The late Lawrence O. Richards led churches to think about Christian education beyond Sunday school with his wildly popular Bibles for kids and youth. He died earlier this month at age 85.
Richards’ kid-friendly revisions of the New International Version (NIV) include the jungle-themed Adventure Bible, which has sold more than 6 million copies to become the top children’s Bible in the world, and the Teen Study Bible, which sold more than 4 million copies and was written with his wife, Sue.
“This man, whose primary expertise was Christian education, was very knowledgeable in all the biblical and theological disciplines,” said Zondervan senior vice president Stan Gundry. “He was brilliant; his knowledge was encyclopedic; and as an author he was prolific. His versatility was unmatched. He wrote textbooks, devotional books, biblical reference books, and books for children.”
Over his lifetime, Richards authored more than 250 books.
“I loved teaching, and still do, but you can reach so many more people with your writing,” he said in an interview with Christian Writing Today, referencing the popularity of his study Bibles. “It would take a lot of hours in the classroom to have that kind of impact.”
Before the kid-focused Bible commentaries for every book of the Bible, the Dallas Theological Seminary and Northwestern University grad researched Christian education and spiritual formation. He gave the church “the most comprehensive theory of Christian education by any evangelical writer of the 20th century,” said Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor Phil Sell.
His greatest legacies, Sell wrote, come from his book Creative Bible Teaching as well as his church renewal book A New Face for the Church:
Richards believes that, first and foremost, Christian education is a theological discipline, even though he will buttress his ideas with social science and educational theory insight. This emphasis on the primacy of being biblical and theological aided him in communicating his insights and making them palatable to his largely evangelical audience. For Richards ecclesiology is the most important theological topic….
As a Wheaton College Graduate School professor in the late 1960s, his seminar on Christian education was highlighted by the National Association of Evangelicals, launching him into the national spotlight, Sell wrote.
Richards also took an interest in spiritual warfare. He led seminars on the topic and ran a (now-defunct) blog at DemonDope.com. He lived the final years of his life in Raleigh, North Carolina.