Friday, March 21, 2008

The Year of Living Biblically

So I review books for my church newsletter. My reviews are in a column called "Brian's Book Corner," because, well, you know, I'm wicked creative.

Here's what I wrote for AJ Jacobs book:

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs

The idea for this "book corner" came to me toward the end of seminary. Writing about a book will provide accountability for reading thoughtfully and critically. I had some books in mind that I would review and thus far, the books I've chosen have come as no surprise to me. Until this month, that is.

I first heard of Jacob's book sometime last year. The review I read made me want to read it. Well, so much for reviews because I quickly forgot all about it until someone gave me a copy of it as a gift. When I read the subtitle again I thought, "Why did I want to read this? It seems to me that he's beginning with a faulty premise." That faulty premise being that the Bible is meant to be taken literally in everything it says. Obviously that's not the case or there would be many missing hands and eyes around these parts (Mt. 5:29-30). I therefore left the book on the shelf, not sure that I'd ever pick it up. One night this month, I left the book I was planning to review in this little column on my desk at the church building. At home, with no book to read, I picked up Jacobs' book and cracked it open. I read the introduction and was hooked. (I was also pleased to discover that Jacobs grasped clearly that not all of the Bible was meant to be taken literally.)

A.J. Jacobs is a self described agnostic with liberal leaning social and political viewpoints. He describes himself as a very "secular" person from a primarily "secular" family. ("Secular" was his word choice.) He's also very funny and engaging. For example, he writes "I'm officially Jewish, but I'm Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant. Which is to say: not very."

There are several things I liked about this book, aside from his engaging and witty style. First, he approaches the Bible with a (mostly) open mind. Where his mind is less than open, he acknowledges up front. He has little previous exposure to the Bible and thus it is interesting to see how a "secular agnostic" reads and understands scripture. In other words, through Jacobs, the reader gets to approach the Bible from a fresh perspective too. Jacobs does a lot of homework and surrounds himself with a variety of spiritual advisors, both Jewish and Christian, liberal and conservative. It is good and helpful to hear the wide variety of opinions and interpretations of the Bible he encounters along the way.

You will find insight in what he discovers. You will be challenged to consider your own understanding of certain, more difficult passages of scripture. (Jacobs shies away from nothing.) You will disagree with some of his conclusions and may be a bit disappointed with the ending of the book. You will be moved by how he perceives his spiritual progress. You may be annoyed at his tendency to view the Bible as a "self-help" book, which one of his advisors rightly warns him against. You will laugh out loud along the way.

In short, this book surprised me but I'm glad I read it. It has given me some good things to ponder and reminded me of the importance of really digging into and wrestling with God's word to us. This one is worth reading.


Blogger brokencattletruck said...

Thanks for the recommendo...

...I heard about this book on NPR, and shared many of your preliminary concerns, along with my own prejudice that this book is nothing more than a spiritualized "Super Size Me" stunt...

...but your comment that it's worthwhile might bump it up my to-read list. Nice job finding a simple and practical way to encourage critical thinking/reading within your fellowship, and nice blog, BTW.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Brian said...

Thanks for dropping in and thanks for the kind words.

11:05 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home