Book Review: Read the Bible for Life

I first discovered George Guthrie through links to his blog from others. The posts I read there were so helpful that I got his book, Read the Bible for Life: Your Guide to Understanding and Living God’s Word.

After an introduction detailing reasons for reading the Bible, lamenting a lack of Biblical literacy among Christians, and posting several reasons why Christians don’t read, Guthrie launches into the four parts of his book.

The first part covers “Foundational Issues,” like how to read it, reading it in context and for transformation. etc.

Part 2 discusses reading the various genres in the Old Testament: stories, laws, psalms and proverbs, and prophets.

Part 3 covers the different types of literature in the New Testament: stories, Jesus’ teachings, epistles (letters), and Revelation.

Part 4 contains four chapters concerning “Reading the Bible in Modern Contexts,” like personal and family devotions, as a church, and in times of sorrow.

At the end, Guthrie includes a couple of reading plans, including a chronological one.

Most of the chapters are the result of interviews Guthrie conducted with experts in various fields of Bible study. I appreciated that the interview format kept the book informal and accessible rather than academic. But because of the interview setting, sometimes extraneous details were included, like scenes from where the interview took place, the interviewee’s posture, etc. But I think the benefits of this process probably outweighed the extra unnecessary details.

I have multitudes of places marked in this book, but I’ll try to share just a few. If the source was someone other than Guthrie, I put that person’s name in parentheses.

God’s Word, wielded by the Holy Spirit, has the power to sort us out spiritually, to surprise and confront us, growing us in relationship with our Lord Christ. Thus, reading the Bible ought to at once be as encouraging as a mother’s gentle touch and, at moments, as unsettling and disturbing as a violent storm.

I would suggest that true literacy—the kind that matters—brings about clearer thinking and informed action. Thus, true biblical literacy involves an interaction with the Bible that changes the way one thinks and acts, and that kind of interaction takes time.

As we read on a daily basis, growing in our skill in Bible reading, the rhythm of a life lived deeply in God’s Word will become as nurturing as our daily meals, as spiritually strengthening as daily exercise, and as emotionally satisfying as a good-morning kiss from a spouse. It takes discipline, but Bible reading can come to be a discipline of delight if we open our hearts and lives to it.

The key is to have a posture toward God’s Word by which His Word is changing us in our context rather than our molding the Word to our cultural tastes and values. That is hard to do. We have to read with humility. And I think the beginning of humility is the fear of God. We have to believe in the authority of God’s Word and be ready to adjust our lives to it. (Andreas Kostenberger)

Jesus meant for people to put His words into action in specific, tangible ways. Our problem is that we think it is enough just to grasp general concepts as if taking in the Word of God is a mental exercise. Jesus, rather, meant our interaction with the Word to be a life exercise.

When we begin to see the beauty and power of the Bible’s story as a whole, we then begin to read each part of the Bible better. (Bruce Waltke)

When slogging through the myriad of laws about priestly worship practices, the tabernacle, uncleanness, and primitive issues of justice, you may feel like the wheels are coming off your momentum. Yet this part of Scripture is also God’s gift to His people. Gems here are waiting to be unearthed from under the seemingly crusty surface, and those gems form a vital part of the foundation of the Bible’s grand story.

I would hope, that when we come to Scripture, we would approach it not as a chore or a duty or a textbook but as a source of delight. At times we should say, ‘Wow! I’ve actually got the next half hour to read the Bible and talk to God!’ (David Howard)

So we need to remember that the Lord wants us to understand this book. We should pray, asking the Holy Spirit for insight and discernment as we read, even as we are putting forth effort to study and understand it. (J. Scott Duvall)

Lament teaches us that we have to go through the process of dealing with our suffering before God. You don’t just stuff your feelings down and put a good face on it, like a lot of us tend to do. You need to go through the process of pouring your heart out to God. And if you don’t have the language for it, the Bible will give you the language. (Michael Card)

Because we are ‘self-help’ oriented, too often we as Christians have become more content to go to the Christian bookstore and get good books there, neglecting our reading of the Bible. We think those books apply to us better than the Bible does, but the reality is, no book in the Christian bookstore can do what the Bible is divinely inspired to do: to transform us at the deepest levels in the way we think and live, to mold us into the image of Christ and show us our place in the grand story of Scripture. (Buddy Gray)

All I know about Guthrie is from some of his blog posts and this book, and I didn’t know any of the people he interviewed except that I had heard of a few of them. But don’t remember seeing any theological problems or concerning issues or statements.

