Thursday, October 11, 2007

How to Read the Bible Book by Book

I bought this book, written by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, the other day. It is the follow up to their original bestseller How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth.

Because of the way it is written (where you read the relevant chapter as you read each book of the Bible) I probably won’t write a full review of the book. Thus these, my first impressions of the book, will probably be as close as it comes.

I paid for this with my own money, which given that I am a student, says a lot in its favour. Having read the first book, I know the authors can articulate complex concepts in a clear and understandable way. They introduce theological jargon into their discussion, but do a good job of carefully defining their terms in a way that your average reader will understand. Hence while starting from a platform of common knowledge, the authors lead their readers into a comprehensive understanding of the Bible (with the added bonus that we come out the end with a few big words to impress people with). At least that’s what happened in their first book, and a quick perusal of this one indicates it will be of an equally high calibre.

My greatest fear when buying this was that the authors would end up simply telling me what I should be learning from each book, without teaching me how to learn it myself. Hence I was encouraged to read (in the preface) that this is precisely the opposite of the author’s intentions: “our goal is not simply to dispense knowledge about the various books of the Bible – the kind of knowledge that allows one to pass Bible knowledge exams without ever reading the Bible!...the concern is with your becoming a better reader of Scripture; if you begin to learn some other things about each book along the way, all the better.”

Fee and Stuart make quite clear at the outset that a common theme of their book is to demonstrate how each of the individual books of the canon fit into the overall narrative of the Bible. “We want to show how the separate entities – each biblical book – fit together as a whole to tell God’s story.” To stress this, the book opens with a brief description of what that story is. That is, “a brief overview of the biblical story – what those who study narratives call the metanarrative of Scripture. This is the big picture, the primary story, of which all the others form a part so as to shape the whole.” Hence a main emphasis of the book, it would seem, is to ensure the reader interprets scripture in the light of its context within this narrative, taking into account its historical setting. I won’t say much more on this, just that I think it hits the nail on the head.

Potential readers will probably want to be aware that: “the authors unapologetically stand within the evangelical tradition of the church. This means, among other things, that we believe that the Holy Spirit has inspired the biblical writers (and collectors) in their task”. To me this is a good thing!

My first impressions of this book have got me excited about using it to aid my study of Scripture. It is written by authors who I know are able communicators and have a sound grasp of their subject matter. The stated direction of the book is completely in line with the title, and sounds exactly like what I want. While I cannot justify unreservedly recommending this based on the preface and a quick flick through it, I am confident it will prove to be a worthwhile investment for myself and, I trust, others.

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