Book Review: The Discipleship Study Bible

Book Review: The Discipleship Study Bible

January 31, 2009
Written by Daniel Hazard

New guide aims to foster opportunities for community, spiritual formation

Westminster John Knox Press has released a new study Bible that fits a unique niche for progressively minded Christians. Its notes and reference aids are aimed at a broad audience interested in exploring the biblical text for contemporary applications of ancient truths.

Study bibles generally fall into one of three categories. First is as an academic reference. These works go to great length in their description of historic context and textual references without giving interpretive guidance.

Second is a study bible produced as running commentary on the biblical text. These guides represent a specific interpretation of scripture, embedding doctrinal or dogmatic assumptions about particular passages into their notes.

The third variation of the contemporary study bible is one aimed at life application for a particular demographic. You'll notice study bibles for women, men, teens, singles and other various groups at your local bookseller. These works attempt to contextualize the biblical message for the life circumstances encountered by their readers.

Each of these study bible genres has its strength - but they also leave much to be desired for those pursuing lifelong learning.

An academic study bible may be helpful for more intense students of the Bible, but the uninitiated will quickly become intimidated by the insider language and obscure references to textual criticism and historic cognates. (Confused yet?)

Commentary-oriented study bibles attempt to leave few questions unanswered. If you believe the Bible is "God's answer book," one of these may fit your needs. Yet, the reader should be warned that the answers offered by the majority of these works are generally wrapped with a fundamentalist ribbon - assuming the Bible is an inerrant and unalterable transmission of God's will for all people in all times.

Demographic-oriented study bibles tend to segment their commentary as it relates to the intended reader. This is helpful for those finding their identity as moms, dads, students or any of the dozens of targeted audiences. However, they often provide little context for what it is like to live in communities of the faithful - where adapting to the complexities of diversity is an ever-present reality.

And so, in light of the marketplace of available study bibles, "The Discipleship Study Bible" offers a compelling mix of what makes each of these other genres useful while smartly avoiding their pitfalls.

Book introductions are written in a narrative style that gives the reader a sense of the historic story that was being told as a given book came into formation. Notes on authorship, time, place and thematic overtones are interwoven with the social and political context of those to whom the book was written.

As most study bibles do, "The Discipleship Study Bible" offers verse or passage help where needed. These are particularly useful as a means to clarify statements in the Bible that don't make sense to modern readers. Some of these helps venture into the realm of commentary, yet carefully don't offer the final word on areas in which the Bible is unclear.

Discipleship, the main theme of the title and text, is highlighted in this way and others. Discovery and spiritual practice are encouraged as a means toward reflection and education - not as means unto themselves. "The Discipleship Study Bible" encourages what other study bibles miss: the opportunity for spiritual formation within a worshiping and serving community.

The biblical translation used in "The Discipleship Study Bible" is the New Revised Standard Version, highly regarded for its fidelity to the original languages while introducing idiom where clarity is required. As the first new NRSV study bible to be published in nearly a decade, it is a welcomed addition to contemporary thought on biblical interpretation and application.

Christians who consider themselves "progressive" will be especially pleased to see that more recent scholarship and interfaith implications have found their way into the commentary and notes. As such, "The Discipleship Study Bible" is a great companion to adult education and confirmation curriculum in encouraging lifelong spiritual learning.

"The Discipleship Study Bible" is edited by and has received contributions from a respected panel of theologians, including several from UCC and UCC-related seminaries. It is currently available in hardcover from bookstores and online retailers.  

The Discipleship Study Bible
By Bruce Birch, Brian K. Blount, Thomas G. Long and Gail R. O'Day
Westminster John Knox Press, 2008
Hardback, $39.95
ISBN: 978-0-664-22371-7

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