If you've ever struggled with understanding what the Bible is and how to interpret it in light of our modern times, then pastor and biblical scholar Meghan Larissa Good has written this book for you. She explains why the Bible matters and teaches readers how to read this holy book by defining the differences in literary genres and showing how Jesus is the center of all biblical interpretation. She demonstrates how to find a balance between holding too tightly to our convictions on one hand and outright skepticism on the other and shows how to wisely use discernment in our study of scripture. She also explains the role of the Holy Spirit, as well as that of community in the life of believers. Most importantly, she shows that while the Bible may be an ancient book, it is also a living, breathing document that still has much to teach us in our present age.
The Bible Unwrapped was chosen as our most recent read for my church book club and we even had the honor of having the author join us for our meeting to impart her insights. Even though I wasn't familiar with it before the announcement of it being our latest choice, the cover blurb made me eager to check it out. The enthusiastic foreword was written by Gregory A. Boyd, someone whose work I've previously enjoyed, and the book sounded a lot like two other similar books that I'd also enjoyed, Rob Bell's What Is the Bible? and Rachel Held Evans's Inspired. While it does bear some resemblance to both of those tomes, it takes a different approach and has a different flavor that's all its own. Meghan Larissa Good definitely has a knack for breaking down more difficult biblical passages into a more understandable format and she has a witty writing style that drew me in, making this a very worthwhile read.
The book is broken down into three parts, with the first part taking readers back to the basics. It's an introduction, or primer of sorts, to the Bible that begins by exploring exactly what the Bible is, where it came from - including the canonization process - and what kind of book it is. She also discusses reasons for reading it and the proper posture to take while reading it. There are chapters that explore the differences between the Old and New Testaments and how to select a translation that is right for you. This section is perhaps geared a little more toward those who are new to the Bible or who are maybe reintroducing themselves to it after a long absence. However, I think that there is still wisdom included here that might even be valuable to old hands at reading this holy book, so I wouldn't recommend skipping over it, thinking that you already know it all.
Part two delves a little deeper into learning how to read and interpret the Bible. Here the author discusses things such as literary context and historical context, as well as how and why these things matter when trying to interpret various passages that maybe don't entirely make sense in our present-day context. She also explains the differences between all the literary genres that are found in the Bible and how you can't, for example, use the same tools and insights to interpret poetry as you would to interpret the law or the prophets. I think what I liked most about this section is how she ties everything into the character of Jesus and how we must read backwards in light of what we know about Jesus. Oftentimes when you do that, things that perhaps didn't make sense before will, and she also points out how fortunate we are to have this knowledge of Jesus to help us along the way, when those who came before him did not.
The final section goes deeper still into how we can apply the Bible to transform our lives. She also explores the role of the Holy Spirit and how to go about discerning the right path, using both the Spirit's leading and the guidance of scripture. She discusses the role that being part of a community (aka the church) plays in our spiritual lives and in discernment. I like the way she talks about how sometimes holding too tightly to our convictions can turn them into an idol. She also explores how to go about disagreeing well with those whose views may be different than our own and how, sometimes, we must simply learn to live with uncertainties when a clear answer doesn't seem to present itself in spite of our best efforts to figure things out.
Overall, I think that The Bible Unwrapped is a good book that could help a lot of people. Those who are new to the Bible will learn all about what it is, how to interpret it, and how to apply it to their lives, while those who've long been familiar with this holy book can learn how to read the Bible in a different light than the one they may have been taught. I liked Meghan Larissa Good's writing style. There were many things that she explained in a way that was insightful to me. After every few chapters, she pauses for "Storytime" where she takes a specific biblical passage and deconstructs it in an easy to understand way that especially impressed me. These were among my favorite parts. Particularly in these passages, but throughout the book as a whole, she employs humor to draw her readers in and make the material more accessible and to help them better comprehend what she's teaching. I enjoyed the first two sections of the book the most, but I did struggle a bit with parts of the third section, not so much with what she was teaching, but just not feeling like I was getting as much out of it. I think it might be because the deeper she goes, the more serious her writing becomes in nature and I often found my mind wandering. However, I'm fully willing to admit that perhaps it was more my own failing than that of the book or its author. I think that even after reading this volume, I was simply still feeling rather daunted by the idea of trying to interpret the Bible and wishing it was all more straight-forward. But that doesn't mean that this isn't a good book. In fact, I would recommend it to those who might be looking for more insight into the Bible and what this ancient book has to tell us today.
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What Is the Bible? by Rob Bell
Inspired by Rachel Held Evans
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