Last week I received a free copy of the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible. I was surprised as I couldn’t remember ordering it. The accompanying letter asked if I would be willing to review it. Normally I would read a book from cover to cover before writing a review. I can honestly say I’ve only read a small portion of this volume over the past week. But I have read other versions of the same book. Some years I’ve read it through more than once. I’ve read this ESV translation and I’ve also read other translations, such as the NIV and the HCSB.
So, on the basis of my previous readings, let me say this is a must read. It’s living and active. I believe it’s the word of God himself through multiple human authors over multiple centuries in multiple real life contexts. It’s an awesome collection of works, of different genres, revealing a coherent narrative. It’s helpful and practical. It’s graceful and glorious. It’s simple and sometimes complicated. It shines a spotlight on the Almighty God and climaxes in the revelation of his Son. It holds a mirror to my heart. It gives me hope beyond my circumstances. It speaks into every context of my life. It liberates me from religious law keeping. It guides my decision making. It offers me deep wisdom. It inspires me from grace to grace.
I must confess this book sometimes spends too much time on my shelf. It gets reduced to a means for ministry rather than being a gateway to intimacy with God. I turn reading into a chore rather than a delight. I rush my way through this volume rather than pausing to meditate on the beauty it reveals. And so I miss out.
I’m grateful to be asked to review this Bible because it gives me cause to open this book of books and look again on the glory God.
But, I have a feeling that the publisher may desire something a little different from a review! Perhaps a comment on this particular publication. And not just the text of the Bible, but the other bits they’ve added. So here goes.
This Bible’s appearance is plain and yet formal and sophisticated, even professional. It’s black with page numbers and headings printed in gold text. This looks impressive, but I find the headings hard to read in certain light.
This is a devotional bible, especially for men. I like the idea because men need to read the Bible—and yet often don’t—and Bible reading should lead to devotion to God. Various authors have contributed brief articles to assist us to reflect on the meaning and application of Bible as we read. I know a few of the authors and I’m encouraged that they have a deep respect for the Bible. They are keen to let it speak for itself. There are 365 of these scattered throughout, so this might give you an idea about how to pace yourself in your reading. The articles I’ve read have all highlighted important truths in the text, and not simply used the Bible passage to launch into another issue. Some have been more applicational and devotion-inspiring than others.
In addition to the daily devotional comments, there are some slightly longer articles of particular relevance to men. These include such topics as work, singleness, identity, fathering, pornography, life in the local church, doubt, and more. While none of these matters are uniquely relevant to fellas, they cover topics that I often hear men asking about.
Each book of the Bible is preceded by a brief introduction to orient us as we start our reading. While many of the comments can be discovered through the process of reading, it doesn’t hurt to see a map or some key landmarks before we embark on our journey.
Sometimes I worry about extra stuff that gets printed in Bibles. The mere fact that additional text has been bound together with the Word of God can confuse the novice reader. Which bits have authority and which sections should I be evaluating for their accuracy and relevance? There is a good argument for printing a companion volume to the Bible—perhaps one you could slip inside the cover or packaging of the Bible. At least this way, it will be clearer what is human and what is divine. They could have matching covers and cross-references to help you turn to comments on the text you are reading. But I haven’t been asked to design my own devotional Bible!
A related danger of printing articles on topics as ‘part of’ the Bible is that they can too easily be regarded as the last word on the matter. What do you do if you find yourself disagreeing with part of this volume of the Bible, even if it’s not really part of the Bible? The discerning reader can make these assessments, but the novice needs to be guided to make the appropriate distinctions.
If you are a bloke who desires to read the Bible to get to know God more closely then this publication might help you to get on with it. You don’t need a ‘devotional’ Bible to do this, but having the wisdom of some Christian brothers guiding you along the way might help you—especially in some of the more difficult sections. To be honest, I don’t mind if you read this particular ‘model’ of the Bible or not. I’d just love you to discover the delight of reading God’s life-giving, life-shaping Word—whatever the packaging.