Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

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3 years 2 months ago

So what do you do, as a book reviewer, when a good friend writes a book? What would you do if a good friend wrote a not-so-good book? I think about these things sometimes. Thankfully it is not a concern with my friend David Murray and his new book Jesus On Every Page. This is a good book. An excellent book, even.

I have a soft spot for books that present subjects that are generally reserved for the halls of academia in a way that is accessible to a general audience. Jesus On Every Page is just such a book. It is “an accessible guide to the increasingly subject of Jesus in the Old Testament. Although much has been written to help pastors with preaching Jesus from the Old Testament, there is little that provides sound principles and practical help for the average Christian who wants to explore this important way of knowing Jesus through His Word.”

This is a book that shows how and where Jesus is present in the Old Testament and a book that equips us all to find him and worship him there. David focuses less on the stories and more on the story; less on the heroes and more on the Hero. Not only does this book assure us that Jesus is in the Old Testament and is, in fact, the hero of the Old Testament, it also provides a whole series of methods of discovering and, even better, knowing Jesus in the pages of the Old Testament scriptures.

One of the book’s unique strengths is that it is told biographically. David introduces the subject by tracing his own journey of discovery, as he walked his own road to Emmasus, and not as one who learned it all in a seminary classroom many decades ago. This takes it far out of dry academia and breathes so much life into it.

He focuses on ten ways we can find Jesus in the Old Testament Scriptures and along the way manages to alliterate all ten of the chapter titles:

  1. Christ’s Planet
  2. Christ’s People
  3. Christ’s Presence
  4. Christ’s Precepts
  5. Christ’s Past
  6. Christ’s Prophets
  7. Christ’s Pictures
  8. Christ’s Promises
  9. Christ’s Proverbs
  10. Christ’s Poets

(I have always considered Steve Lawson the master of alliteration, but David may be rivaling him in that department. I wonder if we could get David and Steve together, give them some topics, and watch them have an alliteration battle!)

Jesus On Every Page is a book for all of us, an entry-level guide to the presence of Jesus in the Old Testament scriptures. It’s a book you should consider reading. Parents will benefit as they grow in their ability to read those Old Testament passages—especially those tricky Old Testament passages—and find Christ there for the benefit of their children. Though it is not written specifically for pastors, they, too, will benefit from reading it as they grow in their ability to find and worship Jesus Christ in the Old Testament.

Jesus On Every Page is available at Amazon.

3 years 8 months ago
Galatians is all about the gospel. It’s obvious, I guess, and yet many people seem to miss the sheer gospel-centeredness of the book with all the joy and freedom it holds out. Perhaps more than any other book of the Bible it shows with utter clarity that the gospel is not only the message that saves us, but the message that underlies and empowers all of the Christian life.

Galatians For You is a new book from Tim Keller that simply opens up the epistle to the Galatians, teaching it verse-by-verse. It is the first in a new series of expository guides from The Good Book Company—a series I’m excited about. These are books that can be used to read, to feed and to lead—to read on your own, to feed you devotionally and to help you lead others through Galatians. It can be read from cover-to-cover as any other book; it can be read as a personal Bible study; it can be a curriculum for a group study. It will prove excellent in any of those contexts.

Keller wants the reader “to see Paul showing the young Christians in Galatia that their spiritual problem is not only caused by failing to live in obedience to God, but also by relying on obedience to Him. We’re going to see him telling them that all they need—all they could ever need—is the gospel of God’s unmerited favor to them through Christ’s life, death and resurrection. We’re going to hear him solving their issues not through telling them to ‘be better Christians’, but by calling them to live out the implications of the gospel.”

With all the talk of being gospel-centered today, this book takes us to Galatians and clearly, helpfully illustrates exactly how Paul called on the people he loved to center their lives and their church upon the gospel.

As with all of Keller’s books, this one is full of the gospel and full of powerful quotes. Here are just a few favorites:

  • “This is the humbling truth that lies at the heart of Christianity. We love to be our own saviors. Our hearts love to manufacture glory for themselves. So we find messages of self-salvation extremely attractive, whether they are religious (Keep these rules and you earn eternal blessing) or secular (Grab hold of these things and you’ll experience blessing now).”
  • “If you add anything to Christ as a requirement for acceptance with God—if you start to say: To be saved I need the grace of Christ plus something else—you completely reverse the ‘order’ of the gospel and make it null and void. Any revision of the gospel reverses the gospel.”
  • “The Bible judges the church; the church does not judge the Bible. The Bible is the foundation for and the creator of the church; the church is not the foundation for or creator of the Bible. The church and its hierarchy must be evaluated by the believer with the biblical gospel as the touchstone or plumb line for judging all truth claims.”
  • “Christians tend to motivate others with guilt. We tend to say: You would do this if you were really committed Christians, indicating that we are committed and all that is needed is for others to become as good as we are! This is why so many churches quench the motivation of people for ministry. In our shoes, Paul would say: Remember the grace God has showered on you—what does living out and enjoying that grace look like in this situation?”
  • “For a promise to bring a result, it needs only to be believed, but for a law to bring a result, it has to be obeyed.”
  • “Without the gospel, we may obey the law, but we will learn to hate it. We will use it, but we will not truly love it. Only if we obey the law because we are saved, rather than to be saved, will we do so “for God” (Galatians 2:19). Once we understand salvation-by-promise, we do not obey God any longer for our sake, by using the law-salvation-system to get things from God. Rather, we now obey God for His sake, using the law’s content to please and delight our Father.”

That is just a small taste of what is a fantastic book.

I read the book at a moderate pace and enjoyed it thoroughly. I intend to go right back and read it again, this time much more slowly, and this time with Aileen, as a part of our morning devotions together. I learned a lot the first time, and I know that I will learn a lot more as I read it again.

6 years 1 month ago
A few weeks ago I received an ESV Bible Atlas, a brand new product from Crossway. I had meant to review it, but for some reason found it difficult to do so. The reason may be that I’ve never spent any significant amount of time reading a Bible atlas before and this means that I’ve got little reference for comparison. Of course I know that such an atlas is a valuable companion to anyone seeking to study the Bible, and especially the Old Testament.

