Friday, March 9, 2012

Book: How to read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

Quick notes: Through the Whole Bible will be back either this afternoon or tomorrow. Zondervan sent me a free copy of this book and required that I read and review it, but they didn't require me to like it.

Book data:

Title: How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens.

Author: Michael Williams, currently Professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary and a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation.

Publisher: Zondervan

List Price: $18.99

Cover image:


At the outset, I have to make a confession. When Zondervan publicized this blog tour, I had to say which section of Scripture I would focus my reviewing efforts on. Now, though, I cannot remember what I told them I would do. The upside is that I read the whole book. The downside is that I expect a giant "Z" to be carved into my bookshelf for revenge.

Overviewing this book, Michael Williams has taken each book of the Bible and provided a brief overview of the theme and narrative of that book. He then provides a section titled "The Jesus Lens" that examines how the reader should view Jesus Christ through that book or a representative section. The conclusion of each chapter is a section on contemporary implications and questions for applying the lessons discussed.

For good or for ill, each Bible book gets about the same length of a chapter. Obadiah and Genesis get the same number of pages, Philemon the same as Isaiah. This is accomplished by summary and omission, though, not by invention. Williams has not added or created themes that are not there to lengthen chapters. Rather, he has had to leave things behind that are present to shorten others.

That's a typical issue for a summary book, though. I imagine that "Christ in Isaiah" would take a multi-volume set if it was not heavily edited.

Striving to remember my commitment, I think I am to look hard at what we call the Minor Prophets (basic reference here): Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

I chose these because, honestly, I've never thought much about reading Obadiah through any lens other than the oh-that-was-quick-and-now-it's-over lens. These books are often mined for quick one-liners, like Malachi's verses about tithing, and not a major focus for study in the church today.

Reading through Williams' take on these books did crack open a few seals for me. While he is making somewhat tentative connections, his work here provided good discussion questions regarding the text. I especially liked how he took Obadiah and made the connection between injustice, revenge, and the Cross.

Putting the "Jesus Lens" on these books was quite helpful in gaining an additional understanding of the unity of Scripture.

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens was a good read for me. I would not recommend it as your only reference book or guide to reading Scripture, however. Here are few of the shortfalls:

1. Risk of over-focus. It's good to see Christ in the Old Testament, for example, but the story of redemption and grace at the Cross is not the only story present. This book is focused, like through a lens, on one emphasis point in Bible reading. It is also important to read the Bible for the rest of the content. Read Joseph's story in Genesis for how the Hebrew people understood it.

2. Lack of introductory material. Understanding the totality of each part of Scripture needs an examination of genre, setting, style, and authorship. This book does not really address those issues.

3. Some shaky connections. Keep in mind that Williams has produced a smartly-written book showing what he sees. Just because he sees it does not mean it is absolutely there. Any effort like this will have some views that are stronger than others.

These shortfalls, however, are not fatal. They are barely harmful, really, as Williams has hit his target of defining the "Jesus Lens" and showing how each book works with it. Just be sure to pick up a good general Bible intro book as well—or a good study Bible.

Free book received for review. For other opinions about this book, look here or at the Amazon page with reviews, here:

How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture

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