I’ll admit, I’ve been terrible at reading lately. After moving at the end of last year I was able to finish off a couple books that I had already started, but after getting those finished I really dropped off on the reading. Trying to get our new apartment organized, the holiday season of Thanksgiving-Christmas, and the birth of our daughter Anastasia at the beginning of the year all conspired to reduce my reading to nil. Recently, I’ve been trying to make a comeback and get back into reading a little more often. Of course most of the books I’m currently reading are older, because I’m trying to cull the herd from all the books I accumulated during undergraduate and graduate school and want to reread them a bit slower. Anyhow, to get to the point, I’ve finally finished another book, How to Read the Bible Book by Book by Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart and will give my thoughts on it.
The point of this book is to help people understand how to read each book of the Bible. This is usually done by giving the context of the book, some tips or knowledge they think might help with the reading of the book, and then some general summaries of various sections of each book. It does a good job of showing how each book is unique, but also at fitting it into the larger narrative of the Bible.
I’ll be honest, it isn’t the most enjoyable book to read cover to cover. This seems more like an aid to read at the same time that you are studying the Scriptures on your own time. This may sound like a negative, but I’m pretty sure that this was the intention of the book so don’t take it that way.
Personally, I liked the book. Sure I’ve heard a lot of the information before in classes, but there were a few times where the insight of the book gave me something new that I hadn’t heard or noticed before. One example of this was on the book of Ruth. They talked about how while in the book of Ruth the people documented follow the law of Moses well, this isn’t done in some stiff manner. It doesn’t display a stiff following of the law, but rather an internalization of the law that seems quite natural. I hadn’t realize that before, and so often we seem to focus on Old Testament law in a very stiff and awkward way that this insight helped shift that a bit. There were other insights, but I’ll leave it at that.
Even though I said I liked the book, there was a question that occurred to me part way through it that I’m not sure I have a great answer for. Who is this book for? While true that this is an introduction book, this is not exactly beginners level reading. It uses theological jargon and terminology in a way that those unfamiliar may have a hard time following it. So it seems like it could be tough for some people to get into completely on their own if they are unfamiliar with some of the terminology. Sure there is a minor glossary in the back, but it isn’t that big, and I don’t know how much it would help.
On the other end of the spectrum, someone like me who has years of education on theology and the Bible would probably rely more on commentaries or books that are more focused on specific topics or at least focused on one particular book of the Bible. While How to Read the Bible Book by Book may provide some good general insights and big picture issues we shouldn’t forget, it just isn’t specific enough to study a particular verse with. This would make it a tough sell to those who have more advanced needs.
So who is a book like this for? That’s the question that I’m not sure I have a solid answer for. In all honesty this seems to be a book produced with the introductory Bible student in mind. Someone who has enough knowledge that they want to pursue a degree in Biblical Studies or Christian Ministry, but may still have use for a book that is more introductory level. For those not in college, I’d say that this book is aimed at people who have knowledge and familiarity with theological terms, but may still need some basic framework on the flow of the Bible and how to read certain troublesome books.
So what is my bottom line on this book? It could be a useful resource if you’re not wanting to go out and invest in commentaries, but are able to understand or willing to learn some of the jargon and terms used in the book. It is more of a book to be used as a reference guide than it is to be read straight through, at least in my opinion. It is a book that has limitations to its usefulness, but at the same time if you’re in the target audience for the book it will be useful. It feels like How to Read the Bible Book by Book is more of a springboard than a foundation. You’ll use this book and gain information, but it is a book meant to propel you to a place where you won’t need this book as much rather than to be a foundational book you return to again and again.