C.S. Lewis for the holidays: New Bible is a great gift

Like millions of other readers, I’ve loved C.S. Lewis books all my life. As a teen-ager, I devoured “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Great Divorce” and the Narnia novels. As a parent, I read the entire Narnia series to my children. (Part 1 of this series reviews the new, “A Year with Aslan.”)

Quite simply, I would be thrilled to find a copy of the new “The C.S. Lewis Bible, New Revised Standard Version” under my own Christmas tree. I can assure you that there probably are people on your Christmas list who’d feel the same way. After years of preparation, this new devotional Bible—sprinkled with 600 short quotes from Lewis’ own comments on scripture—goes on sale today, November 9, 2010. While the suggested retail price of $34.99 may sound a bit steep in tough financial times—the Amazon price already is deeply discounted.

Review of “C.S. Lewis Bible NRSV”

DESIGNED FOR PROTESTANTS: This 1,500-page inspirational Bible is designed for its core audience among the hundreds of millions of English-speaking Protestants around the world. Due to the steep costs of Bible publishing these days, there is no expanded Catholic or Orthodox edition of this Lewis Bible. (Catholic and Orthodox Bibles contain more books than the Protestant Bible.) Of course, Lewis crossed most Christian boundaries and even reached an interfaith audience with his Narnia series.

THE TRANSLATION: This is the easy-to-read New Revised Standard Version. The most popular translation of the Bible among evangelicals is the New International Version, but there is a great diversity in Bible reading preferences. For example, millions of evangelicals and African-American Protestants still prefer the older King James Version. Other translations and paraphrases of the Bible are very popular today. Tastes differ widely. This New Revised Standard Version is especially popular in mainline Protestant churches—and some of the NRSV texts even appear in official Catholic worship resources.

NOT A BIBLE SCHOLAR? Lewis famously joked that he was merely an “amateur” in Bible scholarship. In fact, Lewis was a world renowned expert in medieval literature and worked as a scholar in various languages, including ancient Greek. He did publish a book interpreting the Psalms, during his lifetime. But he always saw himself—as a writer—in the role of a companion to other Christians. He read the Bible on a daily basis as a guide to his own life and prayers, pulling out various nuggets of wisdom that struck him along the way. That’s the overall tone of these Lewis excerpts. His comments throughout this Bible are not historical or scholarly annotations as you’d find in a “study Bible.” These are the thoughts of a wise companion enjoying the scriptures with you.

NO NARNIA: The 600 passages included in this devotional Bible come largely from Lewis’ great body of personal correspondence with friends and his books like, “The Four Loves,” “God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics,” “The Great Divorce,” “A Grief Observed,” “Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer,” “Mere Christianity,” “The Problem of Pain,” “The Screwtape Letters,” “Reflections on the Psalms,” “Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life ” and “The Weight of Glory.” There are a few pieces from Lewis’ science-fiction books and a single passage from “The Magician’s Nephew,” which is included in Genesis. So, other than that one Genesis reference, this is a Narnia-free book.

IF YOU WANT INSPIRATION ON THE GO! This new Lewis Bible is best for home-based reading, although it fits easily into my own tote bag. I’ve carried my review copy of the Lewis Bible far and wide, already. However, also this autumn, there’s a beautiful new “NRSV Go-Anywhere Thinline Bible with the Apocrypha [Bonded Leather, Black]” If you’re really slimming down your daily load, this new “Thinline Bible” weighs about 2 pounds compared with 3 pounds for the new Lewis Bible—and this particular “Thinline” edition includes all the extra books found in Catholic and Orthodox Bibles. Measured across the front cover (and in the thickness of the book), the “Thinline” is only slightly slimmer than the Lewis Bible—but it certainly feels, overall, lighter and easier to carry. If you want Lewis to guide you, though, there’s only one choice here. The “Thinline” is simply scripture—Lewis plays no role in that edition.

TOMORROW: The HarperOne editors behind these latest Lewis projects talk about Lewis’ amazing popularity after so many years—and about some of the challenges Lewis readers raise about his books, these days.

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