Glenn Paauw observes that the Bible is not only the best selling book of all time, it is also the best selling book every single year (13). There are Study Bibles with shiny new notes and cross references; there are patriotic Bibles, ‘wilderness’ Bible’s, and a host of other Bibles for every variety of our Chicken Soup souls. Yet despite the ubiquity of the Bible, there is not a ‘deep awareness of the themes, stories and truths of the Bible’ (ibid). We tend to read the Bible in increasingly atomistic ways—mining the text for timeless truths totally disconnected from biblical history, canon and context. Scripture Mcnuggets™.
In Saving the Bible From Ourselves, Paauw aims at a recovering a “big reading” of Scripture:
My core argument is that for most of us, most of the time, small readings prevail over big readings. “Small” and “big” refer to more than the length of the passage we take in. I define small readings as those diminished samplings of Scripture in which individuals take in fragmentary bits outside of the Bible’s literary, historical, and dramatic contexts. Also implicated here is a corresponding meager soteriology—that narrow, individualistic, and escapists view of salvation so common among Christians. (11).
In contrast, big readings result when “communities engage natural segments of text, or whole books , taking full account of the Bible’s various contexts” resulting in an “apprehension of the story’s goal in a majestic regeneration that is as wide as God’s good creation”(12). Paauw aims at moving us beyond our highly individualized consumption of ‘Scripture Mcnuggets,’ and welcomes us to the feast of Scripture.
Paauw presents his argument in the form of a chiasm (making this book one long chiastic utterance). Here is a look at the overall structure:
The Elegant Bible (chapters 1-2)
The Feasting Bible (chapters 3-4)
The Historical Bible (chapter 5-6)
The Storiented Bible (chapters 7-9)
The Earthy Bible ( chapters 10-11)
The Synagogue Bible (chapters 12-13)
The Iconic Bible (chapters 14-15) (p.19).
Chapters one and two describe the ‘Elegant Bible.’ Paauw traces how Study Bibles and Chain Reference Bibles, and the like, suffer from biblio-clutter, distracting readers from the words of Scripture in favor of the commentary. Even chapter numbers and headings divide the text and distract us from engaging the world of Scripture. Paauw argues for an “extreme Bible makeover”—a Bible excised of distractions, highlighting the words and message of the text.
Chapters three and four describe the need to move beyond our tendency to snack on the Bible (i.e. ripping positive, encouraging verses from context to apply them to our own individual lives). Paauw warns:
Modern consumers are individuals first and foremost, centered on their ability to make choices as independent, self-determining entities. Since most people don’t buy what they don’t want to hear, this filter prevents our constant search for pleasant verses and favorite passages from ever introducing us to the real Bible. We too easily end up seeing a Cheshire-cat-Bible—all smiles and no body. We find encouragement, but no correction, we heap blessing on blessing and promise on promise but fail to be challenged. This fragmented Snacking Bible fails us, because we have prevented the Bible from being what it is, and turned the Bible into something it is not. How can the Bible possibly do its work? (61).
Against fast-food- Bible-conumption, Paauw invites us to feast on the totality of Scripture. In chapters five and six, Paauw tackles how our dualistic search for ‘timeless truths’ obscures the ‘time-full’ historicized Bible which speaks to our past, present and future and God’s actions in the lives of His people.
The centerpiece of the book is “The Storiented Bible” described in chapters seven to nine. Paauw urges us towards a historical and genre sensitive reading of scripture which has an eye on the Big Story, and our place in it. This involves a canonical sensitivity to the big picture, reading whole books of the Bible and a commitment to live in creative fidelity to Scripture’s grand narrative.
Paauw revisits his earlier themes in the latter half of the book. The historicized Bible is “the Earthly Bible” immersed in the particularities of earthy life (chapters ten and eleven). The privatized “Snacking Bible” gives way to the communal engagement of the Synogogue Bible (chapters twelve and thirteen). The cluttered ugly and over-complicated TMI Bible, gives way to the elegant Iconic Bible (chapters fourteen and fifteen). Paauw makes a strong case for us to recover the particularlity of the Bible, the communal context of Bible reading, and to make the words of Scripture beautiful again.
Paauw is not alone in his call for us to revolutionize our engagement with the Bible. He draws on the work of N.T. Wright, Christopher Smith, Peter Enns to help us move beyond our atomized biblicism to the big story. He has given us an engaging, well written case for enlarging the Biblical frame and offers a strong critique of ‘biblical aids’ (i.e. Study Bibles, devotionals, cross references) which distract us from the Word of God itself. I highly recommend this book for anyone. Students of the Bible in Bible College or seminary would do well to imbibe Paauw’s perspective. As would pastors and regular lay folk. This is a popular level biblical hermeneutic An enthusiastic five stars. ★★★★★
Note: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.