A Review of
Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew About the Bible
Review by Rob O’Lynn
Whoever edited this book deserves a substantial bonus for allowing the opening lines in the Introduction: “The Bible is a big book, but it is a cracking good read! It is a mixture of history, literature, and theology” (p. xvii). Each of us who has given her or his life to the teaching of Christian scripture should offer Bird a standing ovation and an “Amen and amen!” (Or, at least tweet him that Leonard DiCaprio applause GIF from The Wolf of Wall Street…which I may or may not have done when I finished reading this book). Those of us who have given our lives to the study and teaching of the Bible recognize this and strive diligently to impart a similar wonder and appreciation to our congregations and classrooms. We know it is a daunting task: to read and understand scripture. And we deeply desire for our love of scripture to be reciprocated.
However, we also know that this is not always the case. Some people are turned off because of the archaic language and cultural norms represented in scripture. Some people are turned off by the historic and geographic chasm that needs to be crossed in order to read scripture. Some people are turned off by the sheer complexity of the Bible—its length, its number of “books,” its use of ancient languages, and its seemingly never-ending cast of characters. And some people are turned off because of the incessant arguments that Christians seem to have about scripture, arguments that often lead non-scholarly types to assume—incorrectly—that they cannot, in any way, understand the Bible.
The human component of the Christian equation has been an unknown variable at best. In Philippians 4, Paul the Apostle calls upon two women, most likely leaders in their house-church network, “to be of the same mind in the Lord” (4:2, NRSV). It has often been postulated that these two women were either fighting about some doctrinal issue or a matter of ecclesial polity. Maybe they were fighting over who Mark is referring to in the opening prophetic passage of his gospel, where he says Malachi is speaking but he cites both Isaiah and Malachi. Doubtful, since this gospel had not been composed yet. However, this argument could certainly fit today.
Think about it for a moment. I have lost count of how many times an exasperated church member has asked (barked?) “What do you mean the Bible was not written for us?” or “You mean you do not take Revelation literally?” Arguments over how to interpret the Bible—issues such as whether baptism is essential to salvation, what place women have in leadership or how literally we should take the “days” of Creation—abound. You may be in the middle of one right now with your aunt on Facebook. For a group of people that proclaim “one Lord, one faith, one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5, NRSV), we sure do have a lot of opinions.
The problem is wholly of our own making. On one hand, we have made the Bible inaccessible. I do not mean chaining it to the pulpit inaccessible, as was done in the medieval period. I mean that we have made it difficult to understand. As Qoheleth mourned, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh” (Ecclesiastes 12:12b, NRSV), something my Wisdom Literature students do not find as funny as I do. Scholarship abounds, which often adds to the confusion. We cannot seem to agree on how the Bible came to be, whether some of the characters actually existed or what the meaning of infallibility really is. On the other hand, we often give ourselves an out by feigning humility. It has become fashionable to claim a lack of knowledge about scripture. In a recent sermon, I informed my congregation that I was confident that they knew more about the Bible than they thought they did, only to receive numerous blank or confused stares. One member even asked if I meant it as a compliment.
Therefore, we desperately need Michael Bird’s newest book. A significant departure from the recently-completed second edition of his tome on theology—nearly 1000 pages—this book comes in right at 200 pages, but in a compacted form. In it, Bird unpacks seven questions that Christians (and non-Christians, Bird would attest) commonly ask: What are the different components of the Bible? How did the Bible come into existence? How does the Bible provide direction to Christians? Who was the Bible written for? Should we take the Bible literally? What is the intent of the Bible? Who is the Bible about?
Each chapter is written with both scholarly acumen and pastoral compassion. The “things” Bird wishes Christians knew are important—vital—to mature Christian belief. We need to understand the various components of the Bible, know the different views on inspiration and read the Bible seriously even when we do not read it literally. While he scales back a bit on some of the more technical aspects, Bird does not hold back on the necessity of these conversations. Additionally, each chapter provides additional resources for further study. The tone of the book is conversational, never chiding or condescending. Bird, who is a joy to follow on Twitter, wants the reader to develop the same love for the Bible that he has. As I finished the book, I felt encouraged in my own faith and, truth be told, wished there was more to read. If you want to know more about the Bible, then I heartily endorse this book to you!