So let me tell you about some of the features of this atlas, all of which are plenty impressive, even if I don’t know how they stack-up against the competition. According to the publisher’s description:

Capitalizing on recent advances in satellite imaging and geographic information systems, the Crossway ESV Bible Atlas offers Bible readers a comprehensive, up-to-date resource that blends technical sophistication with readability, visual appeal, and historical and biblical accuracy.

All the key methods of presenting Bible geography and history are here, including more than 175 full-color maps, 70 photographs, 3-D re-creations of biblical objects and sites, indexes, timelines, and 65,000 words of narrative description. The atlas uniquely features regional maps detailing biblically significant areas such as Egypt, Mesopotamia, Italy, and Greece. It also includes a CD with searchable indexes and digital maps, and a removable, 16.5 x 22-inch map of Palestine.

This carefully crafted reference tool not only sets a new standard in Bible atlases but will help ESV readers more clearly understand the world of the Bible and the meaning of Scripture.

The Atlas contains:

  • 175 full-color maps
  • 70 full-color photographs
  • 3-D re-creations of biblical objects and sites
  • Indexes
  • Timelines
  • 65,000 words of narrative description

Let me say a word about its structure. Part 1 contains an introduction and overview to the biblical world; Part 2 takes a look at the historical geography of the biblical world, which is to say that it looks at the Bible from one historical era to the next; Part 3 turns to the regional geography of the biblical world and looks to the biblical lands region by region; and Part 4 contains appendixes, indexes and timelines. When I think of an atlas I think of book that contains only maps. Simple, right? This atlas contains far more than that. It weighs in at 350 pages and is jam-packed with information.

Already I’ve found the Atlas useful in family devotions. We have been reading 2 Samuel and have found a few occasions to look up maps, buildings or diagrams. It would have been very useful when we were in Exodus, reading about the Ark and Tabernacle. I also anticipate that it will come in handy as I study the Old Testament on my own; it is always difficult to keep separate in my mind all the regions, nations and cities and I know that Atlas will help with all of these things.

Overall, the ESV Bible Atlas seems to be a very valuable reference and one that will benefit any individual or family. But don’t just take my word for it. Here is what Wayne Grudem says (and you know he is far more qualified to pass judgment than I am): “A remarkably beautiful and rich resource for historical, geographical, and archaeological background material that will deepen our understanding of each section of the Bible and increase our appreciation of the Bible’s amazing historical accuracy.”

7 years 4 weeks ago
When it comes to the Bible, we, in the English-speaking world, are profoundly blessed for we have at our disposal scores of translations of Scripture. While they range from excellent to abysmal, in many cases even the worst of them is far superior to the best available in any number of other languages. And, of course, we acknowledge that multitudes of languages remain which still have no access at all to God’s Word. Certainly we have little cause to complain and every cause to express gratitude to God. We have the luxury and responsibility even, of not just studying the Bible, but of first seeking out the best translation available. And that is increasingly becoming a daunting task as each seems to have its strengths and its weaknesses. Meanwhile, the translation philosophies that bring about such strengths and weaknesses remain hidden to most readers who prefer to leave such discussions in the hands of the academics.

In 2002 Leland Ryken wrote The Word of God in English, a book that laid out the criteria for a superior translation of the Bible into the English language. Though not quite an academic book, neither was it particularly easy reading. Still, it did a good of presenting arguments for what Ryken calls an “essentially literal” approach to translating the Bible. An essentially literal translation is one that strives to translate the exact words of the original-language text but not in such a rigid way as to violate the normal rules of language and syntax in the receptor language. The Word of God in English cemented in my mind the importance of selecting an excellent translation of Scripture and of having confidence that the words we read in the Bible are the words the Author intended for us to read.

Seven years later, Ryken returns with Understanding English Bible Translation. It is shorter and more streamlined than its predecessor and is written for more of a general audience. Also, it is updated, reflecting new realities that have come about even in the past seven years. It is a book that any Christian can read and understand, avoiding the more difficult nuances and focusing primarily on the big-picture. Ryken’s purpose is to show once more the superiority of the essentially literal approach to translation and to display the negative consequences of depending upon lesser translation philosophies such as dynamic equivalence or paraphrasing.

Ryken launches a five-pronged attack. In the book’s first part, he provides an overview of the issues related to translation and provides answers to common questions associated with translating the Bible. In part two he briefly tells the story of English Bible translation, starting with Wycliffe and continuing to Eugene Peterson and beyond. The third part looks to the two main genres of Bible translation, showing how the two genres are, foundationally, vastly different. They have divergent goals for translation, divergent views of the Bible, divergent views of the Bible’s authors, reader and translators, divergent methods of translation and divergent styles of translation. In the fourth part he provides a vision for the ideal English Bible translation before, in part five, showing how an accurate, high-quality translation of the Bible is of critical importance to the life of the church.

Throughout, he argues well. I must say, though, that a weakness remains that, in my mind, threatens to undo his argument and it is this: his definition of an essentially literal translation remains just a little bit too nebulous, a little too subjective. I realize that a brief definition can hardly capture all of the complexities of a translation philosophy, but still, I do wonder at times whether perhaps the lines are just a little too hazy. It seems that any translation is only as strong as its greatest compromise and every translation must in some way compromise the original words. Though this does not hamper the book itself or the issues it introduces, I do feel that it is often lingering in the background but that it goes largely unaddressed.

I am of the opinion that every Christian can benefit from reading a good book on the subject of Bible translation. When we understand the issues faced by translators, and when we then turn to a sound version of the Bible, we have renewed confidence that the words before us are the very words of God. And this, really, is the core of most of Ryken’s arguments. He wants Christians to have before them a Bible that accurately conveys the words that God has spoken—not a paraphrase of those words, not an interpretation of them, but simply a translation that, as much as possible, takes the exact words of the original and carries them over to English. One would think that this would not be difficult to come by, but the modern history of English Bible translation shows few versions that adhere to this philosophy.

