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Friday, January 29, 2016

"Four Small Words" (Jarrett Stevens)

TITLE: Four Small Words: A Simple Way to Understand the Bible
AUTHOR: Jarrett Stevens
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015, (160 pages).

We can read the Bible. We can memorize it. We can even quote verses from it. However, when it comes to understanding it, it is a totally new challenge. What if there is a way to understand the Bible that grows from knowledge to relationship? What if there is a simple way to understand the Bible? Jarrett Stevens, co-pastor of Soul City Church in Chicago believes that with four small words, one can be on the way to understanding the Bible in a personal and even profound way. The first word is OF which is based on Genesis 1-2, which tells "of" the creation story and our origins, our true identity. We learn of God who is much bigger than we are. The two basic concepts from this word are:

1) Coming From
2) Belonging To

Understanding our role in life begins with understanding of our own history and our source of being. We are made for community, just like the three persons of the Triune Godhead. We learn to ask of who God is, and who we are. After a brief narrative about life in the perfect garden, we read about the regrettable end of this paradise when Adam and Eve chose evil. The bible story move from how man who is of God, chose otherwise, leading us to the next word. Our story begins of God.

The second word is BETWEEN, which speaks of the separation of man and the consequences as narrated throughout the Old Testament. This is about how sin had corrupted the world and led to the disobedience of man. Between separation and restoration; the first Adam and the second; between us and others; between the fulfillment of the covenants; covenants and commandments; and so on, we read about the consequences of being separated from God. Our story has its promises and punishments. Separated by sin, we live in the in-between of despair and hope.

The third word is WITH, which is essentially the New Testament gospel narratives from Matthew to Acts. The key phrase is "God WITH us" symbolizing how Jesus dwells among us. We receive the promise that God will always be with us. The ministry, the accusation, the arrest, the crucifixion, the death, and the resurrection, all show the ways Christ is present with us, suffering with us, and bringing hope to us. It is about God's initiative to come save us and give us a new world. We have a new way to be with God, through the Person of Jesus.

The fourth word is IN, which deals with the rest of the New Testament. We are invited to trust, to live, and to look forward to the new Jerusalem. This is also the story of the Church, and the powerful workings of the Holy Spirit upon the people of God.

Personally, I find the four part framework from Genesis to Revelation a bit more understandable than the four prepositions that Stevens had proposed. Maybe it's because of my training in biblical theology. For if we want to use anything such as "four small words," there is an intuitive expectation that the words themselves be easy to understand. Yet, I find myself trying to fit the prepositions into the biblical framework laid up by Stevens. It takes me a while to eventually understand what Stevens is trying to do. Perhaps, the "four small words" should be seen more as a preview to the biblical theology framework as follows:
  1. Genesis 1-3
  2. Genesis 3 - Malachi 4
  3. Matthew 1 - Acts 1
  4. Acts 2 - Revelation 22
That said, this book is a commendable effort to show laypersons a way to understand the flow of the biblical story. Some readers may be discouraged by the sheer volume of the Bible and never really get around to reading the whole Bible. Others do not know where to start. With this book, getting into a Bible reading discipline will become easier, as the proposed framework do give readers a good handle to plan their reading. While it is important to understand, sometimes, there are things in the Bible that are difficult to understand at first read. For such people, I would advise the repetitive reading, and not to be too anxious if one does not understand it immediately. It takes time. Even for seasoned Bible readers, there is always something new and refreshing about the Bible passages. Do not let the title of the book deceive you. It is an effective way to enable us to actually read the Bibles, and not just download it into our digital devices and forgotten.

Rating: 4 stars of 5.


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

1 comment:

  1. Agreed, "This book is a commendable effort to show laypersons a way to understand the flow of the biblical story" - @bob_gusto