The Thomas Nelson NKJV Single-Column Reference Bible: A Great First Impression

One of the reasons I have continued to be fascinated by the world of fine Bibles is how different each Bible is. I am often surprised by a new Bible when I first get it out of the box. Of the Bibles I’ve reviewed so far here, the Thomas Nelson NKJC Single-Column Reference Bible made the best first impression. It was one of those reactions that was purely subjective. I’m not sure I could have articulated why I liked it so much when I first picked it up, but I was just delighted. This review is my attempt to put words to why this is a great Bible. At its current price on Amazon of $84.96 (as of publication), it is also one of the most reasonably priced edge-lined goatskin Bibles you can buy.


The cover on this Bible made a very positive first impression. It feels thick, but is still edge-lined and very flexible. (Edge-lined Bibles are bound so that there is no material in between the outer cover and the inner lining, which is what makes the covers of edge-lined Bibles so supple. The spine has gold lettering. The lettering is even and consistent. I typically prefer bands on the spine of Bibles (see this Cambridge NRSV for an example). But there is something about the way that this Bible is put together. I like the spine the way that it is.

One of the things that has surprised me about myself as far as opinions on edge-lined Bibles is how much I care about the hinge getting in the way of the cover. I’ve discussed this in more depth here. The short version is that I think one of the joys of reading an edge-lined Bible is being able to wrap the cover back around itself. But the hinge in some edge-lined Bibles makes this awkward enough it becomes impracticable. This has been my only complaint about the Tyndale Select NLT I reviewed several months back. The Thomas Nelson NKJV Single-Column Reference Bible has almost the same profile as the Tyndale Select NLT, except that it is somewhat thicker. I initially thought this might mean that the hinge on the Thomas Nelson would be more of an issue. I was delighted to be wrong! As you can see in the photo, the hinge does not get in the way of one-handed reading at all.


Single-column layouts are a non-negotiable for many fine Bible enthusiasts. If this is a must have for you, Thomas Nelson has done a great job with this Bible. There are ample margins at both the edge of the page and in the gutter. The text is easy to read, whether you are at the very front or in the middle of the Bible. The references are in the outer margins, which I like. Instead of spacing the references out so that they are as close to the verse they go with as possible, they go from the bottom to the top. This means that margins on the top half of each page, on average, are blank, with the references towards the bottom half. Of course, this varies from one page to another depending on how many references there are on a particular page. The included photo gives you a sense of it, though I would guess it has less references than the average page.

One interesting design choice is that red is used as an accent in the text. The book and chapter are listed at the top corner of each page in red. Chapter numbers and section headings are in red, as well as the link to each reference in the text, and the chapter and verse in the margin. This system makes finding the references a bit easier in scanning the text. The use of red in the text is not overwhelming, but the accent is different than most fine Bibles. Ultimately, I like the impact, especially with the red under gold art-gilded page edges.

Other Features

The Bible has three ribbons, two black and one red. This is the one design choice I’m not crazy about. I found it confusing initially. I actually kept looking at the two black ribbons to see if one was brown and one was red. I’ve gotten used to it, and it is the least important thing to me about the Bible, so it is not even close to a major concern for me. The quality of the ribbons is good. They seem to me to be the right length and have held up well.

The Bible also includes a presentation page, a concordance, a one year reading plan, and eight color maps. These are all adequate, but will probably not be the highlight of this Bible for most people.


For the first few weeks I had the Bible, I was surprised at how affordable it was every time I picked it up. Of the Bibles I have reviewed here so far, this one seems to me to be the best value, particularly in a reference Bible. If you have been interested in this series of posts and have been considering buying an edge-lined Bible with a goatskin cover, but the sticker price of an Allan, Cambridge, or Schuyler Bible is just too much, this is an excellent Bible to consider. If you are a fan of the NKJV or have been wanting to pick up a copy, the Thomas Nelson NKJV Single-Column Reference Bible is a must have.

Old or New School Methodism? The Fragmentation of a Theological Tradition

My second academic monograph was published a few months ago with Oxford University Press. I wanted to share this news with you here. I realize that the cost of the book makes buying it prohibitive for most of you. (The retail price is $99 and it is currently $78.59 on Amazon)* I really wish that it were dramatically cheaper and did the best that I could to argue for the book to be released at a much lower price. I did not win that argument. I very much hope that the book will be released in paperback someday.

Nevertheless, I wanted to share the news of the publication of this book here because I am convinced that this history is crucial for contemporary Methodism. My academic research has often come out of my engagement with the local church and that is certainly the case with Old or New School Methodism? I received my first copy of the book just after the conclusion of the 2019 Special General Conference and was surprised by its relevance in the midst of the current crisis within United Methodism.

Here is the summary of the book from the dust jacket:

On September 7, 1881, Matthew Simpson, Bishop in the Methodist Episcopal Church, in a London sermon asserted that, “As to the divisions in the Methodist family, there is little to mar the family likeness.” Nearly a quarter-century earlier, Benjamin Titus (B.T.) Roberts, a minister in the same branch of Methodism as Simpson, had published an article in the Northern Independent in which he argued that Methodism had split into an “Old School” and “New School.” He warned that if the new school were to “generally prevail,” then “the glory will depart from Methodism.” As a result, Roberts was charged with “unchristian and immoral conduct” and expelled from the Genesee Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (MEC).

Old or New School Methodism? examines how, less than three decades later, Matthew Simpson could claim that the basic beliefs and practices that Roberts had seen as threatened were in fact a source of persisting unity across all branches of Methodism. Kevin M. Watson argues that B.T. Roberts’s expulsion from the MEC and the subsequent formation of the Free Methodist Church represent a crucial moment of transition in American Methodism. This book challenges understandings of American Methodism that emphasize its breadth and openness to a variety of theological commitments and underemphasize the particular theological commitments that have made it distinctive and have been the cause of divisions over the past century and a half. Old or New School Methodism? fills a major gap in the study of American Methodism from the 1850s to 1950s through a detailed study of two of the key figures of the period and their influence on the denomination.

