With the July 27 release of Belonging, IVP’s newest LifeGuide Bible Study by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff member Deborah Meyer Abbs, the press continues its yearlong 75th anniversary celebration by telling the story of its history as a publisher and leader in Bible study. For over three decades of its seventy-five-year history, IVP’s LifeGuide® Bible Studies (LBS) have sold more than fifteen million copies of nearly 150 titles. IVP is also celebrating its seventy-five years by releasing the IVP Signature Bible Studies, eleven Bible studies based on select iconic and bestselling books from throughout its history.
Cindy Bunch, associate publisher and director of editorial at IVP, has worked on developing IVP Bible studies since 1990. She said, “The LifeGuide Bible Studies went through a major revision some years ago, so I’ve had time with every guide in the series. While the LifeGuide series is the most enduring and comprehensive, covering Bible books and key themes from Scripture, we publish a variety of other Bible study series. We have two series that incorporate commentary material from well-known authors: John Stott Bible Studies and N. T. Wright for Everyone Bible Study Guides. The Bible studies that are a part of the IVP Signature Collection are an update of the bestselling Christian Basics Bible Study Series. More than a discussion guide to the related book, each one explores a core Bible text. We are also adding new volumes to the series as we release the Signature Collection books.”
As an extension of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), an interdenominational Christian campus ministry founded in 1941, IVP’s history with Bible study is closely tied to its outreach on college campuses. In the early 1940s, Jane Hollingsworth brought her experience with Bible study to IVCF. As millions of men went to war in Europe and Asia, many jobs were filled by women—like Jane, who was recruited by Stacey Woods to join IVCF campus staff in 1942. A Wheaton College graduate, Jane had been trained in inductive Bible study at the Biblical Seminary in New York. She brought this passion to her campus work with InterVarsity. Ultimately, Woods wanted InterVarsity to be a Bible movement, and Hollingsworth brought the practical skills needed to make this a reality.
In the book Heart. Soul. Mind. Strength.: An Anecdotal History of InterVarsity Press, 1947-2007, coauthors Andrew T. Le Peau and Linda Doll wrote, “After traveling extensively, visiting students on many campuses, Jane told her boss, ‘The students want to study the Bible, Stacey, but they don’t know how. They need some materials.’”
“Well, Jane, write some!” replied Stacey with his usual bluntness. And so she did.
IVP’s first inductive Bible study guide was published in 1943. It was titled Discovering the Gospel of Mark and was written by Jane Hollingsworth.
Le Peau and Doll wrote, “From the very beginning, three emphases came together in IVP’s first homegrown publication: the value of books written by IVCF staff, the importance of Bible study, and the equal worth of books written by men and women—emphases that would sound again and again in the decades to come.”
Jack Kuhatschek, who spearheaded the work on the first LifeGuide Bible Studies, recalled approaching IVP’s publisher at the Urbana Missions Conference in 1979 and asking why, since inductive Bible study was InterVarsity’s strength, they had so few Bible Studies. The publisher replied that Bible studies did not sell well. “Ironically, three years later I was asked to become IVP’s first Bible study editor,” Kuhatschek said. IVP launched the first seven LifeGuides in 1985, and they almost immediately became the top-selling series in the industry. By 2004 more than ten million LifeGuides were in print.
Kuhatschek edited every LifeGuide in the series until he left IVP in 1990. He also wrote eleven LifeGuides, as well as How to Lead a LifeGuide Bible Study (with Cindy Bunch). He said, “IVCF has always had a missional focus, and it’s encouraging to know that these guides have helped people around the globe to deepen their knowledge of both the Bible and the Lord.”
Dale and Sandy Larsen, who have written nearly fifty Bible studies for IVP over the past three decades, said, “One thing has never changed: IVP editors insist that we write Bible study questions that compel readers to think. No obvious fill-in-the-blank answers are allowed! IVP Bible studies are designed to build believers’ assurance that they can understand and apply the Word of God for themselves.”
Bunch said, “IVP Bible studies offer the consistent value of focusing on one Scripture passage—generally just one chapter. The open-ended questions take group members through a process of observation, interpretation, and application.
This allows everyone in the group to just show up, open their Bibles, and explore a passage together. No homework required!”
In addition to writing twelve LifeGuide Bible Studies, including their forthcoming LifeGuide, Gratitude: Giving Thanks in Life's Ups and Downs (January 2022), the Larsens have been instrumental in writing a number of the 75th anniversary IVP Signature Bible Studies. Dale said, “John Stott’s book Basic Christianity was instrumental in leading Sandy to faith in Christ while she was in college. What an honor it has been for us to write a study guide to go along with that book, as well as other study guides in the John Stott Bible Studies series. The forthcoming IVP 75th Anniversary Signature Collection will introduce a new generation of readers to classic Christian books and authors such as Stott. We’ve been pleased to contribute to the Signature Bible Studies and in the process renew our own familiarity with these enduring works.”
Pastor Douglas Connelly, who has written twenty LifeGuides, was first recruited by Kuhatschek to write the Daniel LifeGuide more than thirty years ago. He said, “The most fulfilling part of writing the Bible study guides has been to see how God has used them in so many places with so many people. I met a missionary from Estonia several years ago, and I gave him some of my books and LifeGuides. The guide on the Gospel of John happened to be on top of the pile. He looked at me in surprise and said, ‘Did you write this?’ When I said yes, he told me somewhat sheepishly that he had translated that study guide into Estonian so he could use it with a small group of men he was discipling. I was humbled that he found it so valuable that he would use it to train emerging leaders in the Estonian church.”
Connelly added, “When I think of the people who have used my study guides in English—and then add all the others who have used them as the guides have been translated around the world—it makes me feel grateful that God would use a struggling soul like me to touch so many lives and hearts. I’ve deeply appreciated the commitment of InterVarsity Press to produce excellent Bible studies in many different formats. Only eternity will reveal the lives and families and marriages and hearts that have been changed because searching people encountered the living Word through the study guides that IVP has produced.”