularly by Crossway, and present in the WMRB, makes that annoying "ghosting" effect minimal. By placing the text on both sides of the page exactly in line (as much as possible) the effect is very noticeable: a cleaner, whiter appearance. Very little show-through. If you've never owned a Bible with line matching before, you probably don't know what you are missing. If you have, you'll never go back to mismatched line printing again!

The binding is Smyth-sewn in the WMRB, meaning that this edition will not fall apart in clumps, since it is not held together by glue. It signatures are sewn together with thread making this Bible durable under modest to high stress such as packing and unpacking regularly. This will ensure that a Bible like the WMRB has longevity--especially if it is going to be toted around the world or passed on as I suggested above. I was particularly impressed with the limpness and flexibility of the binding right out of the box. Open flat to Genesis 1:1 out of the box? Check! It won't take long to break this puppy in. It already came ready to use.
ESV Wide Margin Reference: limp and limber out of the box. 

The two column format is pretty standard, but with one variation--the reference notes are placed on the bottom of the right column instead of the inner or outer margin. I will have to get used to that. I do like two column setups. For some reason, I can remember where passages are in the Bible better than in single column editions. I think that is because the brain has more "locations" in which to store the text I am trying to recall. Interestingly, science is now confirming that we do learn better with 3-D spatial materials such as books rather than 2-D screens.

The cover I received is the brown Trutone. Honestly, it's gorgeous. Some folks are high quality leather only people. I understand the goatskin obsession. I have some of those. But I must say this is one of the best Trutones I've seen. It looks rich, dark, and feels sturdy. It has some moxy to it, in a good way. I doubt this cover is going to flake or fall apart anytime soon. At 9.25 X 6.5 this is a large Bible.

I love the fact that Crossway resisted the urge to stamp some kind of logo or design on the cover as they do so many other editions. I think it looks manly this way. Like it has some bravado. The stitching around the edges is enough to make the financially responsible Trutone "imitation leather" stand up without shame next to a high quality Bible cover.

Now that I mention quality leather, this actually might be an edition that you would want to pop for the high quality lid.

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church. He is an avid reader of the Puritans, a big fan of Jonathan Edwards, and the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of 1647. 

Book Reviews: Jonathan Edwards, "Sermons on the Matthean Parables" Volumes I, II, & III (Wipf and Stock Publishers)

I am here reviewing all three volumes of sermons in this new series on the Matthean Parables by Jonathan Edwards, published by Wipf and Stock, and edited by Kenneth P. Minkema, Adriaan C. Neele, and Bryan McCarthy.

I say "new" because these sermons have been essentially hidden from modern audiences since they were originally preached in the early to mid 1700's. Thankfully, as of 2012, they have finally been transposed to printed form from their original manuscripts in Edwards' own puzzling handwriting. 

For decades and even centuries, these manuscripts have been stored away, deep in the vault of history, now currently resting in the caring hands of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University.

Today, these powerful sermons can again lift Edwards' voice and be heard anew, in some cases more than 270 years after they originally thundered from the Northampton Church pulpit. Since then, almost no human eyes have viewed them since the Colonial Congregationalist penned them himself. For this reason, these three paperback volumes are a true treasure chest, replete with jewels and gems for advancing Jonathan Edwards studies. 

The whole series, I think, will significantly move forward our understanding of Edward's theology of regeneration and conversion, not to mention his theology of, and first-hand participation in Great Awakening-era revivalism. 

Each of the three volumes is a compendium of multiple sermons on one particular parable. Often, Edwards' sermons were preached over various occasions (called "preaching units") and took on a life of their own, far beyond the typical hour-long sermonic format, so commonly known among the Puritans. Such is the case with these sermons: they are really each a greatly extended but cohesive literary whole, preached upon a particular pericope of Scripture. 

Each sermon series (in one case, 19 preaching units!) treats of multiple theological doctrines, and contains various of Edwards "uses," or applications. Of course, they were originally preached over the time-frame of multiple weeks and even months, often containing both morning and afternoon/evening oratories. 

Volume One focuses on the "Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins" (Matthew 25:1-13). Here, Edwards intends to show the similarities and distinctions between those who virgins who have oil in their lamps and those who do not. In this way, Edwards draws some distinctions between the Church Visible, and the Church Invisible. His primary thrust is to show that there are many professing believers who would appear to be genuinely converted, and yet do not have the new principle of inner life, given only by the sovereign hand of God. 