I am grateful to have received these three endorsements from scholars I respect and admire:

In comparing Matthew Simpson and B.T. Roberts, Kevin Watson has not only provided a much-needed analysis of the fracturing of mid-nineteenth century Methodism but makes a strong case that these same dynamics remain at work today. He shows that what is ultimately at stake are theological issues that go to the heart of Wesleyan, even Christian identity. Future work in American Methodist history must take this book into account.
– Henry H. Knight III, Donald and Pearl Wright Professor of Wesleyan Studies and E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism, Saint Paul School of Theology

This timely book cogently challenges long-received assumptions about mainline Methodism in the United States. Watson shows not simply that the story is more complex than often thought, but that hugely important aspects and dynamics of early Methodism were drastically compromised in the conflicts of the 1850s that provoked the birth of the Free Methodist Church. If taken seriously, this book could help catalyze new life in the Methodist tradition today.
– Howard A. Snyder, author of The Radical Wesley and Populist Saints: B.T. and Ellen Roberts and the First Free Methodists

Kevin Watson’s brilliant, meticulously-researched new study challenges the longstanding myth that American Methodism in the late nineteenth century (and beyond) was largely unified and consistently stayed true to its early Wesleyan commitments. By carefully analyzing the careers of two seminal figures – Bishop Matthew Simpson and Free Methodist founder B.T. Roberts – Watson demonstrates conclusively that two contrasting Methodisms emerged in the Victorian era, each representing the convictions of those who thought they were being faithful to Wesley’s original vision. Watson untangles the complicated roots of Methodist divisiveness, and shows us that debates regarding Methodism’s trajectory are nothing new.
– Douglas M. Strong, Dean of the School of Theology and Professor of the History of Christianity, Seattle Pacific University

* I have said this in other places, but I am still surprised by the anger I often encounter from readers about the price of my books. Authors do not set the price of their books, unless they self-publish them. The price is determined by the publisher. Every author I know wants their books to be priced at a level that will make their writing accessible to the broadest possible audience. Academic monographs are almost always published in hardback and sold for $100 or more because of their genre. The publisher expects that these books will only be read by specialists in an academic field and will mostly be purchased by libraries. As a result, they sell the books for the price that they think will get closest to breaking even on publishing the book from the number of library sales. Again, if it had been up to me the book would be dramatically less expensive.

Is God’s Will for Marriage Dependent on Cultural Context?

Recent discussions on social media have helped me clarify one of my deeper concerns about the way the conversation about marriage has been framed heading into the General Conference that starts today. A key question that faces this General Conference, once again, is this: Is marriage dependent on cultural context?

The One Church Plan (OCP) and the Connectional Conference Plan (CCP) both assume that different cultural contexts require a contextualized approach to marriage. Unfortunately, neither plan actually provides a clear argument for why marriage should be thought of in this way. The Commission on a Way Forward (COWF) Report simply begged the question. [Begging the question is often misunderstood. One begs the question when making an argument that assumes the truth of a disputed assertion.] The report assumes that the solution to the ongoing disagreement about same sex marriage is contextualization. But whether marriage ought to be defined and practiced differently in different contexts is at the heart of the disagreement.

Contextualization itself needs careful and sustained attention. Some things are rightly changed or adjusted based on the cultural context. One obvious example is translating the Bible. The Bible ought to be translated into the vernacular of a particular context. The kind of music used in worship, or the length of the worship service, are other examples. Contextualization is crucial in many respects. But not everything is appropriately considered a matter for contextualization. We do not, for example, consider the canon of Scripture to be a matter subject to cultural context.

Whether one can support the OCP or the CCP largely comes down to whether you believe that marriage is the kind of thing that is dependent on cultural context or whether you believe it is not.

Rather than showing why United Methodists should believe that marriage is rightly thought of as dependent on cultural context, the COWF Report simply asserted that it was. If the current understanding of the UMC does not see marriage as a matter subject to cultural context, the COWF Report in begging the question guaranteed at the outset that the current United Methodist understanding of marriage would not be given a fair hearing. The COWF started by privileging “as much contextual differentiation as possible” and explicitly stated that United Methodism’s unity “will not be grounded in our conceptions of human sexuality, but in our affirmation of the Triune God who calls us to be a grace-filled and holy people in the Wesleyan tradition.” (COWF, 6)

A similar question begging move is made in the statement on mutuality a few pages later: “Mutuality. We will recognize all contextual adaptations and creative expressions as valid expressions of United Methodism. No one expression is normative for all others.” (COWF, 10)

The more I think about marriage as potentially having a definition that changes based on beliefs about marriage in a cultural context, the more problematic I find that belief. The logic seems to suggest that whether the church believes that God blesses same sex marriage is dependent on what non-Christians in the surrounding culture think about same sex marriage. What is the basis within the Christian tradition for such a view?

Again, we are not given an argument for such a view. It is simply asserted, repeatedly. I have not seen an explicit argument to for why we should view marriage as dependent on cultural context by supporters of the OCP or the CCP.

Imagine two people of the same sex desire to get married and they seek a Christian marriage. Do United Methodists really intend to say that our affirmation of their marriage is dependent on the plot on God’s earth where their feet are standing?

It seems to me that the logic of contextualization regarding marriage collapses under any scrutiny. If it is right, for example, for two people to get married in one context because their context affirms same sex marriage, is it wrong for those same two people to get married in another geographical location if that context does not affirm same sex marriage? Does the cultural context that the people are in determine whether we affirm or do not affirm same sex marriage? Or is it the cultural context of the people themselves that determines whether we affirm or do not affirm same sex marriage? If it is the latter, what does contextualization mean when one person comes from a cultural context that affirms same sex marriage and the other person comes from a cultural context that does not affirm same sex marriage? If affirmation of same sex marriage is dependent on the context one is physically in, does one take their marriage with them if they move from an affirming to a nonaffirming context? I cannot imagine anyone would want to argue for such an understanding. But I’m not sure we know why it would not be the case given the insistence on the particular importance of context.

To be fair, I think that many United Methodists who support the contextualization approach to marriage do not actually believe that marriage is dependent on context but agree with the result of contextualization plans, i.e., changing the United Methodist Church’s teaching and practice regarding same sex marriage from nonaffirming to affirming.

