Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Book Review: Taking Back the Good Book

Taking Back the Good Book: How America Forgot the Bible and Why It Matters To You. Woodrow Kroll. 2007. Crossway Books. 222 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence from the preface: Do you remember your first Bible? I remember mine. It was red--the color; it was also read--the verb.

First sentence from chapter one: There's no book like the Bible.

I have been meaning to reread Woodrow Kroll's Taking Back the Good Book for more than a few years now. What is it about?
This book is about you, your family, and your Bible. It's about the dust on your Bible. It's about taking a reality check with regard to how deeply the plague of Bible illiteracy has wormed its way into the churches and homes of America. (13)
His premise is that the American church is in a state of crisis. His call is that American Christians should wake up from their slumber and get serious about spiritual warfare. The problem--as he sees it--is that Christians are NOT reading their Bibles, that Christians have little to no knowledge of what is actually in the Bible, that because Christians have little knowledge of the genuine that they are falling in masses for counterfeits. In other words their minds are OPEN--too open--and they are completely vulnerable to the lies of the world, the lies of Satan. They are spiritually vulnerable because they are unprepared and inexperienced.

If the book was updated today would Kroll push things even further? I think he would. His main argument is that the Bible is dusty because it's primarily neglected. Christians are not in the habit and not likely in the habit of reading the Bible for themselves. Christians may or may not feel guilty about finding the Bible boring or finding the Bible irrelevant. But this lack of knowledge is by accident and not by intent. Kroll argues that no Christian intentionally declares that the Bible is unimportant or a waste of time. They may give absolutely no priority to actually reading the Bible. But they still feel tied to the book--the link between the Christian faith and the Bible has not been broken altogether.
Is this still the case? I'm not sure it is.

Kroll doesn't miss the point of Bible reading. Though one could possibly misread his intent. On the surface Kroll may appear to be focusing on numbers--polls, surveys, questionnaires, quizzes. If people had more head-knowledge, then they'd be better at being Christian. But it doesn't take much digging to see that Kroll's point is not that at all. Yes, the Bible was foundational to the men and women who founded the United States of America. Yes, the Bible was key to the nation's leaders and lawmakers. Yes, the Bible was decidedly a part of the American education system. Yes, if you want to better appreciate our nation's history and literature, it would help to have a knowledge of the Bible.
But Christians should not read the Bible because they want to be better citizens, because they want to be better humans, because they want answers to the questions the news is asking, because they want to win this or that argument.

Christians should read the Bible because GOD WROTE IT. It is GOD'S REVELATION. One reads the Bible because one wants to KNOW GOD. One reads the Bible because it is God SPEAKING. It records God's Words and God's Actions. It is all about the one we claim to love and worship. Things are desperate indeed if Christians have no interest in coming to know the God they claim to profess.

One can have head-knowledge and not worship. Head knowledge can fail to penetrate our hearts. Head knowledge can leave us cold and stony-hearted. But can one really and truly WORSHIP an unknown God? Knowledge is not optional, not if you truly want to worship the one, true God. The God that IS.

  • The sum of thy word is truth. Psalm 119:160
  • The LORD is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth. Psalm 145:18
  • Teach me thy way, O LORD, that I may walk in thy truth. Psalm 86:11
  • Oh send out thy light and thy truth; let them lead me. Psalm 43:3
  • Lead me in thy truth, and teach me, for thou art the God of my salvation; for thee I wait all the day long. Psalm 25:5
  • God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. John 4:24
  • Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. John 17:17
  • No greater joy can I have than this, to hear that my children follow the truth. 3 John 1:4
  • Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105
  • How sweet are thy words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:103
  • O taste and see that the LORD is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in him! Psalm 34:8
  • Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides thee. Psalm 73:25

I believe it was John Calvin who wrote that the human heart was an idol-maker. This is as true today as it ever was. The idols we create today in our hearts often go by the name of "God" or "Jesus Christ." Idol-makers love the personal pronoun MY. My God...My God....My God. My God is a God of Love. My God would never condemn a person to hell. My God would never hate sin or hate a sinner. My God would never be offended by this or that. My God made me like this. My God loves me just as I am. My God would never ask me to change. My God would never ask me to make self-sacrifices.

One crisis, I believe, facing the church is a DISMISSAL of the Bible as the Word of God. This isn't every church in every denomination in every city in every state. But I think the move--the downward slide--is more and more trending this way. THE GOD OF THE BIBLE MAY SAY THIS OR THAT....BUT...don't you worry your little old head. We've got answers, excuses for why it "clearly" and "obviously" doesn't mean what it says there in black and white.

  • The Bible is a human book. The human authors got it wrong. The human authors thought God was saying this and meant this...but it was really the human authors being influenced and impacted by their own cultures. 
  • God's revelation is always ongoing and in process. What God said thousands of years ago is NOT what he is saying today. God is a God of the here and now. It doesn't matter what God said then to this or that people, this or that culture. The important thing is what is the Spirit saying to us today in the here and now. 
  • God's Spirit is doing a new thing. We are not to be led by a dusty old book! Don't be ridiculous. We are to be LED BY THE SPIRIT OF GOD. The Spirit indwells each person, and the Spirit leads each person. Listen to what the Spirit is leading you to do and don't worry about a book of stuffy old commands.
  • God DID NOT LEAVE US A BOOK. HE LEFT US THE SPIRIT. Trust the Spirit and not the Book.
  • People who read the Bible, who love the Bible, are WORSHIPPING THE BOOK AND NOT THE SAVIOR. We are not called to worship a book, we are called to LOVE THE LORD GOD AND SERVE HIM ONLY. Don't risk worshiping a book and falling into idolatry. NO, the Bible is too dangerous. 