Volume Two treats of the "Parable of the Soils" (Matthew 13:1-23). Predictably Edwards discourses at some length the four general responses that hearers have to the Gospel as originally given and explained by Jesus. Interestingly, this sermon series was preached immediately after George Whitefield had come through Northhampton. The sermon series itself more than hints at Whitefield's revivalistic power and affect, and the people of Edwards' congregation's reaction to the same. This volume contains an additional text by Whitefield, a brief treatise on how to "hear" a sermon. 

Volume Three is in regard to the "Parable of the Net" (Matthew 13:47-50). Here Edwards powerfully describes the doctrines of grace as it relates to as-yet unregenerate men being forcibly pulled from their natural element (like fish from the sea) and prompted to die to self and live the new life of conversion in Christ. This third volume, although much more in outline form than the others, has the added distinction of being preached at the same time that Edwards was preparing The Religious Affection for publication. For this reason, the reader gets a unique look into what Edwards was stewing on during this great book's final preparations. 

What ties these three volumes together and makes them interesting historical and exegetical material is their relationship to the events of the Great Awakening. Each volume was preached at a unique time in early colonial revivalism history. Additionally, the series taken together gives the modern reader a view of Jonathan Edwards' theology of the Kingdom, since Minkema and Neele have wisely chosen a set of sermons  for publication that are moored to theological motifs held in common by each parable. 

Readers will find these sermons to be a very helpful companion as they read other works of Jonathan Edwards such as The Religious Affections which deal with very similar topics and themes, if only in a more didactic form. For many, the sermons will actually be easier to read than his treatises. 

One weakness should be mentioned. I am not sure why the editors chose to include the very same opening article on "Edwards the Preacher" by Wilson H. Kimnach in all three volumes, but alas, they did. Perhaps they thought that some readers would not buy the whole set and would need the same article printed separately in each volume. For my own part, I would have preferred that they included different prefatory materials in each book. Together they could have done more to prepare and educate the reader as to the historical context of the sermon series. 

Moreover, this set of three books will be an incomparable treasure to all Edwards scholars, as it was to me. The very idea that I am reading today what was hidden for centuries was enchanting. Scholars, pastors, and students of revivalism alike will all greatly benefit from these faithful, historic proclamations of Gospel truth!

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Book Review: John Bunyan: "Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners"

GraceAbounding is the spiritual autobiography of John Bunyan, the author of the perpetually best selling The Pilgrim’s Progress. In this work, Bunyan gives the reader his torturous experience of blasphemy, conversion, sanctification, and his long quest for personal assurance of salvation. In this work, Bunyan admits to experiencing the most arduous spiritual exertions that a believer might encounter. Time and again, Bunyan experiences a familiar cycle of guilt, grace, gratitude, and glory—only to fall back into despair once again.

Reading this work as the companion to Pilgrim’s Progress will show discerning readers exactly where Bunyan derived his colorful ideas for his great allegory; they are drawn from the costly experiences of following Christ in his own life. Both books finally end in grace—Christian enters the Celestial Gates, and Bunyan is given full assurance in Christ before his death. Ultimately, albeit through much suffering and persecution from both men and devils, Bunyan does find peace and serenity at the cross, trusting Christ alone for his righteousness, although is spiritual turmoil is extreme.

The final chapters are really appendices to the main body, recounting Bunyan’s criminal trials and prison experiences, as well as that of his wife. These too, are the fountain of much pure devotional water to the thirsty modern pilgrim.

The beauty of this work is the Bunyan describes so poignantly what we all experience in our lives: doubt, despair, fears, and failures. Surely this work would give greater confidence to any “sinking and drowning” modern believer. He or she will find in John Bunyan a true companion for the many of us who suffer bouts of doubt, especially as it regards our own salvation.

This work is certainly a well-needed corrective to our modern understanding of salvation. Many today feel that their Christianity is assured by their having walked an aisle, said a sinner’s prayer, or even having been raised in a Christian home. Bunyan’s grappling match with his own salvation will provide for us an example of a man who refused to put his trust in anything but the crucified and risen Christ.