Bishop Carter, the current President of the Council of Bishops and one of the moderators of the COWF, does not seem to me to really believe that marriage is a matter of contextualization. In a recent AP News article Bishop Carter is quoted as follows, ““We’ve tried to remain together as a global body,” he added. “The challenge is simply that there are some nations where homosexuality is taboo.” A taboo is not usually thought of as something that reflects a rational or logical argument or approach to something. Particularly as used in Western contexts describing non-Western contexts, a taboo is seen to be an irrational rejection of something that is unwilling to even engage arguments. Carter’s use of taboo suggests that he sees the views of “some nations” that do not affirm same sex marriage as coming from a social prohibition that is not a reflection of God’s will, but is irrationally restrictive. The assertion that we are divided because “some nations” where “homosexuality is taboo” is also misleading because it suggests that United Methodists in the U.S. are in agreement in wanting to affirm same sex marriage, which is not at all the case. (The quotation also suggests that the current beliefs and practice of the UMC have no Scriptural or theological warrant, which I don’t think Bishop Carter intended in this quote. It is also entirely possible he was misquoted or quoted out of context here.)

A majority of the Council of Bishops have recommended a plan (the OCP) that is built on the understanding that marriage is contextually determined. I have yet to see a Scriptural argument that marriage ought to be understood in this way. I don’t think I’ve seen a substantive theological argument to this end either. Rather, contextualization has simply been asserted as a self-evident truth.

This conclusion seems to me to be inescapable: Christian marriage is dependent on God and not on the shifting winds of culture. The church’s responsibility is to discern God’s will as best as we can, relying especially on Scripture and our common heritage as Christians, and to offer the truth to the world. We may be wrong. In fact, many of us must be wrong given how deeply divided we are. This is a serious matter and much is at stake. God help us.

The NIV Heritage Bible: A Great Bible at a Surprising Value

My journey into the world of fine Bibles started right about a year ago, at least in earnest. The first Bible I contacted a publisher about was the NIV Heritage Bible, even though I knew it wasn’t yet in print. It ended up being the last of the Bibles that I requested for this series of posts to arrive. Even with all of the amazing Bibles that I had been able to review, I kept wondering what I would think of the NIV Heritage Bible when it came. Now that it has come and I’ve had a chance to spend some time with it, I’m excited to share my thoughts. There are several things I love and a few things I would change. It is the (relative) affordability of this Bible that is why I am most excited to share it with you. With a coupon you can apply within Amazon, the Bible is currently $83.76 (click here). For goatskin edge-lined Bibles, that is less than half the price you would usually pay.


I wonder if my favorite leather cover is the one that I’m holding in my hands. While I would say that I have really liked every premium leather cover (as opposed to bonded leather especially) that I have gotten my hands on, I would also say that this cover surprised me right out of the box. Even after getting my hands on a variety of exceptional Bibles, this cover made an immediate impression. It is the softest and supplest goatskin cover I have held. The grain is very smooth. I have a few goatskin Bibles with very pronounced grain and I really like them. But there is something about this cover that is wonderful. The spine is smooth with faux bands stamped on with silver, but they are no more pronounced than the lettering on the spine itself. The lettering on the spine is below average when compared to the other fine Bibles I have reviewed. It seems a bit cheap compared to the quality of the cover. But that is one of the few compromises you make at this price point.


The NIV Heritage Bible is a single-column Bible. Zondervan has done a great job here. Poetry is laid out as poetry and narrative sections are in paragraphs. The layout is clean and draws you into immersive reading. If I were going to read the Bible through in a shorter period of time, or read an entire Book in one sitting, this would be the Bible I would use. Distractions from the text are at a bare minimum. There are chapters and verses, with occasional headings. Translators notes are in the bottom corner of the page (if there are any). And that is it. There are no references or other material in the text. Each chapter number is in blue, which helps quickly locate chapters and adds some interest in design. Every Book starts on its own page, which is not always the case. The design and layout of this Bible are excellent.

Exceptional Edge-lined Binding

As is the case with almost every goatskin Bible, the binding is edge-lined, which is the most durable binding. As I’ve mentioned before, the tabs in edge-lined Bibles often irritate me enough that I am sometimes unsure whether I would rather have an edge-lined binding than a less durable paste-off binding without the rigid tabs. My initial impression was that the tabs in the NIV Heritage were going to be frustrating. The first two thicker pages have glue through half the width of the pages, which made me concerned that the cover would not readily fold back behind the rest of the Bible. This was the most pleasant surprise to me of this entire Bible. I’m not sure how they did it, but this is the best edge-lined binding I’ve seen from that standpoint. Right out of the box I could fold the front cover all the way around the back with ease and flush against the spine. This is ideal for reading with one hand. The NIV Heritage Bible does this much easier than any edge-lined binding I’ve reviewed.

Other Features

The NIV Heritage Bible has art-gilt page edges that are blue under silver. The page edges are a nice additional touch at this price. They match the interior design beautifully, especially with the blue chapter numbers and section headings. The Bible also has three ribbons that are black, blue, and red. The color of the ribbons with the silver page edges and black goatskin is really striking. The Bible also has a concordance and maps at the end. The concordance is the more concise of the two NIV concordances I’ve seen in NIV Bibles. This one has 2,474 word entries with more than 10,000 Scripture references.

I’ve gone back and forth on the paper and ink in the Bible. My feeling is that the paper is not at the same level as some other Bibles I have reviewed here. I would guess that this was the major tradeoff that Zondervan made in order to be able to offer a goatskin Bible for less than $100. It feels like a top-quality cover married to good but not exceptional paper. This is not a major concern from my perspective, but one I wanted to name for readers. Of the Bibles I’ve reviewed here, the paper in this Bible made the least positive impression on me. I do think the opacity is comparable to other similar Bibles, maybe even better than some. I also like Zondervan’s “Comfort Print” typeface.