This is a book I wish I had kept running notes or outlines of. But Guthrie does include a summary of the principles discussed at the end of each chapter, which helps for a quick review.

The general helps to reading and understanding as well as the specific advice and tips for the different genres were greatly helpful. I thought this book was an excellent resource for anyone who would like to understand and apply more of the Bible.

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Here are some great reads from around the Web:

I Learned to Read the Bible Through Tears, HT to True Woman. “But on days when I felt desperate, I didn’t care about duty. I was dedicating time to be with God because I needed it — not because I had to. I approached my Bible reading with a different mindset, with expectation and anticipation, not a sense of obligation.”

How Reading the Bible Changed My Life, HT to Challies.”So when I look back at that time in my life, I don’t see a 14-year-old who suddenly became ‘spiritual’; I see a gracious God who chose to intervene in an apathetic teen’s life. I don’t see my own faithful heart; I see the faithful heart of God that kept on pursuing me, despite my faithlessness, and that still pursues me to this day.”

Am I Invisible? One Mom’s pain-relieving response to being excluded, HT to Linda.

Age-ism: The New (or Old) Prejudice, HT to Out of the Ordinary. “About forty percent thought that older people should be banned from public activities, like shopping. Then the vitriol gets worse. Some of sites declared that older folks should ‘hurry up and die already.’ One quote went, ‘Anyone over the age of 69 should immediately face a firing squad.’ This is nothing but brutal hate-speech.”

Children Who Get What They Want Are Not Creative, HT to The Story Warren. Interesting piece on how creativity thrives within structure and discipline rather than in total freedom. “When we [always] give a three-year-old whatever he wants, we are just postponing that child’s battle with his desires until a time in which he will find the fight far more difficult.” I don’t know that the best reason to serve a child food that he doesn’t like is so that he can engage his creativity by figuring out various ways to get rid of it, but I am thinking that section might be written tongue-in-cheek.

My Mother Practiced the Piano. “Certainly motherhood may limit your participation in certain endeavors, and there are some years that moms mostly just have to survive. However, if you are reading a site like Story Warren, my guess is that you are already highly committed as a parent, and that commitment frees me up to remind you that your passion and curiosity matter. There’s nothing selfish about working toward your artistic interests as God allows the time. In fact, your children can benefit from watching you model discipline and discovery, so don’t give up on your art, invite your kids into it. Let them watch you conquer little pieces of the world so that they will know how to tame their own chaos one measure at a time.”

Finally, seen on Pinterest from the Prince of Preachers site, this principle is not easy, but it is true.

Laudable Linkage

Just a few good reads to share today:

Read Your Bible to Fight Unbelief, HT to Challies. “We stop reading it when, in our unbelief, we start living as if we were autonomous and knew well how to do this thing called life without any direction from the Holy Spirit.”

Why Paul’s Messy Churches Give Us Hope.

Walking Saints Home, HT to Challies, on “the calling to walk with men and women to the end of their earthly lives.”

Why You Shouldn’t Stop Blogging (or Why You Should Consider Starting)

And, finally, this was floating around Facebook a while back. It always cracks me up:

Happy Saturday!

Women of the Word

WOTWIf you could only read one book about studying the Bible, I would recommend Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin.

I read it four years ago, but wanted to read it again. I should probably reread it every few years.

Jen opens with some of the mistaken approaches she took to reading the Word of God at first. One was reading it as if it were a book about her and to help her. Though the Bible does help us, it is a book about God. Another “turnaround” for her was the realization that the Bible should speak to the mind as well as, and even before, the heart.

