A couple of weeks ago I did a guest review of the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible for the blog of a friend and fellow Trinity Evangelical Divinity School student, Jennifer Guo. Below is the review. Click here to visit Jennifer Guo’s blog.
For centuries, there have been commentaries, cross references, study notes, and doctrinal articles written in the margins of published Bibles. It seems today that this has become the norm. Every major Bible translation has its own study Bible. Beyond that, the modern world has seen the advent of many more interesting specialty Bibles: journaling Bibles, note-taking Bibles, waterproof fishermen’s Bibles and much more. All of these things are great resources, as they put seemingly limitless amounts of knowledge and insight into the hands of lay people everywhere. This, I believe, is one of the most important things happening right now in terms of Biblical education. If it had not been for my first study Bible, I might never have come to know the the gospel of God’s grace.
While objective knowledge and expertise are fantastic pursuits, we too often forget that our faith is a personal, experiential faith—experience that relies totally on knowledge which is found in the Scriptures. The ESV Men’s Devotional Bible, I believe, captures that very crucial balance that we need in our Christian lives as men, especially men who, like myself, tend to pursue knowledge at the expense of experience and devotion. Edited by Sam Storms, the ESV Men’s Devotional Bible seeks not only to “inform the mind,” but “to equip and encourage men who long to experience spiritual and moral transformation in the depths of their heart.”1 In this review, I will highlight the things I like about this Bible, and touch on some things that I think are lacking.
First, the physical form. I am a sucker for high-quality Bibles: genuine leather, sewn binding, strong and opaque paper, good print. Of course, this is not meant to be a high quality Bible, but it does have nice form. It is hardcover, lays open flat because of its sewn binding, has clear print, and fits well in one hand. It is easy to sit in my bed and read out of this book, and it seems well-constructed enough to continue this practice for a while.
In regards to the actual features of this Bible, it must first be understood that this is not a study Bible. There are no notes at the bottom of every page or in the side margins. Instead, every few pages or so, there is a one-page article written by one of the contributors that offers short devotional reflection on a topic either explicitly or implicitly addressed in the immediately-preceding text. For example, in the narrative of Hannah and her barrenness in 1 Samuel 1, there is an article on the next page entitled “Waiting on the Lord.” That way, the devotionals really seem to flow seamlessly with the text you happen to be reading at the time. This is an improvement over many devotional Bibles I have seen, where the articles seem general, random, or irrelevant to the passage. As someone who is crazy about grounding everything in the text, this Bible is a breath of fresh air. Not only does this offer relevant and helpful devotionals, but it models good exposition.
Looking at the devotional articles themselves, I find them, as I noted before, to be both practically sound and doctrinally grounded. For example, on one page you have “Waiting on the Lord,” and on another page you see “Election and Predestination.” This devotional Bible is not interested in nurturing feelings, good attitudes, positive outlooks, or the like, but is clearly devoted (pun intended!) to cultivating a proper view of God and the change of life that flows from that knowledge. One thing I like in particular about this Bible that, to me, makes it stand out among targeted-audience Bibles, is that many of the articles can be easily applied to women, as well. Many Bibles (e.g., “teen” Bibles, “sportsmen” Bibles, “football players’” Bibles) can seem so focused on their target audience that the devotions and applications contained in them can feel contrived. I do not find this to be so with this Bible. In fact, I found myself at one point thinking, “Is this a Men’s Devotional Bible?” I do not mean this in a negative way, but in a very, very positive way. This means that, as I said before, the applications are drawn from the text, and not from preconceived topics. There are, of course, articles written specifically to men’s issues such as pornography, fatherhood, singleness, and leadership. The contributions to this Bible simply work.
The contributors to this Bible will look especially appealing to many readers of the ESV: Philip Ryken, Alistair Begg, Sam Storms (general editor), Graeme Goldsworthy, Bryan Chapell, Thabiti Anyabwile, and many, many others, most of them being pastors. There is no shortage of life experience, godliness, and pastoral care in this volume.
This Bible has several great features beyond these. Each book has an introductory page that includes a basic overview of the book, key themes, and a special section about how each particular book can benefit us as men. The only thing I wish the Bible would have had were cross references, but this is purely a preference, and not a problem with the Bible itself. It has to be understood that each individual Bible is designed and published for a certain purpose, and it is not this Bible’s purpose to offer extensive cross references. In sum, I have benefitted from this Bible, and would recommend it readily to anyone seeking devotional material to use. It is a great translation and it crafted by great, God-honoring men. In a day where shallow material is being churned out faster than Happy Meals, this volume is refreshing and well-received.
- Taken from the “Introduction to the ESV Men’s Devotional Study Bible”