The Bible: A Book Like No Other is the final of five (in my reading order – I’d wager the actual order is pretty unimportant!) little books that have been published by IVP, with Tim Chester, to update and share John Stott’s classic The Contemporary Christian with a new audience. As I’ve said in reviews of the other four (See below) there are some occasionally frustrating commonalities between the books, but the unique content of each volume makes them well worth picking up. I would say that this little book is a beautifully robust yet thoroughly winsome evangelical account of what the Bible is and why it is important – and that in it’s ‘evangelical-ness’, it goes beyond that tribe and actually offers a thoughtful way to read scripture for any and every Christian.
For Stott, reading and relating to the Bible is basic to Christian discipleship, and incredibly important to explain and articulate. Stott offers a genuinely thought through account of how the Bible functions, and the complexity of reading it: “in all our Bible reading there is a collision of cultures between the biblical world and the modern world. Both God’s speaking and our listening are culturally conditioned.” As a Thiselton fan, it was encouraging to see his work mentioned favourably, and generally Stott is intellectually robust in explaining how to handle and understand the Bible. The cultural awareness of Stott is deeply encouraging, including where the church gets it wrong and fails to be a witness of integrity – “The first step towards the recovery of our Christian integrity will be the humble recognition that our culture blinds, deafens and dopes us. We neither see what we ought to see in Scripture, nor hear God’s Word as we should, nor feel the anger of God against evil“.
With a nod to the challenges of a Jesus-focused hermeneutic, Stott suggest that ‘cultural transposition’ is the best way between wooden literalism or total rejection. As he puts it, “not disobedience, but meaningful obedience, is the purpose of cultural transposition“. From this, Stott flows into a chapter on preaching which is very helpful. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that if every thinking member of a church and their regular preachers read and understood this, there would be a healthy and robust revival of preaching. Stott recognises the authority of scripture, and also the need to open up the Bible in public with faithfulness (to what is written and meant) and sensitivity (to the reality and needs of the gathered people today). With reference to the importance of exegesis (Actually understanding the text and its world) I thoroughly enjoyed Stott’s observation that “the worst blunder that we can commit is to read back our twenty-first-century thoughts into the minds of the biblical authors (which is ‘eisegesis’), to manipulate what they wrote in order to make it conform to what we want them to say, and then to claim their patronage for our opinions“. Amen! It is important to note that everyone is prone to this – from major errors such as the concept of same sex marriage, to heretical ideas such as Christ not being divine, to the seemingly unimportant questions of church order and worship being elevated to dogma.
Of the five books that Tim Chester has served up out of the larger joint of The Contemporary Christian, this is one of the strongest. Certainly, for a thoughtful reader, it is one of the best introductions to the Bible currently available. Well under 100 pages, this would be a great book to give away to teenagers, students and adults who are wrestling with some of the classic questions around the Bible.
John Stott’s classic The Contemporary Christian has been transformed into five short readable books. I’ve been given review copies of each, and they connect to each other and engage with key issues in a most excellent way. If you’ve liked this review, you may also like the other books in this little selection:
- The Disciple: A Calling to Be Christlike
- The Gospel: A Life-Changing Message
- The World: A Mission to be Accomplished
- The Bible: A Book Like No Other (you’ve just read my review! Link to one place to buy it/find out more)
- The Church: A Unique Gathering of People