This is not a subject really addressed in this one at all, though other books have gone there. But I think it is perhaps interconnected. If one is not familiar with the true, the genuine, the pure, then one falls for any and every message no matter how false or counterfeit. Sermons must be held up to the Word of God. Sermons must be filtered through a reading and studying of the Word of God. Any book, any article, any podcast, any sermon, any teaching must be tested.

Quotes from the book:

What is Bible Illiteracy? 
Bible illiteracy has more to do with inattention than inability. For our purposes here when I talk about Bible illiteracy in America, the definition relates to a lack of familiarity with the Bible, not to a lack of ability to read it. Bible illiteracy is not the unfortunate, unintentional inability to read and understand Scripture; it is the unfortunate, intentional neglect of Scripture.(58)

So how does Kroll define Bible literacy? 
Reading [the Bible] is fundamental, but it isn't enough. You have to read the Bible and then interpret it and apply it to your life. Those are the initial steps in Bible literacy. They are also the first steps toward spiritual maturity. (58)

Biblical illiteracy is causing many problems within and without the church and evangelical community, but it isn't too late. Kroll outlines some important steps that everyone can take to reverse the situation. It all starts with you. It involves your time and your discipline. But it can be done. It should be done.

A huge disconnect exists between owning a Bible and reading it. Simply put, the number of people who claim to read the Bible isn't supported by their knowledge of the Bible (66).

Some people choose not to read the Bible because they're afraid it will contradict what they've already made up their mind to do. But the Bible isn't a dialogue between God and us. It's a revelation from him to us. The Bible should be our guide to life, not a sometimes-support for our pre-existing belief system. (71)

The Bible is read by people who choose to read it. Bible reading is neglected by people who choose to neglect it. It's just that simple. No excuses. Just honesty. (77)

When you win the battle for Bible literacy in your own life, you not only discover the joy of God, you are the joy of God. He delights in our getting to know him, and the most direct way to make that happen is by reading what he has revealed about himself in his Word (145).

If you don't take the Book in your life and read it consistently, you are saying to its Author, "I don't care enough about you or your Book to read it." That's what Bible literacy means to God. It means you love him, and you show it. It means you worship him, and you show it. It means you thirst for him, and you show it. Isn't it time we did some serious thinking about just how Bible-literate we are? Isn't it time for you to do some thinking?(151)

The most common excuse for not reading the Bible is our busy lives. We don't seem to have time to do the things we need to do. There's work and school, running to the store, soccer practice, dinner--life is just a bit harried. Who has time to sit and read?
You do. Here's why: time is a set quantity. It's not elastic. We all have sixty seconds in every minute, sixty minutes in every hour, twenty-four hours in every day. Time may fly, but it doesn't change. You have 1,440 golden minutes in every day and so do I.
The issue is never about time; it's always about what we choose to do get done in the time we have. Is reading God's Word, meditating and benefiting from it, something you wish to take the time to do or not? If not, the convenient but pathetic excuse is to say, "I don't have time."
A couple of years ago, I took a stopwatch with me everywhere I flew. I would read my Bible while in flight and time how long it took to read each book of the Bible. Once when I was returning from Frankfurt on a flight to Chicago, a flight attendant saw the stopwatch and asked, "Are you timing our service?" I chuckled and said, "No, I'm timing how long it takes me to read my Bible." Puzzled, she asked why someone would want to do that. I said, "Because everybody tells me they would read their Bible but they don't have time. I want to know how much time they don't have."
Did you know that you can read half the books of the Bible in less than thirty minutes each? You can read twenty-six of them in less than fifteen minutes. The whole Bible, cover to cover, can be read by an average reader in less than seventy-two hours.
Maybe it's time we rethink our reasons for not reading the Bible and just call them what they are--excuses. Take another look at these "Top Ten." How many of them have you used with God as an excuse for not reading his Word? If you can see through the excuses so quickly, imagine how easily he can see through them.
The Bible is read by people who choose to read it. Bible reading is neglected by people who choose to neglect it. It's just that simple. No excuses. Just honesty. (76-77)
We typically think of tithing in monetary terms, but have you ever thought about tithing your time? Suppose you spent 10 percent of your day with God? What would that mean? Mathematically, there are twenty-four hours in a day, which equals 1440 minutes. If you gave the Lord 10 percent of that time, he would receive 144 minutes every day. That's over two hours. Is that how much time you spend in reading the Word and in prayer now? Probably not. But let's be fair. You have to work and sleep each for eight hours. You can't really tithe that time. So we're really talking about tithing in terms of your third eight-hour period in the day. That's 480 minutes, and a tithe of 480 minutes is forty-eight minutes daily. If you gave God forty-eight minutes daily, you'd be giving him one-tenth of one-third of your day. Does that sound reasonable? But how are you going to find forty-eight minutes in a day? You start here: instead of tacking God onto your schedule where you can, instead of watching your third reality show of the night, turn off the television, shut out everything else, and spend forty-eight quality minutes with God. If you do that, you could actually read the Bible through four times in one year--pretty amazing! (160)
Who's to say what's theologically correct? You? Me? Our peers? None of the above? How about God? He is. If the Bible is what it claims to be--a revelation of the mind of God to the minds of men--then God alone is in a position to determine what is truthful with regard to his character, his plans, and his purposes. (115)

Perhaps the greatest hindrance to knowledge is a failure to know what you don't know. I fear this is true in the evangelical church. We don't have a clue how little we known about the Bible. (187)

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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