I self identify as an evangelical Christian. Among other things, evangelicals think that studying the Bible and evangelism are really, really important. So it was only a matter of time before someone published the Evangelism Study Bible. Kregel Publications, in cooperation with Evantell and ThomasNelson (the publishers of the NKJV) have published a Study Bible designed to help Christians be a more ‘confident, joyful witness for Christ.’
This Bible seeks to be a tool which will aid us in evangelism, but it is also a Bible with cross references, a concordance and full-color maps. The rest of the resources in this book relate directly to Evangelism. This includes: book introductions highlighting evangelistic themes, 2,600 study-notes, articles which give you evangelistic tips, training in apologetics, discipleship or contextualization, ‘how-to-features,’ and devotions. Larry Moyer, founder and CEO of Evantell, hopes that this resource ‘will provide you with the training to explain and make clear the good news of the gospel. (Introduction p. v).
Because of the focus on Evangelism, the study notes are not comprehensive in their treatment of all the Bible’s themes. Creation is treated briefly in two or three study notes. The first feature article is on the first sin (4). The study notes are sparse in much of the Pentateuch or the Old Testament historical books. Only when the implications for evangelism can be seen (directly or indirectly) are there notes, leaving some difficult material (i.e. genealogies, sacrifices, etc) without comment.This isn’t so much a criticism, but a recognition that a volume like this comes with certain limitations.
The articles themselves have helpful material, sometimes imparting knowledge and skills, at other times taking a look at the heart of the evangelist (the best way to share a compelling vibrant faith is to have one yourself). I had three questions as I surveyed the notes and articles: (1) What is the content of the gospel that this Study Bible commends? (2) How does it handle the gospel-go-to passages? (3) What about other passages?
What is the Content of the Gospel?
The gospel is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). The study note on the Romans passage says, ” When people place their faith in Christ, they are delivered from the wrath of God and declared righteous in his sight.” In general, the gospel that this Study Bible proclaims tells you about how to go to heaven when you die (escape God’s wrath and live at peace with him for all eternity). Dallas Willard would call this ‘the gospel of sin management.’ I think the notes and articles do a good job of talking about personal salvation, bringing people into the realm of God’s grace by helping them to deal with their sin problem; however there is more to the gospel than just the personal transformation narrative. The gospel is nothing less than the proclamation that Jesus is King and the reign of Christ is here. This captures the revivalist salvation narrative (described here) and places it in a wider frame. If the gospel is about a King and its Kingdom than we sense social and political implications. The ‘evangel’ of this Study Bible is perhaps one aspect of the ‘Good news’ but it is not the whole story described in the text,
How does it handle the Go-to-passages?
Evangelicals have long had their go-to-texts for Eeangelism. Think John 3:16, the ‘Romans Road’ passages, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, Ephesians 2:4-10 etc. These passages focus on what Christ did through His cross and resurrection to bring us in the way of salvation, and our role in accepting Christ through faith. As mentioned above, the focus of the notes are on our personal, eternal destiny. Little is said about the abundant life in Christ now (John 10:10, Luke 18:30) or passages that relate to gospel justice. The good-news-proclamation in the Synoptic gospels was the announcement that God’s kingdom was at hand (Matt. 4:17, Mark 1:14-15). These passages are referenced in the notes but the concept of kingdom is not really unpacked in relation to gospel proclamation. Again this is all good in as far as it goes but more could be said!
I have already hinted at an approved canon with in the cannon that this Study Bible focuses on for Evangelism and the gospel. There are other passages which are full of good news which the notes fail to engage substantively. Related to this season (and my Sunday sermon text), I think of Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Despite the way this passage announces and proclaims God’s saving action and looks joyfully at the wonder of Christ’s Incarnation, the notes treat only three verses of her song. For verse 48, the notes make clear that contrary to Mary’s claim of blessedness, Christ alone is our Redeemer (1117) and that those experience God are those who fear him (verse 50). There is a brief note on Abraham’s seed and how God is a promise keeper (vs. 55). Fair points, but this fails to wrestle with Mary’s message about how God should be praised for his action in her life—how the proud and the powerful were being brought down while the humble were being lifted up. This is a gospel word and the notes fail to engage her song and its implications for Evangelism.
The brief introductions to each book of the Bible, and the fact that there are notes through out train our eyes to see the Good News in each book of the Bible, Old and New Testament. There are limitations in the notes, but there is also a lot here that is good and helpful. I give this Study Bible three stars and recommend it for anyone wishing to sharpen their witness for Christ. My caution is that I think the gospel proclamation is bigger, more robust and wonderful than these notes, with their narrower focus make it out to be. ★★★ ☆☆
Thank you to Kregel Academic for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.