The Bible isn’t just one book, it’s a Box Set, and it tells a Big Story, but sometimes we suffer Big Frustration because we read it the wrong way. That’s the thesis of Stephen Burnhope’s new book How to Read the Bible Well.
It’s subtitled “What It Is, What It Isn’t, and How To Love It (Again).” This subtitle suggests that some readers have loved the Bible in the past but don’t anymore, probably because they think it’s something it isn’t.
Burnhope hopes to clear up a host of misunderstandings in this introductory work on how to interpret the Bible without getting a theology degree. Against those who contend that the Bible needs no interpretation, he insists that it does. Every reading is an interpretation, he says, so you need to know what you’re bringing to the text as well as what you hope to receive from it.
Burnhope is a pastor in the Vineyard tradition, and its evangelical roots are clear in his writing. But Burnhope does not fear to challenge many evangelical sacred cows. He’s clearly no biblicist. He says: “The purpose of the Bible has never been to draw us into a relationship with the Bible, but to draw us into a relationship with God.”
In conversational and not confrontational style, he dives boldly into such topics as the nature of revelation and inspiration, the notion of a single biblical worldview, the nature of heaven and hell, why people suffer, how the Old Testament applies to Christians today, and the different ways God is portrayed in the two testaments.
He offers a hermeneutic (a method of interpretation) that is Christ-centered. “Everything God commands and everything God says will always correspond to Jesus – it will always ‘look like’ Jesus and ‘sound like’ Jesus. He is our perfect ‘lens’ for knowing who God is and what he’s like and always has been like.”
I can’t say that I agree with everything he says (we come from different faith traditions, after all), but this is a readable and helpful work, and I recommend it, especially to recovering evangelicals.
A few highlights from the text:
“We should respect the Bible for what it is and not try to defend it as something it was never intended to be.”
“Good interpretation always starts with what the text meant then and recognizes that it will not mean now something that it didn’t mean then.”
“There is not and never has been any such thing as a ‘Christian’ worldview or a ‘Christian’ culture to look back on and wish for a return to. There is no current or preceding worldview that qualifies to be called that. There isn’t even one that comes close to it.”
“The biblical story does not start with “original sin” but with “original goodness.”
How to Read the Bible Well, by Stephen Burnhope, Cascade Books, May 2021
A digital copy of this book was provided to me by Speakeasy on the condition that I post a review of it.