Editors Note: Obviously I am not reviewing the inerrant text of Scripture, I just felt that should be acknowledged, in case. To be clear when it comes to the entirety of the inspired Word of God, I am a fan.
Last weekend I threw up on the blog Instagram a couple photos of my recent haul of Crossway books. I mostly focused on the beautifully produced Be Thou My Vision. Which really is a masterful piece of work. Having been a fan of Folio Society books for years it is always exciting to have protestant books made with nearly the same beauty and quality. Which brings me to the grave disappointment of the one book I omitted from my photos, the red headed stepchild of the lot, the ESV Creeds and Confessions Bible.
At first opening I was mixed about the designs on the slipcase itself. I am a sucker for a slipcase book and this Bible coming with one was a big part of it’s selling point. A good slipcase is a handy place-marker for the book on the shelf, or in the case of an open space they are stackable which I find handy. As well they provide an opportunity to add to the visual presentation of the book itself in a way that a dust jacket just seems to cover up, then proceed to get raggedy. But I digress, the design on the face of the slip case I quite like, the spine is what I can’t seem to make up my mind about. For some reason the red and gold bars just seem to not flow with the cross pattern at the top. The backside also perplexes me to a lesser extent.
Any criticism here may just be down to me and my own issues. The real problem is how the Bible itself fits inside. As you can see there is a good sized gap between the Bible itself and the case. As well it bows in the middle which some how scuffed the top and bottom edges of the spine on that side. This seems like a lapse in quality for Crossway. As you can see below in many of their other similarly cased books the fit is perfect. I hope this is a one time quality control failure and not a specter of what is to come with future publications. A final note on the case, I am not entirely happy with the brown Bible in a black case It just seems to clash. My assumption is that the case is for all ESV Creeds and Confessions Bibles and that irrespective of which Bible you purchase the case is the same for all. Which is understandable but I still think a little cheap for what is supposed to be a prestige addition to a bookshelf.
The good comes with the binding of the Bible itself. It feels good in the hand. The firm Smyth-sewn binding is tight and the firm spine makes holding this book a delight. There is a good heft and the leather is supple and a real pleasure to feel. I also particularly like the ribbing on the spine giving it a classic look of a much older book. The gilded pages are delightful as well, It is a little more copper in color than gold and it complements the brown leather well. It also continues the feel of a much older book.
Unfortunately that is where the good of the book itself ends. You are warned it is a double column format, which is odd because Crossway has a bit of a reputation for standing out with an easy to read single column. There are previous exceptions such as the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible, and the Systematic Theology Study Bible. But those have always struck me as more reference tools than daily readers (I could be wrong). The Creeds and Confessions Bible feels like it is made to live in the hand, to be read and savored as a literary experience, akin to the ESV Readers Bibles. And Crossway at no point suggests that this is in the vein of that publication, but the outside presentation puts the reader in that frame of mind, therefore it is a grave disappointment when it is opened and what is inside is very small margins with so much text crammed into a page it feels confusing and overwhelming. The text in the inner columns also descends down into the spine further frustrating reading. The font size is a good feature at 10 point, and is a pleasant serif Lexicon type. For those reasons the text should be easy to read, except the aforementioned layout is further complicated by the thinness of the pages. I realize that the standard Bible tissue paper is a trade off here. A nice creamy vellum would add to the thickness and weight of the book and perhaps take away the pleasing size and heft, making holding it something of a chore. As well to increase the margins would also require more of the higher cost paper adding to the size and feel as well as price point. That said there is still the issue of being able to read the backside of a page through the text that is being studied. As a result the text feels jumbled by faint backwards letters set against a grey line of the pages preceding or to come on either side.
On the useful side of things, it includes a table of weights and measures, a list of abreviations, and a good size concordance. Two brown ribbon bookmarks are included and nicely spaced apart as opposed to being centered and sewn in at the same place.
Finally the creeds and confessions. Here there is a glimmer of a single column format. For example the Nicene Creed is presented in this way and the readability immediately comes through. Somehow it feels elevated and approachable. But turn the page to the Athanasian Creed and the double columns are back. Which again feels jumbled and a little like a chore to read* Each creed and confession comes with a succinct yet serviceable introduction, and the Apostles, Athanasian, and Nicene creeds each come with a footnote that reminds the reader Catholic means Universal Church. All in all 13 creeds and confessions are included and to have them all in one place with a full Bible is quite nice.
As a resource tool this production had the potential to be quite useful. I could see doing my first read for sermon or lesson prep out of a Bible like this and then flipping over to the back end to remind myself of some good foundational things that apply to my text before I move on to the ESV Study Bible for a second look at the text and a few guiding comments. Sadly I hate reading this Bible. I love holding it and looking at the outside but once I open it I just close it and go back to my Study Bible. My feeling is if I am going to deal with thin paper at least I want a single column and some footnotes.*** This leaves me with the beauty of the book on the shelf, and yet again for the good things it has to recommend itself, the shoddy slip cover takes away from the visual pleasure as well. Perhaps I should have splurged on a higher end edition and all my dreams would come true as shekhinah glory shone forth from it’s place on my shelf. But I fear that some of the basic flaws also plague those editions (paper, columns, margins) to make them only marginally more usable.
Or let me put it another way. At the same time I spent my forty bucks on this ESV Creeds and Confessions Bible, Grace to You sent me a free copy of The MacArthur Daily Bible. It’s bound in what I am pretty sure is faux leather, doesn’t lie flat, there are no flowing comments on the binding or how to care for the Bible, and it is New American Standard. I sometimes find MacArthurs footnotes obnoxious, esp. around prophesy. It has the same tissue paper pages, and is double column. And it is going to be the Bible that gets the most use from me this year. There is something about it that says, “use me” everything about it is utilitarian and practical, it is built for abuse. Opposed to that the ESV Creeds and Confessions Bible is a show piece, and sadly it fails in that category as much as it does in the practical daily use one. So sadly I must confess that I find the ESV Creeds and Confessions Bible to be a bit of a young disappointment. It had potential and some good points, but the sum of its part makes it a sad misstep in the normally excellent ESV line up from Crossway.
*Again the text not the creed, keep up!
**Not the the Roman Church under the Vicar of Satan.
***It should also be acknowledged that my ESV Study Bible is a dear old friend as well at this point and I am very attached to it’s look, feel, and all my own additions of sticky notes, bookmarks, quotes, and other sundry items I have filled it with over the years. To the point where the spine is slowly dying and every year I have to give the dust jacket a cleaning.