Logos Bible Software recently provided me with a copy of “Abraham: Following God’s Promise: a Total Church Curriculum” to review. This is a new product offering for them, and a new style of product designed for a whole-church experience. Two similar products have followed, studies of Jacob and Joseph in the same manner.
Here’s the TL;DR version in advance: I love the concept, execution, and content. My main reservation is a question of how this would work in my congregation. I’m not sure I understand how this product fits in with the significant portion of my congregation that doesn’t have a tablet or even a computer. More on that later. If that’s not an issue for your congregation—go for it! The technology is a major component of this product.
First: the content. “Commentary” isn’t the right word for this presentation. “Curriculum” might give you the wrong idea of a Sunday School book that has a two-page lecture and then a dozen questions to answer. I’d label this product a “congregational guide.”
They have included all sorts of tools to help make this as fully integrated as possible for the whole church. There is a sermon “bumper” video, weekly videos to introduce to small groups, outlines, bulletin graphics…pretty much everything you can imagine in terms of in-house promotion and tools, except for a digital deacon dressed up as Abraham inviting people to services.
Another feature I like is the inclusion of magazine-style sidebars or block quotes. These often come in the form of “Quick Bits” and “Quick Tips” that add helpful word study or cultural details. These have the effect of helping us learn to do a better job of Bible study. They really drive the reader towards paying attention to context. That’s great.
There are a few other digital details that are really worth noticing. Any scripture reference in Logos (or Faithlife) is just a click away. How many times have you just skipped right over the references in a book because you were too lazy to look them up? I imagine this new format will cause people to be much more likely to read those cross-references.
The graphics that are included are excellent. They’re in a sort of info-graphic style, similar to the ones offered in the High Definition Commentary series. I think they’re great visualizations of biblical concepts. One of my favorites has Abram taking a step across a bridge made out of the word “Faith.” That really gets the point across!
Logos-backed software also has plenty of opportunity for note-taking. There are blanks for students to fill in their answers, and commonly-highlighted passages are lightly underlined. As a minister, I think it’s helpful to see what is catching people’s attention. Occasionally, it will help you see that people are latching on to only part of a significant idea. It’s a big help.
While I doubt many will use the bibliography (“Further Reading”) at the end of each chapter, for leaders who are preparing, this could be a great resource. These seem geared to helping unpack more difficult ideas in each week’s reading.
Having written all this, it occurs to me that I’ve said very little about the writing and the quality of the commentary itself. That slant alone shows you how much of a game-changer I think this format of a tool could be for churches. (Personal note: I’m dreaming of a day where instead of having “pew Bibles” and hymnals, we’ll have “pew tablets” so that everyone can tap together to material like this!)
The content is appropriate. It is neither dryly academic nor patronizingly popular. It’s written at a simple level, yet difficult concepts are dealt with. The authors seem to have a keen sense for keeping the main application the main thing, sort of in the school of Stanley’s one-point-preaching. They don’t fall into the trap of being simplistic, however. They invite the student into deeper thought and research. The digital tools they provide make that more likely than ever.
Overall, this is a high quality product. I don’t feel that it’s right for complete congregational usage in my particular context. We just have too many people in the rural areas that don’t interact with technology at all. For those who do, however, I think this may be one of the best small-group products developed in my lifetime, and I hope it will cast a shadow over future church curriculums for a long time to come.