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What hinders us is not aesthetics

Distracted reading is not the biggest obstacle to deep Bible reading. The biggest obstacle is us.

bible-app-by-olive-tree-63513202684_2All snark aside, those looking for a mature reflection on the market milieu of the ESV Reader’s Bible would do well to read this piece by J. Mark Bertrand.

Bertrand’s hope is that the ubiquity of hypertext has created a demand for a purified text. With so much reading tethered to the internet and all the linked distractions that come with it, we may now be ready for books that are “really good for nothing but reading”:

We long for a deeply immersive experience, something so thick and involved that we can’t be easily pulled away. The fear is that all the choices and features and options we’ve given ourselves, though they seemed good at the time, have now become barriers, fatally distracting us from the one thing that matters most. We fiddle with fonts and margins, we zip back and forth through cross-references, always hovering on a busy surface, clicking and tapping, in danger of forgetting there is anything underneath. Pearl divers of old held their breath underwater until they came up with a pearl; we are afraid we can’t stay under long enough anymore.

Breadth of features kills the depth of experience. By trying to do everything, we neglect what really matters. In the case of word processors, that’s writing. In the case of Bibles, it’s to take and read.


I get what Bertrand is driving at and I agree to a point, but distracted reading is not the biggest obstacle to deep Bible reading. The biggest obstacle is us.

Somewhere in our house we have Hillary Clinton’s autobiography (don’t judge, it was a gag gift). I think the book has been in our house for almost a year now and at no time do I ever remember thinking I’d give the old girl a read if only the font was a Trinité No. 2 type set at 12 points, with 15 points of leading. In a ranking desired experiences, becoming immersed in Living History falls somewhere between shopping with the girls and having my ankles gnawed on by a herd of rabid ferrets. The fact of the matter is that no amount of artistry or beautification will draw me to that book.

Maybe today’s pearl divers lack the capacity to go deep. I suspect that many of us just lack the compulsion.


Irreverent musings: 6-volume Bible

The new ESV Reader’s Bible is for everyone. It invokes status. It’s a symbol. It’s sophisticated. It’s a sophisticated status symbol.

esv-reader_6volOn Friday Crossway makes available the ESV Reader’s Bible in six volumes (E-6). If you count yourself among the sanctified bibliophiles you have undoubtedly discovered a righteous desire to acquire the set simply for the joy of reading.

But what about the average Christian who, for reasons beyond their control, find they lack the holy aspiration to plunk down $300+ for a literary work they already own in a convenient single volume edition?

Perhaps you should consider these more pedestrian reasons for acquiring E-6:

1. Read without bias and/or thought. At some point chapter-verse divisions, cross-references, brackets, and differing type settings just becomes too much–two millennia of biblical study notwithstanding. The E-6 signifies (without the arrogant assertion) that you no longer need to stand on the shoulders of those who came before. More to the point, it’s far better to read Scripture like you read the Harry Potter series–as a blank slate with with no help. At the end of the day the cluttered Bibles don’t account for the fact that we’re just smarter and more capable than our Christian forebears. Google it.

2. Solitude is underrated. The ubiquity of interwebs and social platforms is crowding out solitude and quiet reflection. The good news is that without chapter/verse divisions the E-6 makes reading in community (i.e. in a noisy crowd) virtually impossible. We all know the nerve-wrecking effort it takes to follow along while someone reads from the NIV or worse (The Message). Now try to do that without the aid of chapter-verse notations. Get the picture? You needed to spend more time alone with God anyway.

3. No more note taking. Let’s be honest. The reason most of us make notes in our Bibles is because we know that that’s what serious Christians are supposed to do. But with E-6, a clean page is no longer an indictment of your spirituality. For a moderate price you can move from sophomoric to sophisticated.

4. A relevant faith. Ex-nihilo creation. The Israelite exodus from Egypt. Holy wars. A plethora of historically unverified characters & events. Who needs those albatrosses tethered to an otherwise respectable faith? With E-6 you now have the option of minimizing the baggage and making it all about Jesus. Just brand yourself a vol-5 Christian™ and the embarrassments just fade away. Sure, the Jesus in vol 5 affirms all the myths, barbarisms, and bigotries of the previous four volumes (see esp 1-2) but for some reason that doesn’t seem to matter. Christianity’s critics are sure to find your faith much more plausible if you keep the focus on biblical accounts of virgin birth, miraculous healing, apocalyptic preaching, exclusive truth, and a dead man coming back to life before floating up to heaven.

In short, the new ESV Reader’s Bible is for everyone. It invokes status. It’s a  symbol. It’s sophisticated. It’s a sophisticated status symbol.



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