A Journey to Christ-Centered Bible Study

In case you missed it, my wife and I are transitioning to full-time missionary staff with Cru in 2017. Since last week, we’ve been in Daytona Beach at Cru’s new staff orientation.

Today, we interacted a bit with Keith Johnson, Cru’s director of theological development. Meeting him face-to-face for the first time reminded me when I first served with Cru as an intern (2007-08), Keith was one of a few men who helped me develop a Christ-centered approach to the Bible. I was tasked with writing a Bible study commentary for 1-2 Samuel. (To this day, I have no idea how or why they asked me.) I remember Keith saying that many of the old Cru studies were well-intended but moralistic in their exegetical conclusions and applications. Cru wanted to go in a gospel-centered direction. It was music to my ears.

At that time, my campus director and friend of Keith’s, Bill Kollar (now Cru High School’s Director of Leadership Development), played the primary role of helping me understand the big picture of the Bible and how to apply all Scripture to all of life in a Christ-centered and practical way. Thanks to Bill, I began to see the Bible as beautiful tapestry, a diverse yet unified document telling the story of God’s grace.

These men directed me to two precious resources that rooted me in understanding the Bible the way it was meant to be understood.

The first was Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell. Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not just a book for preachers! Several chapters will appeal to the average Bible student. Most helpfully, this book taught me to understand what Chapell calls the “Fallen Condition Focus,” that is, what any particular text says about our sinfulness or brokenness or suffering because of living in a fallen world. If you don’t see this, you won’t see the need for Christ.

Alongside was God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts. It’s by far the best introduction to biblical theology I’ve encountered. Roberts shows that whole Bible is about God’s redemption through Jesus. It’s still the book I recommend most to people who ask how to better understand how to study the Bible.

After these initial two books, several others helped bolster a Christ-centered approach to the Bible.

I accidentally discovered Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy in the “Related” link on Amazon when I bought God’s Big Picture. I tried to read it immediately and my brain imploded. So I put it down, lived some life, studied the Bible more, got married, and re-started it and finished. I’m forever grateful that Goldsworthy introduced me to macro-typologies like creation/new creation, kingdom, exodus, temple/sacrifice, and more.

I found Goldsworthy to be golden, and two more books, among others, proved that true. First was Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Another preaching book but (again) don’t be fooled. If you communicate the Bible in any way, you’d benefit. Goldsworthy goes genre-by-genre explaining what a Christian interpretation looks like. The truly stellar thing is that he gives several examples from each genre of how to actually to teach a particular passage.

Then I read According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. This book is a step beyond God’s Big Picture, providing a more thorough introduction to what biblical theology is and how it works. Goldsworthy also provides a helpful understanding of what Scripture is and how we meet God in its pages.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Admit it. You didn’t expect a children’s book in this list. It’s the book my wife and I give away most, hoping people not only read it to their kids, but read it—and love it—for themselves. Lloyd-Jones poignantly shows how every story in Scripture is in some way pointing to the bigger story of what God is doing in Christ. By the way, there is a grown-up version now, so you don’t have to be self-conscious reading it at Starbucks.

Wondering where to start? Try this order:

  1. The Jesus Storybook Bible 
  2. God’s Big Picture
  3. According to Plan
  4. Preaching the Whole Bible 
  5. Christ-Centered Preaching (select chapters)
  6. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (only when ready for brain implosion)

I pray your Christ-centered Bible study journey is as energizing, fun, and formative as mine was, is, and continues to be. Happy reading!


Review: ESV Journaling Bible

I love the English Standard Version Bible. In my personal reading and study and in my preaching and other ministry, this is the primary version I use. I’m thankful to God for such a literal yet readable translation. So I was happy to receive a free copy of the ESV Journaling Bible published by Crossway to review.

I’m not reviewing the text of Scripture, here, but let me offer some brief thoughts on why the ESV is a worthy translation. It’s not a perfect translation. You should consult other trusted translations (e.g. NIV, NASB, HCSB). We are spoiled with how many good translations we have in English. But to me, the ESV is head and shoulders above the rest. Here are a few thoughts, which I can thank Kevin DeYoung for. The ESV uses an “essentially literal” philosophy, which makes it more transparent of an translation than other options. Embedded into this philosophy is, what I call, the ambiguity principle (this is a good thing!). In other words, the reader must wrestle with the text because the ESV translators translate not interpret. This means that the ESV does less “over-translation” (trying to communicate more than what was intended) and less “under-translation” (watering down words with deep meanings) than other versions.

The ESV also seeks to keep translation of a word in context the same throughout a passage a book. First John 2:10, 24, for example translates the same Greek word (menō) as “abide,” whereas the NIV translates it as “lives” and “remain(s).”