I have really enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with readers online and in person about fine Bibles. More and more people read the Bible entirely on a screen, if they read it at all. For this reason, I am all the more grateful for publishers who invest in print Bibles that are made with attention to detail and the best available materials. These Bibles are attractive and a pleasure to interact with and read. They are designed to be used and last. The price is understandably an obstacle for many people who cannot justify spending $200 or more on one Bible. This is where I think Zondervan has made a really important addition. The NIV Heritage Bible is a remarkable Bible that gets a lot closer to the price of a bonded leather Bible. And there is a world of difference between a Bible that is made of leather shavings glued together (which is what bonded leather is) and a single piece of goatskin. The fact that Zondervan can sell an edge-lined goatskin Bible for less than $100 is an exceptional value. I hope it will make it possible for many more people to invest in a high quality Bible that will provide a draw to spend more time searching the Scriptures.

Zondervan generously provided this Bible to me for review. As always, I was not required to give a positive review of this Bible, only an honest one.

The Tyndale Select NLT Select Reference Edition: Close to Perfection

When I started asking people who already knew a lot about high end Bibles where I should start, I was surprised at how many people mentioned a Bible with which I was entirely unfamiliar, The Tyndale Select NLT Select Reference Edition. The Tyndale Select checked the major boxes I had on my initial wish list for a forever Bible. It was a single column layout. It included cross references and a concordance. It was available in goatskin. The pages were Smyth-sewn. And it had art-gilded edges. I was worried that when the Bible arrived, I would find that I had gotten my hopes up too much and would feel let down.

But if anything, I like this Bible even more than I had anticipated.

Two Covers, Two Colors

The Tyndale Select NLT is available goatskin and calfskin. Both of these options are available in either black or brown. I am reviewing the goatskin and calfskin in brown.

Simply put, the calfskin cover is the best calfskin cover I have ever felt. I like how soft the leather feels and the firmness of the boards, which I’m finding are breaking in wonderfully. For those of you who want the floppiest cover possible, this is not it. The grain on my calfskin is not pronounced at all, which is part of what makes it so soft and smooth in the hand. The calfskin is a paste-off binding and has gold gilding (and not the art gilding, which is gold when the Bible is closed and red/salmon when opened). The calfskin Tyndale Select retails for $189, but can be found online for around $130.

The goatskin cover is also wonderful. It has a much more pronounced grain than does the calfskin. It is edge-lined, as are most goatskin Bibles. The inner lining is also leather (cowhide, I believe). The edges of the cover are sewn. For a goatskin edge-lined cover, this cover is a bit firmer than some of the others I’ve reviewed. It does not have boards between the two leather covers, but it is a bit less floppy than other covers I’ve seen. Unlike the calfskin, the goatskin has a gold line around the interior that outlines where the text block sits inside the cover, which adds a touch of beauty. The goatskin edition has art-gilded edges, which I love. The other difference between the goatskin and the calfskin is that the goatskin is a semi-yapp cover, which means the cover hangs over the pages about half an inch.


The layout is identical in both Bibles. And it is fantastic! The Tyndale Select NLT is a single-column layout. The references are in the outer margins. Textual notes are in the footer. The combination of the size of the page (the text block is 8 ¼ “ x 5 ¼ “) and the generous spacing between lines makes this my favorite single-column Bible I’ve reviewed so far. The text is arranged in paragraphs in narrative sections and sections of poetry have generous and attractive spacing. The cherry on top is that the Tyndale Select NLT starts every Book on a new page, which most Bibles do not do in order to conserve space. This does make the Bible slightly thicker than the Cambridge Clarion, for example. For me, the tradeoff is entirely worth it. The layout decisions enhance readability at every turn.

Other Features

The Tyndale Select NLT contains cross references. I find these to be invaluable in reading and studying the Bible. It also contains a dictionary/concordance after Revelation. The concordance is helpful, but by no means exhaustive. It also has 8 full color maps. This Bible has more pages for commemorating key moments in one’s family than any I’ve seen. At the front of the Bible there is a presentation page, a page for listing marriages, a page for listing births and adoptions, and a page for listing deaths. Both Bibles have two ribbons. One of the ribbons on the goatskin Bible is fraying quickly.

There is one thing that I wish were different. Of the goatskin Bibles I have reviewed, this one is the hardest to wrap the cover around the back of the Bible. I think this is the combination of the slightly more compact size of the Bible combined with the tab in edge-lined Bibles that I often find to be a bit frustrating. The calfskin edition is easier to wrap around than the goatskin, so it is less of an issue.


I have reviewed quite a few Bibles over the past several months. One question I’ve been asking myself of late to try to gauge my feelings about these different Bibles is this: If I could only keep one of these Bibles, which one would I keep? Of the Bibles I’ve been able to get my hands on thus far, the Tyndale Select NLT Select Reference Edition is the Bible I would keep if I could only keep one. If I had to choose between the goatskin and the calfskin, I would choose the goatskin, in part because I love the art-gilded page edges. I have to say I love them both, though!

The Tyndale Select NLT Select Reference Edition is an exceptional Bible. Of all of the Bibles I have reviewed, it is the closest to perfection. The reason this is my favorite Bible of the ones I’ve reviewed so far is, of course, largely subjective. I love the size of this Bible. The size combined with the consistent quality across the board makes this a fantastic Bible that I highly recommend.

Other Tyndale Bibles

Tyndale sent me several other Bibles to consider for review. They don’t really fit the focus of this series on fine Bibles. I found myself spending enough time with two of them that I wanted to say a brief word about them.

The Filament Bible is worth considering if you love the layout of the Bible reviewed in this post. The filament edition is the exact same layout as the Tyndale Select NLT, it is just in a much more economical hardcover without the frills of the much more expensive Bible. It is an awesome and affordable single column Bible in its own rite. The filament is an experiment in combining physical and digital media, as the filament also includes an app that enables you to scan the page that you are on in order to uncover substantial study notes, additional articles, commentaries, and videos.

The Wayfinding Bible has three different guided reading plans that take you deeper into the narrative of Scripture. Because of the initial “flyover route” and then the deeper dives that follow, I would consider giving this Bible to a new Christian or someone who has struggled to prayerfully read Scripture on their own. I was really interested in how Tyndale arranged these different layers of reading Scripture.


