Review of NIV Leadership Bible: Leading By the Book

When my mom was still on this earth, she had a tradition of giving me a few Bible every year. Now back when I was growing up, there wasn’t the alphabet soup of Bible translations that there are today. But there were enough special versions of KJV, NIV, RSV, NRSV, and Interlinear Bibles out there that I was able to amass quite a collection.

Of course today, not only are the a ton of translations, but there are a ton of “specialty” Bibles as we. You have Bibles for teens, for women, and for men. You have Study Bibles, Archeological Study Bibles, Life Application Study Bibles, and every flavor of Devotional Bible out there. They say the Bible is the all-time best-selling book in this history of the world at over 6 billion copies sold since the beginning of print (where, of course, the Bible was the first book ever published), and Zondervan and its parent company HarperCollins are certainly doing all they can to keep this number growing.

The book I’m reviewing this month is the NIV Leadership Bible: Leading by The Book, an update from their 1998 Edition. Now of course, this review won’t be about the Bible itself; there aren’t enough stars in the universe I could use to give a star rating for that. Rather, this review will be about everything surrounding the Bible text, from how useful I found the study notes to the aesthetics of the book.

The first thing to note about the NIV Leadership Bible is that it’s intended for leaders of all kinds, not just leaders in a church or spiritual setting. The forward of the book was written by none other than David Green, Founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby, one of the most successful arts and crafts chain stores in the world.

I love the idea of the NIV Leadership Bible. When I went to business school in the 1980’s, it was just at the start of the Gordon Gekko “greed is good” era. Yes, there were yuppies who did nothing but follow the almighty dollar, but there was also a certain amount of decency and, dare I say, morality in the business world. There weren’t “Bible classes” in the MBA program, of course, but among my professors and classmates there were certain understandings that unmistakably had their roots in Judeo-Christian teachings. Nobody recited the Ten Commandments, but it was understood that you didn’t hate, cheat, steal, lie, or covet. You treated others as you wanted to be treated yourself. Not to say the business world were ever paragons of virtue, but at the very least it valued the principles that society around it taught as commendable.

Fast forward to the 21st century. You see corruption in corporations on a daily basis. You see the mantra on Wall Street being that cheating is okay because everyone does it, and there’s nothing wrong with it as long as you don’t get caught. And the pillars of society that are supposed to keep the business world in check–the government, the church, and the educational system–seem to grow increasingly impotent, marginalized, and/or increasingly equally as corrupt.

There’s a somewhat overused quote by Alexis de Tocqueville, a French Historian, but I think the reason it’s overquoted is because it’s true: “American is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” We often decry how our society has gotten so rotten, but remember that society is nothing but a collection of individuals. Within this group of individuals there are rotten eggs and good eggs. And what I think the NIV Leadership Bible tries to do is to remind executives and leaders in the business world who happen to be followers of Christ that they are not of this world, and that they can be salt and light to their employees, and in doing so help be a “voice in the wilderness”. In fact, the lessons in this Bible aren’t just suitable for executives, but also managers of any kind, both in the secular and the religious worlds.

Starting with the aesthetics, this is a beautiful book. It’s a book with over 1400 pages. The paper is typical “Bible paper”–very thin stock that you don’t want to sneeze on or turn too quickly–but even so it’s a very hefty volume. It measures about 9 inches by 7 inches, and has a beautiful leather cover that’s tan and brown with beautiful gold page edges, which would look respectable in any executive’s office or bookshelf.

From what I can tell, there are two main ways to use this Bible. The first way is by reading as you normally would, and paying attention to the call-out boxes that appear on almost every page called “Insights”. Here, a commentator would provide a short 1-5 paragraph business- and management-oriented interpretation of the passage you’re reading. Some of these I found to be very useful in terms of reminding me of the life application of the Bible passage to work (for example, in the passage about the agreement between Isaac and Abimelek, there was a short but useful reminder at how to apply the concepts of their agreement to contracts or business deals you might be working on; in the passage about Moses and Jethro, it provides good insights about the difference between the two men’s management style and how important delegation is.

I do have to say that some of the insights seemed a little forced or contrived (for example, in 3 John, the insight is about how John wrote words of encouragement to Gaius and how “skilled leaders take advantage of every opportunity they have to let those on their team know they value them”. While I know they’re not implying this, to a casual reader it sounds like a good leader just needs to put “encourage my employees” on a checklist and be done with it; of course, there’s much more to it than that. Admittedly, I’m nit-picking here; most of the insights are useful reminders of how to apply God’s word to your business life, if not groundbreaking new insights.

The second way to read this book is by following a calendar-based Bible study format. This is a year-long program that is integrated into the Bible (starting at page 7) where each week focuses on a different business concept (planning, organizational management, risk taking, etc). The week will have five separate readings throughout the Bible on the subject, as well as a memory verse. Unlike other Bible reading programs, this won’t take you through the whole Bible in a year, but is a great tool for thinking about the business world through Biblical eyes.

The one gripe I have about this system is that it can be really, really confusing the way it’s interspersed with the pages of the Bible. I think it would have been much more useful to have the contents be in a standalone book (which, in fact, they are to a certain extent; editors Sid Buzzel, Kenneth Boa, and Bill Perkins had previously authored a devotional book called Handbook to Leadership: Leadership in the Image of God, which I presume contains much of the same material). Incorporating a study guide into a Bible was a noble idea, and it helps that you don’t need to carry two books around, but it takes time to get used to the format. It doesn’t help that they use terminology like “home page” to refer to the Bible Study pages that confused me at first, thinking there was an online portion (there isn’t).

One very useful part of the book comes at the end: it’s a topical index that goes through a lot of topics of interest to business leaders, from humility to decision making to human resources management. It’s a great resource if you’re looking for guidance on a particular topic or are preparing a talk, a sermon, or a Bible study.

Bottom line, I’d give the NIV Leadership Bible four stars. It’s a beautiful Bible for presentation, and it contains a lot of practical advice for business leaders of all levels.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”