The Evangelism Study Bible: A Review

the-evangelism-study-bible-sampleKregel publications has teamed up with EvanTell to produce The Evangelism Study Bible (NKJV), which I would call “useful.”  What’s EvanTell? Lets let R. Larry Moyer, founder and CEO, answer:

In 1973, I was burdened by the Lord to found EvanTell, Inc., and evangelistic ministry devoted to training believers in how to give a simple and clear presentation of the gospel through a clear handling of Scripture.

Sounds good to me. But I suppose it is necessary to ask the editor, Mr. Moyer, “What do you mean by evangelism?” His answer:

Biblical evangelism is communicating the good news of Jesus Christ with the intent of seeing a person trust Christ.

Again, so far, so good. I love how Mr. Moyer goes on to explain the purpose of the EvStBi:

The Evangelism Study Bible is the fruit of more than forty years of evangelism experience and is designed to be a study and training resource that will equip and encourage believers to share the gospel. Believing that the best resource for evangelism is the Bible, we have packed The Evangelism Study Bible with in-depth teachings on specific passages, “how to” trainings, inspirational devotionals, as well as study notes and practical tips.

Well, I’m intrigued.  Lets see how he does.


Format and Content

Each biblical book is preceded by a very short introduction bringing out the main thrust of that book particularly as it relates to evangelism. It is a pretty standard study Bible setup when it comes to the study notes and side bars.  A quick flip through reveals far more notes in the New Testament letters than in the Old Testament, Gospels, and Acts. Is this surprising? Not really. Is it disappointing? Only slightly. I believe the Old Testament has plenty of connections that can be made in evangelism, regarding the character of God as a judge and a merciful redeemer, as well as mankind’s sinfulness. But he does bring these things out in his notes, albeit not as readily as he does in the epistles. The side bars are a different story.  I count roughly 163 side bars in the OT and 95 in the NT (granted, the OT is twice the size of the NT).  So at least he doesn’t leave the OT behind.

It is hard to review a study Bible. It would certainly be overkill to read through the entire thing for a short blog review. But I also wanted to read a representative portion so I would evaluate it in a fair manner. So I dabbled in a number of different books and genres, both in the OT and NT, taking in notes, tips, and side bars. Here are my conclusions based on this survey.

NOTES and INTRODUCTIONS

The EvStBi features over 2,600 study notes. These notes are meant to explain the text in such as way that ultimately leads to equipping the reader for evangelism.  So how does it do? Lets randomly take Job 21:22 as a test case.  Here’s what the Bible says:

Can anyone teach God knowledge, since He judges those on high?

And what does Mr. Moyer offer us for a “study” note?

God is the all-knowing One before whom all humans and all heavenly spirits lean. No one teaches God. He teaches all. That is one of many reasons in evangelism we must always be seeking His wisdom, not ours.

Sentences 1-3 are okay, but the final line? It certainly seems to force the text into a mold that doesn’t quite fit.  His comments on Job 22:1-30 also seem a bit goofy.

So I have three basic remarks about the value of Mr. Moyer’s notes:

  1. When he is simply offering basic, interpretive remarks, like in lines 1-3 in the quote above, he does alright, and sometimes quite well.  However, I don’t think he offers anything that the many superb study Bibles wouldn’t probably do better (such as the Gospel Transformation Bible and the ESV Study Bible, NLT Study Bible, NIV Study Bible and HCSB Study Bible).
  2. When he offers remarks tying a text to the subject of evangelism, there are two outcomes:
    1. When the text has a clear connection to the gospel or communication of biblical truth, he is often quite helpful and even motivating. He brings out the evangelistic thrust and uses it to mobilize readers. Bravo.
    2. But when the text is not obviously connected to the gospel or talking with unbelievers, he leaves much to be desired. Sometimes he makes legitimate connections where they’re not obvious, but I fear that he often makes leaps that are unwarranted. Damaging to faith? Not at all. Damaging to sound hermeneutics? Yeah.

Here are a few more examples:

When it comes to Old Testament ritual, Moyer doesn’t know how to tie it to evangelism very effectively, it would seem.  So when it comes to Leviticus, here’s what he offers us right away, as a “note” on Leviticus 1:1:

As Christians, we no longer live under the requirements of the Levitical and Mosaic law. We have been set free from the Law by the death of Christ. We now live a new life by the power of the Spirit who indwells us and empowers us to live pleasing to God (see Rom. 8:1-8). What better way to please Him than to herald His name to others.

Yikes. True, but should this be our first conclusion when delving into Leviticus? I feel like the words behind the words are these: “Is the OT law really horrible or what!?!” This forgets 2 Timothy 3:16, which tells us that all Scripture is God’s words, and we also forget that the OT was the Bible for Jesus, Paul, and the first century church!

Sometimes I find that his evangelistic goal causes him to neglect some major biblical narrative thrusts in favor of “cute” quips and propositions.  For instance, he doesn’t even comment on the exile in 2 Kings or 2 Chronicles, which is one of the key elements of the biblical story.  In this light, I was very surprised to see that he doesn’t really do much to explain the atoning side of the death of Christ in any of the 4 gospel accounts (other than a side bar in John on the meaning of “it is finished” and a few comments about Jesus’ prayer in the garden).

Unfortunately, when it comes to Joshua, Moyer spiritualizes the book to be about overcoming obstacles to fulfill the Great Commission (218), but I was glad that he also dealt with the apologetical dilemma presented by the Canaanite “genocides” on p. 224.