Like many of you, I have been following the rollercoaster of events in United Methodist denominational politics with some interest and quite a bit of concern. From my perspective, it feels like this is the part where things are going to get uglier, where we follow the all too predictable pattern in our history of starting with good intentions and a commitment to assume the best in each other and ending with fighting and suing over property and assets. I very much hope I am wrong about that. From where I am sitting, it does not look promising.

Image result for ancient paths

Like many of you, I’ve been praying about The United Methodist Church and my place in it. I’ve been asking God to break through. I’ve been wrestling with what faithfulness looks like for me in this time and in this place. And over the past few days I keep hearing the word Return. The first time I heard that word, my mind was going in so many different directions I wasn’t sure what it meant. But as I’ve kept hearing Return, the mist and confusion has been clearing away and one particular image has come into view. I think it is best captured by Jeremiah 6:16:

Thus says the Lord:

Stand at the crossroads, and look,

and ask for the ancient paths,

where the good way lies; and walk in it,

and find rest for your souls.

But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

I believe that there are two ancient paths the people called Methodists ought to return to and walk once again.

First, we need to return to the practice of “watching over one another in love” through small group formation like the Methodist class meetings and band meetings. Class meetings were required for membership in early Methodism. A Methodist was someone who attended a class meeting. Class meetings were focused on transformation and not information. The basic question was “How does your soul prosper?” Every Methodist was asked this question in class meeting every week.

Band meetings were smaller groups of three to five people that were voluntary. They focused on confession of sin in order to grow in holiness. Five questions were asked at each meeting:

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?
  2. What temptations have you met with?
  3. How were you delivered?
  4. What you have thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?
  5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?

In the past year, I have been tremendously encouraged by the number of pastors I have heard from who have started band meetings, especially through New Room’s focus on “banding together.” My life has been changed in ways I can’t even fully explain through participating in band meetings. The practice of confessing sin to brothers in Christ and receiving the promise of the gospel that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9) has been the most tangible place I’ve experienced growth in holiness in my life.

I cannot overstate the importance of small group formation in the history of Methodism. When Methodism has been a vibrant movement of the Holy Spirit, Methodists have gathered together in small groups to share their burdens, to pursue growth in holiness, and intercede for one another in prayer. (For those of you who are interested in resources designed to help you return to these practices, The Class Meeting is designed to help contemporary churches return to this practice, as is The Band Meeting.)

Come what may in UMC politics, it is time for Methodists to return to a Wesleyan approach to small group formation. Many of you already are. We will make mistakes along the way. That is ok! Let’s keep connecting with each other and helping those not yet connected find places of belonging.

Second, we need to return to what John Wesley referred to as the “grand depositum” of the people called Methodists, the doctrine of entire sanctification or Christian perfection. The mission of Methodism in Britain and in the United States was initially to “spread scriptural holiness.” Holiness was the core focus and purpose of the people called Methodists.

Here is what I see as being at stake for us today. I believe that we live in a world where many are desperate for hope and healing. Many have a quiet desperation that comes from the numbness and pseudo connections that have come from spending too much time “connected” to our screens, and far too little time connecting in person in life-giving relationships. Many are desperate because they know that their lives are going in directions that are not going to end well, but they are not able to stop. Many are depressed, discouraged, and simply without hope. The list could go on and on.

Into this world, in this reality, our calling is to preach the full gospel. We have the good news of Jesus Christ. And this news is not news that only brings forgiveness, pardon, and a get out of jail free card in the next life. The gospel is the good news that you can not only be forgiven, but you can be healed. You can be cleansed, restored, set free. We need not limp through this life, defeated, merely surviving. No, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us!” (Romans 8:37) We can be saved to the uttermost.

There should not be a church in any of our communities that has a more audacious and bold optimism of what God’s grace can do in the lives of every single person in your community than Methodist churches. This, is what is at stake in preaching and teaching Methodism’s grand depositum of entire sanctification. And we preach this not as an idea, but as the fruit that comes from knowing a person – Jesus, our risen Lord. Jesus saves. Jesus rescues. Jesus heals. He has done these things and he will do them again.

I am convinced that the future of the people called Methodists starts with unplugging these two wells: Wesleyan small groups and entire sanctification. There is still living water here. As we unplug these wells and bring people to them, we will see fruit. We will see lives undone by the love of God that has been poured out over the world in Jesus Christ. We will see lives mended and made whole. And we don’t need to wait on the decision of a Special General Conference or Judicial Council deliberation. We can unplug these wells and offer the water that is already in them today to the people in our communities.

Let us return to the ancient paths. Come Holy Spirit, breathe life into your people once more.

Book Review: The 19 Questions to Kindle a Wesleyan Spirit, Carolyn Moore

If you have been to the executive clergy session at a United Methodist Annual Conference, you have heard the bishop ask every person who has been approved for ordination as a deacon or elder a series of questions. Sometimes, the examination seems to be a mere formality, a final technical hurdle on the way to the ordination service. At other times, the examination provides the opportunity for the bishop to elaborate on the ways that she or he sees these questions as of particular relevance in our current moment. There are even times when the clergy themselves laugh or groan when some of the questions are asked.

These nineteen questions are found in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church in paragraphs 330.5.d and 336. A footnote in paragraph 336 provides some background: “These are the questions that every Methodist preacher from the beginning has been required to answer upon becoming a full member of an annual conference. These questions were formulated by John Wesley and have been little changed throughout the years.” Here are the questions:

1. Have you faith in Christ?
2. Are you going on to perfection?
3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
4. Are you earnestly striving after it?
5. Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?
6. Do you know the General Rules of our Church?
7. Will you keep them?
8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
9. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
10. Will you preach and maintain them?
11. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
12. Do you approve our Church government and polity?
13. Will you support and maintain them?
14. Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
15. Will you visit from house to house?
16. Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?
17. Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?
18. Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?
19. Will you observe the following directions?
a. Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary.
b. Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

To be ordained as a United Methodist deacon or elder, you must answer each of these questions in front of all of the clergy in the annual conference you are joining. The expected answer for each question, except the 18th, is “Yes” or, even better, “Yes, by the grace of God.” (The expected answer to the 18th, is “No!”)