In Understanding English Bible Translation Ryken argues persuasively that there is much to gain in depending upon an essentially literal translation of Scripture and he argues equally well that there is potential for great loss if we turn instead to dynamic equivalents or other less-stringent translations. The book is suitable for any Christian reader and whether you choose to read this book or another like it, I am convinced you will benefit from understanding the distinctions between the genres and from grappling with the larger issues. In the end I hope, I trust, you will have greater confidence in the Bible you read.

7 years 3 months ago

The more I read of this book the more comfortable I am declaring it one of the best books I’ve ever read. I hope that is no small praise as I’ve read an awful lot of books. But this, at least through the first half (or nearly half) is speaking to me in a way few books do. The teaching is powerful, the illustrations superb. I have read and enjoyed Burroughs in the past, but never as much as I am enjoying reading The Rare Jewel.


Having dedicated three chapters to “The Mystery of Contentment,” Burroughs turns now to two chapters that explain “How Christ Teaches Contentment.” I had taken this to be a look at Christ’s modeling of contentment through his life and ministry, but this is not quite it. Instead, he shows how Christ teaches contentment through the Word and through the Spirit. In the first of these chapters he offers six ways Christ does this:

The Lesson of Self-Denial. “Just as no-one can be a scholar unless he learns his ABC, so you must learn the lesson of self-denial or you can never become a scholar in Christ’s school, and be learned in this mystery of contentment.” He looks at ways that Christ teaches self-denial and how each brings about contentment. 1) Such a person learns to know that he is nothing. 2) I deserve nothing. 3) I can do nothing. 4) I am so vile that I cannot of myself receive any good. 5) We can make use of nothing when we have it, if God but withdraws himself. 6) We are worse than nothing. 7) If we perish we will be no loss. 8) Through self-denial the soul comes to rejoice and take satisfaction in all God’s ways. (Has anyone else noticed that he has a bad habit of flipping between the first person singular and the first person plural? Where was his editor?)

Here is one of my favorite quotes from this section: “Christ teaches the soul this, so that, as in the presence of God on a real sight of itself, it can say: ‘Lord, I am nothing, Lord, I deserve nothing, Lord, I can do nothing, I can receive nothing, and can make use of nothing, I am worse than nothing, and if I come to nothing and perish I will be no loss at all and therefore is it such a great thing for me to be cut short here?’ A man who is little in his own eyes will account every affliction as little, and every mercy as great.”

The Vanity of the Creature. Let me just quote Burroughs here as he uses one of his trademark illustrations: “Many men think that when they are troubled and have not got contentment it is because they have but a little in the world, and that if they had more then they should be content. That is just as if a man were hungry, and to satisfy his craving stomach he should gape and hold open his mouth to take in the wind, and then should think that the reason why he is not satisfied is because he has not got enough of the wind; no, the reason is because the thing is not suitable to a craving stomach. Yet there is really the same madness in the world: the wind which a man takes in by gaping will as soon satisfy a craving stomach ready to starve, as all the comforts in the world can satisfy a soul who knows what true happiness means. You would be happy, and you seek after such and such comforts in the creature.”

To Know the One Thing Needful. Just as Jesus taught this lesson to Martha, he teaches it to us. “I see that it is not necessary for me to be rich, but it is necessary for me to make my peace with God; it s not necessary that I should live a pleasurable life in this world, but it is absolutely necessary that I should have pardon of my sin; it is not necessary that I should have honor and preferment, but it is necessary that I should have God as my portion, and have my part in Jesus Christ, it is necessary that my soul should be saved in the day of Jesus Christ.”

To Know One’s Relation to the World. Through the Spirit Christ teaches the Christian in what relation his soul is to the world. He teaches that the Christian is just a pilgrim, a sojourner, on this earth. His true home is in heaven. “Consider what your condition is, you are pilgrims and strangers; so do not think to satisfy yourselves here. When a man comes into an inn and sees there a fair cupboard of plate, he is not troubled that it is not his own.- Why? Because he is going away. So let us not be troubled when we see that other men have great wealth, but we have not.-Why? We are going away to another country; you are, as it were, only lodging here, for a night. If you were to live a hundred years, in comparison to eternity it is not as much as a night, it is as though you were travelling, and had come to an inn. And what madness is it for a man to be discontented because he has not got what he sees there, seeing he may be going away again within less than a quarter of an hour?”

Wherein the Good of the Creature Is. Christ teaches that the good of the creature consists in the enjoyment of God in anything, everything. “When a Christian, who has been in the school of Christ, and has been instructed in the art of contentment, has some wealth, he thinks, In that I have wealth above my brethren, I have an opportunity to serve God the better, and I enjoy a great deal of God’s mercy conveyed to my soul through the creature, and hereby I am enabled to do a great deal of good: in this I reckon the good of my wealth. And now that God has taken this away from me, if he will be pleased to make up the enjoyment of himself some other way, will call me to honor him by suffering, and if I may do God as much service now by suffering, that is, by showing forth the grace of his Spirit in my sufferings as I did in prosperity, I have as much of God as I had before. So if I may be led to God in my low condition, as much as I was in my prosperous condition, I have as much comfort and contentment as I had before.”

The Knowledge of One’s Own Heart. According to Burroughs, “a Christian, next to the Book of God, is to look into the book of his own heart, and to read over that, and this will help you to contentment in three ways.” The three ways are: 1) By studying your heart you will come soon to discover wherein your discontent lies. 2) This knowledge of our hearts will help us to contentment, because by it we shall come to know what best suits our condition. 3) By knowing their own hearts they know what they are able to manage, and by this means they come to be content. I particularly enjoyed this third point—that when we study our own hearts we will realize that some of what God takes from us, he takes because he knows we would not be able to manage it. He knows our limitations far better than we do. “We would not cry for some things if we knew that we were not able to manage them.”

