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Read the Bible for Life
by George Guthrie
We all want to be able to read Scripture well, and to develop that habit of reading Scripture on a regular, if not daily basis. There are times in my life where the grace of God really held me firm in my pursuit of the heart of God through his word, but there are also times where my pursuit of God in Scripture is sporadic, dead, and ambivalent. Reading Scripture to be able to interpret the life of the Spirit in you, through you, and around you is so important to walking in wisdom, trusting God, and living on his promises. So, I welcome any work that desires to get us deeper into Scripture, more quickly, more thoroughly, and more often; George Guthrie’s Read the Bible for Life is designed for this purpose, but does it succeed?
When we read RTBFL, we find a very organized work. There is an introduction and four distinct parts, followed by appendices that feature some reading plans. Each part is broken into sub-chapters that deal with the subject matter. The parts include: 1) Reading the Bible: Foundational Issues, 2) Reading the Old Testament, 3) Reading the New Testament, and 4) Reading the Bible in Modern Contexts. Each chapter title is a description of the subject of which Guthrie will be interviewing his chosen scholar (e.g. Chapter 5 is “Reading the Old Testament Stories” with Bruce Waltke). The discussions that Guthrie has are very relevant, but at times it can get a little too heady for less educated audiences; he sticks almost entirely to biblical scholars who tend to use a language of their own and assume others will figure out what they are saying. (+1 Star)
Guthrie writes RTBFL because he believes that the Bible needs to be read, and that people are not reading it. Here is how Guthrie says the book addresses these issues, “This book particularly focuses on reading the parts of Scripture well and the practice of reading the Scripture well in various contexts of life.” Does the work stay true to its purpose? Well, it does stick to these two themes, but in a very unequal fashion: it tends to emphasize the “reading parts of Scripture well” over “reading the Scripture well in various contexts of life.” There are three sections devoted to the former, and only one to the latter. It boggles the mind how you can teach everyone how to interpret Scripture and the write a short, perhaps rushed section on application. (-1 Star)
There is a lot of material in RTBFL and it is impossible for me to digest it all here. Let me commend Guthrie for his variety of (albeit conservative) scholars from Andreas Kostenberger to Bruce Waltke to Darrell Bock to Michael Card. The reader benefits greatly from exposure to so many experts from so many different academic institutions. There were some moments where I found myself disagreeing with some small statements, but overall the content was orthodox and solid. That being said, the content is very scholarly in sections and it could be considered overwhelming for some people. If the goal of RTBFL is to encourage more reading of Scripture, I question using so many scholars (and their vocabulary) as the means to do it. There are other great works such as Gordon Fee’s Read the Bible for All It’s Worth and the late Howard Hendricks’ Living by the Book that do not use all of the scholarly language and focus more on application (though not ignoring the other parts). Works like this just reinforce the notion in many people’s minds that they need a professional theologian or minister to interpret the Scriptures for them because they could not possibly understand it themselves. The best parts of the book were the parts where application was focused on (the chapter with Michael Card was particularly good); more of a focus on applying the Scripture would have pushed the book toward fulfilling its purpose. Finally, there was one really weird (and perhaps self-serving) chapter where Guthrie interviews himself and carries on a conversation with himself. While some might find that amusing, I find it odd and discrediting in a scholarly work like this. (-1 Star)
The interviews vary in their interest, emotion, and overall sensation. There will be times where you are reading and your head hurts; you just want the interview to be over with. There are other times where the interview is engaging and the content really moves you. As I mentioned before, the interview with Michael Card is particularly powerful and moving; as is the final interview with David Platt and Buddy Gray talking about the hunger for Scripture in the Church. I think there are more good moments that make you think (and perhaps cry), than there are headaches and prayers for Jesus to return. (+1 Star)
RTBFL is unique in its interview style approach, which at times can be a little awkward and annoying. Guthrie relays the interview as if he and the scholar are characters in a story, noting mannerisms and non-verbal gestures. It seems that there are points where he might be making gestures up because there is some sort non-verbal movement at the end of each of his questions. While he may have been aiming for a more personal style conversation, what he got instead was a short story that involved two scholars. Even so, the conversation part of the book is what sets it apart from other books of its genre. (+1 Star)
Read the Bible for Life will challenge you, whether it is to really dig into Scripture or grab the nearest theological dictionary. While the work certainly has some things to commend it, I believe that the focus on biblical scholars will only draw people who already have a basic level of biblical literacy (or even theology). If the point of the work is to get more people reading the Scripture, then I am not real sure it accomplishes the task.
1 Star – Don’t waste your money.
2 Star– Only get it if it is on sale.
3 Star – Think about buying it.
4 Star – Save up and purchase it.
5 Star – You MUST have it, TODAY.