I have a nasty suspicion that a comprehensive review of the Bible will either be: a) too long, complicated and detailed; or b) too general to be helpful. Was I ever wrong about Meghan Larissa Good’s book! This survey is comprehensive but so accessible. It’s a great read for all 300 pages.
I also suspect many people in our congregations are tired of pleadings to read the Bible more. Yes, the pollsters tell us Americans are biblically illiterate; yes, our pastors (me included) report that sermonizing is often based on precious few verses and it’s impossible to give the whole context of a section when preaching; yes, the Bible is misused; yes, people quote isolated verses just to prove a point; yes . . .
The scope of this “unwrapped Bible” is, indeed, a Bible survey course. Beginning with Genesis and closing with Revelation, Good takes us through the biblical text in a conversational tone with just enough scholarly input to prove we are being taught by a wise person who knows her subject.
Good is the teaching pastor at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Ariz., and has degrees from Gordon College, Duke Divinity School and Portland Seminary.
I really liked her style and, in fact, was strangely warmed to the Bible itself again.
Good ventures beyond the text, for example in writing about buying a Bible. “The experience of shopping for a Bible, whether online or in your local bookstore aisle, bears distinct resemblance to perusing the topping bar at a fro-yo joint.” She goes on with a thorough explanation about choosing Bibles but also with this theological conviction: “God is committed to speaking the language of those whom God addresses.” Chapter 16 is about the Bible’s many passages that are poetry. “Let’s be real,” she begins, “the mere mention of poetry has many people instantly scanning the room for the closest exit.”
This begins 17 pages of helpful information about biblical poetry, particularly the Psalms. But nothing about every Psalm. The reader is thereby teased to go back to the Bible and read them, because we now have tools to understand poetry better. The reader learns about the epistles and apocalyptic literature, and every other genre in concise, easy-to-understand chapters.
Interspersed throughout the book are seven “storytime” essays (four Old Testament; three New Testament) which, I guess, are sermons she has preached. They are wonderfully told and would be easy for a teacher (of youth or adults) to read aloud and then discuss: Who is the main character? Where was God in this story? What happened (open your Bible)? How does this apply to us today? These literary gems are worth reading all by themselves.
The major thesis that runs throughout this book is that the whole Bible, all 66 books, are part of a long tradition of teaching us about who God is and how Jesus is the core of everything. And don’t forget, there are 66 of them. Carrying around a Bible cons us into thinking it’s a book. But it’s books! Also, Good outlines biblical origins, canonization, interpretation (“hermeneutics”) and scholarship in Parts I and II.
Part III is the “making sense” section. It’s all about community discernment. The last 100 pages are fully devoted to community reading, discussion and living the biblical words. To be sure, her main theological (and Anabaptist) thesis is that Jesus is the center of the Bible’s message. From Jesus, the reader looks backward and begins to see the redemption plans in the Old Testament. There is a healthy discussion and understanding of the “problem” texts in the Old Testament, particularly violence. Then we read from Jesus forward in the New Testament.
However, the real core of the Bible is its function as a guide toward righteous living: “Whatever you heard as you pondered and listened and talked, whatever glimpse you may have caught of God’s vision for the world, whatever subtle tug or calling or conviction you sensed, it wasn’t just there to enrich your mind — it was there to move your life.” A nice comparison: “Living words from God are like fresh bread. Their best moment is always right now.”
There’s a refreshing emphasis on the Holy Spirit and on having the courage to deal with conflict when Bible readers disagree. These chapters on these topics are intimate in tone, and I felt like Good was my conversation partner in an adult Sunday school class — clarifying, adding historical information and urging all members to stay connected in the discussion. She is an excellent teacher, scholar, pastor and writer all wrapped up in one delightful voice.
Remember, this is not a boring book. And I mean the Bible is not boring!
Dorothy Nickel Friesen, a retired Mennonite Church USA pastor and conference minister, lives in Newton, Kan. Her memoir, The Pastor Wears a Skirt: Stories of Gender and Ministry, was published this year by Wipf and Stock.