This endorsement in the front of a book I read recently really caught my eye:
Fair, keenly observant, startlingly honest, this book is replete with careful exegetical work. Verses are not merely cited; they are considered in context… The result is a book that is nuanced an clear, useful and enjoyable to read, and that is no small gift… Open this book and you’ll want to open your Bible and open your mind…
It doesn’t really matter which book this was endorsing. It was the endorsement that made me think – that’s it! That is exactly what we need and what is so lacking on the bursting bookshelves of our Christian bookshops.
Just as we desperately need preaching that goes through passages and books of the Bible rather than giving us a preacher’s idea supported with a scattering of Bible verses, so we need books that don’t just throw around verses but carefully treat whole passages in context, letting them set the agenda, letting them speak into our context.
Just as with a good sermon, a good book should make me more hungry to open my Bible, more hungry for Christ. Just as with a good sermon, I should go away not saying, “Wasn’t that book great – what an amazing 10 point plan” but, “Isn’t the gospel great”.
What I’m concerned about is not just the clearly terrible, prosperity gospel, self-help motivational ‘Christian’ books. I’m thinking of the books that are written from a good godly perspective, teaching good wholesome things. It’s just that they’re not modelling careful handling of the Bible. They’re just citing verses. They may even be using them rightly (though often there’s often a reason why the context is not quoted) but even then they are not showing me how they are handling them rightly. They are not taking me with them through the hard (but rewarding) work of exegesis.
The danger, apart from the obvious one of error, is that a topical sermon and an exegesis-light book will both make me dependent on the preacher/author. They are the authority. They are the one who has conjured something out of the Scriptures I’d never have found. I’ll have to come back to them for my next fix, the next 10 steps, the sequel. A good Christian book will point out wonderful things I could have seen for myself if I’d only read the Bible carefully and then set me free to explore the Scriptures for myself.
More of those books please…