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how to read the bibleHOW TO READ THE BIBLE, Harvey Cox, HarperOne, 2015

HOW TO READ THE BIBLE & STILL BE A CHRISTIAN, John Dominic Crossan, HarperOne, 2015

Two books about reading and understanding the Bible by well-known and respected scholars were released by Harper One in 2015. John Dominic Crossan is professor emeritus at DePaul University and widely regarded as the foremost Jesus scholar of our time. Harvey Cox is the Hollis Research Professor of Divinity at Harvard University. His classic book The Secular City, first published in 1965, is considered one of the most influential books of Protestant theology in the twentieth century. The book was republished in 2013 with updated notes and introduction by the author.

Cox states that “… Christians claim that God continues to ‘speak’ to us from the Bible, but the Bible ‘speaks to us’ only when we come to it with honest questions and real hopes, not as a distanced outside observers… Regrettably, just as biblical scholars sometimes sneer at Bible study groups, the people who attend these groups often view biblical scholars as long-winded pedants who make unnecessarily complex interpretations in tomes that are dense and incomprehensible …” (p 13, Introduction). The author’s stated goal is to construct a bridge between “Bible study” and “biblical studies” in the light of a “spiritual” approach. Cox introcuces various biblical books from Genesis to the Revelation to illustrate methods of studying and understanding the texts of scripture. Along the way he intersperses “study tips” within his text to point the reader to specific studies and web sites. This is a book easily understood and helpful to the average reader.

John Dominic Crossan approaches the subject from a much different perspective and focuses on the two conflicting revelations of God that run throughout the Bible (Hebrew and Greek): a god who emphasizes judgment and punishment and a god who extends love and grace to all. “… one thing is clear, argues Crossan: one cannot pretend that the Bible provides a single unified vision of God or Jesus. If one wants to discover the Bible’s best and purest revelation of God, then Christians must measure the Bible by Jesus. And to find the best and purest revelation of Jesus, Crossan concludes, then we must look to the work of scholars who can point us to the teachings of the historical Jesus. Only then will we know how to read the Bible and still be a Christian…” (Front flap of the book cover). This book is written in typical Crossan fashion in well-measured arguments and scholarly notations.

I quote from Crossan’s epilogue “To Outsoar the Shadow of Our Night”: “… This book has talked repeatedly of the biblical tradition’s emphasis on distributive justice: that is, on justice as primarily about the fair and equitable distribution of God’s world for all God’s people. But that God is both a ‘God of Justice’ (Isaiah 30: 18) and a ‘God of love’ (1 John 4: 8, 16), so to be a Christian must involve both justice and love. But how exactly do justice and love correlate with one another?…” (pp 244–245)

I recommend both books, and encourage you to explore our Parish library to discover new insights and pathways to sustain your Christian formation.

—Richard R. Kuns

Richard Kuns writes reviews of books you can find in the Renouf/Nelson Library.

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