As this is recognized as a literary masterpiece, there is very little to critique here. Perhaps some readers will become frustrated with Bunyan as he seems to wrestle repeatedly with sins and doubts that he has already defeated before through the grace given by the Holy Spirit. But is this really any different from our own experiences? More likely, readers will find that Bunyan is a true companion in the path of discipleship, and a kindred spirit with our own inner confliction with sin and guilt in our own time.

Best Quote: “I never saw those heights and depths in grace, and love, and mercy, as I saw after this temptation; great sins to draw out great grace; and where guilt is most terrible and fierce, there the mercy of God in Christ, when showed to the soul appears most high and mighty.” (Location 1219).

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

A Transformed Session

By Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy

In recent months I have been drawn to study the role of Ruling Elder in the Church. There are two reasons for this. The first is that in teaching Ecclesiology one must turn to the Session and church governance in general. The second is that in preparing to teach Deuteronomy one cannot escape the role of Moses the leader and his need for assistance in the task.

But to the root of the matter. In the opening of 1 Timothy 3 the Apostle Paul goes immediately to the heart that is set – the epithumeo – the burning desire to be an overseer – episkopos – one who is committed to look out for others. Before he leads us to any other qualifications he shows us the principle, the Ruling Elder is primarily not for himself but for others.

It therefore occurs to me that even as Moses said to the Lord’s people: “You are too heavy a burden for me to carry alone,” (Deuteronomy 1:9) so the model for leadership and discipleship is established for the Church, and is implicit in Paul’s statement in 1 Timothy 3:1. Here the injunction of Matthew 28:19 to “make disciples” takes on a broader and more compelling perspective.

However, what has taken place in the Church over the years, and most especially in recent times, is that the Session, the Ruling and Teaching Elders together, has changed its role. The Session in many if not most of our Reformed and Presbyterian Churches has become either the Board of Directors, the organizational and strategic or financial planning committee of the church, or, worse yet, the supporters of the Pastor in doing whatever he deems right for the congregation.

Leadership in the sense of spiritual leadership, being shepherds and disciplers of others, seems to be less and less the goal or intent of the Session. The fervor and vibrancy of the people of God appear to be a diminished purpose of the Session while more mundane matters have assumed the ascendency.

When Moses determined that he could not manage alone he struck a nerve. Many a Pastor must agree that his aloneness in his task leads to a degree of busyness that denies effectiveness. Common sense says that there is no way that he can disciple a congregation alone, however skilled he may be or however hard he tries. So the net effect of such a Pastor is that he will gradually find himself discouraged while his congregation agrees that he is being ineffectual.

So where does the solution lie? If we return to 1 Timothy we can conclude that the breakdown begins when the Ruling Elder assumes his role without first understanding that he is to “look out for others.” The Scripture explicitly says so. He must also be “apt to teach” – not necessarily to stand before a class and teach a portion of Scripture, even though that would be advantageous, but to teach by discipling, by caring, by modeling, by witnessing the grace of God in Christ before individuals. Perhaps this might be in a one-on-one relationship in mentoring another believer toward maturity, or in gathering a small group and providing guidance and instruction regarding their walk of faith. There may be times when a Ruling Elder will take a person aside for advice, or a young person who needs correction.

There are many in congregations who privately have doubts concerning their relationship with Christ. Others may have serious questions regarding points of doctrine that puzzle them, while others may be thinking about seeking another fellowship where certain aspects of teaching or practice may not apply. There are a host of reasons why the people of a congregation need someone to whom they can turn for help, someone whom they know and can trust, and someone who will neither ridicule nor avoid answering their questions. Someone who is already among them.

Here is where the Session becomes the “lookers out for others.” Here is true discipleship. This is not the meeting to discuss the business of the church, but a manifestation of true spiritual leadership, being engaged with the members of the congregation, demonstrating care and concern, and training in righteousness.

So the question before us is: “Can a Session that has shifted away from its primary purposes be recovered to become a discipling group of spiritual leaders in the church?” That’s a tall order. First the Pastor must embrace the idea and, as Moderator of the Session, initiate change. Next, the congregation must be made aware of a change in perspective that they can endorse. Then when nominations take place these matters may be considered. Further, a purposeful intentional beginning must take place as Ruling Elders demonstrate their newer role by becoming concerned and interested men in the lives of the membership.

