Friday, March 30, 2012

Study Bibles Gone Awry

“And further, by these my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end…” These words, written by Solomon in Eccle.12:12 could be revised today. It could read, “of the making of many study Bibles there is no end…” What is the reason for the American evangelical’s love affair with the study Bible? Understand, I am not on a one-man crusade to put an end to the publication of study Bibles. Be very clear about this. Having been tagged with sundry labels, some given fairly and some unfairly, I do not want to add “bibliophobe,” censor or book burner to the list. However, enough is enough.

A quick search on the website of Christian Book Distributors shows that they offer 1,094 varieties of study Bibles viewable on 44 pages. Among the study Bibles listed are: The MacArthur Study Bible, The Chronological Study Bible, The Joyce Meyers Everyday Life Study Bible, The Life Application Study Bible, The Patriot’s Study Bible, The C.S Lewis Bible, The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible, and the list goes on and on. What becomes painfully obvious is that the study Bible craze is more personality driven than need or content driven. The latest evangelical rock star is expected to offer his or her version of a study Bible. It was only a matter of time that current obsession with C.S. Lewis would result in someone putting together a study Bible with his name attached. I wonder if Lewis would have endorsed this.

Study Bibles have had a long history in America. Perhaps the earliest and best known is the Scofield Reference Bible, which is still being printed. Scofield’s notes allowed the most casual reader to have a basic grasp of particular passages in the Bible. One of the drawbacks of the Scofield (and any other study Bible for that matter) is that the notes that appear on a page may be taken as the final word in how a passage is to be interpreted. Some may even go so far as to give the “notes” the same level of authority as Scripture.

This rant was prompted when I was introduced to the latest entrance in the study Bible pageant. Whoever hatched this brilliant scheme must have been smoking something funny. The newest study Bible on the market is – and I am not making this up – The NIV Lesson from Life Bible: Personal Reflections with Jimmy Carter. The book description reads:

The NIV Lessons from Life Bible takes Mr. Carter's years of teaching Sunday school lessons at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA, and meshes them with the text of the NIV Bible. Through 'In Focus' articles, 'Bible in Life' notes, in-depth studies and insightful observations and reflections, President Carter's teachings in this Bible provide fresh insights for you to study and contemplate.

In the Huffington Post, Paul Brandeis Raushenbush interviewed President Carter and asked him about “the hardest questions presented in the Bible.” Here is an example of Mr. Carter’s answer to one of these hard questions:

Raushenbush: Jesus says "I am the way the truth and the life" (John 14:6). How can you remain true to an exclusivist faith claim while respecting other faith traditions?

Carter: Jesus also taught that we should not judge other people (Matthew 7:1), and that it is God who judges people, so I am willing to let God make those judgments, in the ultimate time whenever it might come. I think ‘judge not that you be not judged’ is the best advice that I will follow. Maybe it is a rationalization, but it creates a lack of tension in my mind about that potential conflict.

There are many verses in the Bible that you could interpret very rigidly and that makes you ultimately into a fundamentalist. When you think you are better than anybody else -- that you are closer to God than other people, and therefore they are inferior to you and subhuman -- that leads to conflict and hatred and dissonance among people when we should be working for peace.

According to Mr. Carter, if you take an exclusivist approach to salvation – if you actually believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life (and note that the rest of the verse was omitted: "no one can come to the Father except by me" which is even more exclusivist), then you are a fundamentalist that thinks “you are better than anyone else – that you are closer to God than other people, and therefore they are inferior to you and subhuman.”

There is no question that Jimmy Carter has been an active former president, working for social justice and fighting poverty. But by what stretch of reason and good sense does anyone think that he has the credentials to publish a study Bible? There is nothing new in President Carter’s commentary. It is the same old postmodern, politically correct drivel that has been offered for years.

No comments: