Hard-Core Southern Baptist

In spite of some heated words in the meta lately, it turns out that I know a little bit about Christian retail. This could be the part of the post today which could make your eyes glaze over where I go on and on about which bible translations with which type of hood ornaments sell the best and why, but there are no proof texts for those things, and we don't want to antagonize the various bye-bul factions reading the blog. Right now, anyway.

I bring up my store, however, because we're going to start carrying a new Bible published by Holman Bible Publishers called the Apologetics Study Bible, which is (as you might guess) a HCSB translation -- technically, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, but known to fans of Ed Stetzer as the Hard-Core Southern Baptist Bible. And to be as transparent as possible, I got my first copy for free because the marketing people at LifeWay.com saw that I have a blog and offered to send me one for free if I'd review it.

Challies has probably already reviewed it, so I'm just small potatoes here -- a side dish. But for the sake of coming clean for my free personal copy, here are my thoughts and you can do with them as seems right to you. For those who can't wait to the end, I'd say I'd give this set of study notes a thumbs-up, with a few high-lights and low-lights.

Study Bibles in General

My opinion is that study bibles are a distraction -- they are at the same time too much and not enough. On the one hand, they sort of overwhelm the reader with notes, comments, insights, introductions, devotions, whatever; on the other, they're not really like a teacher because a teacher (a good one anyway) wouldn't get in the way of the subject matter just when you get to the good part, and a good teacher would not try to impress you with how smart he is by pushing the word of God out of the way to get his footnote in edge-wise -- about the iron age, for example, when the Bible is talking about the construction of the temple.

And let's face it: if the Bible is hard to read already (and it can be), trying to read it and 50,000 footnotes can be frankly impossible. Most people don't need more notes: most people need to turn off the iPod and the TV and the cell phone and read their Bibles at least as intently as they read their daily blogs.

So I'm not a huge fan of the "study bible" genre because these are usually a lot more than the average reader needs, and a lot less than the average disciple needs, if you follow me.

That's not to say that someone past the mid-point of Bible literacy couldn't use a few lessons in history, geography, translation theory and/or theology -- they probably could. So if we start with the premise that "study Bibles" are for the intermediate Bible reader, we can start talking about what's going on with the Apologetics Study Bible (hereafter, APB).

Apologetics: mixed fruits and nuts (and metaphors)

However, I have one other small axe to grind, and that's about the insane intellectual wildlife preserve known as "Christian Apologetics". It's a veldt in which everything from the high primates, the low marsupials, the craven scavengers and the feline predators roam. Don't go out there without a guide, 'kay?

Because apologetics is such a mixed bag, and because context is almost everything when you start reading it, I'm not sure that anyone ought to enter in to the field even as a hobby without doing some essential reading of whole books -- like one or two systematic theologies, and a coupla books on church history -- before wading into a pool of apologetic authors that range in theological bent from William Lane Craig to John Frame to Norman Geisler to (a-hem) Ergun Caner.

In that respect, I found the Reformation Study Bible -- in spite of it being NIV -- far more helpful than my first couple of passes at the APB. That Bible approached theology, and therefore apologetics, from one consistent perspective, and you didn't run into issues where in Jude William Lane Craig is advancing Molinism (while failing to note it is a counter-reformational theology, opposed to reformed views of God) and back in Isaiah Bruce Ware gives the reformed view of God's sovereignty and man's freedom, while the reader is left somewhat on his own to sort it out.

So my over-arching caveat, then, is that when you pick this Bible up, don't expect to walk away with the rosetta stone of Christian apologetics which equips you to be the next Gene Cook with an appropriately-narrow mind. The range of essays from the wide range of theological perspectives here is eclectic and probably doesn't square you up to any particular systematic view very well.

The Good News

On the other hand, there are quite a few things to sort of enjoy and savor about the notes in this Bible. For example, the introductions to each book of the bible are good -- like the introduction to Isaiah which points out that many recent objections to the book of Isaiah being written by the prophet himself ought to be overcome by recognizing that Isaiah wrote from the prophet's perspective with supernatural revelation, and that affirming the supernatural is a central part of the Christian worldview. That's basic apologetics 101, and regardless of your theological persuasion it's foundational for talking about the faith in a substantive way.

And the real win in this study bible is the collection of essays distributed throughout the text on topics pointed at by the scriptures. If we account that I have already warned you about the mixed bag/lack of context issues, there are over 100 (the dust jacket says 130) essays and articles on topics from Genetic Engineering to whether we can trust the text of the OT to life after death. In fact, in spite of my little poke at Dr. Caner, his essays about the contrast between Islam and the Bible are really among the better essays in the text -- because these are his areas of expertise.

Another big win is what the editors of this set of study notes call "twisted scripture" where particular cultic misinterpretations of the text are called out and highlighted to keep the canny student between the theological ditches. My only complaint about those notes is that the aren't called out very clearly, and they tend to run into the text if you're not paying attention. Maybe in the second edition Holman can use some hairline borders or something to make these note more accessible and clear to the reader. There is also no index of these notes, and that would have also been very helpful.

And because it's a study bible, APB has the full array of color charts and maps, many of church history and big moments in apologetic history. If you like that sort of thing, you will definitely like these.

Do you need one?

But the big question, really, is "do I need another Bible?" And in a Christian culture where we have 80 distinct translations of the Bible but nobody seems to know the difference between Ahaz and Belshazzar, that's an important question -- do we need another set of "study notes" which turn out to distract us again from reading the Bible itself and getting all "Deuteronomy 6" with God's word?

If you have read the Bible, and you'd like a text which has a quick index of basic apologetic arguments, this is probably a very good edition for you. But if you're looking for an intro to apologetics to start up your own branch office of Alpha Omega ministries, you'll need a lot more than 130 1-page essays to get started.

Holman has published a very concise, useful, interesting, readable volume of apologetic essays from a wide variety of thinkers in this work. Apologetic fan-boys like me will love to get it for Christmas or a birthday or whatever. But let the buyer beware: this Bible is not a substitute for reading far more substantive treatments of these issues and considering them against the text of Scripture itself for the final word of what God hath said.

And for your convenience, you can go here and buy one. Note that there are a wide variety of bindings to choose from.