If every ordained United Methodist pastor has had to answer these questions at some point, would it not be wise to spend some time thinking about what they mean? Why would Wesley ask these nineteen questions instead of nineteen other questions to ordinands? What do they mean? Why should we ask these questions today? Unfortunately, they have not received much attention in United Methodism. Maybe this is because some of these questions are embarrassing to contemporary sensibilities?

Carolyn Moore offers The United Methodist Church a gift and an invitation to further conversation in her book, The 19 Questions to Kindle a Wesleyan Spirit (2018). The organization of the book is straightforward and accessible. A chapter is dedicated to a brief reflection on each of the questions.

Moore invites us to explore these questions with greater attentiveness, care, and presence of heart and mind. She exhorts us to be honest and have integrity throughout the ordination process, noting that in our current “social climate” it can be easy “to embrace dishonesty for the sake of fulfilling our own agenda” (20).

As I read the book, I found myself leaning in and yearning for a more substantive and theological conversation about Methodism. As I read, I wanted to gather around these questions with other Methodists. Moore often said something with a perceptive and piercing turn of phrase that made me stop reading and imagine what the implications would be for the people called Methodists. To give but one example: “If you want your kids to know Jesus, you can’t outsource it” (82). She also asks us some hard questions, like, “What if theological integrity means a smaller tent” (59)?

There were also a few times I wanted to know more about her take on a particular question. When, for example, Moore writes, “Wesley’s second question [“Are you going on to perfection?”] is not whether we have reached it or even if we can” (18). I agree with her on the first and want to know more about what she means by the second part. Despite wanting to know more, I was very encouraged to see a United Methodist leader take a difficult question like this so seriously and invite us to wrestle with it in hopes of being able to say “Yes, by the grace of God” with conviction. The seriousness with which Moore takes each of the nineteen historical questions is the major strength of the book. She avoids the temptation to offer cheap shortcuts or tone down the high expectations that are evident in some of these questions.

This is a book that United Methodists need to be reading and wrestling with right now. I think one of the major reasons for the historical questions was to protect the unity of Methodism in its early years. Wesley was constantly looking for ways to press the people who were connected to him that unity involved a commitment to a particular set of beliefs (doctrine) and a particular set of practices (discipline) – all to the end of spreading scriptural holiness. I hope Moore’s book is the beginning of more sustained engagement with basic questions of identity, belief, practice, and how these relate to meaningful unity for any people called Methodists.

Cambridge Wide Margin Bible: An Ideal Companion to the Pitt Minion

Since I started reading about high quality Bibles, I wondered if I would be able to bring myself to write in one. I regularly tell myself that these are not museum pieces, they are Bibles and are meant to be used. When I carry one of these Bibles, I try to use common sense to take care of it. But I also don’t do anything that would create disincentives to reading it. This is the reason I don’t carry them in their original boxes. I want to be able to unzip my bag and pull it out and read it like any other book. But writing in a Bible changes it forever. Would I ever be able to bring myself to commit to really using the Bible to the point that I would write in it?

The Cambridge Wide Margin Bible put that question to rest.


The NIV Cambridge Wide Margin is only available in calf split leather at the moment, which is the lowest quality leather cover that Cambridge makes. The cover is much nicer than any generic “genuine leather” or “bonded leather” cover I’ve previously owned. There is no contest. However, I also like it much less than any goatskin, calfskin, or cowhide cover that I have. The calf split cover feels functional to me. It is sturdy and gives confidence that it will protect the pages between the covers. The tradeoff is that the calf split feels tougher and less supple than higher quality covers. I suspect that the NIV Wide Margin is only available in calf split due to sales projections. Part of my hope in reviews like these is to encourage readers who prefer the NRSV and NIV to invest in these translations so that they receive the same kind of support as the KJV, NASB, and ESV.

By way of comparison, Cambridge’s ESV Wide Margin Bible is available in goatskin in addition to the calf split. I have an ESV Wide Margin in goatskin (on the left in the photo above). When comparing calfskin to goatskin I am often conflicted. They are both fantastic and different enough that I find myself going back and forth between which one I prefer. There is no contest, however, between the calf split and the goatskin. The goatskin is far superior. There is also a significant difference in price (the list price of the goatskin is $80 more than the calf split).


The layout is where things get really interesting! The Cambridge Wide Margin has the identical layout to the Pitt Minion within the same translation (see my review of the Pitt Minion here). This means that if you own an NIV Pitt Minion and an NIV Wide Margin, the exact same words are on every page. This has the benefit of helping with remembering Scripture when you read and study, as you can move from one volume to the other and you are reading the same passage in the exact same place on the same page. The benefit, of course, is that the Pitt Minion is much smaller and more portable, so it is ideal for carrying with you when you are on the go. The Wide Margin is ideal for more in-depth Bible Study at home.

More than the Pitt Minion

As is obvious from the name, the Wide Margin is quite a bit larger than the Pitt Minion. The decrease in portability brings the benefits of larger text, the most expansive concordance I’ve seen in an NIV reference Bible, and room to write in the Bible.

The text is not only larger, the paper also seems better than the paper in the Pitt Minion. To my eye, the paper in the Wide Margin seems to be a bit opaquer than the Pitt Minion and it seems to have more of a matte finish. Appropriately, the paper in the Wide Margin is made to be written on, while the Pitt Minion prioritizes portability.

One of the biggest surprises for me in the NIV Wide Margin was when I looked at the stats in the concordance. The Schuyler Quentel and Pitt Minion NIV concordances each have 2,474 word entries and more than 10,000 Scripture references. The Wide Margin has 4,795 word entries with nearly 36,000 Scripture references. That is a dramatic increase and makes the NIV Wide Margin the best concordance I know of in any comparable Bible. (The NIV Wide Margin even shines in comparison to the ESV Wide Margin, which has 2,700 word entries and more than 14,500 Scripture references.)

