Book Review: Saving The Bible From Ourselves

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I must say this book has now become one of my favourites regarding Biblical interpretation. If you are interesting in maximising your understanding of and experience with the Bible, this book is a must have. Glenn Paauw’s main point is the ignorant and careless way that many “Christians” have handled the Bible. He goes on to say,  “The Word of God was sent into the world to be an agent of God’s transformative power. When we harm the Bible, we hinder that errand”.  And continues,  The only Bible that can function as a corrective for us, as an ongoing guide to our life in Christ, is a Bible that is free and that speaks to us on its own terms”. Therefore, all throughout this book he highlights the importance of understanding the Bible on “its own terms” and dares us to engage “The Bible that is presented as literature, eaten in natural forms, grounded in history, inviting in its narrative, restorative in its theme, engaged in community, and honoured in its aesthetic presentation”. 

 

LITTLE READINGS & BIG READINGS

A major aspect of “Saving The Bible From Ourselves” is knowing the difference between “little readings” and “big readings”.  He goes on to distinguish the difference:

Liitle readings are “diminished samplings of Scripture in which individuals take in fragmentary bits outside of the Bible’s literal, historical, and dramatic contexts…a corresponding meager soteriology – that narrow, individualistic, and escapist view of salvation so common among Christians”. He goes to note that “the danger here is…they think they are getting to know the Bible when actually they are being led to a small sampling of Bible passages – and often misreading them. Because this approach is so widely practiced and officially endorsed in Christian communities, even well-intentioned readers are inoculated against real Bible encounters, which differ slightly from the plucking procedure”.

Big readings are “more magnified experiences that result when communities engage natural segments of the text, or whole books, taking full account of the Bible’s various contexts”. “Big reading will bring about the rebirth of what has been too-long dormant in our modern expressions of the Christian faith – the big story that is the point of the small parts of the Bible”.

 

PROOF TEXTING

I was greatly encouraged by Glenn’s challenge to develop big readings, as I hope that’s what we have continued to do at The Blue Point Bible Church (www.bluepointbiblechurch.org) as we have been “thinking through the Scriptures”. However, besides small, isolated readings, “proof-texting” is an issue in the contemporary Christian community. Glenn writes, “Verses read in isolation, selected by topic, arranged in groups, sent out in kitschy – decorated Facebook updates – this is what passes for Bible knowledge in our era”. He then goes on to show the problem with proof-texting by offering popularly shared Bibles with verses that contrast those exact thoughts. Consider the following examples,

Jeremiah 29:11 cf. Deuteronomy 28:29
John 10:18 cf. 2 Corinthians 2:16
Philippians 4:13 cf. Isaiah 49:4
Joshua 1:8 cf. Deuteronomy 28:65

 

DICTATING THE BIBLE

Having an appreciation for the different genres of literature that come together to form the Bible is essential in developing our understanding of the Biblical narrative. Glenn Paauw takes issue with the modern  “precise, punctual, calculable, standard, bureaucratic, rigid, invariant, finely-coordinated, and routine” Bible. He explains that the way we have imposed our definitions about texts, boxed out imagination that should come through the Biblical story’ and have taken the stories and turned them into doctrinal statements.  Glenn offered the following challenge, “If we were to do nothing but take the verse numbers our of our Bibles and refuse to use them as references in our Bible practices, this alone might spark a Bible re-engagement movement”.  Furthermore he says, “The New Testament must be read so that the stories and the story, which it tells can be heard as stories not as rambling ways of declaring unstoried ideas”.

 

OUT –  OF –  CONTEXT

The comfortability that contemporary Christians have with using out-of-context Bible texts is quite dismaying. This has been a contention of mine for years. The “Bible – falling out of the sky syndrome” is what N.T. Wright diagnoses many contemporary Christian readers with.  Our emphasis on “meaning that has little to do with what the 1st- century authors intended and a lot tot do with some particular contemporary group has been accustomed to hear it” has surely led us astray. Glenn writes that “part of our conversion process, , our adoption of a new Bible engagement paradigm, will be coming to terms with the fact the Bible was written for us, not to us”. Well a hearty amen to that! This got me thinking back to my 2014 debate with Pastor Bruce Bennett wherein he tried to discredit this important approach to the Bible. Go ahead and hear him for yourself at the following link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNXL-4nl3zs (see the following times 1:10:00 – 1:21:00 – 2:39:10 – 2:41:23). In the book, Glenn goes on to say, “…the whole Bible is for us, even if it wasn’t written to us. But appropriating the message for ourselves, now, means first doing the necessary due diligence on what the message was for others, then”.

 

SOME GOOD INSIGHTS

All throughout the book, Mr. Paauw shared interesting insights and correlating details regarding the Biblical format and storyline. For example, showing how the Gospel of Matthew has five outlined speeches and correlates that to the five Books of Moses. Also, he mentioned that the three- part covenant beginning of the Bible  (The Law, the Prophets, & Writings)  corresponds to the three – part covenant end in the New Testament (Gospels, Paul’s Epistles, & General Epistles). There were a couple of others but those stood out to me the most.

 

CONCLUSION

Saving the Bible From Ourselves was a refreshing read. We need to be careful how we handle the Bible, especially if we expect to be blessed by what we read.  Glenn Paauw tells us that “Deconstruction is always the easy part, but re-envisioning the Bible is what we are after”.  The goal is to encourage contemporary Christians toward healthy Biblical interpretation so that we can “re-imaging our lives as biblical art”. It reminds me of a quote I had heard a while back in that Scripture is intended to by a symphony lived out but a choir. Glenn invites us  “…to become so immersed in the script…that we come to know this story in our bones”.

May this report coupled with the Spirit of God encourage you to continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of God (2 Peter 3:18). May the Bible continue to come alive and present itself to you as a source wherein you can find the “living Word of God”. I end this report with this summary thought from Glenn Paauw regarding an  ‘appropriate characterisation of the Bible’ as “…a temple and dwelling place story, a liberation and exodus story, a forgiveness and reconciliation story, a kingdom rebellion-reclamation story, an account of the creation, distortion and restoration of God’s image in humanity, a narrative of overcoming chaos and bringing in peace and order, and many much such self-descriptions”.

 

Reviewed by: Michael Miano

 

*** Also, if you are interested in hearing a podcast with Glenn Paauw and some details regarding this book, which was graciously shared with me, visit the following link, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8bnCWn9urg

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