Now we know. The Pastor cannot be held accountable for all the spiritual ministry of the church. It is foolish to imagine that this is possible. Moses couldn’t do it and Paul certainly established a pattern, before God, that no one else would have to try and do it. The church needs its Elders, but it does not need them to be only the determining committee of the church, it needs them to “look out for them.”

-Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy, is an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and a former missionary to Nigeria. 


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Book Review: "The Religious Affections" by Jonathan Edwards

Overview: The Religious Affections is for very good reason considered one of the most important works of Jonathan Edwards in particular and one of the most excellent and helpful treatises on Christian spirituality in general. Caught in both the glory and the drama of the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards was tasked with the responsibility to defend God’s mighty outpouring of grace from both its detractors and its extremists.

In this great work, Edwards sets out to accomplish three major goals (1) he shows from Scripture that the religious affections (“the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclination and will of the soul”) are indeed true manifestations of real Christian spirituality and of the holy life (2) he warns of a number of “experiences” that cannot either verify or falsify the reality of one’s professed conversion and (3) he enumerates several factors that are indicative of true conversion and regeneration. Chief among these last factors (as the quote below demonstrates) is the fruit of holy living—or Christian practice—carried out in the believer’s life.

Application: This great work has a number of applications and uses. First and foremost it helps to delineate what true conversion looks like. In Edwards’ day it was hard to prove that one was truly “converted.” Often the Puritans looked for a series of finely ordered “steps” in one’s testimony of professed faith. The burden of proof lay heavy. The difficulty was exacerbated by the throngs of professed conversions in the wake of the Great Revival of the 1740's.  In our day, it is much easier—we must simply give an “altar call” story, or a similar anecdote of “accepting Jesus into our heart.” Edwards speaks to both extremes by evaluating the conversion experience with a truly Biblical grid of analysis.

Edwards shows that true conversion does indeed transform both the inward man, in his “affections” (love, joy, fear of the Lord, etc.) as well as the outward man in living out the will of God in his daily experience. Pastors who are prayerfully evaluating their flock, as well as those unsure of their own salvation, will find this work deeply helpful in this regard.

Critique: While this particular reviewer is mostly sympathetic to Edwards’ position about conversion, many of my charismatic and Pentecostal friends will likely find some fault with Edwards’ teaching on the inner-life of spiritual experience. Throughout, Edwards is particularly hard on those who claim to have received such things as visions of Christ or strong “impressions” of particular Scripture passages upon the heart as being too easy to manipulate and falsify. 

While he is surely right in showing that these things cannot prove that one is a Christian, some readers (but not all) will feel he has gone too far in assessing the supernatural revelations of the Holy Spirit to the human mind in a negative fashion. Personally, I found Edwards insights on these matters to be desperately needed in a world of hyper-subjective excesses ("The Lord told me..." etc.) and non-falsifiable claims of religious experience, often bordering on the narcissistic and the bizarre.  

Overall: Moreover, I found this book to be one of the greatest works of Edwards, and one of the best introductions to his thinking and theology. Much of this book (especially his non-polemical sections) can be read as devotional material. His emphasis on Christianity's burning-heart piety (love, joy, fear of God etc.) reads like the work of a man passionate about Jesus and His intrinsic glory. It is with great reason that the Religious Affections has taken its place among the all-time spiritual classics. 

Best Quote: “From what has been said, it is manifest that Christian practice, or a holy life, is a great and distinguishing sign of true and saving grace. But I may go further and assert that it is the chief of all the signs of grace, both as an evidence of the sincerity of professors unto others, and also to their own consciences” (p. 326-32).

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida

Are You Dangerous?

by Dr. Wilfred Bellamy

I read an article recently that suggested that the most dangerous person in a church is the one who refuses to agree to anything that he or she does not like. Even when it is simply a matter of personal preference, the dangerous person makes it known that things should be done differently.

This poses a problem for many. The pastor finds it disconcerting because, even if he prepares thoroughly and teaches faithfully, he knows that it won’t please the dangerous person who will certainly find something wrong with some aspect of his teaching. Others are troubled because they are bound to hear it said that there was a better way to interpret a particular portion of Scripture. Rigidity is dangerous.

