If I were asked to recommend only one book to anyone looking for something to help them better read and study the Bible, it would be without a doubt “How To Read The Bible For All Its Worth” by Gordon Fee and my prof. at Gordon-Conwell, Doug Stuart. In fact, my own “Bible for the Rest of Us” course was initially developed to be something like a classroom version of this book.
Fee and Stuart’s book has revolutionized the study of Scripture for hundreds of thousands of readers around the world over the past few decades and continues to do so today. It was so popular, in fact, that it gave rise to a series of “How to…” titles including “How to Read the Bible Book by Book” and “How to Choose a Translation for All Its Worth”
The latest in the series by Zondervan is “How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens” by Michael Williams. Here is the publisher’s description:
Many Christians today experience Bible teaching in isolated, unconnected pieces, receiving little or no guidance into how these pieces form a coherent picture in Christ. How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens presents Christ as the central focus of each biblical book and the primary way the Bible relates to contemporary circumstances. Each book of the Bible has an identifiable theme ultimately fulfilled in the person and work of Christ. Williams provides the following for his readers: * succinct statement of the theme of every biblical book * An explanation of how that theme finds its focus in Christ * A brief discussion of how the New Testament treats that theme as fulfilled in Christ * Suggestions for contemporary implications * Scripture memory electronic flashcards * A convenient summary chart An excellent tool for Bible teachers, ministry leaders, and students, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens facilitates other Christian disciplines such as Bible reading, Scripture memory and evangelism. By demonstrating how each theme relates to living the Christian life, this book promises to be an invaluable guide for reading and understanding the Bible.
The good folks at Zondervan were kind enough to provide Disciple Dojo with a copy for review and asked that I share my thoughts, particularly on the section dealing with reading Genesis through the Jesus Lens. I was happy to do so!
In “How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens”, Williams goes through all sixty-six books of the Bible. He begins with a one paragraph introduction and then gives a succinct statement that attempts to summarize the overall theme of the book. For Genesis it is:
God separates out one through whom he would bless all nations.
Williams then briefly notes how this theme is seen in the text by citing passages where, in the case of Genesis, God engages in separating things (i.e. light from darkness in 1:4, human beings from animals in 1:26-28, Seth from Adam and Eve’s other children in 5:3-32, the line of Abram from all other people in 12:1-3, etc.).
For each book, Williams gives a memory passage that reinforces this theme. Genesis’ memory passages is 12:2-3, the beginning of the Abrahamic blessing.
After that is the section, “The Jesus Lens.” This is the part where Williams notes how the book’s theme is expanded upon, established, enlightened or in some other way fulfilled through the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. For Genesis and its theme, Williams sees Jesus as being
…the one to whom all God’s separating was always meant to lead, and Jesus is separate from all others in his ability to bring the promised divine blessing to the nations…The ultimate focus of all God’s redemptive activity is Jesus Christ. Anything or anyone else that is held up as a legitimate alternative is only snow on the satellite dish, distorting the clear picture of salvation that God is sending in his Son.
This section is followed by one called “Contemporary Implications” in which Williams discusses how this theme continues or applies to our modern setting as believers today. The “separating” theme in Genesis which Jesus highlights is one that his followers are to continue engaging in.
As Christ’s ambassadors, we have been “separated out” by God not just to receive the blessing of reconciliation with God and the life that flows from that divine, saving act, but also to pass on that blessing to others by making the good news of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ clear to them with every aspect of our lives. This is not an option. It is what we have been separated out by God to do. It is the reason for our Christian existence.
The final section is “Hook Questions” and consists of questions for reflection or discussion on the part of the reader which highlight or reinforce the theme (i.e. “In what ways has God equipped you to be a blessing for others?” etc.)
Seeing how Jesus fits into the overall message of Scripture is a crucial point that often gets overlooked in Biblical theology. Studies of Old Testament books in particular can often overlook the fact that according to Jesus’ own teaching, these texts point to him in some way shape or form, even if it’s not immediately obvious to the reader (as it was not obvious to His followers until His resurrection and the subsequent opening of their eyes to the fact).
However, some readers have gone to the opposite extreme, attempting to see Jesus in every minute detail (i.e. the famous allegorical readings of the OT by some church Fathers wherein things like the scarlet thread of Rahab were seen as a hidden reference to the blood of Jesus, etc.).
Williams does a good job in balancing these two extremes. He keeps the focus on Jesus clear, but does so in a way that doesn’t rely on forced readings or creative allegorical interpretations.
The downside to a book of this scope, however, is that it ends up only being able to touch on things that barely scratch the surface. In Genesis this is particularly evident. Things like Creation, Covenant, Election/Calling, “Seed”/Offspring, Sin, and a host of other themes that are foundational to any understanding of the Bible’s overall storyline, and the Gospel’s fulfillment of them in particular, are either glossed over or not even mentioned. Thus, the section on Genesis ended up being little more than what could be found in the introduction to a good study Bible. It’s not so much that I had a problem with what Williams said in the book…rather, it’s what he DIDN’T say that leaves the book lacking and reader wanting more.
I could see this book, however, being a great choice for a small group or Sunday School class that wanted to go through the Bible with particular eye toward how the Gospel is the culmination of everything. It would be a great way for a group to get acquainted with the metanarrative (“big-picture storyline”) of Scripture without getting bogged down in a chapter-by-chapter reading pace.
It might also be a good resource for pastors looking to preach through particular books, which they might otherwise neglect because they can’t see the “relevance” or how the book speaks to Christians this side of the Cross. The “Hook Questions” would provide ample homiletical material for any preacher to draw from.
But for the serious student of Scripture or true Bible geek, Williams’ book ends up feeling like an appetizer rather than a meal. I suspect that this is due to publisher considerations, and that if given the chance, Williams would have gladly gone into more detail and given more weight to some books than to others. But this is only speculation.
I enjoyed the book, but wanted more from it…especially given how high previous “How To…” books in the series had set the bar.
What do fellow Dojo readers think? I invite you to share your own thoughts in the comments below.