by Molly Jo Nyman, freelance writer
It started with dissatisfaction.
Notes written by Bible scholars in Ron Beers’s study Bible were full of facts but left 25-year-old Ron uninspired.
“All the notes were information,” Ron recalls. “In Genesis 41, I learned that ‘all the Egyptians were clean shaven, so it was important that Joseph appear that way in the presence of Pharaoh.’ Well, that’s interesting but . . . so what?”
With gifted storyteller and author V. Gilbert Beers as his father, Ron was used to being inspired. Family meals were served with Bible stories so engaging that no one zoned out. His young life was rich with experiences that helped him lean in and expect the Bible to connect to everyday life.
Ron had an unusual response to his dissatisfaction: He studied his study Bible.
And his discovery was startling.
After a thorough review of the study Bible he owned, along with a few others, Ron found zero help in connecting daily struggles and needs with the wisdom of Scripture. No notes on how to deal with worry, priorities, doubts, or relational conflict. Not one connection to personal application.
He began to wonder if there could be a study Bible that was more helpful. He thought about what it might look like. Then he became convinced that a completely new and different kind of study Bible was needed.
This new kind of study Bible would continue to provide accurate information, but it would also connect to inspiration. It would help people not just to know but also to do so that they could experience the transformative power of God’s Word. It would connect the dots.
As luck—or rather God—would have it, Ron was working at the national headquarters of Youth for Christ in Illinois on new product development (primarily books). It was a front row seat not only to see the need for an application-oriented study Bible but also to observe the approaches—what worked and what didn’t in helping people connect God’s Word to everyday life.
Youth for Christ was passionate about reaching young people with the gospel and helping them become “lifelong followers of Jesus who lead by their Godliness in lifestyle . . .” (as quoted in their mission statement). And in the mid-1980s, youth ministry was thriving with hundreds of high school kids showing up for club meetings.
With crazy crowd breakers and hilarious games, meetings were fun but also focused on felt needs and common youth issues. Topics like loneliness or fear were opportunities to show kids that Jesus cared about them personally and how his Word could actually help them.
When the Bible was taught, the focus wasn’t on Bible literacy, cultural context, and historical facts. It was focused on the exact thing Ron wanted this newfangled study Bible to do.
“All around us people were asking, ‘If God really cares about me and my daily life, my community, my nation, my world, then shouldn’t the Bible put forth a clearer blueprint for how to navigate daily challenges? Shouldn’t its transformative power be more obvious?’ That’s what we wanted to get at,” recalls Ron.
“Because when people see how amazingly relevant the Bible is to any issue they’re facing, they’ll hunger and thirst to devour the Scriptures, deepening their relationship with God and transforming their relationships with others.”
Ron brought the idea of an application-oriented study Bible for high school students to his boss, Bruce Barton, vice president of the ministry service division and the force behind Youth for Christ’s new publishing emphasis at the time, and he also shared it with others.
According to Jim Galvin, Youth for Christ’s national training director at the time, the idea germinated and grew as most new ideas do—with a little bit of conflict and bashing.
“We would meet to brainstorm products for Youth for Christ, and Ron kept bringing [the idea for a youth application study Bible] up. I was the most vocal against it,” Galvin said. “High school students didn’t use study Bibles. We worked with high school students; we knew them. And they never, ever open a study Bible.”
But that didn’t stop Ron from continuing to bring it up. So to squash the idea, Galvin wrote a detailed memo.
“It basically said, if we’re going to do a study Bible for high school kids, it has to be done right, and it has to include profiles of Bible people, charts, a Bible outline, study notes, and a whole bunch of features,” Galvin recalled. “I was hoping Ron and others would say, ‘This is way too much work. High school kids wouldn’t use this product, anyway.’
“Talk about backfiring. When Ron got the memo, his reaction was, ‘Now that’s what I’m talking about!’”
Fun fact: Notes and feature in your Life Application Study Bible were written, revised, and reviewed by writers, editors, and scholars at least 17 times. As the story of its creation is told, you can trust its guidance even more.