Perhaps the Bible should come with a label: Read Responsibly! Michael Bird’s latest book, Seven Things I Wish Christians Knew About the Bible will help you do just that. Bird acknowledges that the Bible can be hard to understand in places. “Not because it is a book of mystery, magic, or mayhem; rather, because it contains a history distant from our own, it was originally written to ancient audiences in particular contexts, and it was written for us but not to us.” So, Bird does the work to help the reader out. And along the way, he confronts some of the challenges to the Bible in our day.
Some read the Bible as if it just dropped out of the sky in the English translation, perfectly leather bound with study notes. While I’ve certainly encountered the King James only crowd, I think the waters many are swimming in today are more what Bird calls “me and my ESV.” Then there are those who want to say that what we call the Holy Scriptures were really just invented by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. We’ve been duped. So in the first chapter, Bird gives the down low on how the Bible was formed into the canon we read today made up of the Old and New Testaments and translated into the English language.
Next, he gets into that whole tricky issue of divine inspiration and human writers—how does that work? Can we trust the Bible? What does it mean that it is God’s word? What about some of the seeming inconsistencies that we see in Scripture? What’s the difference between inerrancy and infallibility? What is this debate around inerrancy in evangelicalism about? What do different denominations have to say about this? How can we wisely navigate through this? How can we know the Bible is true?
This leads to a chapter the authority of God’s word. “How do we separate God’s authority, biblical authority, and the authority of the interpreter?” Bird begins by addressing whether the Bible is normative or negotiable—is it only authoritative in certain parts? And in upholding the authority of Scripture, we need to know what that actually means and what it doesn’t. Again, we need to be responsible readers. Some take a militant, reduced approach to reading, revealed in the bumper sticker, “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” But much of the Bible is not a prescriptive text to be read as an instruction manual. How are we to read its different genres? And even in its narrative forms, are they supposed to be prescriptive for us? Bird does “not recommend pimping our your wife to a local ruler to save your own skin as Abraham did with Sarah (Gen. 12:11-20).” The Bible is often critiquing culture in its narrative, and as Ellen Davis says, “relentlessly honest in exposing the vacillations of the human heart!” Bird helps the reader navigate through all these complexities in trying to understand how to read wisely.
Bird then addresses the strangeness of Scripture. How do we bridge the cultural, historical, social, and time gap of the original audiences to which Scripture was written? And how can we be confident that God’s word is for us as well? Can the regular person who isn’t trained in the original languages and didn’t go to seminary really read the Bible for understanding?
Next, we get to learn about Mike Bird’s pet peeve—when people say that they read the Bible literally without really understanding what it means to read such a book in its literary context. In this chapter, he addresses how to find meaning in the text and gives helpful tips for interpretation. He gets to the basics of context, content, rhetorical features, the main concern, and contemporary application.
Why are we wanting to read about how to read a book? Why would we put work into something so complex? Well, obviously because it is God’s word to his people. But Bird takes a chapter to discuss the purpose of our reading. We get to know God. How wonderous! He creates and develops faith in us. He brings us together while preparing our hearts for the love of God and for others. Our perspective is properly oriented to our true hope, giving us endurance to persevere. And we learn to live in light of this living word of God.
Of course, the main thing to learn about reading God’s word is that Christ is the center of the Christian Bible. And that is the last chapter of this great book. Bird gets into what it means to read the Bible theologically, seeing Christ in the Scriptures. While amplifying how the Scriptures are Christological, Bird also helps keep us from the Jesus juke, or what he calls “Jesusifying everything.” And not only this, he upholds the trinitarian nature of Scripture and how that affects our reading of it. Bird then gets into the moral dimension of the Bible and also how we are to read it as a church. He ends the chapter, and book, encouraging us to “keep close to the apostles as they try to keep close to Jesus in Scripture, ever mindful of the theological, moral, and ecclesial dimensions of Scripture.” Amen!
I wish I had a book like this when first setting out to read the Bible. It’s a small, succinct book that is incredibly helpful in assisting us with the warning label to read Scripture responsibly. And if you haven’t read Mike Bird yet, you are missing out on a fun author. He has a gift of taking complex issues and actually making them enjoyable to read about. You can tell that he is having fun while he is writing. He’s a scholar who talks like a regular guy, who may have standup comedian as his backup plan. Or maybe, he knew he could never make it in the secular world as a standup comedian who loves to talk about Jesus, so he became a lecturer of theology who does standup in the classroom. So buy a copy for yourself and multiple to give away!