Friday, September 9, 2016

The keys to the kingdom, or rather to its field book (Brief review)

The Bible can be intimidating. It’s big, full of challenging ideas, foreign customs, and, when unlocked and engaged well, serves up priceless gems of wisdom.

For those turning to the Bible for the first time, or those who have had close encounters of the random kind and finally want to take a deeper dive, getting a firm grasp on the scope of scripture can be literally overwhelming.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were an easy-to-decipher road map of sorts to help make it easier to navigate?

That’s exactly what Unlocking the Bible: What It Is, How We Got It, and Why We Can Trust It (Baker Books) by Jeff Lasseigne is.

Written in a light-hearted casual conversational style, the book does exactly what its full title promises in two broad sections: “The Big Picture” and “The Books of the Bible.”

Demystifying God’s Word

Part I starts off with the first chapter sharing important highlights of how the Bible came into being. Chapter two offers insights on why the Bible is trustworthy. Chapters three and five are basic overviews of the Old and New Testaments.

Lasseigne offers nice synopsis-level discussions of such things as the Dead Sea scrolls, how the original biblical manuscripts were created and handled, and how early copies were carefully transcribed by hand. For example, he shares that:
“The New Testament was written well over 1,900 years ago, and yet we have over 24,000 pieces of manuscript to support it, which is substantial. In fact, the New Testament has far more manuscript evidence than any other ancient work. By comparison, the thirty-seven plays of William Shakespeare have no surviving original copies and there are missing sections in every one of his works.... Shakespeare’s writings are only about four hundred years old, and were all written after the invention of the printing press....”

Probably the more interesting section of the book is chapter four where Lasseigne discusses what happened during the 400 year “silent” period between the Testaments. He gives a quick scan of the history, politics, and culture of the times, and touches on why the Apocrypha is not considered part of the inspired canon.

Providing practical application, chapter six covers how to study the Bible and chapter seven explains how to teach the Bible. Both chapters consist mostly of simple straightforward tips Lasseigne has used successfully over the years.

Part II offers nutshell glimpses of each of the 66 books of the Bible, pointing out significant facts, giving quotes from others related to the book, and additional useful tidbits. While brief, each is pithy and a good place to start a more focused study of a specific Bible book.

A reference for the rest of us

The book is folksy and not the least intimidating. It’s not aimed at theologians and thankfully free of academic jargon. Rather, this is a perfect reference to put in the hands of new Christians just getting acquainted with the Bible, or more seasoned believers who are just getting involved in teaching a Sunday school class or leading a small group. For the rest of us, it can serve as a useful refresher reference.

In fact, the book really is a reference, designed to be dipped into as needed and where needed. To that end, it would have been helpful if the book had included more headings and graphic features (in the vein of a “For Dummies” or “Complete Idiot’s Guide), as well as a more detailed table of contents and/or index, that would facilitate easier browsing. Fortunately, Part II is much more accessible in this way than is Part I.

And then there’s the odd humor. Each chapter opens with a humorous anecdote, and odd little quips and out-takes pop up at random throughout the book. While adding to the folksy charm of the book, they can also be a little off-putting and distracting. Clearly Lasseigne uses this type of humor when he’s teaching in his church -- and they probably work well in a live setting -- but are just a tad annoying when inserted without clear relevance into the book.

Overall, the book is a great tool as a reference for Sunday school teachers, new Christians, or as a tool in a class on Bible basics or leader training. It’s very accessible and full of great tidbits and tips, delivering on the promise of its title to unlock the Bible.

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NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Does this sound like a reference for you? Are there other books you are aware of that would serve the same purpose as this one? What are a few of the best books you have read that really help unlock God’s Word? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


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