This is growing long so I will stop here! But suffice it to say that I consider this the best chapter and I am (literally) excited to get to next week’s reading.

Next Week

For next week, just press on with chapter 6, “How Christ Teaches Contentment (Concluded).”


The purpose of this program is to read these classics together. So if there is something you’d like to share about what you read, please feel free to do so. You can leave a comment or a link to your blog and we’ll make this a collaborative effort.
7 years 3 months ago

There's Treasure Everywhere

I’ve always loved Calvin & Hobbes. My friend Brian first introduced me to the comic strip back when I was a young teen and I immediately fell in love with it. (Here is a must-have for any true fan: The Complete Calvin & Hobbes). The strip works on at least two levels. There is the philosophical level where Calvin and his tiger discuss topics of science, philosophy and religion that are clearly far beyond the grasp of a six-year old mind. Yet they reflect the questions most people wrestle with during their lives. And then there is the more realistic level, where Calvin is just a young boy doing what boys do: learning to ride a bike, going to school, imaging himself as a superhero or astronaut, building snow forts, fighting with girls, and digging for treasure. Every young boy is convinced that there’s treasure everywhere. Any boy with a strong imagination will realize that there truly is treasure everywhere.

As you well know, I use this web site to discuss a wide variety of topics. I post personal reflections, book reviews and links to other sites I recommend. I write articles about theology, current issues, sexuality, philosophy and just about anything else that crosses my mind. I may not offer reflections that are particularly deep and original, but surely no one can complain about the variety!

One of the great benefits of having this site and of committing to contribute to it each day is that it has forced me to think a lot and to think widely. My wife will be the first to tell that she often has to snap me out of moments of thought where I am present in body but absent in mind. She will also have to testify that I often use her as an initial audience for what I am thinking about. I am quite convinced that my eclectic range of interests often frustrates and bewilders her. She is good to put up with me. Every day my mind wanders. Sooner or later it rests for a while on a particular subject—some news tidbit I’ve seen on the Internet or a word or phrase or idea I’ve read in a book. And then I just have to let my mind run for a while to see what I think about what I’ve discovered and to see how it relates to the Christian life. I often think best while writing, jotting down my thoughts as they come to me. I often turn to the Bible, allowing the thoughts to lead me through the Bible, helping me understand what God says about the issue.

The more I have thought about different topics, the more I’ve realized that there is theology everywhere. And this is what motivates me to write; it’s what motivates me to read and to think and to explore. Everywhere I turn I see theology, whether in a book about the atoning work of Jesus Christ or in a book about the future of business or in a biography of a man who lives half a world away. Sometimes the theology is lying on the surface, exposed and easy to see. Sometimes it is hidden within and just needs to be coaxed out. But always there is something to think about, something to wrestle with, something to help me think deeply about how Christians are to live in this world.

Now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not one of these people who watches R-rated movies and tries to read into them some kind of redemptive theology that is simply not present. But it seems that every time I read the news and every book I read I find something that is profound, something that is or should be theological. Everything I read seems to provide some starting point for deeper reflection.

And I guess this is what this web site has become. It’s become a place where I try to unearth treasure. It’s a place where I write down and post my thoughts about a theology of, well, everything. When I read about technology I want to understand how this technology will impact the church. When I read about psychology or current events I want to learn how Christians need to respond. When I read about history or economics I want to see what the Bible has to say about these things. I want to know how they impact me as a Christian and how I should think about them and react to them to the glory of God.

As I continue to try to grapple with these things, I realize more and more my dependence on the Holy Spirit. He leads me into truth. He leads me into and through Scripture where the answers can be found. And ultimately he leads me to Jesus Christ who in turn points me to the Father, so I can bring the glory and the praise to Him. I can see that I need to improve in my ability to allow myself to be led to the cross and to share the shadow of the cross as it falls over all areas of theology. But I know, and am convinced, that there’s a theology of everything. There’s treasure everywhere. And I get such a thrill out of finding it.

8 years 2 weeks ago
I still remember getting my first study Bible. It was many years ago, probably in the late 80’s, that my parents gave me the gift of a brand new NIV Study Bible. I used that Bible daily for many years though it was eventually replaced by a New Geneva Study Bible in the NKJV translation and after that by a Reformation Study Bible in the ESV. Today, if you drop by my home in the early morning, you are likely to see me reading from the Literary Study Bible, also in the ESV. On the bookcase in my office I have a copy of the Archaeological Study Bible (NIV), the MacArthur Study Bible (NASB) and The Apologetics Study Bible (HCSB). A visit to a local Christian bookstore will turn up many more and a search of publishers’ “Coming Soon” lists will show more still. Truly there is no lack of study Bibles available to us. And into this crowded field steps a newcomer, the ESV Study Bible.

Though I typically will not review a book until I have read every word, I have had to make an obvious exception for this title. Reading every word of the 20,000 study notes and the more than 50 articles would be a time-consuming task. This Bible’s 2,752 pages boast almost 2 million words. This makes it around 700 pages longer than most of the other study Bibles available today. However, I have had access to the complete text for several weeks now and have taken many opportunities to read through parts of the Bible.

The ESV team has done an excellent job of generating excitement for the ESV Study Bible and particularly so among the type of person who tends to read my book reviews. So in this review I will try to cut through the hype and, to the best of my ability, judge this new Bible on its own merits. After all, at $35 or $40 for the hardcover edition (and upwards of $200 for the premium calfskin edition) this Bible is not an insignificant investment.

How to Use a Study Bible

There are some Christians who feel that study Bibles are not ultimately helpful to Christians. After all, we have been given the Holy Spirit who promises to us that He will help us to know and to apply the Scriptures. While I understand these concerns, I feel that study Bibles can be immensely helpful and especially so to those who do not have extensive reference libraries or extensive theological training. However, these Bibles must be used properly. The biblical text must book-end any study of Scripture. The Introduction to the ESV Study Bible says it well. “The best way to use a study Bible, therefore, is always to begin and end with the words of the Bible. We should always begin by reading the Bible’s actual words, seeking with our hearts and our minds to understand these words and apply them to our lives. Then, after starting with the words of the Bible itself, we can turn to the study notes and many other study Bible resources for information about the background to the text, for the meaning of puzzling words or phrases, and for connections to other parts of the Bible. Finally, we should return again to the Bible itself, reading it with a new and deeper understanding, asking God to speak through his Word to the situation of our life and to draw us near to himself.” We will proceed through this review with the understanding that the notes and maps and articles and cross-references within any study Bible, helpful though they may be, are only supplementary to the words of God.


