** Before I get into my thoughts on Saving the Bible from Ourselves, I owe an apology to Glenn Paauw, Alisse Wissman, and Krista Clayton. I love reading, and I enjoy reviewing books for SaltyBeliever.com, so I was thrilled when InterVarsity Press sent me Paauw's new book, Saving the Bible From Ourselves. However, just as the press was done printing Paauw's pages, my doctoral work shifted into high-gear and a literature review consumed every minute I was awake and even a few when I was asleep. Then a prospectus had to be written and that sucks away time too. Saving the Bible from Ourselves was forced to sit on my shelf, lonely and ignored. Yet, when freedom finally came and I returned to Paauw's book, it was a refreshing, enjoyable journey through an argument too few are making. To Glenn and the good folks at IVP, I'm sorry my review was not within the timely window you were seeking for marketing purposes. I hope you can forgive me.
Now, with that out of the way, on to the review!
Paauw, Glenn R. Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well. Downers Grover, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2016.
If the title alone does't grab your attention, thumbing through the 238 pages of Paauw's newest book, Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well should cause you to ask, "Why does the Bible need saving, and from what?" That's actually the crux of the whole thing: we don't even know. We don't even see it right before our faces every time we encounter the Bible.
Paauw writes, "We've never been able to leave the Bible alone," as he launches into a history of the problem (26). The problem is that our well-meaning effort to make the Bible more user-friendly has actually cut into the natural flow and presentation of God's revelation to us. And with every cut, we adopt more habits in how we read and understand the Bible differently. To help readers navigate their way around, chapters were added. Then verses. Cross-references came along to help. Section headings. And footnotes, don't forget the footnotes. Study Bibles are great, but how much material captures our eye that's not the Bible? Formatting, printing style, and on, and on. These tools have altered our reading plans and devotionals. They've encouraged that we simply snack on God's Word rather than feast, as Paauw argues. Context and story and form and literary flow is lost in the sea of all the things designed to help us read the Bible well.
"The Bible needs saving," argues Paauw, "not because of any defect in itself, but because we've buried it, boxed it in, wallpapered over it, neutered it, distorted it, isolated it, individualized it, minimized it, misread it, lied about it, debased it and over sold it. We have over-complicated its form while over-simplifying its content" (16-17).
We've also changed the way we read God's book. Where Paul's letters were once read in community, as was the Law, we now read more in isolation. We interpret in light of ourselves, within the chopped up, over-complicated, framework of our personal Bibles. No longer is the Bible a book that reads and dissects us; we've turned the tables on the Bible.
Paauw's journey through history and his explanation of the problem is informative and alarming. As the bells are going off, the author beckons the reader further into the journey to witness the horrific results of this long-standing problem. I can only imagine this is how a 25-year smoker might have felt when the commercials of black lungs started appearing on television. The reader can only be compelled that maybe something needs to change.
As I was reading Saving the Bible from Ourselves, I was moved to purchase a reader's Bible. It has no footnotes, no verses, no section headings or cross-references. The chapter numbers are extremely unobtrusive and the print runs all the way across the page rather than working down two columns. It's shocking how much easier it is to read large sections of text. It's not only less exhausting on the eyes and mind, it's less distracting. Reading an entire epistle is simple, likely as it was when the letter first arrived at the church. The minor prophets read like blog posts to the world. Narrative is exciting and spurs on the imagination again. This reader's Bible has entirely changed the way I'm reading the Bible.
One challenge to Paauw's argument is that it's too well argued. I can see people tossing out the tools that help us study the Bible. It would be difficult to locate Scripture without verse markers. Cross-references and study notes are helpful in gaining a better understanding. How are we to read in the context of the book when we are so far removed from the context? This is were those extras can help us engage with the text better. It would be a terrible thing to chuck out these tools. While I certainly wouldn't suggest that Paauw argue less powerfully, I do suggest that he give a little more positive discussion to the value of the things we're saving the Bible from. (Unless, he believes we need not use these tools at all, which I do not gather from his book.)
That being said, I still highly recommend both Saving the Bible from Ourselves as well as a reader's Bible. Both of these books would be a wise investment for seminary students, pastors, Bible teachers, and anybody who wants to pull back out of the dryness and taste the richness that the unencumbered Bible has to offer.
I'll leave you with an excerpt from the book's conclusion:
"The Bible is bigger than our previous ideas, our regular prejudices, our self-loving distortions. The Bible really is a strange new world. And yet it invites us. The Bible doesn't want to merely reflect us; it wants to remake us. What if we knew the Bible deep down, in our bones? What if moment by moment, day by day, we made sense of our lives by seeing them as active continuations of the narrative we find in the sacred words? What if we tied our journeys inseparably to the great journey we find in the Holy Scriptures? What if we found the beauty always intended for the stories of our lives by rediscovering the profound beauty of this great, preeminent story?" (214)
Purchase Glenn Paauw's book, Saving the Bible From Ourselves: Learning to Read & Live the Bible Well by following this link or find the book wherever Christian books are sold.