Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Book Review: Bible Matters

Bible Matters: Meeting God In His Word. Tim Chester. 2017. InterVarsity Press. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence of introduction: Let me tell you about an amazing experience I had just this morning.

First sentence of chapter one: Tell me about the book you’re reading. You’re only a few words in, but you already know a fair bit about it.You know it’s about the Bible—the title is a bit of a giveaway.

In Bible Matters, Tim Chester shares with readers WHY he loves the Bible. He writes, "My number one aim for this book is this: I want you to realize that every time you read the Bible, you’re hearing the voice of God—just as surely, more surely, than if you have some kind of dramatic experience. Reading the Bible is a dramatic Spirit-filled experience. The God who spoke and brought the universe into existence speaks to you. The God whose voice thundered from Mount Sinai speaks to you. The God in Christ whose words healed the sick speaks to you. I’ve read lots of things about the Bible that I’ve agreed with. But very few have captured how I feel about the Bible and why.That’s what I’ve tried to do in this book."

In chapter one, Chester examines HOW God speaks to us. God talks to us in creation, in history, in his Son, and in his Word--the Bible. He writes, "We can know about him because he speaks to us. But God remains in control of the process. We talk about “grasping” an idea. But we don’t “grasp” God—not even when he reveals himself." He reminds us all that, "just because we’re not listening doesn’t mean God’s not talking."

Three chapters address God speaking in the Bible. The first of these chapters addresses how we got the Bible and the authority of the Bible. He concludes, "Other books can have a big impact on your life. And sometimes their impact is more immediate than the Bible. But that impact will fade. One day they’ll be out of date. But the Bible is never out of date. It’s important to have a sense of this. Why do we love Christian books? Why do we sometimes prefer to read them rather than the Bible? Perhaps because they offer a quick fix. They’re like sugary cereals compared to oatmeal. Sugar gives us a quick high but soon leaves us feeling hungry again. If you want to develop as a person or acquire a new skill, then other books might produce more immediate effects. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you want to develop character that endures, then read the book that endures. If you want to become a person of real substance, then read the book of real substance. Let the enduring word of God shape who you are."

The second of these chapters is about the present-ness of the Bible. God SPEAKS, present tense. He writes, "The Bible—read, preached, chatted about, or summarized—is what God uses to awaken faith in the hearts of unbelievers and strengthen the faith of believers." This chapter includes two sober warnings, "If we try to “make” the Bible relevant, we open ourselves up to two dangers. First, we might misapply it. We make the Bible say something contemporary. But when you “make” the Bible say something, the chances are you’re communicating your thoughts rather than God’s thoughts. The second danger is even more significant. If we think the Bible isn’t a contemporary word, then we’ll be tempted to update it. We’ll select from the Bible or reinterpret it to make it fit our culture."

The third of these chapters focus on how Jesus is the Word of God, how the Bible--cover to cover--is about Jesus the Word made flesh. Chester writes, "Red-letter Bibles print the direct words of Jesus in red so they stand out to give them special status. The irony is that this is self-defeating, for red text is less legible than black text, so the effect is actually to make the direct words of Jesus less significant! More importantly, it assumes that the rest of the Bible is not the words of Jesus. But Jesus is the Word of God. All revelation is in him and through him. All the words in the Bible are the words of Jesus about Jesus." If you've ever found the Old Testament frustrating, this chapter might help. He includes some helpful tips on how to read the Bible and understand it. It also addresses the question WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?

The next five chapters address the PURPOSE of the Bible. Titles include: "The Bible is Relational," "The Bible is Intentional," "The Bible is Enough," "The Bible is Reliable," and "The Bible is Accessible." Here are some of my favorite quotes:

  • To trust God’s word is to trust God. To disobey God’s word is to disobey God. Adam didn’t say to God in Genesis 3, “I know I doubted your word, but I still trust you.” No, he hid from God in shame because he had disobeyed God’s word. Tim Ward says, To put your trust in the words of the covenant promise God makes to you is itself to put your trust in God: the two are the same thing. Communication from God is therefore communion with God, when met with a response of trust from us.
  • God himself in the person of the Spirit ensures that we meet God himself in the person of his Son when we read the Bible. 
  • The Bible means what it says, not what we read into it. So reading it is an intellectual process, not in the sense that it can be done only by intellectuals, but in the sense that we need to use our minds as we read it. Reading the Bible is never less than an intellectual process. But reading the Bible is more than an intellectual process. We are not just reading about God. We hear the voice of God and encounter his presence through his words. 
  • God’s words are spoken with intent. He has a purpose for them. 
  • The most appropriate question to ask ourselves when we open Scripture to read it is: What is God wanting to do to me, and in me, through the words I am reading? When we read the Bible we must be ready, in the first instance, for God to act on us and in us. For, as we encounter his words, and as we encounter the actions he performs by means of them, we are encountering God himself.  
  • God’s covenant changes our identity. If you respond to God’s covenant promises in the Bible with faith, then your identity is changed. You become part of God’s people and God becomes your God. Reading and rereading the Bible with faith reinforces that covenant identity and covenant security. The Bible, then, is intentional in the sense that it’s written with intent. God uses the Bible to achieve his purposes.
  • The Spirit opens our blind eyes to see the glory of Christ in the pages of the Bible. Our job is humbly to immerse ourselves in the Bible while praying for the illumination of the Spirit.

The final chapter is "Dying to Read the Bible." This is one of the most thought-provoking chapters I've read in quite a while. Chester writes, "Every day we experience death as we die to sin and self. And every day we experience new life as we’re renewed by God. The death and resurrection of Jesus have their fingerprints all over the Christian life. And that includes reading the Bible."  He challenges us to think about reading the Bible in a whole new way, with newly shaped expectations and approaches.
"The Bible brings death and then brings life. The Bible wounds and then heals. The Bible judges and then justifies. The Bible exposes and then clothes. The Bible crushes and then revives. The Bible unmakes and then remakes. The Bible unmasks us and then gives us a new identity."
There is a right way and a wrong way to approach the Bible.

Chester concludes with a short chapter on "Why I Love the Bible."

I definitely loved reading this book. I found it both practical and thought-provoking. Some of the chapters cover the basics--like many other books about the Bible. But other chapters cover Bible reading from a fresh perspective and challenges readers to approach the Bible in a new, more biblical way.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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