It goes without saying that the heart of the ESV Study Bible is the English Standard Version. This is considered by many biblical scholars to be a superior translation of the Bible and it is fast becoming the de facto translation amongst conservative and Reformed Christians. For the purposes of this review I will not defend or criticize the ESV as a translation. However, it bears mention that, while I am not as dogmatic as some when it comes to Bible translations, I do feel that the ESV is the best translation available today. As I understand the issues, it represents the best combination of readability and faithful translation. It is a joy to read and I find it as simple as any translation to memorize. While there are several other excellent English translations available, the ESV is top of the class.

Look & Feel

The ESV Study Bible has launched with eight editions: Hardcover, TruTone Nat Brown, TruTone Classic Black, Black Bonded Leather, Burgundy Bonded Leather, Black Genuine Leather, Burgundy Genuine Leather and Premium Calfskin Leather.

In any edition the ESV Study Bible looks great. It is contemporary in its coloring (white is dominant with orange accents in the hardcover) and in the traiangle which shows up throughout (on the cover, to mark headings, and even as a bullet for lists of information). The rectangle has no deeper significance than a simple design element. In an interesting but effective design decision, the TruTone editions have this triangle stitched to the cover. The leather editions have “ESV” in large gold letters on the spine with “Study Bible,” “English Standard Version” and “Crossway” in smaller gold type. The TruTone has the same text but with the “ESV” embossed. The hardcover features black and orange backgrounds on the spine with the text printed over top. The standard ESV guarantee applies to these Bibles, meaning that a customer who discovers manufacturing defects during normal use can return the Bible to have it replaced with one of equal or greater value.

The Bible is made to be durable. It is smyth sewn which is the binding process considered by many to be the best and longest-lasting method. It allows the Bible to lie flat even on page one and on page 2,752 (at least in the TruTone). It is printed on “high-opacity, high-quality French Bible paper” and in a single-column format with the cross-references in the inside margin. The paper is thin and light but still sturdy. My two year-old put the Bible to the test when she inadvertently stepped on it while it was lying open. The page wrinkled under her heel but did not tear. I also learned from her that chewing gum can be removed from the cover of the TruTone while permanent marker cannot. The fonts are very dark and easy to read with a heavy black serif font for the biblical text and a thin black sans-serif for the notes and cross-references. The page headings are in a bold gray with page numbers in a thin gray. Chapter numbers are a large gray serif font while headings are italicized black sans-serif. The pages display a fair bit of bleed-through where, when you look at a page, you can see the ink showing through from the previous page or two. Most of us are accustomed to this bleed-through in our Bibles. Where it is a bit more apparent and distracting is where it shows through on the maps and illustrations.

One feature that has received much attention in the ESV Study Bible is its use of color. Most study Bibles offer maps and illustrations only in grayscale. The ESV Study Bible, though, offers full-color illustrations and maps. This is quite a nice feature. The splashes of color throughout, including colored highlighting and shading, are unexpected to my eye but very effective. Though the standard glossy maps in the back of the Bible are superior in quality to the ones scattered throughout, even the smaller maps are nicely done and provide important geographical context without having to slip to the Bible’s final pages. The illustrations, commissioned specifically for this project, are very well done and nicely supplement the notes.

ESV Study Bible Online

The ESV Study Bible is one of only a couple of study Bibles to offer an extensive online component to accompany the Bible. Included with each Bible is a registration code that will allow the customer to access the ESV Online Study Bible. There they will find the complete text of the Bible along with all of the study notes, articles, maps, and all the other features of the Bible. Unique online features include the ability to create and save personalized online notes; to search and follow interactive links between notes, maps, articles, charts, timelines, illustrations, and cross-references; and to listen to audio recordings of the ESV. It adds interactive features that are only possible in a computer-based environment. While the online component is a useful addition to the Bible (and a free one!), at this time it seems under-developed and I suspect many readers will find that they do not refer to it very often.


Each book of the Bible begins with an extensive introduction. This may include sections dealing with Time, Date and Title; Author; Theme; Key Themes; Purpose, Occasion and Background; Literary Features; Outline; and so on. Particularly important is the History of Salvation Summary which sets each of the books within the context of the wider body of Scripture and hence within the history of salvation. Introductions may also include timelines, maps, and notes on literary features specific to that book. In every case, the reader will receive a thorough explanation as to the book’s authorship, purpose and context in God’s plan of salvation.

The text notes vary in density but typically comprise about half of each page in the New Testament and perhaps a third in the Old Testament. They focus primarily on explanation and rarely on application. In one handy feature, highlighted notes correspond to primary points in the outline while highlighted verses and headings within the notes correspond to secondary points in the outline.


The ESV Study Bible has been produced by as good a group of scholars as any study Bible. The General Editor is Wayne Grudem, the Theological Editor is J.I. Packer, the Old Testament Editor is C. John Collins and the New Testament Editor is Thomas Schreiner. The study note contributors represent a broad cross-section of reputable Evangelical scholars. The articles included within the Bible have been contributed by some well-known pastors and scholars, including John Piper, David Powlison, Darrell Bock, Leland Ryken, R. Kent Hughes, Daniel Wallace, and many more.

