Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Review: How To Read The Bible Through the Jesus Lens

How To Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture. Michael James Williams. 2012. Zondervan. 288 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

The simple truth that all of the Scriptures--Old Testament and New Testament--testify about Jesus seems to be often overlooked. 

I loved, loved, loved Michael James Williams' How To Read The Bible Through the Jesus Lens. I think it's the perfect choice for new believers and not so new believers that need a refresher course in what the Bible is all about, what the gospel is all about. (And who doesn't need reminders about what the gospel is all about?!)

Purpose of the book:
Reading the Bible through the Jesus lens is reading it the way it was intended. It keeps our reading, understanding, teaching, and preaching properly focused on God’s grand redemptive program that centers on his own Son. Seeing how each biblical book makes its own unique contribution to that redemptive focus enables us to use these diverse materials with much more confidence and accuracy. The Jesus lens ensures that our exegetical bowling balls stay within the lane and don’t go crashing over into areas where they can cause a lot of damage to the faith of believers and to our ability to use the Bible fruitfully in our service to God. (9)
To accomplish this purpose in a book that one doesn’t need a wheelbarrow to carry around, the chapters are brief and similarly structured. In each one, I present the overarching theme of each biblical book along with a discussion of how that theme ultimately finds its focus in Jesus Christ. I then explore how this focus in Christ is subsequently elaborated upon in the New Testament. Finally, I consider what that fulfillment in Christ must necessarily entail for believers, who are being conformed to his likeness, along with ways to communicate those entailments to others effectively. By means of these considerations I hope to help brothers and sisters in the faith grow in their awareness of how all of Scripture finds its focus in Jesus Christ and so help them to root their Christian life, theological discussions, and evangelical witness in the one who is our life (Colossians 3: 4). (10)
This book covers it all Genesis through Revelation. Each chapter looks a little something like this:
  • Introduction
  • Theme of the Book, Elaboration of the Theme
  • Memory Passage
  • The Jesus Lens
  • Contemporary Implications
  • Hook Questions
  • Conclusion
I think this book is great for individual use. I do. I think one could read this book as a companion to the Bible, journal the process, and grow. The book could also be used for small groups. The hook questions for each chapter are deep and reflective. A few of them would be applicable for group or class discussion, but, other questions might be more personal. I think readers who reflect on the questions will benefit the most from this book. But I must admit that even without the questions, I was hooked! I love the gospel focus. I do.

Favorite hook questions:

