Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Study" Bibles

I have never quite known what to make of the "Study Bible" phenomenon. As I recall, they began cropping up in the mainstream in the 1980's, hitting their peek in popularity in the 1990's.

While I am sure they still sell well among the bible collecting crowd, they have gotten out of hand.

Currently if you enter "Study Bible" on the Amazon.com search engine, you get a list back of 79,615 choices.

For instance, I give you the following examples:

The "Power of Positive Prayer Bible" (I'm still waiting for the companion Power of Negative Prayer bible to come out.)
the "Hope for Today Bible" which is apparently the latest fluffery from preacherman-meets-Dr.-Phil televangelist Joel Osteen.
The "Apologetics Study Bible: Understand Why You Believe" edition by Chuck Colson and Norman Geisler (a truly interesting pairing of bible commentators), and which is not really the correct definition of apologetics.

Of course, not all Study Bibles are weird or flaky.

I highly recommend the New Orthodox Study Bible: Ancient Christianity Speaks to Today's World. There's a lot of commentary in it from the patristic fathers and the Old Testament is an English Translation of the Greek Septuagint, not the Hebrew, which makes it interesting if you are comparing the Greek LXX to the Hebrew canon.

But on the whole, I am at a loss as to what to make of most Study Bibles. I am torn between wanting people to engage the Bible, and if a Study Bible helps them do that by keeping them on task, then a part of me is all for them.

However, my reservation is similar to what I see in trendy liturgies like the U2Charist (if you don't know, don't ask), Various "Green" Services that are designed to raise people's awareness of environomental concerns within a worship context, a Goth Eucharist (think Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut meets Religion), or even Taize prayer services, which I actually like if they are done well. The question I always have to ask when parishioners ask my opinion of things like this (including weird stuff for funerals) is, "What is being worshiped in these "themed" worship services as opposed to normal sacramental worship? Is it God, or is it something else? If it is something else, then is it really appropriate for Christians?"

In other words, is this trendy worship simply what I call "liturgical tourism"?

I think I would ask the same question of proponents of the numerous "Study Bibles." Is what is primarily being studied with these trendy study bibles really the scriptures themselves (and therefore God and our relaitonship with God) or something else?

Most people that I have discussions with about "Study Bibles" seem to be focused primarily on the "theme" of the bible study, whether it be the "teen focused" commentary by the editors or whatever. They tend not to be primarily engaging the Word of God but the Word of whomever the Editor is and his/her agenda. To me, when Study Bibles go off the rails is when they fall into this Scriptural Tourism.

As Augustine would say, is the study a thing unto itself or a sign to something greater.

Just something to ponder.

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