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Monday, June 1, 2015

"A Compact Guide to the Whole Bible" (Robert W. Wall and David R. Nienhuis)

TITLE: A Compact Guide to the Whole Bible: Learning to Read Scripture's Story
AUTHOR: Robert W. Wall and David R. Nienhuis
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (176 pages).

The Bible has 39 books in the Old Testament and 27 books in the New Testament. Spanning many centuries over different eras, the Bible has been the base of religious faith for three major monotheistic religions. Is it really possible to summarize the voluminous Bible into one compact guide? Just the thought of it will be challenging already. With so many different genres and rich teachings within, anyone attempting to squeeze the Bible into one book will be looking at an impossible task. Some compromises have to be made. For editors Wall and Nienhuis, the purpose is to present an introduction so that their students can be introduced to what Bible reading entails. The method is to adopt the storytelling approach by considering large chunks of the Bible at one go. There are altogether ten contributors to this volume, all of them from Seattle Pacific University. The big chunks are:
  • Beginning (Genesis - Deuteronomy)
  • Israel (Joshua - Esther)
  • Poetry (Job - Song of Songs)
  • Prophetic Witnesses (Isaiah - Malachi)
  • Between the Testaments
  • The Four Gospels (Matthew - John)
  • The Church (Acts and Letters)
  • Conclusion (Revelation)

The authors believe that in order to teach the Bible well, one needs to have a big picture idea of how the Bible books are connected to one another. The way to approach it is to use to "narrative-theological approach" so that one understands not only the individual narratives of each book but the overarching theological umbrella that connects them. Applications will flow naturally once we have an encounter with Scripture. In "Reading the Bible as Scripture," Castelo and Wall warn us against subjective interpretations and premature use of modern tools. The Scriptures need to be studied from the position of "deep respect" rather than from a position of personal wants. While many people are concerned about the applications section, faithful interpretation is needed first. This means doing the hard work of understanding what the ancient texts mean then.  Any interpretation needs to be "Christ-centered, Spirit-led, and church-related in theological orientation and practical results." Then, in order to avoid any reductionistic, subjective, contestable, or non-contextual interpretations, we need a way to link the various meta-narratives together.

The whole book flows from Genesis to Revelation in a somewhat chronological fashion. It is the key ideas that drive the summary. What is very unique in this book is the way each section is sewn into the overall meta-narrative. Broad themes are introduced and theological aspects are stressed. Each chapter covers a standard structure.
  • How the story contributes to the Metanarrative
  • Where the story is placed
  • Literary structures
  • What we learn about God?
  • What we learn about being God's people?
  • What we learn about God's world?
This is indeed a compact guide, helpful for telling us the big story of the Bible. It is not easy to summarize the Bible into such a format, so it is helpful not to look at the book as a summary but as a Metanarrative guide. With a big picture perspective, we will avoid missing the forest for the trees. It helps us in our study, our interpretation, and our applications. Many Bible study groups in churches and Christian organizations often like to study the Bible but do not know what to choose. Two of the popular ones are the Bible books and the topical studies. With this guide, we can do both in the sense that we can choose a Bible book according to the Metanarrative themes. This will help various groups to cover as much of the big picture as possible and not overly depend on a raw scheme such as alternating between Bible books. This compact guide equips one to choose any book from each of the eight metanarrative chunks in chronological fashion making our Bible studies a lot more broad-based and intentional.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


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

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