Above all else, the Wide Margin is designed for you to engage Scripture by writing in the Bible. The purpose of the wide margins themselves is to have space to write summaries, insights, questions, etc. from your engagement with Scripture. After the concordance, the Bible also has a blank two column alphabetical index and 32 double column lined pages. This part of the Bible can be used to add additional reference material or anything else you would like to add.


I really like the combination of the Pitt Minion and the Wide Margin Bible. If the NIV is your preferred translation and you want a reference Bible that is designed to help you study the Bible by using the Bible to interpret itself (rather than external commentary like a Study Bible), the NIV Wide Margin is the best option currently on the market. If I had to choose between the Wide Margin and the Pitt Minion, I would choose the Pitt Minion because of its versatility, size, and availability of a goatskin cover.

However, after using both Bibles so much for the past month, I can’t imagine not having them both. The Wide Margin is an ideal complement to the Pitt Minion and a wonderful way to study Scripture in greater depth and engagement. I love having two Bibles of very different sizes that have the same pagination and typographical style. These Bibles are made to be used and to last. The Wide Margin is ideal for deep engagement and interaction with Scripture and is the best NIV reference Bible I have seen.

Cambridge generously provided the NIV and ESV Wide Margin Bibles for review. I was not required to give a positive review of this Bible, only an honest one.

Cambridge Pitt Minion: The Bible I Take Everywhere

When I began to wade into the world of fine Bibles, the first Bible I decided to purchase was the Cambridge Pitt Minion. I was intrigued by the compact size of the Pitt Minion and the litany of adoring reviews. I decided to make the purchase because the goatskin NIV Pitt Minion was 50% off the list price on (In case you’re interested, it still is.) At $80, it isn’t exactly economical, but it was a great discount on an exceptionally made Bible. I have no regrets about making this purchase and would not hesitate to buy this Bible again for the same amount of money. Here is why:


As far as I can recall, I had never seen or touched a goatskin Bible before my Pitt Minion arrived. The more I read about these Bibles online, the more I wanted to get my hands on a goatskin Bible. Now that I have spent hours with half a dozen goatskin Bibles, this cover is one of my favorites. The cover is paste-off, which is typically considered less durable than edge-lined covers. However, it also means that it does not have the tab that I’ve written about before and that I continue to find vexing. Out of the box, the Pitt Minion cover was a bit stiffer than I had anticipated that it would be. But it has broken in exquisitely! After reading a review from J. Mark Bertrand, I decided to give the cover all it could handle. Every time I pick it up, I roll the Bible up like a newspaper two times, so that each cover is rolled up on the inside. The boards have broken in wonderfully and the cover seems to me to have become more supple and flexible the more I use it. I would not change a single thing about the cover of this Bible. It gets better with use.

The binding is also exceptional. I have read it described as springing open. That seems a bit overstated to me. However, the Bible easily lays flat at either Genesis 1 or the maps at the back. This Bible is not only made with an attention to detail, it is also made to be read. As with any Bible of this quality, the pages are smyth-sewn.


The Pitt Minion is most famous because of its layout. It is widely considered to be the ideal two column layout for a compact Bible. While I am not an expert in design, I have been amazed at how readable this Bible is given the small font size.

The font is 6.75/7 Lexicon No. 1 A, which is small. The size of the font is the only concern I have with recommending this Bible. If you cannot comfortably read smaller print, then this Bible is not the one for you (and you should rule out all compact Bibles). Having said that, a comment I’ve frequently seen people make after spending time with this Bible is that it reads as if the font were bigger than it really is.

The text is set in a double-column layout. The references are between the two columns and are set off by a solid line on each side. Notes from the translators are in the footer, as are any references that could not fit in the center column. The text is also set in paragraphs, which I greatly prefer to verse by verse layouts. While I do generally prefer single-column layouts, I love reading this Bible and the two columns have not been an issue for me.

There is one change I would like to see in the layout. I would like each Book to start on a new page. I understand the reasons for not doing this, but I would gladly accept the additional thickness of the Bible for the elegance in layout and reading experience that would be gained.

Other Features

One of the things that most surprised me about the Pitt Minion is that it has the same size concordance as the Schuyler Quentel, a much larger Bible (for comparison the photo above features the Quentel and Pitt Minion together). Fitting a 2,474 word entry concordance with more than 10,000 Scripture references in this small of a Bible feels like a magic trick of some kind. If this wasn’t enough, the concordance looks to me to be the same size as the text itself, which makes it easier to read than the concordance in the much larger Quentel.

The Pitt Minion also has 15 color maps. From the variety of Cambridge Bibles I’ve seen, these maps are the same across the variety of Cambridge Bibles. This Bible also has two ribbons that are a really nice red. There is also a blank presentation page at the front of the Bible.


If you want a highly portable reference Bible, the Cambridge Pitt Minion is in a class by itself. I have carried mine in my backpack on several trips and it has held up beautifully. I have intentionally not packed it in the box it came in when I travel because I want to remove any obstacle to reading it. I had some concern that the Bible would get damaged if I treated it as I would any other book. I found a slight scratch in the art-gilded page edges during one trip. But I don’t view these Bibles as museum pieces. One of the reasons they are worth buying is because of the durability of the materials that are used and the quality of the construction. The more I have used this Bible, the more I like it.

John Wesley’s Advice to the People Called Methodists (Part IV)

This essay has reminded me how difficult Wesley is to read well, especially when groups with quite different perspectives seek to use Wesley as warrant for their position. The challenge of letting Wesley speak for himself is especially visible in his final words of advice. Nevertheless, I think Wesley is an essential conversation partner, particularly as United Methodism wrestles with the extent of agreement that is necessary to maintain unity.

If you are just joining the conversation, this is the final post in a four-part series on an essay John Wesley wrote in 1745, “Advice to the People Called Methodists.” These posts are designed to be read together. I hope you will check out the first, second, and third posts!

Image from Duke University Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library

Wesley’s fourth word of advice for the people called Methodists was “Keep in the very path wherein you now tread. Be true to your principles. Never rest again in the dead formality of religion. Pursue with your might inward and outward holiness, a steady imitation of him you worship, a still increasing resemblance of his imitable perfections, his justice, mercy, and truth.”