1 and 2 Chronicles:
Are you good enough for heaven? Do you behave as though you were? Do you expect other Christians to behave as though they were? If you are relying on your own righteousness (whatever that is) to bring about or maintain your relationship with God, then what do you think Christ’s righteousness accomplished? How do you acknowledge the Lord’s rule in your own circumstances? Do you regard yourself as a subject of King Jesus? If someone watched you during the day, who would they say really ruled your life? Jesus? Public opinion? You? 
Song of Songs:
Does our love for God or for each other look anything like God’s sacrificial love for us? How would you describe to an unbeliever what love is? How would an unbeliever recognize the love of God in you? Does your experience or practice of love look any different from that of an unbeliever? How does your effort to love like God affect your Christian witness?
Is God’s love for you conditional? Have you been living as though it is? Does your confidence in your relationship with God ultimately depend on your faithfulness or on Jesus'? Have you made Jesus your representative in faithfulness and in judgment? Are you more demanding than God is with yourself or others? Do you feel the need to pay for sins that have already been paid for? Is your behavior more motivated by guilt or by gratitude?
Where do you find your security and comfort in life? Have the things you are trusting in ever failed you? Do you spend most of your time developing your relationship with God or developing your relationship with other things? Are you as compassionate with others as God has been with you? Are you ready to be merciful and compassionate to those who, in your estimation, don’t deserve it? What if God were like you?
Are any of us faithful? Even when we feel closest to God, are our hearts entirely devoted to him? How would you evaluate your own consistency in your relationship with God? Would your spouse let you get away with the lack of attention and care that you give God? Is our Lord ever unfaithful? Do you live as though you doubt his faithfulness? What are you looking at for your security in your relationship with God, your own faithfulness or Jesus'?
Do you look forward to the Lord’s return, or do you fear it? What might be causing fear? Do you want God to remove sin from the world, or would you like to play with it a little longer? What makes sinful behavior attractive to you? In what will you take confidence on the coming day of judgment? How is your relationship with Christ? Is it growing deeper or are you growing apart? What is causing this?
Are you a good person? What is good? Do you describe “good” in terms of actions or of being? Can someone do enough good things to compensate for not being good? How good is good enough? What is the standard? Is it possible for you to meet your or God’s standards? What is the goal of the standards? How is that goal accomplished in Christ? Is there any use for the law of God in a Christian’s life today? Why might Jesus command his disciples “to obey everything I have commanded you"?
Favorite quotes:
Through Jesus Christ, God accomplishes our deliverance from sin, and also our deliverance into a rich life of meaning, purpose, and significance in his presence. By his almighty and unfailing power, God delivers us from the penalty of sin as well as from the power of sin that seeks to reclaim us after we have escaped its menacing clutches.
This demand for holiness in our relationship with God has not been removed or minimized. Not only do we need a perfect sacrifice, we need a perfect priest to offer it for us. Jesus, because he is both the flawless sacrifice and the sinless priest, fulfills both roles.
Because of what our Lord has done on our behalf, our whole perspective on God’s law has shifted. Now we do not look to our own obedience as the guarantee of our relationship with God (really no guarantee at all), but rather to the obedience of the perfect law-keeper, Jesus Christ. He sent his Spirit to indwell us, guide us, and empower us to follow God’s blueprint for the full human life that God wants for us.
Our turning away from God calls for judgment as well. God cannot be just and holy and simply excuse sin. And we have all sinned. All of us, therefore, have merited divine judgment. Incredibly, God in his grace and mercy has provided a way out of this seemingly impossible situation. The only solution to the human problem of faithlessness is a human being who is entirely faithful. Such a person would not merit any divine judgment himself, but he could experience that judgment for all the rest of us who are ready to claim his representation for ourselves. This is the reason — the only reason — why God became a human being. Jesus, both human and divine, is the one person who never turned away from the Father, but was willing to experience the judgment deserved by all the rest of us who have. We turned away from God, and God, in judgment, turned away from his own Son on the cross as he suffered for us: Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? “ (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? “). (Matthew 27:46) We can’t imagine the physical pain and mental anguish of the Son as he experienced the exile of the Father on our behalf in order to bring us from exile to life-giving and life-sustaining relationship with him. Jesus paid the price for our turning away so that we could turn back to God.
God wants us to be in a continual, close relationship with him. And he doesn’t put any emotional qualifiers on this relationship. He doesn’t specify that we may only pray to him when we are happy and content with the world. He doesn’t require that we only sing praise songs — although it’s rare to see a lament team in our churches. He doesn’t ask that we hide our emotions under a blanket of doctrinal propositions. What he does ask is that we talk to him about everything. Within our secure relationship, we can pour out our hearts to God and rest assured that he will wrap our deepest concerns in his protective peace. He doesn’t promise to deliver us from all of our problems right now. But he does promise to guard us from any relationship-disturbing threat they may pose. And ultimately, our relationship with God is the only thing that matters.
Jesus bears our judgment so that we can experience God’s mercy. Now that our time has been served, our record has been expunged, and our citizenship rights restored by our righteous and merciful representative, we no longer need to fear judgment. Justice has been served in the uniform of mercy. After laying the foundation of justice, our merciful shepherd returned to the Father until a future time when the restoration his actions have initiated will be fully realized. Until then, he has sent us his Spirit to indwell us and guide us so that the divine justice and mercy we have experienced will begin to leak out all over our human experience.
Truth finds its source in God. Truth can be seen. Truth can be lived out before other people. The truth of God finds its perfect expression in Jesus Christ, who “came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus’ life communicated in all of its details the same truth his words did.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

1 comment:

Carol said...

Sounds like an excellent book. thanks for the review.