October 2008: Books Read

1. Craig Allert, A High View of Scripture? I had heard good things about this book (after all, one of the blurbs on the back is from a professor at Regent, Hans Boersma), and I saw it on sale in a seminary bookstore, so I picked it up. Allert, who teaches at Trinity Western University in Langley, BC, argues in this book that evangelicals who have a “high view of scripture” rarely investigate the historical process of how the Bible came to be. Instead, they first argue from a certain view of inspiration (that is, verbal plenary) that they call the “high view of scripture.” This intimidates others into taking the same view, for fear of having a dreaded “low view of scripture.” The end result is that everybody agrees, but nobody is actually helped to make sense of the Bible. Allert insists that a high view of scripture should be “just as concerned with how the New Testament came to exist in the form we have it as with what it says.” (173)

So how did it come to exist? The important thing for Allert is that there was nothing that was universally recognized as a New Testament “canon” for the first four hundred years of the church’s existence. This means that the early church’s sole rule for faith and life was not the Bible (which didn’t exist yet), but the teaching of the apostles as passed down by the churches. Further, people who would be called heretics (like Marcion) appealed to books that would later become part of the New Testament, so it would be difficult for us to maintain now that the Bible was the early church’s only rule for faith and life. Also, Allert makes note of a stunning amount of citations from early church fathers in which they call non-canonical writings “scripture” or “inspired.”

Allert’s book resonated with me, because even before I read it, I was not entirely comfortable with the notion of “inerrancy.” It’s not that I think the Bible is riddled with errors. Rather, I think that the word itself has been used in different ways by so many people that it has ceased to have a definite meaning other than this one: People who use the word “inerrancy” are evangelicals and have a high view of scripture, and people who don’t are not and do not. It has become a shibboleth: a word whose primary meaning is to indicate group membership (see Judges 12:6). Rather than continuing to argue about this word, it would be better to come up with a doctrine of inspiration that deals more directly with both the history of the Bible and its text, so that people can better understand what the Bible is.

2. A.J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I got this book from the library, so I don’t have it in front of me to refer to, but I’ll soldier on and tell you what I remember. Jacobs is a thoroughly secular New Yorker who writes for Esquire magazine, and who is steadily making a career for himself out of writing autobiographical books. He decided to follow the commands in the Bible as literally as he could for a year. In part I suppose he did it because he knew it would just be a great book idea, and in part he did it to show how ridiculous religious fundamentalism was.

The results are nothing if not entertaining. As a Christian, I expected a book written by a confirmed secular person about following the Bible literally to be smug and condescending. To my surprise, I found Jacobs to be a winsome and funny writer. He also has a lot more respect for religious people than I thought he would. For example, at one point he goes down to Kentucky to visit a Creation Museum. He doesn’t come away convinced that creationists are right, but he readily admits that they are not stupid. That’s all one can hope for, really.

In the end, Jacobs is changed by his experience, and not changed at the same time. He is still an agnostic at the end of the book, but he writes that he has opened himself more to the notion of the sacred. Whether sacredness is a result of God’s presence and action in the world or just human decision, he can’t say.

3. Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage. The tag line at the bottom of the book’s cover says it all: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” Thomas sets out in this book to argue, negatively, that the romantic idea of marriage that has become so prevalent in our society – the idea that the primary purpose of marriage is to provide passion, fulfillment and excitement for the individuals involved – is destructive. He also argues that the long Christian tradition of exalting celibacy as the only way to be holy is not the way to go, either. Positively, he argues that marriage is meant to teach us to be holy: to love, to respect others, to pray, to deal with our sin, to persevere, to build character, to forgive, to serve, to be aware of God’s presence, to develop our calling… He even argues that marital sexuality can provide spiritual insights and character development.

I haven’t read a lot of books on marriage, so it is hard to compare this one to others, but I recommend this one highly. Instead of emphasizing romance in a marriage (which is not a bad thing, but can become a bad thing when romance is elevated to ultimate importance), Thomas sees marriage as a way to make us more loving, more unselfish, holier people.

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3 thoughts on “October 2008: Books Read

  1. belleofthebooks November 11, 2008 / 2:21 pm

    I can’t decide whether I think its ridiculous or ingenious to have experiences simply to write the memoir. I liked the book and whole heartedly agree with your review of it, but I’m still undecided on AJ Jacobs!

  2. timothycairns November 13, 2008 / 6:36 am

    If you want some good books that are experience/travel comedy but not religious try Googlewhack by dave Gorman or the really good “Round Ireland with a Fridge” by Tony Hawks (not the skateboard fella but the English comedian!)

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