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Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Bible Jesus Read by Philip Yancey

I've read some of Philip Yancey's books and enjoyed them. I'm behind in reading this one. It was published in 1999. It's a very good book. I've read the Bible through in different translations and studied the Bible a lot. I couldn't make up my mind if it would have been better to read this book BEFORE you read the books of the Bible that Yancey covers or if it's better to have read Yancey's book AFTER you've read the books of the Bible that Yancey covers. In some instances he assumes you know what he's talking about which assumes you've read the books. But, his book would prepare you in reading the books with a new light. So, read the books before and after reading Yancey's book.

Yancey explains how some of the Old Testament books of the Bible are relevant to our life today. The books are Job, Deuteronomy, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, and the Prophets.

Personally, I remember telling one of my younger cousins a story from the Old Testament and he looked at me and said, "How do you find all these things? When I look in the Bible all I see is just a bunch of little scriptures." I've never forgotten that. I remember, when I was saved at 8 yrs old, I got my first Bible (in King James Version). I loved to read, even then. So I decided I would read the Bible through just like any other book. I would diligently start with Genesis 1:1 and make it through about Genesis 2:1 and realize I didn't understand a word I'd read. So I would start with Matthew 1:1 and make it a little further before giving up. So I decided I must be too young to understand yet. So every year or so I would get my Bible back out and try to read it starting with Genesis 1:1 and still couldn't understand it. I knew from Sunday School there were wonderful things in the Bible but all I was seeing were "just a bunch of little scriptures". My Aunt Judy gave all three of us Living Bibles when we were young teens. Finally, after I rededicated my life at 17, I took out the new Bible and started reading with Genesis 1:1. And it was like a dam had broken. Suddenly I could read with understanding. I read the whole Bible. Then I graduated to the New American Standard version and read it through. Then I read the NIV and the New King James Version. I still don't know if it was because of the Living Bible, or because I was older, or because I had rededicated my life and God miraculously opened my eyes to see with understanding, or all three!

The Old Testament has always been a favorite of mine and, especially the Psalms. But, Yancey points out that many think the Old Testament is passe and no longer relevant, even among Christians. The Old Testament is 3/4 of the Bible and, yet, most people in today's world know little about it. I saw a Jay Leno show one time where he asked people on the street if they knew any of the Ten Commandments. Most couldn't even give one and if they could give one it was, Thou Shalt Not Murder. Yancey says, "Half of all adult Americans cannot identify the Bible's first book as Genesis. And fourteen percent identify Joan of Arc as Noah's wife."

"More surprisingly, a Wheaton College professor named Burge has found that ignorance of the Old Testament extends to the church as well. For several years Burge has been testing incoming freshmen at his school, a premier evangelical institution. His surveys show that students who have attended Sunday School all their lives, have watched innumerable epidsodes of VeggieTales, and have listened to countless sermons, cannot identify basic facts about the Old Testament."

He challenges us with, "In short, is the Old Testament worth the effort it takes to read and understand it?" I can say, YES! But he takes the rest of the book to explain why certain books of the Bible that seem dusty, old, strange, irrelevant and hard are really very interesting, relevant and vibrant for today.

He begins with Job and explains that Job is an epic poem that takes us through the very real questions of human suffering. "Thousands of years later, Job's questions have not gone away. People who suffer still find themselves borrowing Job's words as they cry out against God's apparent lack of concern. The book of Job affirms that God is not deaf to our cries and is in control of this world no matter how it appears. God did not answer all Job's questions, but God's very presence caused his doubts to melt away. Job learned that God cared about him intimately, and that God rulse the world. That seemed enough."

What could possibly be interesting about Deuteronomy? Moses giving the Israelites all these laws? "Moses was the single greatest realist about life with God. A proto-prophet, he gave God's message to the people, never diluting or belying it. A proto-priest, he represented the people to God with passion, conviction, and love. He made no promises of happy endings - his own life had none - yet never did he look back with regret...As Moses taught so clearly, evil is unpreventable and punishment inevitable. But we have a God who consceously forgets our sins and consciously remembers our frailty. We have a God who travels by our side, who tabernacles among us through the vast and dreadful wilderness..."

Next Yancey tackles the Psalms. How can these be in the Bible? One verse talks about how God is with you and is your refuge and the next one could say, "Why, O lord, do you stand far off?" One psalm will beg God to bring agonizing revenge on the writer's enemies while another one begs God to forgive the writer of his sins. There are descriptions of wicked men right next to descriptions of righteous men. Yancey says, "Every day I faced this same pattern of glaring contractions." Yancey does a great job of opening this up to the reader.

I would love to continue on, but that would spoil the book. If you can take my word for it, read the book. It's great and well worth the read!

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