If we want to feel a deeper love for God, we must learn to see him more clearly for who he is. If we want to feel deeply about God, we must learn to think deeply about God (p. 33).

We must love God with our minds, allowing our intellect to inform our emotions, rather than the other way around (p. 34).

Jen’s great passion is promoting Bible literacy, which she says “occurs when a person has access to a Bible in a language she understands and is steadily moving toward knowledge and understanding of the text” (pp. 36-37). She emphasizes the steady movement: we won’t some day “arrive” at complete Bible knowledge, but we should be ever growing.

But “we may develop habits of engaging the text that at best do nothing to increase literacy and at worse actually work against it” (p. 37). She discusses several of those wrong habits, like the Xanax approach (which “treats the Bible as if it exists to make us feel better,” p. 39), the Magic 8 ball approach, and several others.

Then she shares Five P’s of Sound Study: purpose, perspective, patience, process, and prayer, explaining, illustrating, and giving example of each. Within “process” she discusses comprehension, interpretation, and application, and she stresses reading in context and in consideration of the genre of each book.

Throughout the book Jen emphasizes that Bible study and literacy is not an end in itself: it is a means of knowing God for who He is, getting to know Him better and being changed to become more like Him.

Our study of the Bible is beneficial only insofar as it increases our love for the God it proclaims. Bible study is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. It is a means to love God more, and to live differently because we have learned to behold him better. And it is a means to become what we behold. The reciprocal love of God is a love that transforms (p. 148).

She includes an excellent chapter expressing the great need for women to teach women and sharing helps for those who would go on to lead Bible studies. I especially appreciated the admonition to avoid “ricocheting around the entire Bible…Good teaching will necessarily involve the use of cross-references, but not at the expense of the primary text” (p. 139) and to avoid “feminizing the text” (p. 140) as well as the rest of the advice in this chapter.

I am glad I read this again, and I am happy to recommend it again.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books,
Literary Musing Monday,
Carole’s Book’s You Loved)

Book Review: Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles

If you’ve ever tried to develop a habit of Bible reading and prayer time (often called devotions or quiet time), you know it doesn’t take very long at all to run into some obstacles. The first one is usually making time: busy schedules crowd out quiet time or urgent needs come up in the midst of it. Then when we do get a few minutes, we’re easily distracted. If we can rein in our attention and focus, we don’t always understand what we read or know how to apply it to our everyday lives. And if we do understand, we forget what we’ve read within minutes. We see cozy Instagram photos of people with their open Bibles and steaming mugs of coffee and wonder why our devotional time seems to far so fall below the picture-perfect time others experience.

Devotional ObstaclesJohn O’Malley tackles these issues in Overcoming Your Devotional Obstacles: 25 Keys to Having Memorable Devotions. I appreciate that he deliberately chose a positive, encouraging title rather one with a negative cast, like Seven Reasons I Fail in My Devotions. His purpose, he writes, is not assigning fault or blame, but rather “putting tools in your hand to help you go from defeated to victorious in your time alone with God.”

The author emphasizes that our relationship with God is based on grace, not performance. Our devotional time is not meant to try to impress Him (or anyone else). Devotions are not a work to gain favor with God; they’re a means of communicating with Him. But there are ways to improve our understanding of His communication to us.

Our Quiet Time with Him is more about discovering His presence than finding the perfect Bible reading plan or study method. If we complete a Bible reading plan and did not discover His presence, we may have checked off the box for the day on our daily Bible reading plan, but we missed Him.

When we do not spend time with God, we deplete ourselves. We deplete our peace, joy, and strength. When limiting our access to time with God, we tend to lean on our own understanding; we are filled with doubts, and we consult our own heart instead of the mind of God (Proverbs 3: 5-6).

Jesus said that His sheep know, hear, and follow His voice. Your time with the Lord is about listening. God’s Word is the answer to every human need. Read not to accomplish book or chapter count. Read and listen.

If it takes you five years to read through the Bible, you are not less of a Christian. Read it at a pace that you can comprehend it and receive something from it.

