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Friday, June 9, 2017

"Asking the Right Questions" (Matthew S. Harmon)

TITLE: Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible
AUTHOR: Matthew S. Harmon
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017, (144 pages).

While most believers do not dispute the importance of the Bible, many however are uncomfortable about studying the Bible for themselves. Some may think they lack certain theological training. Others may claim to be mere believers who lack guidance. Still there are many who may have been Christians for a long time but for various reasons, are unable to have a personal Bible breakthrough. I have met individuals who had faithfully attended Church for years but still find themselves inadequate in leading a Bible study. Is it for lack of knowledge, lack of courage, or both? Still, there are people who tried to lead but the whole gesture seemed like a case of the blind leading the blind. The Bible is indeed a big book and can be quite intimidating, especially for younger believers. This is where this book comes in. Author and Professor Matt Harmon aims to do the following:
  • How do we figure out the big picture and the important ideas in the passages we read?
  • What is the context of the Bible?
  • What do we look for?
  • What is the Bible all about?
  • How do we ask questions of the Bible?
  • Specifically, what are the four simple questions to help us apply God's Word into our lives?
I suppose the last point would interest many. As the title of the book suggests, this book is about asking the right questions that will help us along a better way to study and understand this ancient text. Harmon begins with the contexts, going through briefly the segments of Creation, Crisis, Covenants, Christ, Church, and Consummation. It's a nice way to remember. I would have thought we could include another "C" to make it a more complete 7. Some possible words are "Commitment"  or "Children" which can be a way to emphasize discipleship and Christian living; or "Commandments" to hone in the Law proper. Anyway, the six Cs do fit nicely. These six themes or segments as the author puts it, will equip us and prepare us to ask the right questions. On reading the Bible, Harmon makes several intriguing observations. One of them is the part about imagining Jesus leading us through a Bible study through the Torah, the Prophets, and right through to the Historical Books. It is a fascinating overview using the way the foundational segments set forth before. Jesus often summarizes rather than quotes verbatim. The principles of reading the Bible are:

  1. Seeing each passage from the perspective of Christ
  2. How a saved people get sent out to proclaim the message of salvation to all
  3. God is sovereign and has ordered world history accordingly toward redemption
  4. Our focus as New Testament believers ought to focus on Jesus and the Word
Contrary to what some believers think, the Bible was not written "to us" but to the hearers at that time. We are able to listen in and to learn to interpret what we read contextually. The Bible was written for our instruction, for our encouragement, and for giving us hope. Then comes the four foundational questions:
  1. What Do We Learn About God?
  2. What Do We Learn About Humanity?
  3. What Do We Learn About Relating to God?
  4. What Do We Learn About Relating to Others?
Following that, the rest of the book is dedicated to putting these four questions to practice. Through and through, we learn about our fallen condition, our need for repentance, faith, and hope. Using code names for Fallen Conditions (FC) and Gospel Solution (GS) with regard to the four questions, we have a template for Bible study and application. Harmon even anticipates objections like difficult passages and points us to resources to help us. He explains some of the genres that help us interpret accordingly. Like an experienced teacher, he shows those of us who are in a teaching position to ask the right questions ourselves.

Do not be deceived by the simplicity of the whole book. It may seem quite a tall order to let four questions open up the whole Bible. We may even think whether these four questions are too crude for passages that require more surgical precision such as Bible exegesis and applied hermeneutics. Certainly there will be. Harmon has not promised that this book is for advanced readers, though it could be helpful from a pedagogical angle. What he has set forth is basically a simple way to equip the believer to take the next step of faith to begin eating solid food for themselves. They should be teachers already, like how Hebrews 5:12 had admonished some Jewish believers. This book excites me from a Bible teaching standpoint. Though many of the concepts are familiar, there is a certain freshness in the way Harmon puts it. I have some concerns though. It is quite a challenge for some passages to be compressed and forced into seeing Christ in the words. I think of the passages in the book of Job and the difficult passages in Leviticus. Without adequate biblical theology training, it is hard to systematize everything into seeing Christ in the difficult passages. Harmon has provided a six-segment framework to help us make sense of the big picture. Genre interpretation aids our asking of the right questions. Perhaps, use this book with a mentor or guide. That would be most profitable.

Matthew S. Harmon is Professor of New Testament studies at Grace College and Theological Seminary. He teachers New Testament Greek, Theology, and Biblical Backgrounds. His research interests include Biblical Theology, New Testament Use of the Old Testament, Pauline Theology, and Jonathan Edwards. He also serves on the Preaching Team at his local Church in Winona Lake.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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