The Post-Consumer Bible: a ★★★★★ book review

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™.

5124In 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.

Living Lent With Children: a kids’ book review

Lent comes early this year, it starts on February 10th.  I’m already thinking about what my Lenten practices will be, but as a father of four I haven’t always done so well on opening up Lent for my kids. Making Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by religious educator and children’s author Laura Alary, explores Lent and Holy Week in accessible ways for young children.  Illustrations from Ann Boyajian adorn each page.

Making Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary and Illusrated by Ann Boyajian

Four headings guide kids toward a meaningful experience of Lent and Easter: Making Time, Making Space, Making Room and Holy Week. Alary begins with a description of how in the church, Lent is a season of waiting before whisking us off to the wilderness where Jesus made time to be with God. Likewise, she encourages kids to make time for God by reading the bible, wondering what God is telling us and asking ourselves probing questions about the life we are living (9). She then talks about Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom and what it means to make space for God in our life: Continue reading Living Lent With Children: a kids’ book review

What’s in a Word?: Why I’m not ‘Driven’ and You Shouldn’t Be Either

This is the first of an occasional series where I critique the words that we Christians use. I know what you’re thinking, “James you are an overly critical and cranky man who thinks you are smarter and more holy than the rest of Christendom.” Guilty. Well, not really. I admit I am a little neurotic about some of these things but I also really think words matter. Yes the Spirit of God can shoot straight arrows with the crooked arrows of our words but the metaphors by which we habitually describe God, faith and the spiritual life shape our understanding and experience. Some of the words that we use are actually damaging and do injustice to both God and ourselves. I submit that one such word is ‘driven.’

I am not sure that I can blame Rick Warren for entering driven into our spiritual lexicon but he certainly popularized it with his wildly successful books The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life and various purpose-driven spin-offs. But Rick Warren with his warm smile and Hawaiian shirts is not the only offender. A search of titles with ‘driven’ in the title from Christianbook.comreveal that many are clamoring to join the herd. There are books with titles like: Family Driven Faith, Driven by Eternity: Making Your Life Count Today & Forever, The Gospel-Driven Life, A Proverbs Driven-Life, The Passion Driven Sermon, Text-Driven Preaching, Spirit-Driven Success, Values Driven Leadership, The Spirit Driven Leader, Jesus Driven Ministry, The Values Driven Family, The Market Driven Church(I think this one is a critique), Character Driven, The Wisdom Driven Life, The Passion Driven Youth Choir, The Mission Driven Parish, The Spirit Driven Church, Driven by Hope: Men & Meaning, A Love Driven Life, A Passion Driven Life and From God-Given to God-Driven.Bull Whip Cattle Drive

Without critiquing the content of these books (some I am sure have great stuff to say and others just have stuff) this list shows how pervasive the word ‘driven’ is in the Christian publishing world. But the book title doesn’t even begin to reflect how much authors use this word within their books to speak of the sort of life we all should be living. This is picked up by pastors, blogs and every tweep from here to eternity. This is where I have issues.

What does it mean to be driven? It is obvious to me that the people who use it are trying to get at what are motivation is but this is bad language to be using. The dictionary defines driven as, “being under compulsion to succeed or excel.” I understand a personal ‘drive’ towards excellence but I get worried about what we mean when something outside of ourselves is the one said to be ‘driving us.’ Are we under compulsion by our families and values? Are we ‘driven’ by our commitments? Does God, the Spirit, Jesus ‘drive’ our spiritual life? What does that say about us and God?

I think this term stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of the spiritual life. Hear the good news: In a world where we are driven by the will to succeed, the will-to-knowledge and the will to power, in a world where we are under the compulsion of a thousand demands internal and external, you don’t need to be driven anymore. You are being invited by God to enjoy the good things he has stored up for you. Listen to these words From Isaiah 55:

    “Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
    and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
    Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
    Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
    Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.”

This is fundamentally different from having any sort of ‘driven life.’ What if we understood our spiritual life less in terms of its demands and more in terms of what we are being invited into? What if we didn’t speak so much of ‘being driven’ but spoke of where God is drawing us?

The reason why I am so passionate that ‘driven’ is a bad word in the spirital life is because I tend to imbibe its message. I load on myself heroic spiritual disciplines and feel guilty about where I have failed to do all I am supposed to do. When it comes to drive I’ve got it and then some. What I haven’t always understood is that my life with God is more joyful, freeing and wonderful than I can imagine.

Marva Dawn’s hymn Come Away From Rush and Hurry capture for me the reality of the post-driven life:

Come away from rush and hurry
Marva J. Dawn

    Come away from rush and hurry
    to the stillness of God’s peace;
    from our vain ambition’s worry,
    come to Christ and find release.
    Come away from noise and clamor,
    life’s demands and frenzied pace;
    come to join the people gathered
    here to seek and find God’s face.

    In the pastures of God’s goodness
    we lie down to rest our soul.
    From the waters of his mercy
    we drink deeply, are made whole.
    At the table of his presence
    all his saints are richly fed.
    With the oil of his anointing
    into service we are led.

    Come, then, children, with your burdens –
    life’s confusions, fears, and pain.
    Leave them at the cross of Jesus;
    take instead his kingdom’s reign.
    Bring your thirsts, for he will quench them –
    he alone will satisfy.
    All our longings find attainment
    when to self we gladly die.

As we enter into this season of Lent, what is God inviting you into?