Another problem is that the dangerous person has a critical spirit. The leaders of the congregation seek to know the mind of Christ in fulfilling their duties. Do they always get it right? No they do not, but they always try. If they were all consumed by their own wants, or if they put their own schedules ahead of their duties in the church, they could not serve as faithfully as they do. The dangerous person always knows a better way to do things. It isn’t necessarily the way of the majority but it is the only way that pleases.

We don’t have to think long and hard to realize that the dangerous person can create division among the members of the church. If he or she speaks strongly enough, or appears sufficiently dissatisfied, there are sure to be some who will come to their side, and before we know it, we have two or even more factions in one congregation. Creating division does not in any way bring honor to our Lord. Division is the enemy of unity in the Body of Christ.

Joy in the fellowship is rooted in mutual love and trust. Jesus prayed that we would all be one. We will not agree on every little thing nor is that necessary. The important thing is to be concerned for the good of the whole. If we decide to be different, to think separately, and to behave as if our own needs and wants are of paramount importance, then mutuality disappears, and there is no trust.

Now, and finally, if we all really want to be dangerous, let’s be dangerous to the enemy of souls, who goes around as an angel of light or as a roaring lion “seeking whom he may devour.” Let’s be a danger to him, put on the whole armor of God, and be the first to the battle. That’s dangerous!

-Wilfred A. Bellamy, Ph.D.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Put That Digital Device Away! Crossway is Making Bibles Better Than Ever: A Review of the "ESV Personal Reference Bible"

The ESV Personal Reference Bible features line-matching technology.
While more and more folks are pulling out their smart phones or tablet devices during church, Crossway is quietly perfecting the art of the written page.

The current generation of Bibles from Crossway are intentionally designed to help believers rediscover the aesthetic beauty of holding and reading well-made books. Among the features of Crossway's new Bible lineup is a technology called "line-matching" which helps ensure that ghosting (that annoying see-through in Bibles' thin pages) is minimized.

Line-matching uses digital printing technology to ensure that--as much as possible--the Biblical text is printed exactly in line on both sides of the page, thereby making the page look whiter and cleaner. At the same time, Crossway is also using better and better paper too, toeing a difficult line between the thinness and opacity required for printing Bibles with thousands of pages.

In this review, I will be looking at a great example of this generation of affordable Bibles from Crossway: the ESV Personal Reference Bible. This is an ergonomic, hand-size Bible which ought to justifiably displace that distracting digital device that so many are using today.
The ESV Personal Reference Bible (top) with ESV Wide Margin (below)

Review: The Personal Reference Bible (Trutone, Mahogany, Emblem Design)

In this review, I will look at several of the main features of the ESV Personal Reference Bible (hereafter, PRB) including: format, cover, binding, paper, and features. I will not be doing much with the translation, because I have already argued in other places of the ESV's excellence. That will be assumed already in this review.

The ESV Personal Reference Bible is comparable to the Cambridge Clarion
The PRB is a very delightful size and the "form factor" is just right for tucking in one's briefcase or purse and toting along to church. The text block measures at 5 X 7.4 inches, and when open, fits perfectly in the hand. The font size of 8pt. is very stark considering its portable size. The PRB comes in a single-column format making it eminently readable, especially in poetic sections, which are not rudely cut off as so often occurs in double-column settings. The PRB has the standard 80,000 cross-references which seems to be pretty across-the-board in Crossway's reference Bibles. These references are placed in the center near the gutter and do not detract the eye from reading smoothly across the whole page.

All of this means that the PRB is a much more financially responsible version than more pricey high-end competitors such as the ESV Cambridge Clarion. In fact, if you have been Jonesin' for a Clarion, but cannot force yourself to spring for their pricey high-quality covers ($136 for the calf-skin or $150 and up for the goatskin), you might consider the PRB a cheaper, but trusty and reliable alternative.

Of course, you won't get a goatskin with this $15 PRB either, and that brings me to...

The Cover
The version that I am reviewing is the Trutone in deep mahogany with an emblem design. This Bible also comes in calfskin, (Crossway calls it "top grain leather") but that is going to jump the price to about $110. Since I am writing today for the common man or woman in the pews, I am not sure that a high price cover is even necessary.

