My first “preaching” Bible was The New Scofield Reference Bible. Every young “preacher boy” needed a “big black bible.” That was in the 1979. The fact is at the time it was one of the few annotated “study” Bibles available. And it was far and away the best known at the time. Not much later my grandparents gave me a copy of The Ryrie Study Bible, the NASB edition.
Today you may purchase The Scofiled Bible in any number of more modern translations. Some bristle at the thought. It would be like a purist photographer eschewing digital photography. Some do so with great vim and vigor.
When I found out my friend Todd Mangum co-authored The Scofield Bible: Its History and Impact on the Evangelical Church I knew it was a must read. I even sent for an “autographed copy.” I knew Todd held a degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. Anyone familiar with dispensationalism knows well the theological perspective of DTS and its long association with dispensationalism. I grew up in the environs of a deeply conservative Southern Baptist Church led by a pastor aggressively given to dispensationalist theology.
I jettisoned dispensationalist theology some time ago. It died a hard death. It is what I knew. It is what was in the notes of my Bible. And as the jingle Mangum and Sweetnam point to we often did believe our faith was built on Scofield’s notes and Moody Press.
The book’s subtitle narrows the scope of the work. Evangelicalism and especially “Southern” Evangelicalism owes a great deal to Scofield. The popularity of The Left Behind Series may be traced to the long reign of The Scofield Bible as the only annotated study Bible until the 1970’s; arguably a reign of 70 years. Mangum and Sweetnam demonstrate the influences upon Scofield and point to the remarkable task undertaken to provide a Bible for the lay person to use who could not afford theological education. They also note some myths in need of debunking along the way.
I was intrigued to discover Scofield undertook a collaborative process as he worked on his notes and definitions for theological terms. This is remarkable when you consider the speed at which he could expect responses from pastors and theologians he queried for, say, a definition of “justification.” And, while Scofield could not completely demonstrate a certain objectivity when presenting alternative interpretations of a given passage, he did work to note other interpretations charitably. According to the authors, Scofield really did intend to offer lay readers a resource for inductive bible study with “helps.”
Each author writes an alternating chapter. Sometimes this works. Other times not so well. Mangum and Sweetnam make it work. The major dividing line for the two is their continent of context. Sweetnam writes from the perspective of British Evangelicalism while Mangum provides analysis of American Evangelicalism. You will be helped by both perspectives when considering the subject.
Mangum and Sweetnam do a solid job of getting “behind” the caricatures of the man behind the project and demonstrate an appreciation for the magnitude of Scofiled’s work. If you share my story you would benefit from this well written book. Too often we move on to hold other positions and convictions and we become less than charitable and often hostile to what we once believed. I have an appreciation for Bro. Justice, my childhood pastor, even if today I do not share his eschatology. His interest in the study of the Scriptures still prods me. In part that is likely owed to the influence of The Scofiled Bible.