Wesley urged Methodists to avoid superstition and bigotry. He defined superstition as placing “religion in doing what God hath not enjoined, or abstaining from what he hath not forbidden.” Bigotry was defined as “confining our affection to our own party, sect, or opinion.” Wesley also wanted Methodists to “stand fast in obedient faith” and “avoid enthusiasm” (expecting to encounter God without using the means of grace).

Wesley continued by encouraging Methodists to “be true also to your principles touching opinions, and the externals of religion.” Here, Wesley once again pressed Methodists to know who they are and hold fast to their identity without condemning anyone “for not thinking as you think.” Methodists should do all that they can to persuade others, but they should never try to force someone to think like them. “If love will not compel him to come in,” Wesley wrote, “leave him to God, the Judge of all.”

After encouraging Methodists to be generous towards others regarding “opinions, and the externals of religion,” he warned them that they should not expect that “others will deal thus with you.” He wrote:

Some will endeavour to fright you out of your principles, some to shame you into a more popular religion, to laugh and rally you out of your singularity. But from none of these will you be in so great danger as from those who assault you with quite different weapons – with softness, good nature, and earnest professions of (perhaps real) goodwill. Here you are equally concerned to avoid the very appearance of anger, contempt, or unkindness, and to hold fast the whole truth of God, both in principle and in practice.

This indeed will be interpreted as unkindness. Your former acquaintance will look upon this, that you will not sin or trifle with them, as a plain proof of your coldness toward them; and this burden you must be content to bear. But labour to avoid all real unkindness, all disobliging words, or harshness of speech, all shyness or strangeness of behaviour. Speak to them with all the tenderness and love, and behave with all the sweetness and courtesy you can, taking care not to give any needless offence, to neighbour or stranger, friend or enemy.

Wesley concluded the essay with a final piece of advice and a prayer. His final piece of advice was: “Perhaps on this very account I might advise you, fifthly, Not to talk much of what you suffer, ‘of the persecution you endured at such a time, and the wickedness of your persecutors.” Instead of talking about what Methodists suffer at the hands of others, he exhorts them to pray for them.

He concluded by himself praying for Methodists:

I have now only to commend you to the care of him who hath all power in heaven and in earth; beseeching him that in every circumstance of life you may stand ‘firm as the beaten anvil to the stroke’; desiring nothing on earth, accounting all things but dung and dross, that you may win Christ, and always remembering, ‘It is the part of a good champion to be flayed alive, and to conquer!’”

Wesley wrote “Advice to the People Called Methodists” in a context where Methodism was under tremendous pressure. (For more information on the serious internal and external pressures Methodists faced in the first half of the 1740s, I highly recommend Richard P. Heitzenrater’s Wesley and the People Called Methodists.) In a time when my own denomination is in a crucible, it is helpful to know what was important to Wesley in the midst of the pressures he was facing.

In controversy, Wesley worked to be as precise as he could be about who a Methodist was. The question of identity was one that Wesley came back to again and again throughout his leadership of this new movement. He was not interested in maintaining something for its own sake. The details of belief and practice were of immediate concern to Wesley.

I think this is the part of our own history that may be most often misunderstood by denominational leaders. It is common in our current crisis to hear bishops and other key leaders appeal to the importance of unity in the midst of disagreement about marriage and human sexuality. Appeals to unity are often grounded in Wesley’s “Catholic Spirit,” or quotes like the ones found in this essay. Indeed, Wesley regularly called for Methodists to show tolerance and charity towards those with whom they disagreed. He insisted that Methodists should not anathematize Christians due to disputes related to nonessentials.

Does this mean that we can assume Wesley would advise us today to agree to disagree on the matters that presently divide us? Would he passionately exhort us to focus on what unites us and work to find ways to remain externally united?

The best way I can think of to frame this is in the form of a question: With whom were Methodists disagreeing?

If Methodists disagree with Catholics, Baptists, Eastern Orthodox, or any other Christians, then Wesley is rightly used to call us to charity and to go as far as we can to see the best in these other groups of Christians and work as much as we can with them.

If Methodists disagree among themselves, then Wesley is rightly used to call us to clarity about the inevitably concrete focus on holiness of heart and life. Wesley repeatedly called Methodists to “be true to your principles.” He exhorted them to do this regardless of how those outside of Methodism reacted to these principles. And, to his credit, Wesley was honest that the most likely result of clinging to their principles would be some form of suffering and rejection.

Wesley’s own history shows that he did indeed divide from others due persistent and ongoing disagreement about matters of faith and practice (which he would have put in the category of nonessentials or opinions). Wesley divided from both the Fetter Lane Society and from George Whitefield for these reasons. And both divisions were very difficult for Wesley, damaging relationships that were deeply important to him.

“Catholic Spirit” and other similar statements were not intended to be a guide for dealing with disagreements with Methodism. Methodists had clear positions on all manner of opinions. And Wesley expected Methodists who were in connection with him to hold fast to their doctrine and discipline.

Wesley has been misused for so long by so many that it is very difficult to read him well here. While Wesley presses Methodists to love those with whom they disagree, that is not the same thing as encouraging a broadening of perspective or a watering down of concrete moral and ethical commitments. Contemporary United Methodists too often incorrectly include loving those with whom we disagree with compromise on beliefs and practices. Wesley cannot be used to support such a position. He can be used (and should be!) to remind us that it is essential that we do all we can to love and respect those who do hold such a position.

Wesley’s “Advice to the People Called Methodists” is a relentless call to know who God has called them to be and to be faithful to it. Within that understanding, Methodists are exhorted to treat non-methodists with love and affection.

This essay has reminded me that, for Wesley, the power of Methodism comes from its detailed commitment to a particular way of life in order to pursue holiness of heart and life. Methodists always pursue holiness together expecting growth in holiness to occur in the context of intimate and vulnerable community. For Wesley, the concrete details of practical holiness are simply indispensable because they, by the grace of God, provide the thrust for the very mission of Methodism.