The author discusses each of the obstacles mentioned above: finding time for devotions, battling distractions, improving comprehension, discerning how to apply what we read, understanding cultural differences, and retaining what we read.

I loved the author’s description of application as “the intersection of Bible learning and Bible living.”

I particularly liked his illustration about understanding and learning from the different culture that the Bible was written in. He likens it to taking a friend to a family reunion. The friend won’t know the histories, background stories, and quirks of all the family members, so you’ll likely have to explain some references along the way. “Culture is the system of beliefs, values, and ideas of a people in a certain time period.” However, “God and His Word are transcultural.” The author suggests some resources for finding out more about the cultural aspects, but above all other resources, he reminds that the Holy Spirit indwells believers and teaches us from God’s Word.

I also appreciated the tips for retaining what we read, something I don’t remember seeing in other books about devotions. One tip was to write down on a 3×5 card three key points from the verses read and then read and think about the verse and those points several times throughout the day.

The author advocates a lot of 3×5 cards, however. I counted at least four that he recommended filling out: one for a verse to meditate on; one for recording the time spent and main truth learned; one for writing down several statements about why we read the Bible; and one to write down your expectations for what God will do through His Word. He notes that one can use a journal, electronic device, etc.

The author includes some Bible study plans, lists of resources, and work sheets.

My only point of disagreement in the book was with the author’s statement that “Applying Scripture to your life is what brings the Word of God to life.” I know what he means: we don’t benefit and really learn it unless we apply it. But I always wince when I see someone speak of “making the Bible come alive.” God’s Word IS alive (“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” – Hebrews 4:12, ESV; “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” – John 6:63b, ESV). We’re the ones who need to be brought to life. But I know the author believes these truths, so the disagreement was with the wording.

This book is immensely practical and to the point with little to no fluff. It is an excellent resource for anyone who is trying to establish a devotional time or who has run into any of these obstacles in their own quiet time.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

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Here’s another round of notable reads found recently:

How to Avoid Becoming (Heavenly) Hangry on Vacation.

What Your Child Needs More Than Self-esteem, HT to Story Warren.

A Parent’s Guide to the 5 Skeptics Who Want to Shame Your Kids for Being Christian, HT to Challies.

When You Don’t Enjoy the Little Years. Even though you love your little ones dearly, some days are hard.

Can I Trust God With My Child’s Suffering? HT to True Woman.

How to Bring the (Whole) Bible to Life for Kids, HT to True Woman. Though I chafe at the phrasing of the title (the Bible IS living – John 6:63), I know what the author meant, and there are some great ideas here.

When the Content Police Came for the Babylon Bee, HT to Challies.

Hope for People With Food Allergies, HT to True Woman.

The Real Story of Christopher Robin, HT to Glynn. Sad, but I hope on some level the family retained some joy that the Pooh stories were such a dear part of many people’s childhoods.

Several people have asked me if I’ve heard of the recent ruling to remove Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a literary award. I’m not surprised, especially in today’s climate. There were characterizations and incidents in the books that we cringe at today. But I hope this does not lead to a pulling of her books from shelves or reading lists. We encounter what we would consider wrong attitudes in a number of older books, even classics. If we tossed books that had anything in them we disagreed with – well, we wouldn’t have much left. It takes long years to change cultural thinking. The better way, I believe, is to realize that every person and every generation is a mixture of good and bad and to educate about both sides. A couple of good articles I’ve seen on this are Scrubbing Laura Ingalls Wilder is a Dangerous Step Toward Ignorance (HT to Melanie) and How to really Read Racist Books to Your Kids, (HT to 19th Century Classic Children’s Books You Might Have Overlooked, which I found through Story Warren). I wouldn’t agree with every point in the latter (mainly the evolutionary lens), but both articles make good points.

I usually like to close these posts with a funny or thoughtful picture or meme – but I don’t have one handy and need to get on to today’s tasks, so I’ll wish you a Happy Saturday!

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Here are noteworthy reads discovered this last week:

Reaching for the Light. A mom’s struggle to spend time with the Lord and four kids.