Finally, the ESV retains more of the literary qualities of the Bible. The Bible is a divine book, but also a human one. Figures of speech are less likely to be removed of their earthiness or tangibility in the ESV. Again, the ambiguity principle! Compare Ps. 35:10, 73:10; 78:33; and Pr. 27:6 in the ESV and NIV for examples.

Now let me offer some bullet-point thoughts on the layout and aesthetics of the Journaling Bible.

  • It comes in a beautifully designed cardboard case for safe keeping.
  • The cover is hardboard with a cloth overlay. There are nine different design options.
  • Other than the ESV text, this edition includes articles on why to read the Bible, what the Bible says about certain topics, God’s plan of salvation, introductions to each of the 66 biblical books, and a one-year Bible reading plan.
  • There are no cross references in the ESV text, but there are footnotes which point out textual variants or alternative meanings of various Hebrew/Greek words.
  • The point size of the Scripture text is a fairly small. This would be my only negative critique. I would suppose this is inevitable because, of course, room needs to be made for the 2-inch ruled margins for journaling. If your eyes are growing ever less dependable, this might not be the Bible edition for you.

Simply put: it’s another wonderful, beautiful, helpful Bible edition from Crossway.

The good news is you can get in on this! I’m giving away a FREE copy of the ESV Journaling Bible (in the blue flora design). Here’s how you can win. You get one “entry” for each thing you do:

  1. “Like” this post below.
  2. Link back to this post on your blog.
  3. Share this post on Facebook.
  4. Share this post on Twitter.
  5. Subscribe to my blog (you can do that here or click “Follow” at the bottom of this page). If you already do, let me know if your comment below.
  6. Follow me on Twitter. If you already do, let me know in your comment below.
  7. Comment on this post and 1) tell me why you could use a free journaling Bible, and 2) which of the above entries you did.

You have until Friday, November 13 at 5pm to enter. A winner will be announced on Monday, November 16. Good luck!

Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

 Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.


Review: The Message 100

Just a few years ago, I was not a fan of The Message, Eugene Peterson’s translation of the Bible. I could never put my finger on it. Perhaps I found its vocabulary a bit too colorful. Perhaps I thought one man surely couldn’t “write the Bible.” I’m not sure. I just knew I didn’t like it.

But then I met Eugene Peterson.

I didn’t meet him in person. I met him watching an old pastor share stories in YouTube interviews. I met him at the gym on my iPod in seminary guest lectures. I met him on vacations and on cold, dark mornings in books on pastoral ministry and prayer. I easily noticed that he always exalted Jesus, never failed to remind me of the earthiness of Scripture (it’s a raw, honest, messy place), and imaginatively articulated that God is always up to something in the world.

I started reading The Message. And I came to see that it was produced by the hands of a blue-collar pastor. No, not a guy who also swung a hammer for a living, but a faithful minister who worked hard to get the message of the Bible into the hands and hearts of his congregation. As a pastor myself, I identified with this. Is there anything more important? Peterson’s solution was to produce a translation that fit the language of the world in which his congregation lived. He became a bridge-builder between two worlds, the world of the Bible and the world of today.

The Message 100 is Peterson’s latest effort to get the Bible into the hands and hearts of God’s people. In the preface, he writes about his translation process as a pastor:

Out of necessity I became a ‘translator’ (although I wouldn’t have called it that then), on the border between two worlds, getting the language of the Bible that God uses to create and save us, heal and bless us, judge and rule over us, into the language of Today that we use to gossip and tell stories, give directions and do business, sing songs and talk to our children (A8).

Peterson calls his translation a “reading Bible.” It’s not mainly a Bible to study (though Peterson admits that is important and his work does not replace other versions). Instead The Message is designed to get you lost in the text so that you are awakened to God and his story.

And that’s where The Message 100 is especially helpful.  It is the entire text of Peterson’s The Message divided into 100 readings—100 chronological sequences—of God’s story. Each reading covers anywhere from a few to several chapters of the Bible. The readings are chronological according to when they were written (so, for example, Readings 1-4 consist of Genesis; Readings 5-8 covers Job; the Apostle John readings round things out in Readings 97-100 ).

The Message 100 will help you experience the Bible the way it was intended to be experienced—it’s more like reading a novel than a series of propositional truths or Aesop’s Fables. The Bible is the “unfolding story of God revealing himself to the people he dearly loves” (A15).  The Message 100 will help you see this with minimal distractions (chapter and verse numbers are in small print in the margin). The readings are divided up and sectioned-off based on author’s intent and literary contextual clues. You could easily work through the entire Bible in 100 days by reading through this work.

