Hebrews – Life Application Bible Study (review)

A couple of months ago I was offered an opportunity to join the Tyndale Blog Network.  This gets me access to free books, which is always nice, and I review these books in return.  It’s a nice deal, I must say.  This is my first review.

For my first review I decided to get the Life Application Bible Study on Hebrews.  Up until it arrived on my doorstep I’d never cracked open any Life Application Bible, though I’ve certainly seen them around.  I was interested.

The Bible Study comes in a nice booklet which contains the Life Application notes, as well as the NLT text (including the NLT translation notes) of Hebrews and a thirteen lesson study in the back.  It’s a lot of material in 85 pages, and the font size is a tad bit on the small size (particularly for the notes).  There are times where the combined NLT, NLT notes, cross references, Life Application notes, and special Life Application reflections create a bit of a cluttered look – but for the most part the material is well-arranged and easily accessible.

What I enjoyed

There are a few things that I really enjoy about the this Life Application study.  First, I’m glad that they included the full introduction to the NLT text.  This introduction clearly lays out the nature of the art form that is Bible translation, and it should be required reading for anyone who reads the Bible.  Second, I appreciate the way The New Living Translation translates the pseudo-classical Greek of Hebrews, and how the Life Application study book lays it out in a single column format. Third, I thought the fifth lesson in the study did a good job helping students reflect on the nature of “rest” in the Bible.  That’s what I like

My Difficulties

Unfortunately, I had more difficulties reading this study than I had joys.  Ironically, the majority of these sprang from the “Life Application” nature of the book.  Immediately following the excellent introduction to the NLT text, there is a page entitled, “Why the Life Application Study Bible is Unique.”  It opens by wondering if readers had ever asked a series of questions, which read:

  • What does this passage really mean?
  • How does it apply to me?
  • Why does some of the Bible seem irrelevant?
  • What do these ancient cultures have to do with today?
  • I love God; why can’t I understand what he is saying to me through his word?
  • What’s going on in the lives of these Bible people?

Now I fully realize that the Life Application Study Bible is targeted to Evangelicals, who may nod that these are the problems people face when reading the Bible.  Not being an Evangelical, however, I found myself thinking that the very nature of at least 3 out of the 5 questions were part of the problem when it comes to reading the Bible.  When the second question is, “How does it apply to me?” we’ve already divorced ourselves from the world of the Biblical text (which teaches us to ask, “What does this mean for us?”).  No wonder so much of the Bible seems irrelevant!  The “I love God…” question, to me, seems to be an all too common statement of Evangelical guilt when they fail to understand the community-oriented nature of the Bible which makes an already difficult collection even more difficult to read when they go off on their own.

Unfortunately, this individualistic bent on the text continues throughout the study notes that read under the text of the NLT.  I got the distinct impression, as I read, that I apply this in my own life regardless of what my church community is doing.  I find this ironic, as the nature of Hebrews is to bind the community together in Christ, rather than to bind the individual to Christ.

I also feel that the way the notes are presented read more like a spiritual cookbook than a commentary to be pondered and reflected upon (If I do “a” then “b”).  The notes give the impression that their application is the application – but many of the notes don’t resonate outside a suburban, first-world, context.  I certainly don’t feel that they adequately reflect the very real tension that lies underneath the text of Hebrews.  This is, perhaps, because the nature of the struggle that occasions Hebrews is somewhat trivialized.  Hebrews is written to a Church were at least a portion of the congregation was hiding out in the synagogue whenever things got dangerous for the illegal sect.  The introduction to the Life Application study, however, likens the event to nothing more than being a responsible consumer.  Christ, then, is the better product which ought to be chosen.  I find that this missed the very heartbeat of the text, and therefor lends to skew the notes.  The notes also failed to appreciate the application of ritual language to Jesus (and therefor the Christian life) – so the depth and radical nature of Hebrews actually manages to get lost in the explanation.

The majority of the study questions don’t fare much better.  While I thought the fifth study did a decent job reflection on the nature of rest the other studies seemed to be strained.  It is in the study questions that readers can see the strain that exists in taking a text meant to be read and applied in community and forcing it to be something that is meant to fit only into my pursuit of Christ.

While many people enjoy the Life Application notes, and feel that they empower their faith, I find that the unadvisable shift from community to individual does more to mask the text than it manages to illuminate it.

One Comment

  1. Melanie says:

    One of my biggest complaints of the full life application study bible that I have is the consistent lack of good footnotes that explain things that I would want to know about. It spends a lot of time going on about oh wasn’t this nice we should all use this person’s actions in our own life and be nice to people. When clearly the interesting thing about the passage was that this person wasn’t Jewish and living not in Judah. Which begs the question: Why is this story even in here?

    I was reading through Job the other day and this kind of stuff was all over the place. Anything I would want a foot note or explanation about is always not included. Instead the almost sugar coated moral lesson is presented.

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