Controversial Theology

One concern people are likely to have when considering a new study Bible concerns the theological perspective offered in the notes. Does this particular study Bible take a Reformed or Arminian position on salvation? A complementarian or egalitarian perspective on gender roles? An amillennial or premillennial position on the end times? I looked through many of the notes seeking what this Bible says on some of the more common controversies: end times, spiritual gifts and soteriology. I found this an interesting comparison with the Reformation Study Bible. It seems to me that the Reformation Study Bible came from a much more narrowly-defined theological position; it was Reformed, it was cessationist, it was amillennial. The ESV Study Bible, on the other hand, offers a wider or less-defined perspective. Where the doctrine is clear and undisputed among Evangelicals, so too are the notes. But where doctrines are controversial and within the area of Christian freedom or disputable matters, the notes tend not to take a firm position, even when the author or editor is firmly in one camp or the other. Whether this is positive or negative may well depend on the individual reader.

To satisfy my curiosity, I opened my NIV Study Bible, Reformation Study Bible, MacArthur Study Bible and ESV Study Bible and compared their notes on several areas of controversial theology—end times, predestination and spiritual gifts. None of these Bibles offered notes that were unbiblical so I was left looking for the differences in perspective. In general I found that the MacArthur Study Bible offered the most defined position. This makes good sense as it represents the position of a single individual. This was followed by the Reformation Study Bible which offers the position of many individuals but each of them drawn from a very consistent theological position. The ESV Study Bible came next, offering a charitable but open view on most of these issues. The NIV Study Bible seemed almost to shy away from some of the issues. So while it is clear that the ESV Study Bible is not distinctly Reformed in its position, neither is it Arminian. It is not cessationist or continuationist and is neither amillennial nor premillennial. In fact, it seems as if it emulates the parent who tells one of his children to cut the last piece of cake in half and the other to choose the first piece. In many cases a person from one perspective wrote the notes while a person from the other perspective screened them. This ensures the notes maintain both charity and some degree of objectivity in those areas of dispute.

Having looked at the areas of dispute, I would not hesitate to recommend the ESV Study Bible to either new or mature Christians. The matters at the heart of the faith are described and defended while the matters of lesser importance are presented charitably and non-dogmatically.


I suspect that many of the people reading this review will already be owners of at least one study Bible. I feel it is important to affirm that there is nothing innately wrong with the Reformation Study Bible, The New Geneva Study Bible, the MacArthur Study Bible and many of the other similar products. If you are currently using one of these Bibles and are happy with it, there may be fewer compelling reason to rush out and purchase the ESV Study Bible. I have used the Reformation Study Bible and its predecessor for many years with great benefit. I have no doubt that I will continue to refer to it.

With that said, I think the ESV Study Bible is an incredible resource. A long list of endorsers have expressed their excitement for its theological faithfulness, its accessibility, its insight, its scholarship, its practicality and its sheer excellence. I would simply append my name to this list. I agree wholeheartedly with C.J. Mahaney who writes, “I can’t imagine a greater gift to the body of Christ than the ESV Study Bible. It is a potent combination indeed: the reliability and readability of the ESV translation, supplemented by the best of modern and faithful scholarship, packaged in an accessible and attractive format. A Christian could make no wiser investment for himself, a pastor could recommend no better resource for his congregation.” This is a powerful resource and one that can aid any reader of Scripture. It is one I recommend wholeheartedly.

Early in this review I wrote, “Today, if you drop by my home in the early morning, you are likely to see me reading from the Literary Study Bible.” I think it’s safe to say that, if you drop by my home early tomorrow morning, you are likely to see me reading from the ESV Study Bible.

Buy It & Resources

Here are some excerpts from the ESV Study Bible:

Introduction to Psalms

Introduction to Isaiah

Jonah (full book)

Article: Reading the Bible


The ESV Study Bible is now widely available. I recommend Amazon (The ESV Study Bible) or Westminster Books:

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8 years 5 months ago

Last night I grabbed a few of the newest Banner books from the rather well-stocked bookstore here at the conference.

This morning Rick Phillips preached his second message on the book of Hebrews, this was entitled “Outside the Camp.” It was based on Hebrews 13:9-14: “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.” Those who were at Together for the Gospel will note that this was the same text that John Piper spoke on and while Phillips’ sermon was very different, there was certainly some overlap. He focused especially on verses 12 and 13, saying that these verses are the very heart of Hebrews. It is the heart of the pastoral message and motive that is being given to these Christians (and to us today). He warned against the lure of false teaching that draws big crowds and wins popularity and encouraged instead that pastors need to be willing to go outside the camp and to suffer there with Christ. The suffering of pastors as they face persecution for the message they preach is the same suffering that Christ passed through when He was on the cross. Pastors must be willing to bear the reproach that Christ has already endured.

After a brief break, Ian Hamilton took the pulpit to preach his second message, titled “The Minister’s Character.” His text was Isaiah 42:1-5. Looking to this text he showed that here we are introduced to the servant of the Lord—Jesus Christ Himself. There is no other kind of gospel ministry than that of servant ministry. So pastors need to consider, ponder, behold this servant. God raises up servant, the second man, the second Adam. He is God’s answer to the darkness and vanity. We see here that he is set up as the model of true servanthood.

Servants are answerable only to God and are committed to doing His will come what may. We are not only the servants of God but also of the people of God. If you do not have a heart for God’s people, you should not be in Christian ministry. If our hearers do not feel that they matter to us more than life itself, if they do not see, hear and feel in what we say to them and how we interact with them than their good matters to us more than life itself, our preaching will never impact their lives.

The remainder of the message was structured around found things the Lord tells us to behold in this passage. What is it that He is particularly reminding us to behold in Christ?

His complete dependence on God (“whom I uphold”) - The Savior was upheld by God and the Spirit of God was placed upon Him. It was by the power and grace that He was enabled to carry out His ministry. He lived and ministered in humble dependence upon His Father.

His unyielding faithfulness to God - He would allow nothing to distract or divert, far less determine, what He would do. He was utterly faithful to the calling God had given Him. We need to let this mind be in us—that Christ had a commission from the Father and though it would cost Him everything, He would pursue and fulfill it. Being united to this servant of the Lord, we must go through many tribulations to enter the kingdom.

