“I’m sorry, pastor, but where are you getting that?”
The words came from Mary during a meeting of our congregation’s Tuesday Bible study group. The text before us, assigned for the upcoming Sunday, was Ezekiel 17:22-24. Caught up in the beauty of the prophet’s allegory, I began to expound upon the notion of messianic promise and fulfillment. It was at that point that Mary cut me off, bewildered.
Mary is a bright woman. She has been an active member of Lutheran congregations throughout her life. She has participated in numerous Bible studies. Even so, Ezekiel’s allegory missed the mark for Mary. All that talk of trees and mountains and winged creatures was meaningless to her. For all my interpretive skill, I had made a classic mistake: I had forgotten that for most of the people I serve, the Bible seems to be a difficult book, clouded by distance, unfamiliarity, and the haunting, sometimes embarrassing notion that they should already be able to understand scripture. If they do not understand the Bible, what does that say about them?
It is for Mary, and everyone like her, that David Lose has written Making Sense of Scripture: Big Questions about the Book of Faith. For some Christians, the Bible is the entirely literal, factual, historical (insert your own adjectives here) Word of God; for them, the very notion of needing to make sense of the Bible is unnecessary, if not an open affront. Most Christians, however, are much less certain of what the Bible is, how it can be read, and how God uses it to speak to us. They believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but may not be sure how that is true.
While the first group would certainly benefit from reading Making Sense of Scripture, Lose writes for the latter, larger group. Lose notes simply that the Bible is a powerful book. His task is to connect readers to this “good book” so that it is no longer daunting and dispiriting, but heart-lifting, mind-challenging, and life-changing.
Lose takes as his starting point seven big questions about the Bible, beginning with the most obvious: “What is the Bible?” Since Lose allows questions to drive the book, he structures each chapter as a dialogue such as might occur “in your living room or around my kitchen table.” The result is a refreshingly accessible work that requires no previous knowledge. Each chapter flows in easy progression, with the interlocutor asking questions on our behalf. Each question leads to the next, as Lose peels back layers of misconception and confusion through clear answers, images, and stories.
Each chapter has some clear takeaways for the reader to help guide in reading. Addressing the nature of the Bible, Lose steers away from the Bible as a handy reference book, preferring instead to view it as a quilt or a family scrapbook.
Answering the question of whether or not the Bible is true, Lose uses the example of slavery’s immorality to illustrate that truth can be self-evident while remaining empirically unverifiable. The sort of truth that we find in the Bible is therefore more experiential than scientific. In laying out this claim, Lose deftly navigates the false overreach of modernity without losing his readers in a philosophical cul-de-sac.
Chapter four (“Where Did the Bible Come From?”) provides a cogent, accurate history of the formation of the canon that will no doubt be appreciated by many who have been confused in recent years by The Da Vinci Code or sensationalized coverage of the “lost gospels.”
While I found the early chapters to be clear and helpful in guiding readers through their questions, as a preacher I was most interested in the last three chapters, starting with chapter five, “How Can I Read the Bible with Greater Understanding?” After all, as a preacher my task is to preach biblically. It helps if people can make sense of the scriptural texts in front of them that day!
Lose navigates the waters of exegesis and biblical criticism with a light touch. Early on, he asserts that there is no such thing as an unbiased reading of scripture. In chapter five, Lose tackles the different types of lenses through which the Bible can be read. This task is particularly suited to the conversational style he employs. It would be easy to get bogged down describing different critical approaches. Issues of hermeneutics are handled through gentle leading, both by guiding the reader to acknowledge that we view all kinds of media (songs, movies) through a variety of lenses and by applying these principles to biblical examples, such as the encounter between Jesus and Pilate. Matters of historical context and literary style are explored in a hands-on manner.
It is here that the book lives up to its title. After all, for most Christians the problem with the Bible is neither the will to read it nor the ability to comprehend God’s Word. All that is lacking are some basic tools. Lose gives his readers questions to ask of the text, clues to look for, and confidence to do both. Finally, Lose grounds us squarely in the center of scripture: the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In this center the Bible has its true authority, not as an esoteric rule book, but as a testament to the ongoing, life-giving power of the God who continues to be at work in our lives.
I must admit that at times I wished Lose would just come out and clearly lay out what he wanted the reader to know. I kept waiting for bullet pointed summations. Then again, the Bible itself is not a laundry list or a recipe. The Bible is a conversation between God and the people of God; it is a conversation that is still going on today. Lose succeeds in helping his readers know that God is speaking to them in these holy pages. He succeeds in helping us better listen to what God continues to say. I am looking forward to putting a copy of Making Sense of Scripture into Mary’s hands.