What is more Important: Bible Study or Prayer?

According to Donald Whitney in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, “No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word.”

Put in context of his writing, Whitney asserts that reading the Bible is the most important spiritual discipline for Christians.  I have some other ideas–namely, that prayer is the most important discipline.  Its important to read about God in the Bible and to learn from God’s Word, but is that more important than talking to God directly?

What do you think?

Comment below!

 

A Reading Life (pt 6): Second-Hand Books

My 1969 Broadman Commentary with the 1973 RSV Annotated Oxford Study Bible in the background, both second-hand books that I treasure more than most!

By Joe LaGuardia

A Reading Life is a blog series focused on the literature that has shaped my life and call to ministry. Find the introduction here.

Any pastor will tell you that a part of being a minister is receiving books or book recommendations from parishioners.  Most people can attest that they have second-hand books on their shelves, but none more so than clergy.  This is for two reasons: One, we are obliged to take books people give us; and, two, we are too broke to get new books, so we scour unwanted books, church rummage sales, and used book stores whenever we come across them.

So, I have two pieces of advice for freshman pastors:  The first is to avoid telling your church what kind of things you like to read unless you want books pertaining to that subject or genre.  The second is  to befriend pastors nearing retirement because they are likely to give you books they no longer need.

The first piece of advice came in handy when I first arrived in Florida to pastor my current church. I wanted to read Florida history because when I was in Georgia, I read The Archaeology and History of the Native Georgia Tribes by Max White, and it enriched my ministry for years to come.

I mentioned this to fellow naturalists at my church, and the recommendations and books started to flow.  The first recommendation (or affirmation, as it were) was Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’ The Everglades: River of Grass.  Since I am a graduate of Douglas high school in Parkland, Florida, (yes, that Douglas high school), I always wanted to read Douglas’ work, so I purchased it within the first six months of arriving to Florida.  Another recommendation was Marjorie Rawlings The Yearling, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  After that, however, I was finished reading about Florida but books and recommendations kept coming.

“Here, Pastor Joe, I think you’ll like this,” is commonplace in ministry.  Since I am a book snob to begin with, I have found polite ways of rejecting those books or perusing enough of a book to make light conversation.  In other cases, people will send self-published books that are political or have some crazy agenda.  Those things go right to the “donate” pile.

If you take my second piece of advice, then your library will be full of second-hand books that become gems.  I recently received a long-awaited 1973 Revised Standard Version Annotated Oxford Study Bible from our Associate Pastor who is retiring at year’s end.  It inspired this article, in fact!  What a treasure!

Then there was the white whale for which I longed–that peculiar, sought-after item that one only obtains by prayer, patience, and persistence.  Mine was the original 1969 Broadman Bible Commentary with the Genesis volume by G. Henton Davies.  This volume, along with then-Midwestern Theological Seminary professor Ralph Elliot’s book, The Message of Genesis, launched a near forty-year battle and eventual split between conservatives and moderates in the Southern Baptist Convention (known either as the “Conservative Resurgence” or the “Conservative Takeover,” depending on your point of view) regarding historical-critical approaches to scripture and, more recently, the place of women in ministry.

The Davies “Genesis” commentary set is rare because the Southern Baptist Convention recalled the set shortly after publication and replaced it with a set that replaced the Davies commentary with one by Clyde Francisco.  That made the original “Davies” set hard to come by.

Thankfully, a retired Home Mission Board administrator who was a co-minister at my last church had not one, but two original sets.  Praise God for the Reverend Michael R., who blessed me with one of his First Edition (you read that right!) “Davies sets”–with his marginal notes–when I became pastor of the church in 2010.

Moving forward, I am on to my next prey.  It is a Nelson, cowhide leather Revised Standard Version Bible, circa early 1960s.  There are many RSV Nelson editions circulating out there with vinyl (gag!) or hard covers (many served as pew Bibles), but the leather-bound edition seems near impossible to find.  I got one from a retiring pastor years ago, but (after many funerals and a month-long mission trip to West Africa) it is falling apart, and I would like a replacement.

I think we can all agree that whether a second-hand book is either beloved or loathed, it adds a rich tapestry to any home or office library.  Each book has a story to tell or reflects the character of its original owner, and for that we should be grateful.  Each book speaks to the generosity that defines readers worldwide.  But, take it from me, pastors get the brunt of them, and that’s not always fun!

What are some second-hand books that you either treasure or loathe?  Comment below!

Premier Bibles are in Fashion

By Joe LaGuardia

Several weeks ago, I discovered the esoteric, slightly geeky, intensely interesting world of premier Bibles.  I have been a Bible nerd for some time–researching various translations and study Bibles, perusing bookstores for editions and bindings–but I learned only recently that a world like this existed.

You see, for over twenty years I’ve been an Oxford man.  By Oxford, I mean those Bibles published by Oxford University, specifically the Annotated New Revised Standard Version Bibles for which Oxford is best known.  I have five Oxfords: My first was the softcover student edition required for college; then the hardcover of that same edition once the softcover edition died; and then the third and fourth editions in leather.  My most recent purchase was a leather NRSV thinline for everyday use.

With the Oxford, I meant business when it came to Bibles and Bible studies–but then (thanks to YouTube) I realized that a whole other world existed, that of the “Premier Bible.”  Let me explain:

My last Oxford Study Bible cost $90.00.  It was the fourth edition, genuine (vs. bonded) leather, with two ribbons and personalized embossing.  It was costlier than the third edition, but vastly superior in binding, notes, leather, and gilding (that’s the gold on the side of the pages).  I thought this price placed it squarely in the “premier” category.  Not so.

The real “premier” Bibles run between $175.00 – $250.00.  These Bibles have covers that range from Moroccan fine leather to calfskin.   The inside of the cover also includes leather end pages.  The binding is often hand-sown.  The materials, including the paper, is of either European (from Norway, for instance) or Italian origin.  You can run over these things with a truck, and they will last.

I also learned that there are three companies that produce these Mercedes Benz of Bibles: Cambridge University (one of the oldest publishers in the world), Schuyler (pronounced “sky-ler”, get it right!), and Allan.   They have limited runs, select translations (usually, NKJV, KJV, ESV, or NRSV; Schuyler also produces a NLT, pictured above); and they take months to produce, order and ship.  There are waiting lists.

Some collectors scour the internet searching for editions that are vintage, out of print, or at a reduced rate.  And even the most used of these Bibles can run over $100.00.

There is a community of people on the internet — YouTube, really — who review the Bibles.  They own, buy, sell, and trade multiple copies.  They compare and contrast them, show multi-year “crash” tests (to see how Bibles hold up to the test of preaching and usage); and go into minute details as to binding and features of each one.  Some of them purchase a version in every color leather.

I told you it was esoteric, but I find these videos captivating, and I confess I have spent many late nights watching reviews of pitt minions and reference Bibles and quentel (I’m not sure what that means–I think its a typesetting of some sort) versions, of rebound Bibles, and of the newest King James Versions (how many times and how many ways can one publish a Bible that’s been around since 1611?).  Very few, if any, premier Bibles are study-Bible versions, though many include concordances and Bible maps.   This goes deep, folks.

Over the last month, I had a chance to purchase a new Bible.  I dislike purchasing new Bibles (although I love looking at them, my version of retail therapy), but I needed to replace two Bibles in my arsenal of God’s Word.  I took my time reviewing these and other Bibles.

I chose another Oxford NRSV (the travel version I mentioned earlier– I’m so loyal!), but it was hard to bypass some of these beautiful Bibles that really stand the test of time and capture–if not for sake of aesthetics, then for tradition–the sacredness and value of God’s Word, which neither withers nor fades.