I have owned several of Crossway's Trutone covers before on my ESV's and they have all lasted well. These synthetic covers look good and feel real-ish to the hand. I wonder if some people even realize that they are not leather? The truth is that both goatskin and calfskin really are much more aesthetically pleasing. (Trust me, I just had a Bible recovered from Leonard's!). But if the purpose of the cover is to protect the contents and attract the eye then the Trutone will not disappoint.
Many will love the mahogany emblem design; I prefer plain, natural looks.

As far as I know, Trutone is a synthetic material made from some durable and flexible polymer. Honestly, I haven't done the research to know for sure what they are made of. What I can tell you is that they are getting better and better all the time.

They are much more like real leather in both look and feel than earlier generations, which tended to peel and flake under severe duress (such as sunlight and aging).

The mahogany color of this version is beautiful. Personally, I really wish they would have left off the emblem (rose pattern) from the cover, but I can tell you that my wife and twelve-year-old daughter both oowed and aawed when they saw it, so perhaps it is a male/female thing. Personally, I like my Bible covers to be dark, manly, and natural. Thankfully, the emblem is not embossed with any coloration and disappears in darker lit rooms below the deep, rich color. Several other cover varieties are currently available as well.

Most readers are not even aware that their Bibles are bound in vastly different ways. They are. It makes a huge difference.

Crossway is now using Smyth-sewn bindings on almost all of their Bibles, if not the entire lineup. This is the best possible strategy for binding paper together; far better than "perfect bindings" which merely glue stacks of loose sheets together. In Smyth-sewn bindings, the signatures (groups of 16, 32, or 64 pages) are folded, sewn together, and then stitched together as a solitary unit. For this reason, they hold together well and last much longer.

A good binding will do two things. (1) It will assure that your Bible does not fall apart in clumps as aging, glued books inevitably do and (2) it will allow the Bible to open flat, flex naturally, and stay open without snapping shut like a bear trap.

I am sure that all pastors and Bible students have struggled with a Bible that wants to snap shut every time one moves his hands to type or take a note. Not here.
The ESV Personal Reference Bible (top) perfectly portable!

While the PRB did not open completely flat to Genesis 1:1 out of the box (a litmus test for excellent bindings), it did do rather well by opening flat to Deuteronomy. Not bad.

After pressing the binding open and flat with my hand every 50 pages or so (as one ought to do with a new book), the binding greatly improved in flexibility after just one day.

One small complaint that I would have here in this version is in regard to the inner lining (the material used to attach the text block to the cover material). In the PRB, it is merely composed of a thicker paper, almost like very thin cardboard or something. Other Crossway products are a bit better, using a glossy and more durable material which is water-resistant.

Time will tell if this -thickpaper lining will be the Achilles heel of this particular Bible. I could foresee the liner being a possible location in which hard and rugged use causes a rip or tear. Then again, I keep reminding myself this Bible can be owned for only $15.

The paper used in the PRB is good. The line-matching makes it appear great. I will confess that it is not nearly as good as that used in the ESV Single-Column Legacy which is the best Bible paper I have ever seen and held in my own hands. Ghosting is minimal, and print quality (evenness of the darkness and clarity of the text) is very good. In some Bibles, the super-thin paper nearly ruins a great version. Not here. Solid work, Crossway.

But why not use the Legacy paper in all of your Bibles?

The pages are gilded with gold edging finishing the look. Some of my Bibles have flaked and scratched considerably along the edges. I don't think that is something that can be improved, though. The page ends tend to receive a tremendous beating when a Bible is used for years, being the physical location of much finger shifting, grabbing, and turning.
The ESV Personal Reference Bible (R) vs. Wide Margin (L) size comparison

If you love this Bible as much as I do, it won't be because of its features. It doesn't have many. No one is going to mistake this little gem for the ESV Study Bible!

More likely, it's simplicity, readability, and portable size will be the endearing features for you as they are for me.

The PRB does have a rather nice concordance, and a beautiful matching ribbon. (Two would have been better). The gutter-side references are convenient and pleasing to the eye. A presentation page will mark the date and occasion of the receipt of this Bible, and I do think that at the price of between $15 and $22 this will make a great gift Bible or travel Bible. It may even become the everyday Bible for some folks who don't like to tote a brick like my ESV Study Bible around town!

