Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Book Review - Journey into God's Word

I love to get book recommendations. In the winter semester, my hermeneutics prof regularly recommended books, and he recommended Journey into God's Word. Months later, while attending the church were my son works, I listened to the senior pastor recommended this book as well, which is not surprising, because he and I had the same hermeneutics prof.

Journey into God's Word is a great book for beginners who want to learn to study the Bible. The book approaches Bible study by comparing it to crossing a bridge over a river from one town to another:
  1. We discover what the text meant in "their town," i.e. in the context of the original audience.
  2. We assess how wide is the river to cross from one side to the next. That is, how different is the context between the original audience an us?
  3. We cross the "principlizing bridge." We draw out the theological principle that bridges the space between their context and ours.
  4. We evaluate what it means in "our town." We apply the principle to our context.
It may sound like an approach to use with school aged children, and it definitely would suit young students, but it is also a valuable image for any student of the Bible. One of my oldest and dearest friends, who is also my former teaching partner, read the book recently and said the images were very helpful to her even after having been teaching for twenty years.

Duvall and Hays open up the book by discussing the nature of Bible study. They focus thoroughly on understanding and appreciating the context. This is something they refer to again and again throughout the book. They also include a chapter which addresses something I think every Bible study book ought to address: our presuppositions. Some of us bring to Bible study a lifetime of learning from our church backgrounds. Some of those presuppositions may colour how we respond to what we discover as we study. For example, if I hold to a particular eschatological view, it will affect my reading of Revelation and other apocalyptic literature. Will I be open to discoveries that refute what I presuppose? It's a good question.

After talking about what Bible study is and the nature of Scripture, the authors discuss the various genres of Scripture, beginning with the New Testament books. I think beginning with the genres of biblical literature is key to studying the Bible. We simply cannot approach every part of Scripture in the same way, and it is when we attempt to do so that we may run into problems.

I appreciated especially the chapters on prophecy and Psalms. Prophecy can be very confusing and daunting to read, and Duvall and Hays give a great overview that helps with some of the logistical issues. Knowing why and to whom the prophets wrote helps us avoid reading prophecy incorrectly. With regard to the Psalms, they helpfully point out that the Psalms are examples of how we relate to God, so that instead we simply cannot approach it in the same way we would the book of Romans, for example. Psalms are always a favourite with Bible readers, so understanding how to correctly interpret them is important.

At the end of each chapter there are discussion questions as well as writing assignments. This book is clearly meant to be used with a group of students. My son's pastor used this book in their church during a series on Bible study. The writing assignments could be done as a discussion as well. I like the idea of both writing assignment and discussion because some people learn more as they are forced to write (I am one of those) but there are opportunities to benefit from others' input through discussion.

Bible study books seem to exist at very wide poles: the very introductory on one end and the very advanced on the other. There are not many in between, and I think this one meets that need. I believe it can still be used by a beginner, but it will suit a student for a while. Furthermore, because this book is a scaled down version of Duvall and Hays's book Grasping God's Word, there is a resource for further explanation and added depth.

I was reminded again as I read this book of the great need to study Scripture in community. We tend to think we can and should do everything on our own. I discovered last semester the great benefits of studying with others, and I think the best use of this book would be to study with a group or even one-on-one. Older women teaching younger woman ought to include teaching Scripture, and I think this book would be an excellent resource for that. It's not very long, and it isn't terribly expensive. It is definitely worth investing in.

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