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Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Biographical Bible" (Ruth A. Tucker)

TITLE: Biographical Bible, The: Exploring the Biblical Narrative from Adam and Eve to John of Patmos
AUTHOR: Ruth A. Tucker
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013, (448 pages)

The Bible is not a theological treatise or a spiritual dissertation about God. It is also not a how-to manual to get rich, to be healthy, or to be used like a "Life Book for Dummies" edition. Many publishers, preachers, and well meaning people have unfortunately used the Bible as a "manual for propositions." That is not just being irreverent about the Word, it is also misusing the very nature of the Bible. For the Bible is more than mere logical series of formulas and methodologies for life to fit the twenty-first century minds, it is about how God reveals himself to people through people. That is why when one seeks to understand the Bible, one needs to understand the characters and the people in the Bible, not in scientific or management mindsets, but biographical. Rather than to read each passage of the Bible with critique in mind, or to analyze the pericopes with a solution-seeking mindset, read it with an openness on how God has touched lives in the past, and how God reveals creation to us, as intended by God.

Written in three parts, Tucker presents many biblical characters as closely as how the Bible presents them. Calling these stories as "biblical narrative from Adam and Eve to John of Patmos," the stories are presented from Genesis to Revelation as follows:

Part 1 - From Paradise to the Land of Promise

Tucker begins with the Garden of Eden, about how God had originally intended to be "personally proactive with humankind." Unfortunately, sin got the better of Adam and Eve, which leads to a paradise lost for humanhind. Adam and Eve's sinfulness runs into the next generation where Cain murdered Abel. Tucker does not mince the story at all, choosing to tell the stories of the "boys" as they are; from Noah's heroic ark to some silly personal behaviour; Abraham as the father of the three major religious faiths in the world; Isaac's clumsy choices and preferential treatments; Jacob and Esau's family disputes over birthrights and blessings; plus the stories of famous Patriarchs and leaders such as Joseph, Moses, and many others. The section concludes with the book of Judges, often seen as a stunning deterioration of humankind and their wanton evil on one another. The land of promise somehow seems to be turning into a land of compromise and disaster.

Part 2 - Kings and Prophets Guide God's People

Beginning with the journey metaphors of Naomi, Ruth, and Hannah, Tucker tries to see the geographical story with spiritual perspective. From a time of Judges where women appear to be dispensable, the biblical authors present special mothers that God use to bring forth his divine providence. This particular chapter is written with acute feminine sensitivity, with perceptive details about Ruth's sense of faith in the midst of personal insecurity, and Hannah's dedication of her baby in the midst of anguish. It shows us that God can use not just the great Patriarchs of old, but also ordinary women. It is a story of God whose plans are eloquently implemented through simple faith. Unfortunately, the people's constant cry for a king attempts to derail Israel's faith in God, especially through a disastrous first king of Israel: King Saul. With David, mankind has a shining example of a man after God's heart. After David, Solomon's downfall leads the way as we see one king after another, turns the nation of Israel from bad to worse; from national solidarity to various captivity. The few good kings in the mix are few when compared to the rest of the lot. Then there are the prophets who continue to pronounce and prophesy in the hope that the nation will turn back to God, and to forsake their sinful ways. Interestingly, we read too of how even prophets can disobey, at least for a while, such as Jonah. All the major and minor prophets are covered. Tucker calls the "neglect of the Minor Prophets as unfortunate" as their message remains timeless.

Part 3 - A Messiah and His Mission

The biographical descriptions continues through saints such as Mary, the humility of Joseph, and the boldness of John the Baptist. She describes Jesus's time on earth , how he was born, the place he grrew up in, the temptations, and the journey to the cross. She concludes just like John the Disciple who says that there are far too many things Jesus had done or taught that are not described or recorded down at all. The biographies also cover Mary Magalene, the people at Bethany, as well as the other disciples of Christ. Tucker calls them the "disciples on the fringe."At the heart of her observations is that these men are very ordinary people. Regardless of their careers and their clumsiness, something divine is happening through them. God uses Peter, the "fisherman with a foot in his mouth" to be a prominent leader of the Early Church. God turns Paul from persecutor to preacher. She continues with the descriptions of Paul's co-workers, and ends with John of Patmos, the one who wrote Revelations.

So What?

It may not be immediately clear at first who the author is aiming this book at. At the introduction, it looks like Tucker making a stand for the Bible's timeless truths and messages that have not changed. She makes a strong case for reading the Bible as a narrative rather than a philosophical or an instrument for spiritual formulations of ideas and methodologies. Having said that, there are many interesting observations throughout the book that can make a case for spiritual learning or formulating a teaching idea. The many flashbacks and contemporary applications throughout the book help to bridge the Bible's ancient contexts with modern minds. I like particularly the many quotations and passages drawn from the Church fathers, the Reformers, as well as contemporary theologians.

Tucker also maintains the integrity of the Bible as trustworthy, and at various parts of the book, makes a few observations that the Bible is no mere fairy tale. It is collection of stories that form a big overall narrative of God's revelation to mankind. It is a story with a message, using people willing to carry the message, culminating in Christ becoming the message, and the rise of the Church that proclaims the message.

My criticism of this book is that the Bible while it has many narratives, has other genres not captured in this book. For instance, what about the wisdom books? Surely, one cannot compress the wisdom books altogether into the narrative genre. What about the prophecies? Thus, to call the book a "biographical bible" is a bit of a stretch. Simply put, the Bible is not a mere book of narratives, so to call it as such will not be appropriate, literally speaking. That said, the strengths of this book lay in the very creative storytelling ability of Tucker. This book reminds me of Walter Wangerin's "The Book of God" and "The Story." At least from a gender perspective, this book is a female theologian`s contribution toward reading the Bible mainly as a narrative.

If reading this book can help us be better storytellers, that we be able to better express the stories in the Bible the way the Bible had intended to be, then readers would have reaped huge benefits from this book.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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