Saturday, January 4, 2014

Book Review: A Woman's Guide to Reading the Bible In A Year

Woman's Guide to Reading the Bible In A Year. Diane Stortz. 2013. Bethany House. 144 pages. [Source: Book I Bought]

For women who want to come together and form a group with other similarly-goal-oriented women to read the Bible in a year, this book has something to offer. It offers a few tips and guidelines; it offers a handful of testimonies and I've-been-there stories; it offers a place to record your journey week by week if (and only if) you choose to record your answers to the questions; it also provides a plan: each week has its assigned chapters.
Develop an atmosphere where all questions are safe and no one has to have all the answers. Welcome questions and struggles. Learn from one another. Make it always OK to say “What do you think?” or “I don’t know.” This is especially important if group members come from a variety of backgrounds. Occasionally someone in the group will want to talk about a special concern. Ask, “What does this passage teach us about God’s character?” to refocus the group if the discussion seems to be veering too far from the text.
Sample of the plan:

Week one:
__ Genesis 1-3
__ Genesis 4-6
__ Genesis 7-9
__ Genesis 10-12
__ Genesis 13-15
__ Genesis 16-18
__ Genesis 19-21

Week three:
__ Genesis 43-45
__ Genesis 46-50
__ Matthew 1-3
__ Matthew 4-6
__ Matthew 7-9
__ Matthew 10-12
__ Matthew 13-15

Weekly questions:
How did you experience God’s heart in this week’s reading?
Something you learned or an insight you gained:
A verse or passage you’d like to remember:
For individuals who want to read the Bible on their own, it has less to offer. The inspirational testimonies are fine, I suppose, and the reading plan is a reading plan. But reading plans are easy to come by. Reading plans can be found in many Bibles. Reading plans can be found in many, many places online.

The weekly summaries and weekly discussion questions--which happen to be the same questions week after week after week after week--are not that extraordinary. The study-light questions make sense in a group where you're trying to get anybody and everybody to talk and feel comfortable talking, when you're just trying to stay relatively on task and avoid awkward silence. But when you're on your own, I'm not sure what the point would be. The questions aren't specific enough, or deep enough to be beneficial. And the chapter summaries are fine for an overview, but, if you've actually read the Bible and kept up, they're also superfluous.

I believe the intended focus of the book is on reading the Bible, not studying the Bible. The focus more on devotional reading and what does this mean to me, than perhaps on studying what the Bible means objectively and digging deep. The group atmospheres encourages lively, safe discussion and not teaching and instruction. It embraces the "I don't know" and "what do you think?" more than finding real answers to real questions.

I can't help but think on these passages by John MacArthur:
Authentic Christianity starts with the premise that there is a source of truth outside of us. Specifically, God's Word is truth. (Psalm 119:151John 17:17). It is objectively true--meaning it is true whether it speaks subjectively to any given individual or not; it is true regardless of how anyone feels about it; it is true for everyone universally and without exception; it is absolutely true. ~ John MacArthur, Why One Way, 19
It's not as if we can make the words mean anything we want them to mean, so that whatever connotation we impose on the words becomes the Word of God. Only the true interpretation of the text is the authentic Word of God, and any other interpretation is simply not what God is saying. ~ John MacArthur, Why One Way, 34
Truth is never determined by looking at God's Word and asking "What does this mean to me?" Whenever I hear someone talk like that, I'm inclined to ask, "What did the Bible mean before you existed? What does God mean by what He says?" Those are the proper questions to be asking. Truth and meaning are not determined by our intuition, experience, or desire. The true meaning of Scripture--or anything else for that matter--has already been determined and fixed by the mind of God. The task of an interpreter is to discern that meaning. And proper interpretation must precede application. The meaning of God's Word is neither as obscure nor as difficult to grasp as people today often pretend. Admittedly, some things in the Bible are hard to understand, but its central, essential truth is plain enough that no one need be confused by it. ~ John MacArthur, The Truth War, xx, xxi
© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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