Why I Took My Six-year-old Son on an Overnight Trip. Thoughts on Scripture’s instruction, “Son, give me your heart.”

The Hardest Part of Mothering.

Youth Group or Frat House? HT to Out of the Ordinary. Wisdom about youth group activities that humiliate.

In Defense of Preachy Children’s Books. HT to Story Warren. “Kids want to be entertained and delighted. The first thing you can do is erase the words moral, teach, message, and lesson out of your vocabulary…keep authoritative figures, like parents, teachers, or older siblings, in the background. Lastly, never let the adults in the story tell what the main character should do. Remember, it is a sin to preach in fiction.” The author counters this advice with examples from beloved children’s classics, and I agree with her. There was something in me that rose up to meet and welcome moral instruction in stories. It can be overdone, of course. And there are times to let readers realize what the story is about rather than telling them directly. But, “Rather than detracting or distracting from the story, were these passages giving me the names of the lovely ideals I sensed in the characters I admired? Were they revealing to me an eternal, universal world of Courage, Sacrifice, Hope, Joy, Love that, unlike the long-ago and fairytale story-lands I longed to enter, was near at hand for me to dwell in? Could this be why didacticism, properly woven into story, does not ruin but elevates it?”

100 Summer Crafts and Activities for Kids, HT to Story Warren.

And a thought for the day, HT to Jody Hedlund re writing, but applicable to many areas:

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Here’s my latest round-up of good reading on the web:

You Don’t Love the Church.

What Does It Mean to Abide in Christ, HT to Challies.

The Long Drive Home. I can identify.

Studying God’s Word When You’re Tired and Busy, HT to Challies.

Three important differences between flattery and encouragement, HT to Challies.

False Friends and Dead Words, HT to Challies, on words in the KJV which mean something different now than they did then and how that causes confusion.

The Little Known Story of Olympian Eric Liddell’s Final Years.

Scott Hamilton Was Demoted As an Olympic Broadcaster. Don’t Feel Sorry For Him. Scott is my all-time favorite ice skater. I enjoyed his testimony here:

Happy Saturday!

 

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I’ve come across a lot of good reading already in 2018! Here is some that stood out to me in various ways:

How an Old Man Helped Save My Faith, HT to Challies.

I Couldn’t Call God “Father,” HT to Challies. A sweet testimony of an Iranian woman’s journey to Christian faith.

Show Me Your Endurance. “While church leaders dismissed my friend as unpolished and uneducated, I realized her experience was a part of my discipleship journey in ways that information acquisition and discipleship habits alone were not. I saw in her life what my own could look like as I trusted God to be there for my child and for me.”

These Hibernation Days, HT to True Woman. “Winter is a fallen seed, before it has sprouted again. It is God’s gift to us, to teach us of the value of rest, quiet, hiddenness, and death.”

Harsh Light, HT to Story Warren.

A few with the new year in mind:

Bible Reading Schedules. A couple of these I have seen before, a couple were new to me.

Preventing Spiritual Scurvy this Year: The Micronutrient Bible Reading Plan, HT to Challies.

Beginning of the Year Check-in Questions for Christians, HT to Challies. “Don’t leave your spiritual growth up to spontaneity. Make a plan. Now that we’re in 2018, here are some questions to ask as you formulate ways to grow.”

A Launch-Yourself-Forward Worksheet. If your resolutions or “one word” choices fizzle out sooner rather than later, this worksheet might help you implement those changes.

How (Not) to Read Next Year, HT to Bobbi.

They are our children, after all. When everything does not turn out all right in our children’s lives.

Clearing to Neutral: The One Habit That Stops You From Procrastinating, HT to Lisa.

What Sugar Does to Your Brain, HT to Challies. Not good news after the excess sweets throughout December.

And finally, many of us are in a very cold weather system right now. We haven’t had snow here except for about an hour one day. I hope those of you “snowed in” get some sunshine and warmer temperatures soon. Meanwhile…

Happy Saturday!