His personal humility before God - The servant’s service was humble. He does not shout others down or seek to promote himself at the expense of others, for He is the servant of Jehovah. It is never enough to speak the truth; the way we speak the truth is every bit as important as the truth we seek.

His servant’s unimaginable grace that magnifies God - The Lord’s servant in this chapter is not less than God himself. He is the true revelation of Jehovah. Here is the animating pulse of the servant’s ministry—He is gentle with the weak and the fragile. But it is far easier to preach grace than to practice it. Christ doesn’t just welcome sinners—He runs after sinners and embraces them. Does this kind of grace mark our ministries? Does it mark our churches?

And finally, we need to note that God says “Behold my servant…in whom I delight.” God delights in those who preach His Word and He loves them. This gives grace and confidence to the servants of the Lord.

8 years 7 months ago
Bart Ehrman is a New Testament scholar who chairs the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has both an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary where he studied under the renowned scholar Bruce Metzger. Though he formerly considered himself a Christian and even pastored a church, he is now an avowed agnostic. Much of Ehrman’s career has been dedicated to attempting to prove that history has been incorrect in suggesting that it was heretics such as Marcion who were responsible for tampering with the original texts of the Bible. He suggests and attempts to prove that it was those who professed faith in Christ who sought to change the Scripture to force it to adapt to their beliefs. In the past decade he was written extensively, though the bulk of his work has been directed at the academy, as shown by such intimidating titles as The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effect of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament. But in recent years Ehrman has begun to write on a more popular level and has done something very unlikely—he has sold millions of books. At one point last year he had no less than three books on the bestseller lists.

It looks as if Ehrman is poised to repeat the success of Misquoting Jesus, his previous bestselling book, with his most recent title, God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question—Why We Suffer. It is a book that adopts an intimate, personal tone and one that is very nearly autobiographical. As an agnostic rather than an atheist Ehrman comes across as more human and more vulnerable than many of today’s popular atheist authors. Ehrman insists he does not hope to persuade people to de-convert from Christianity. Rather, he simply wants to show how the Bible cannot address the issue of suffering—the very issue that convinced him to abandon his Christian beliefs. He does not display the bravado we’ve become accustomed to from those who seek to lead people away from Christianity. He states, for example, that even many years after leaving the faith, the possibility of hell continues to trouble him and that there are still nights where he wakes up in a cold sweat. He writes as well of how much he misses being able to offer thanks for all the good things in his life. As an agnostic he has no one to whom he can offer thanks and this is clearly a sad void in his life. There is something almost tragic in reading about his life after God.

But beyond the story of wrestling with issues of suffering and eventually leaving the faith is an assessment of how the Bible describes suffering. Ehrman looks to Scripture and offers several answers provided within the Bible: that suffering is punishment for sin; that it is a consequence of sin; that it is redemptive; that it makes no sense whatsoever and that it is apocalyptic. In most cases he spends most of a chapter simply quoting Scripture and quite accurately summarizing the Christian position. At the end he expends a few paragraphs in explaining why he feels this position cannot provide an adequate answer. And the critical reader will have to realize here that in his analysis Ehrman refers to no authority other than his own. He assumes that if he is unable to see any purpose to suffering or if he is unable to understand a particular reason for suffering, it must be false. All he is able to offer are his subjective opinions and contextualized understandings.

The reader will also note that the entire book is tainted by the presuppositions Ehrman brings to bear on the text of the Bible. Time and time again we read statements like, “Scholars now realize…” or “Today scholars understand…” He offers little proof beyond such sweeping statements and refuses to acknowledge that scholarship is rarely as unanimous as he would like us to believe. The scholars he approves—those who share his presuppositions about the text of Scripture—would no doubt share his viewpoint. But there is hardly wide agreement about many of the issues upon which Ehrman constructs his case. He chooses to ignore the weight of all scholarship that contradicts what he believes. Little wonder, then, that he arrives at many of these conclusions. Though he may take it as a given that Job is the product of two authors and that Isaiah offers no foreshadowing of the death of Jesus Christ, multitudes of legitimate scholars will disagree.

As the book comes to a close, Ehrman shares his view that suffering is simply meaningless. “What we have in there here and now is all that there is. We need to live life to its fullest and help others as well to enjoy the fruits of the land.” He suggests that the proper response to suffering is not to attempt to understand it, but to attempt to alleviate it. Yet he imposes on the reader a kind of morality that is baseless. How can anyone who denies the existence of God legitimately proclaim “oughts?” On what basis ought we alleviate suffering? Without God there is no consistent basis for morality. Ehrman wishes to have his cake and to eat it too. He wants to deny God but to enjoy the benefits of the moral standards that arise from God. But he cannot rightly have it both ways.

Ultimately, and though the issue of suffering is very important and one to which Christians are prone to offer unsatisfying and trite answers, Ehrman largely ignores an even bigger question. He focuses on understanding why we suffer, but does not look through a wider lens to understand why there is such a thing as suffering in this world in the first place. Only when we understand why suffering exists at all are we equipped to ask why we suffer in particular circumstances. When we understand that suffering is a direct result of human rebellion against God, only then are we properly equipped to understand that suffering may have many ends and that it may accomplish many purposes. When we understand that God is in control of this world, we realize that there is no such thing as meaningless, purposeless suffering. Everything that happens does so under the sovereign control of a good and just God.

I enjoy reading Ehrman’s books. He has almost encyclopedic knowledge of the Scripture. He shares more of the Bible in the pages of this book than in almost any other book I’ve ever read. He knows its structure, knows its purpose and knows its languages. He knows far more about the Bible than the vast majority of Christians. Yet, at the same time, he knows far less about Scripture than even many children. In a classic case of missing the forest for the trees, he dedicates his life to studying and teaching Scripture, all the while missing its most important and deepest truths. What a tragedy.