Overall, the hand-held portable size and readable font will make sure the PRB is treasured for many years by the owner. With nice publications like this coming out from Crossway, I can't imagine why anyone would want to use their phone in church anymore!

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. He is the author of Hold Fast the Faith: A Devotional Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith and several other books. Matthew frequently does reviews of theological works, Bibles, and other Christian publications. 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Some Thoughts on the Ordination of Gospel Ministers

“And it is certainly useful that by (the laying on of hands) the dignity of the ministry should be commended to the people, and he who is ordained, reminded that he is no longer his own, but is bound in service to God and the Church.” – John Calvin.

In just a couple of days, a dear friend and colleague of mine, Greg Gunn, will be the subject of one of the most ancient rites in the Christian Church, the laying on of hands in the service of ordination. 

This was practiced not only in the New Testament (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6; Acts 6:6) but also the Old Testament as well (Genesis 48:14; Numbers 27:23). I have to tell you, as the one giving the ordination sermon on this coming Lord's Day, this terrifies me. Not because I don't trust and respect Greg, but because of the weight of the responsibility for all who are ordained. 

The ordination of a minister of the Gospel in a Reformed church is an event of great moment. In our Presbyterian tradition, this implies that a man has spent the equivalent of seven years in formal training and education. He has passed his written exams (equivalent in difficulty to the bar exam in the legal profession). He has been examined on his views and knowledge by the ministerial committee and gone before the entire Presbytery for a terrifying public examination. Imagine if in order to get your current job you had to stand on your feet for an hour or so and take questions from a field of 20 or more men more qualified and experienced than yourself! 

There are some churches and traditions where the guy who is called “pastor” on the marquee is simply the guy with the largest Bible and the cleanest shirt. Today anyone can declare themselves “pastor” or “minister” or “apostle” just by garnering a small following. Many take on the mantle and yoke of ministry flippantly and completely unprepared. But Biblical ordination should prevent that from happening. 

Let me ask you this: would you submit your body to surgery performed by a man who studied medicine in a lazy boy on Saturday mornings? Would you have a man defend you in a court of law who is a mere amateur in jurisprudence? Would you get into an airplane flown by a weekend hobbyist? How much more so, then, should our souls be put under the care and authority of a man who has been tried and tested first! Men should be trained, examined, and proven to have a high level of competency, and then ordained. 

That day is Sunday for Gregory C. Gunn, who has become a dear friend and colleague of mine. 

The promises made in this service are no less serious than marriage vows. In some sense, Greg will be publicly “marrying” the service of God. And the bond that will be forged in that moment will be no more breakable, no more escapable, than the divine merging of two persons in holy matrimony.

Yes, like a wedding there will be vows: promises made to be faithful to the Word of God; promises that the ordinand will remain faithful to the gospel and declare it with every last ounce of strength that he has. The pastor being set apart for ministry that day, as Calvin notes, is reminded through the laying on of hands that “he is no longer his own, but is bound in service to God and the Church.”

The great reformed Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon once warned his students, “The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work. In order to a true call to the ministry there must be an irresistible, overwhelming craving and raging thirst for telling others what God has done to our own souls…Do not enter the ministry if you can help it.”

Those of us who have taken the ordination vows have neither time nor leisure to entertain any other dream, or pursue another calling. We are not playing around here. We are not "playing church." This is blood-serious. We respond to the Gospel call with an urgency that requires the whole of us. As an ordained minister of the Gospel, we must preach the Word with every pulse, muscle fiber, brain-wave, and hiccup of our being.

And so I am both terrified and overjoyed at the thought of the elders laying hands upon one of my dear friends. These praying hands will place him in the tradition of thousands of years of men who have devoted their lives to the ministry of the Word and Sacrament. Many of them died in the line of duty as pastors, evangelists, and missionaries.

The magnitude of the commitment is almost too much to bear; which is probably why the symbol of the placing of hands upon the candidate’s head and shoulders persists to this day: he needs many people--praying believers--to hold him up, keep him standing, prevent him from falling on his face. 

Left standing alone, the weight of the duty of the pastorate would certainly crush us.

--Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida.