A review by John D. Pierce

The Good Book is a good book about the Good Book.

For those not raised on Sword Drills and Sunday school, it is an especially helpful resource for how to approach the Bible, which author Deron Spoo notes can be intimidating and “notoriously easy to misinterpret.”

The pastor of the First Baptist Church of Tulsa, Okla., is pastoral in his presentation of (as the subtitle claims) 40 Chapters That Reveal the Bible’s Biggest Ideas. His “guidebook to the Bible” focuses on “signature chapters” that provide a framework for understanding the larger biblical story as well as its source.

At the outset Spoo affirms “the ultimate benefit of reading the Scriptures isn’t greater familiarity with the Bible but deeper intimacy with God.”

Spoo, who considers the late Calvin Miller to be his mentor, takes the biblical revelation seriously without taking himself too seriously. He admits his own challenges in living out the biblical faith and confesses that he often worries “even though the Bible is peppered with ‘fear nots.’”

The author appears as a fellow traveler who discovers and points out guideposts, not an elevated expert removed from the daily struggles of Christian discipleship. In his desire to introduce others to the Bible — especially those who might fear wading into the unfamiliar waters — he uses contemporary analogies.

For example, he compares first grasping these signature texts in order to understand the larger biblical story to specific music that defines an artist. “To understand the Beatles, it’s essential to be familiar with the White Album,” he writes. “To know the Eagles well, listening to ‘Hotel California’ is a must.”

Spoo is conservative in his theology but avoids jumping from a biblical text to a popular soapbox — wisely and responsibly sticking to the larger ideas. For example, he sees Psalm 139 as more than the anti-abortion rallying cry it has become for many modern Christians. The psalmist purposefully and poetically conveys the intense, intimate and infinite love of God.

Spoo’s “big ideas” are thematic, not the formation of some narrow creed aimed at exclusion. For example, he notes that turning the Creation story in Genesis 1 into evidence for determining the age of the cosmos distracts from the wonderful truth in the Bible’s first chapter — that “you bear a striking resemblance to your Creator.” Humans were not an accident, and were created out of an act of love.

The book offers stimulating questions to encourage reflection and response such as related to Genesis 1: “What one action or attitude can you change today that will help you better reflect the image of God — your true identity?”

This approach is taken throughout the book. The reader is guided through various texts that reveal the large biblical themes worthy of being revisited and repeated.

While written with newcomers in mind, those of us raised on Sword Drills, Sunday school and two-sermon Sundays are not exempt. In fact, we may have a greater need to read the Bible with open minds and hearts.

For example, I am amazed at how much the theme of justice permeates the biblical revelation and how little attention it received in the biblical teaching, preaching and practice that nurtured me. Familiarity doesn’t always equate with faithfulness.

We need warnings like: “Many of history’s most dangerous and destructive people have been those who assumed that God supported their every action and agenda.”

We need insights like: “[Jesus] had the ability to see opportunity in the most unlikely people; he gave his attention to individuals whom most people found easy to ignore.”

We need reminders like: “We…often forget that God’s love for all people is greater than our hatred for even our worst enemies.”

We need assurances like: “In Jesus, God isn’t talking down to us; God is speaking with us face to face.”

Spoo’s book provides a some good sermon illustrations — reminding me of the late, great preacher Fred Craddock’s line that the one who steals from me, steals twice (or more).

But, more importantly, Spoo offers a needed reminder that digging with good tools makes mining the biblical revelation an ongoing, insightful and life-shaping endeavor.

The Good Book: 40 Chapters That Reveal the Bible’s Biggest Ideas by Deron Spoo (David C. Cook) is set for release in April 2017.

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