Thursday 18 December 2008

Some Books on the Bible

[A version of this was first published as ‘Billington’s Bookshelf’ (not my idea…) in the December 2008 edition of London Institute of Contemporary Christianity’s EG. I was asked to write a 700-word piece outlining some of the good stuff published on the Bible over the last year or so.]

From John Stott we have learned the importance of ‘double listening’ – listening to the word and the world. He was careful to point out, however, that we do not listen to both ‘in the same way or with the same degree of deference’ (The Contemporary Christian [Leicester: IVP, 1992], 28). The most fruitful engagement with God’s world flows out of faithful engagement with God’s word. Somewhat ironically, in an age where biblical literacy is on the wane, we have more resources than ever which enable us to get to grips with God’s word in order that it might shape us and our interaction with contemporary culture. Some recent works are highlighted here.

Mention must be made of the publication of two significant study Bibles: the NLT Study Bible (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2008), and the ESV Study Bible (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2008). The New Living Translation offers a readable, everyday English translation, while the English Standard Version is a more ‘literal’ translation, seeking to capture the wording of the original text. Both come with articles, maps and charts, as well as thousands of study notes, and both provide online access with purchases of the print edition – useful for those who are more comfortable studying in front of a computer screen. Of course, one of the dangers of study Bibles is when the notes become more important than the biblical text. The purpose of the notes, as with the following titles – fallible as they are – is to encourage study of the Bible itself.

Along these lines, Christopher Ash, Bible Delight: Heartbeat of the Word of God (Fearn: Christian Focus, 2008) expounds Psalm 119 in 22 daily reading-sized chunks, reminding us that reading and hearing God’s word is a matter of delight rather than duty, inviting us not only to understand Scripture but to feel it and be willing to sing it through our lives.

In different, but complementary ways, Nick Page, The Big Story (Bletchley: Authentic, 2007), John Grayston, Explorer’s Guide to the Bible: A Big Picture Overview (Bletchley: Scripture Union, 2008), and Colin Sinclair, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Bible: Thumbing Through the Old and New Testaments (Oxford: Monarch, 2008) provide panoramic overviews of the Bible, tracing its storyline, introducing its books and outlining its themes in ways that would be useful for those who are relatively new to Scripture.

Less on content issues and more on the nuts and bolts of interpretation is J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Journey into God’s Word: Your Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), an abridgment of a fuller work, and suitable for beginners. More advanced, exploring the act of communication between authors, texts and readers is Jeannine K. Brown, Scripture as Communication: Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).

Amy Orr-Ewing, Why Trust the Bible? Answers to 10 Tough Questions (Nottingham: IVP, 2008) offers answers to some of the most frequently encountered challenges (are the manuscripts reliable? isn’t the Bible sexist? what about the canon?) in a concise and winsome way, while those wanting to explore the ins and outs of different versions will find a sure-footed guide in Gordon D. Fee and Mark L. Strauss, How to Choose a Translation for all its Worth: A Guide to Understanding and Using Bible Versions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

In the area of biblical theology, Thomas R. Schreiner, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008) and Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Nottingham: Apollos, 2008) provide substantial treatments, each taking account of the diversity as well as the unity of Scripture. More briefly, T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to Jerusalem: Exploring God’s Plan for Life on Earth (Nottingham: IVP, 2008) outlines some central themes that run through the Bible as a whole.

Finally, those wanting something different could try A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (London: William Heinemann, 2008). A journalist and self-confessed agnostic, Jacobs writes an amusing but informative, and occasionally moving, diary-type account of his attempts to obey the Bible as literally as possible. It’s full of surprising insights for Christian readers, along with the implicit challenge of what ‘living’ the Bible might actually mean.

No comments: