Mark Twain has been quoted as saying “A classic is a book that everybody praises and nobody reads.” It seems that this is true for the Bible in many cases as well. Someone has said the Bible is the “most owned, least read book in history.” Sadly, this is the case among Christians too.
One of the reasons many fail to read the Bible is that it seems too daunting. It is one volume made up of 66 separate books (by the Protestant count). These books span several hundred years of history, and were written to a time and people far different from ours. Glenn Paauw, in his book Saving the Bible from Ourselves, suggests that there are other issues as well, problems that we have introduced ourselves. But don’t fear, he proposes solutions throughout.
According to Paauw, one of the biggest problems with our Bible reading is that we have complicated the Bible over time. It started with the addition of chapter numbers. Then verse numbers came along. The decision was then made to separate each verse out into its own paragraph. To save space and for ease of printing, the text was then separated into two columns. Along the way various notes were added (textual variations, study helps, cross references) and then section headings were put in to make things easier to find. In some cases, when all is said and done a page may have more study helps and notes than it does the actual text of Scripture. Needless to say, all of these additions that were intended to help may have actually done more harm than good. While they were meant to help, they ended up making the text itself harder to read and follow. We took a book that was meant to be read and turned it into a reference book.
There were benefits to some of these decisions. Chapter and verse numbers make it easy to reference information. But, as Paauw points out, it also makes it so much easier to take verses out of context and make them say whatever we want. I think of a boxer I heard about one time who had Philippians 4:13 emblazoned on his robe. I’m relatively certain that when Paul wrote “I can do all things through him who strengthens me,” he didn’t have in mind knocking an opponent unconscious in a boxing match. But without context, who’s to say?
In the book, Paauw calls for a return to actually reading the Bible. Not just reading a verse or two every day or jumping around and reading various portions out of context, but to slow, determined, deep reading of the text itself. Reading whole books at one time (or over only a few readings), reading books in order for flow (there is a definite plot to Genesis through Judges, for example), and remembering that we are reading a story that must hang together. While Paauw is not the first or the only author to call for this kind of reading (I think of James Gray, for example, among many others), he does a great job of presenting an ideal type of Bible reading.
The main way Paauw does this is by calling for a return to seven aspects of Bible reading we need to recover: Elegance (in design), Feasting (reading large portions in order), History (remember the Bible was written for us, but not to us), Story-Turned-Drama (there is a narrative, and we are part of it), Creation (the Bible was written to show how God is working to redeem and restore all of His original creation), Community (the Bible is not merely a book we read by ourselves for independent life change; it is a book we read together to grow as a community called by God), and Beauty (paying attention to the flow and writing of the authors themselves). (Taken from p.213 and summarized from ideas throughout.) There is no question that reading the Bible in this way would be revolutionary (and I don’t use that word all too often) for our growth and understanding of God’s plan and our place in it as His people.
Anyone who is familiar with N.T. Wright (especially) and Dallas Willard (in part) will sense certain similarities of ideas that they write about throughout this book. That is really the only possible weakness I saw. In an effort to restore a communal mindset to salvation, that it is not merely about individual salvation from sin and Hell, but that it is about creating a community of people who follow the Messiah and help inaugurate God’s plan of redemption for all of creation, I feel that Paauw occasionally overlooks the individual aspect that is there, as well. To me, it is not either/or, but both/and. It seems that authors tend to overemphasize one or the other. To be fair, the individual aspect has been emphasized so much that we probably do need a correction the other way, but if we aren’t careful, the communal will be overemphasized to the opposite extreme over time. We need both in tension.
There are parts of the book that people, such as myself, who have been raised in churches with a heavy emphasis on individual salvation from sin and its consequences will struggle through (but in a good way, I think). For example, on pp. 138-139, Paauw gives an overview of Creation/Fall/Redemption/Restoration that is very standard. I read it a few times while wondering what was wrong with it. As I kept in mind Paauw’s overall argument, I started to see what he was getting at, but we are truly so taken by the common explanation that it is hard to see past it to anything else. This issue does not detract from the main impact of the book, however, and the main idea is still a much-needed insight.
One of the Bible’s Paauw mentions as an elegant Bible is Biblica’s Books of the Bible edition of the NIV, as Paauw had a hand in its development. I do have to say that Biblica had it right in redividing the text based on actual breaks in thought and intention, and while Crossway has been doing a lot in their “Reader’s” editions, I hope they may consider it in the next release of their 6-volume set.
Overall, if you are looking for a book to help you understand where we may have gone wrong in our Bible reading and what we can do to correct it, I highly recommend Saving the Bible from Ourselves.
*I edited the original review. When I first wrote it, I mentioned the one-sided aspect of mentioning only the Biblica reader edition as being a negative. Mr. Paauw very graciously explained in a comment on my Amazon review that he only mentioned that one as others, such as Crossway’s, had not been published at the time he wrote his manuscript. I apologize for any confusion.
*Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.