9 years 1 week ago

Finding Your Purpose in This World

It seems to me that very few people today seek to understand life’s big picture. We live our day-to-day lives happily on the whole, but often disconnected from any wider understanding of life; free from any true sense of a wider meaning or purpose. When considering this fact author Charles Drew says, “We are free to be ourselves, but we are fuzzy about who we are and how we fit in with what is going on around us. We lack vision, in other words, and because we lack vision we lack the passion we need to cut our way through the inevitable setbacks and frequent dullness in whatever we have set out to do. In the absence of a story that connects us to what is going on around us (and to other people), life grows lonely and its purpose often shrinks down to the hollow and even frantic pursuit of whatever pays the biggest dividends (emotionally, spiritually, or materially).” To address this fuzziness, this lack of vision, Drew wrote a book he called A Journey Worth Taking. It is a book that addresses the universal human quest for meaning or what some would term calling.

A Journey Worth Taking is, quite simply, a book about living. It is a book about calling, about meaning and about worldview. It is an attempt to provide a framework around which we can understand life. Drew, a Presbyterian pastor who serves Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, writes in a way that is relevant but Scriptural, up-to-date with the culture, but always dependent upon the ancient Scriptures. And what a grand combination this is. Drew clearly has his finger on the pulse of the culture and is able to speak its language, even while remaining faithful to Scripture. He is able to use terminology that the culture will understand, but to do so while giving those terms biblical meaning and import.

The book is built around four great ideas, all of which are drawn from the Bible. They are:

  • Human life comes with built-in purpose.
  • Something goes wrong with how we express our purpose.
  • What gets ugly and destructive can be remade beautiful and right.
  • What we do matters, because we are going somewhere.

These big ideas are otherwise known as creation, fall, redemption and consummation and through the book’s 270 pages, Drew moves very deliberately through these ideas. He distinguishes between three levels of calling. In our primary calling, God calls us to Himself and to other people. Second, He calls us to self-discovery—to understanding and expressing who He has called us to be. And third, He calls us to serve in this world—to just do the things in this world that need to be done. We can only truly understand any sense of calling when we first understand that there is One who calls and that we are called first and foremost to know and to glorify Him. These levels of calling are examined through the biblical grid and are shown to provide a way that we can understand how life works. At the end of each chapter he pauses to provide insightful questions for discussion and reflection.

Though this is certainly not the first time I’ve encountered this four-fold grid, I was delighted to see what a useful tool it is to understand life and the reason God made us, the fall into sin, the redemption brought through Christ and the glorious consummation we anticipate with eager longing. It is useful in explaining why life doesn’t work the way it is supposed to and equally useful in showing how life can be redeemed.

Around the same time that I read this book I also read Joel Osteen’s Become a Better You. Though both books may be found on the same shelf in a bookstore, and where both claim to assist the quest for self-discovery, there is a marked difference between them. Where Osteen really acknowledges no authority outside of himself, Drew returns constantly to the Bible; where Osteen seems to turn to the Bible only to look for proof of what he already believes, Drew allows his understanding to be shaped and molded by Scripture. Osteen looks for no authority; Drew depends upon the authority that is his as he faithfully explains the Bible. The difference is pronounced; the difference makes all the difference. A Journey Worth Taking is the rare kind of book that I would confidently give away to either a Christian or a non-Christian friend. Unlike so many authors who deal with a similar subject, Drew carefully distinguishes between the Scripture’s promises for believers and its promises for unbelievers; he does not extend to those who do not know Christ rights and privileges that are rightfully meant only for those who do.

Anyone looking for a life lived with purpose, a life where meaning is both assumed and understood, will find here a strong introduction to the kind of framework that can help a person understand the complexities of life. In the Foreword to this book David Powlison points out that Drew deals with topics of great importance. He summarizes in this way: “You find your true self…as you stop thinking so much about yourself. You live a wonderful life…as you learn to do mundane things well. You discover yourself…as you discover someone who is far more fascinating than you. Inspirational pep talks, techniques, and strategies can never get you to any of these places. Instead you need reasons. And Charles Drew gives you reasons. Good reasons.” And, indeed, he does, for he gives reasons that are based on the word of the Creator rather than the word of mere humans. He looks to the Bible for his source and his authority and simply lets God’s Word do the talking.

This is a book that is sure to vie for a position on the list of my favorite books of 2007. I can’t think of another that has given me so much to think about. And I certainly cannot think of another that, when I finished it, I immediately started over and read it again. It is that good and that thought-provoking. I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself reading it again before long. After all, this is the kind of book that can change a life.

The book is available from Westminser Books for a very good price. And, of course, you can also find it at Amazon (though you’ll pay a few dollars more there).

I conducted an interview with Charles Drew and have posted it at Discerning Reader. You can read it here: Interview with Charles Drew.


“A current fashion is to assume that all statements about God are in actual fact statements about the speaker. ‘G-o-d,’ in other words, is a three-letter symbol for talking about our religious feelings and hopes, our religious perspectives and fears and frustrations—all of which have arisen as a result of a complex assortment of evolutionary instincts, psychological needs, and cultural (including family) training.”

“God is too creative to make any two of us precisely the same.”

“If we try to define ourselves by something we think we can control (our weight, our children’s development, our creative output), or by some special talent or genetic endowment we happen to possess, that thing will inevitably begin to control us.”

“The road to self-discovery and God-discovery is marked not so much by solitude and introspection as by simple decisions, made every day, to do what is right.”

“People who understand that their creativity is a gift of God, rather than putting it in the place of God himself, discover a paradoxical freedom. They are both free to work and free from work. Motivated by love and gratitude (powerful motivators) they are free to work very hard, giving their best back to God. At the same time, because they know that neither they nor their work is God, they are free from the burden of taking themselves or their work too seriously—as if their giftedness mandated perfection.”

“Ironically, the best way to find out who you are is not to spend too much time trying to find out who you are.”

“God means the church to be the best and safest place to discover and be yourself. It is the environment where my gifts are ‘for the common good,’ the place where self-giving love triumphs in the safety of the heavenly Father’s love. It is God’s ‘sneak preview’ on the heavenly society that the Messiah died to create.”