Laudable Linkage

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I have kind of a longish list today, but found all of these noteworthy or thought-provoking in some way. Hope you find something you like!

Where Is God in a Mass Shooting? HT to True Woman.

Letter to a Church Member (Or a Letter to Myself). “Your church is here, not to give you a good self-image, but to give you a true self-image.”

Exegesis Without Embarrassment, HT to Challies. The first of a series dealing with why God would command the destruction of the Canaanites.

Ten Things You Should Know About Temptation, HT to Challies.

God Is With You in Your Panic Attack.

Let’s Get Real About Women’s Discipleship, HT toChallies. “If Instagram is any clue, most Christian women think discipleship is limited to hosting thoughtfully curated Bible studies in tasteful homes where shrieking children and dirty dishes don’t exist. This glossy ideal sits like a yoke on many women’s shoulders rather than spurring them onward in Christ’s Great Commission.”

The Holiness of Small Things.

Worship Isn’t About Feelings, HT to Challies. “Sometimes I serve my neighbor out of obedience to Christ, and love for Christ follows. Sometimes I am filled with love for Christ, such that I look for an opportunity serve my neighbor.

When You Don’t Need God’s Guidance, HT to True Woman. “We don’t need to seek guidance where guidance has already been revealed in Scripture. How easy it is to convince ourselves we’re “confused” about what we should do when we’re reluctant to do what we know is right. It helps us feel better to label questions of morality “complicated” when they require us to pick up a cross or suffer rejection. The serpent’s ancient whisper—Did God really say?—trips off the tongue when God’s commands are costly.”

Heroes, Hagiography, and Villainy. I’ve been thinking for some time now about writing a post concerning flawed heroes. This says some of the things I have been thinking.

Four Reasons to Read Slowly. “The Information Age isn’t slowing us down, but subtly and constantly pressuring us to speed up. As we browse, surf, and scroll, we’re training ourselves to quickly see new facts and then look for the next figures, rather than feel the weight of what we read.”

Advice for Reading the Bible when a learning disability makes it hard.

Benny Hinn Is My Uncle, But Prosperity Preaching Isn’t For Me.

Theological imagination.

I Stopped Praising My Kids for a Week: This Is What I Learned, HT to Story Warren.

Some years ago I was wandering around the local library’s video collection looking for something to watch and saw the 10th anniversary production of Les Miserables. I decided to get it and see what all the fuss was about – and that started a love affair with the musical and then the book. Since the particular singers there were the first I heard, and though I have seen some wonderful clips of a variety of singers singing some of the songs, this cast will always embody the characters for me. Recently I stumbled across this video of Philip Quast, who played Inspector Javert, telling how he approached one of the solos. I had no idea such thought and intention was involved behind every word. In the song he’s discussing, Javert has just had an encounter with ValJean, the man he has been trailing all his adult life. ValJean has just carried a wounded Marius through the sewer system when he runs into Javert and begs Javert to let him see Marius to safety. Previously ValJean had held Javert’s life in his hands, and let him go. Javert can’t compute this: he upholds righteousness and The Law, and in his mind, once you’ve fallen, there is no mercy or grace. “Once a con, always a con” is his mindset. So how can it be that this man no longer acts like a con and even shows mercy and compassion?  I’ll post the video of this song from the musical after this interview:

A couple of other things I love about this: Javert’s previous solo was about the comfort he found in the stars as “sentinels” of God’s order in the world. But here, “the stars are black and cold.” Also, there is so much parallelism between this song and Valjeans’s soliloquy when when the bishop shows him an undeserved kindness: the same tune there and here, similar phrasing about “allowing this man” to have an influence, an offer of freedom, “I am reaching, but I fall…,” escaping the world of Jean ValJean, but in two different ways. Although ValJean had to wrestle with it, he accepted the bishop’s grace. Javert either thought he didn’t need it, since he was always in the right in his own eyes, or he couldn’t accept it from this man. When his entire worldview was turned on its ear, instead of adjusting, he could only escape. Grace accepted saves and changes a person. Grace rejected leaves one out in the cold darkness.

 

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