TIPS

Commenting on God’s guidance of his people in the wilderness (Exod. 13:21-22), Moyer give us a tip that leaves us scratching our hermeneutical heads:

Just as the Israelites depended on the Lord for direction through the desert, so we depend on Him for direction and opportunities in evangelism.

oookay.  But there are plenty of useful and motivating tips for every goofy one, such as the following on Matthew 9:10-13:

While the religious leaders chose to isolate themselves from “sinners”, Christ associated with them in order to reach them. His pattern should be ours as well for the sake of the gospel.

SIDE-BARS

As I understand it, the side-bars vary in purpose and content: articles, “how-to’s”, and devotionals. I love that there is a table of contents for all of the side-bars. This makes it useful as a reference tool.

As with the notes and tips, the side-bars are a mixed bag.  Some are hermeneutically appropriate and practically useful, such as the one on p. 15, “How Were Individuals in the Old Testament Saved?” (Gen. 15:6) and p. 19, “Influence Non-Christians; Do Not Let Them Influence You” (Gen. 19).  I also appreciated his illustrative side bar on p. 105, “A Forgiveness Like No Other”, which bears useful reflection on the Levitical sacrifices. Others are forced, such as the one on p. 59, “Excuses”, which makes Moses’ fear of confronting Pharaoh all about the excuses we make to avoid evangelism (Exod. 3-4)!  Some are simply incomplete.  For example, Moyer offers a side bar called, “How to Show People Their Sin”, which is his view of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:1-17). He provides a good exposition of the 1st use of the law for evangelistic purposes, but he completely leaves off the 2nd and 3rd uses (which I’ve come to expect from most Christians who don’t get the OT)!  For the threefold use of the law, this article by R. C. Sproul is helpful.

I found his side-bars in Matthew, “Don’t Lose Your Contact with Non-Christians” (Matt. 9:9-13) and “Inviting People to a Relationship, Not to Regulations” (Matt. 11:28-30) to be appropriate and helpful. But a few pages later, he writes a side bar on the parables called, “Ilustrations: Valuable Tools for Evangelism” (Matt. 13). This misses the salvation-historical significance of Jesus’ parables in, among other things, fulfilling prophecy of judgment on Israel. I also learned from and appreciated the Acts side bar, “How to Turn a Conversation to Spiritual Things”.


Design and Layout

As for design and layout, there isn’t much to tell.  Its a nice hardcover with a sewn binding and a single ribbon marker.  It opens flat (yay!). Its features are pretty standard: 8pt font, double column layout with center column references, and two columns of “study” notes on the bottom.  Surprisingly, on a Bible that isn’t meant to cater to the Bible design community, the ghosting (show through) is actually pretty minimal. Finally, in case you’re wondering, it is a black letter edition (yay!).

Dimensions are about 9.3″ x 6.2″ x 1.7″.


Conclusion

Overall, I was unimpressed with Moyer’s use of the Old Testament from a hermeneutical standpoint.  It seemed that he wanted to use it as a springboard to get to the New Testament, and resultantly he tied too much to Jesus. There is an appropriate way to get from the OT to Jesus, which is a hotly debated issue, but I believe it takes balance and sensitivity.  Another observation (particularly related to 1 Samuel introduction on p. 278) is that he has a tendency to take biblical characters as examples for us, rather than viewing them chiefly in their salvation-historical context. This is a common interpretive blunder, in my opinion.

I find it ironic that he makes this remark on p. 224:

The Old Testament law was given to a particular people in a specific historical period and cultural context. We should always try to understand the Old Testament in that context rather than impose ideas upon it…

I totally agree! Yet he is inconsistent in following his own advice. He follows it when it comes to “inconvenient texts” like the destruction of the Canaanites, but when he can make a text fit neatly into the topic of evangelism, he sometimes abandons it. Too bad. When it comes to the New Testament, his commentary is more appropriate and his interpretation more evenhanded (not to say that all his comments are unhelpful in the OT).

One final criticism: I would have liked an article somewhere outlining his basic approach to the gospel message. I’m sure its in there, but you have to dig, and it would have been nice to have some appendices to go along with the table of contents.

Bottom Line: Even though I’ve been quite critical in this review, I still do recommend this Bible! Why? Because our Bible reading is typically self-centered, and the notes in this study Bible force us to consider sharing what we read with others. It helps us shift our mindset.

So how would I use this Bible?  When I’m in a text that I suspect might bear fruit in either pondering or practicing evangelism, then I would pull this Bible off the shelf and take a look at his comments. No, I would not recommend this as your primary Bible. The risk is that when you so specialize a study Bible and make it about one topic, you’d better make sure that is the topic of the whole Bible, or you’d at least better recognize the many limitations of such a Bible. Otherwise you force the text to be about the topic of your study bible, and you end up with some goofy interpretive gymnastics. So for a primary Bible, I would recommend either a plain text (or reference) Bible or a more rounded study Bible (i.e. ESV, NLT, NIV, or HCSB Study Bibles or the Gospel Transformation Bible).

I began this project skeptical. I’m somewhat “allergic” to highly specialized “study” Bibles. And you know what? This one is actually useful, as long as you keep it in its proper place as a tool for evangelistic training rather than a primary, all-purpose Bible.

Here’s another link to look at

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