The Bible is a big book. It has lots of pages, lots of words, lots of stories, lots of apparently arcane information. Lots of everything. It’s the biggest book in most people’s houses. Its presence on a shelf, if we stop to notice it, is that of a giant dwarfing its neighbours.
Still, the first advice we give to new Christians—or to old ones who are looking to grow in their faith—is to read the Bible. A year ago, I recommended that those who felt so inclined should take up a Bible reading plan for 2013 as a way to read through the Bible from front to back, perhaps for the first time.
And yet it’s a big book. I’ve heard—on more than one occasion—people express bafflement at what to do with this big book. How does one part fit with another? I’ve tried to encourage people, as I’ve been encouraged by others, to see the Bible as basically one big story, the story of God’s relationship with and rescue of his world.
But it’s a big book.
In centuries past—maybe even only in decades past—you could take for granted that people had a basic grasp of the Bible and its stories. Growing up in that era, by the time you were old enough to read the Bible for yourself, you probably knew a good deal of the story. Reading Scripture—whether or not you were reading it very well or interpreting it very wisely—was not a frightening thought. But now that isn’t the case. Even Moses and David and Isaiah are unfamiliar names to most of our friends and acquaintances. The Bible is like a foreign land.
What can we do to get help with putting it all together? In the past I have recommended this or that book as a good companion to personal Bible reading. But I’ve missed the chance to mention the route I think is probably most helpful.
Michael Dirda, a book reviewer for the Washington Post and one of my favourite authors, once puzzled about how children might get familiar with the story of King Arthur, another story that could at one time be taken for granted as general knowledge but now not so much. The original version in English of Arthur’s story is the gigantic Le Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory, another big book that dwarfs its neighbours on the bookshelves. From personal experience I can say that my copy of Malory remains unopened after sitting for years on my shelves.
What was his conclusion?
“…where, then, should children learn of Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, and Merlin? I think a simplified version of Malory, or perhaps a straightforward, modern retelling will do best. Once the main outline … is known, a child will then be prepared for a lifetime of variations…”
“A simplified version.” “A modern retelling.” Could the same advice work for people who want to learn of Abraham, David, Jesus, and Paul? I think so.
In church lately, people have heard of a particular children’s Bible several times, The Jesus Storybook Bible. Our kids received it as a gift when we moved to Fredericton, and Dee and I have marveled at it over that year and a half. Recently, Nicolle and I were talking and realized we have both recommended it to adults as a great way to better understand the Bible story.
So here in all the official power of a blog recommendation (haha), I’ll repeat it: There’s probably no better way available for adult readers to get “the main outline” (in Dirda’s words about Arthur) of the Bible story than by picking yourself up a copy of The Jesus Storybook Bible. There, you’ll not only learn most of the major stories in scripture, but you’ll start to see how they all tie together to tell with great clarity that wonderful story of God’s relationship with and rescue of his world.
To crib Dirda’s comment: Once the main outline is known, a Christian will be prepared for a lifetime of meaningful and life-changing Scripture reading.