Let me add one more thing you might like to know.. While Peterson himself wrote The Message, he isn’t accountability-free. In the forward, U2 frontman Bono writes, “Peterson is upfront with us in saying that his own translation…is a paraphrase. That we should receive it as through the filter of his own life as a pastor” (A5). That’s important and encouraging. But more than that, page A13 lists twenty translation consultants from respected seminaries, colleges, and universities who have reviewed Peterson’s work to ensure that it is accurate and faithful to the original languages. There are times when Peterson appears to do more interpreting than translating (e.g. Genesis 3:16). But there is never a major doctrine in question and it happens too infrequently for me to throw the whole Message baby out with the linguistic bath water. Besides, Peterson began as a biblical language scholar. With academic accountability, a reverent approach to Scripture, and a pastor’s heart, Peterson is someone I can trust.

I heartily commend The Message 100 to you. If you are skeptical, then read it with a standard Bible version close by. But read The Message and get lost on that bridge Peterson has kindly built for us, the bridge between the language of then and now. Find yourself in between the two worlds of the Bible and Today. While you are there, hear the God of the universe (and the bridge) speak, and discover his world, his plan, his beauty, his salvation. And enjoy him there.


A Simple Way to Pray

I’ve been writing a bit lately on prayer (see here and here), with more to come. In between posts I wanted to provide you with a resource for your prayer life. It is a short booklet by Martin Luther called A Simple Way to Prayer. You may already be familiar with it, and even if you are it’s worth another read.

In this booklet, Luther helps Peter Beskendorf, his barber, understand how to pray. One might be inclined to think that Luther, a theological giant in church history, would complicate prayer, making it difficult for non-theological giants like us. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Luther was an academic, yes; but he was primarily a pastor. Luther wanted the church to recover the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers—the truth that believers had access to God through Christ, and therefore, all believers could learn to pray.

So this booklet is not an doctrinal treatise on prayer. It’s a how-to manual. It’s a field guide. And it comes from a man who prayed—fervently and often. A Simple Way to Pray focuses on meditating on Scripture and turning those meditations into conversation with God. He comments on praying the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Commandments, and the Creed.

So sit and learn how to pray from Martin Luther. Here’s a few ways to get the book:

I’d go with the free option if I were you (the paperback book is 64 pages, so the price per page is pretty steep). Free help for your prayer life from Martin Luther. How you can pass that up?


Review: Women of the Word

My wife Carly was kind enough to read and review a recent release from Crossway by Jen Wilkin, a Bible teacher and author from Dallas. Here are her brief thoughts on the book (and I can speak for her: she gives it five stars!).

Jen Wilkin. Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014. $9.94 (Amazon).

Jen Wilkin is an author and Bible teacher who attends the Dallas mega-church The Village. In this new book intended to help women in their study of Scripture, Jen reveals her own struggle with being raised in church yet being biblically ignorant. This gives the book such a real and personable feel. No one wants to learn from someone who claims they have it all together! Her personal stories are easy to relate to and help the reader understand the information in the book. The chapters are quick and easy to read, but contain vital content for becoming more biblically literate.

In the opening pages, Jen talks about the mountain of Biblical illiteracy many Christians face (chs. 1-2). And she says that this mountain must be moved one spoonful at a time. Yes! But just by the end of the introduction, I was ready to put on my work boots and start digging!

The highlight of the book comes in chapter 6 where Jen talks about the process of study. Her very practical process does seem a bit daunting and time consuming (especially to this stay at home mom of two toddlers!) but our generation is biblically illiterate and starving for a reason. We assume we don’t have time to study the Bible in depth so we give ourselves 5 minutes a day to “read the Bible” which really just means reading the verse of the day that we have texted to us while we’re brushing our teeth. The biggest take-away for me–the one line that stood out–was when she wrote, “The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.” I think I shouted “Amen!” out loud at that point.  If we want to know and love God deeply, we must know and love his Word. You must spend time studying God’s word if you want to know and love him!

If you gain nothing else from this book (believe me, though, you will gain more than this), you will gain a hunger to know God’s word deeply, and be mastered and changed by it.

So, I highly recommend this book to new and mature believers alike. I would love to see women’s ministries in churches read this book before launching into Bible and book studies which are helpful, but may not teach women to study the Bible for themselves.  It’s easy to read and engaging even for people who don’t usually read non-fiction.

After reading only a few chapters (and hi-lighting every other line), I arranged for a friend to read it with me and we meet and talk about it weekly. It’s been helpful for us to digest together and keep each other accountable in our study of Scripture.

Thank you, Jen, for writing this very practical and helpful tool that I hope and pray will be used to bring about spiritual renewal and Biblical literacy among Christians today!