We have been in and around Gateway Church in Southlake Texas for years, part of that time as our home church. When the church announced that their publishing arm had produced the Fresh Start Bible, I was intrigued.
Gateway is known for its excellence in execution, with a “do it right or don’t do it” mentality. Senior and founding pastor Robert Morris presents most weekends with a self-deprecating, folksy tone that matches his small town Texas roots. I wasn’t sure that this combined background would let them effectively introduce a new volume into an increasingly crowded and competitive market for study Bibles.
The Fresh Start Bible is not advertised as a study bible, and the text notes and cross-references are minimal. What it offers is over 500 articles by Robert Morris, Jimmy Evans and others that answer basic questions and offer references to scripture. Examples include “What is The Lord’s Supper?” and “Why should I go to church?” The articles are variously presented as sidebars within the text, and lengthier articles in sections bound before and after the biblical text.
As part of the forward, there are a series of 52 basic questions, including those listed above. These are nominally offered as a weekly guide to understanding specific parts or themes of the Bible.
At the end, there are 59 articles on biblical characters or events.
Both of these sections offer open ended questions for further reflection, and related scripture readings for pursuing a deeper understanding.
The volume also offers three series of articles separate from the scriptural content covering worship, freedom, and what’s termed “Bible Reading Breakthrough.” Gateway’s clear intent is to offer a biblically based reading program but with direct answers to specific questions, and guidelines to applying the truths of scripture in a way that changes a reader’s life and understanding of himself or herself, the God who created them, and the world around them.
The end of the book offers a few pages for notes, several maps, and a one year reading plan that each day offers about two chapters of Old Testament reading, a chapter of New Testament reading, and several verses from both the Psalms and Proverbs. This keeps the reader from becoming stuck in what can seem to be an interminable discussion of genealogies or Levitical law.
The Fresh Start Bible is based on the New Living Translation (NLT), a relatively recent translation focused on translating entire thoughts into natural English instead of finding a literal translation for each word, which makes some translations awkward to read and difficult to understand when the writer lapses into colloquialisms unique to their culture and time.
The translating team is a veritable Who’s Who of academic theology and hailing from institutions committed to advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The one knock on the Fresh Start Bible, at least on the paperback linen cover version that I had access to, is that the margins are narrow and there is little room for notes. I suspect that this was intentional to keep cost down and make the book more available.
The Fresh Start Bible is a great way for a new believer to engage, or any believer to re-engage with God’s word. The text additions and articles provide “hacks” to finding answers to significant and frequently asked questions, and ways to link a deeper understanding of the Bible to a deeper relationship with God.