Mar 5, 2012

Review of How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens

Michael Williams, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).

Michael Williams’ attempt to unpack what Jesus meant in Luke 24:27 when He said that all the Scriptures ultimately related to Himself is a commendable exercise. By looking at the Bible through a “Jesus lens,” Williams attempts to present a Christ-focused reading of Scripture. This is accomplished by offering a brief introduction, main theme, a suggested memory passage, some contemporary applications, and hook questions for each of the sixty-six biblical books. As might be expected, identifying and explaining the Christ-focus will be easier for some books (the NT in general) and harder for others (e.g., Judges, Ezra, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Nahum, etc.). Furthermore, Williams’ success in this endeavor varies from chapter to chapter. Some of his Christ-focused suggestions I found to be more persuasive than others. That being said, as a Bible teacher myself, I have often wrestled with trying to answer the kind of questions that Williams is asking and so appreciate the difficulty in coming up with satisfying answers. So I truly value the attempt even if, and when, I don’t agree with a particular conclusion here or there. Indeed, even in these cases, I found that my own thinking was sharpened by my disagreement. For that I am thankful.

In agreeing to participate in this blog tour, I volunteered to pay particular attention to the chapter on Acts. So I will work my way through the four pages devoted to this book.

The introductory remarks are a decent synopsis of the book. The theme is likewise serviceable, although I find it a bit curious. Williams states that the theme is “God expands and empowers his church through his Spirit” (p. 178). This is fine as far as it goes (with proper highlighting of the church and Spirit), but if one takes “God” here to refer to the Father, then Jesus is strangely missing from the theme in a book that is concerned with seeing Scripture through a “Jesus lens.” That is, the only Person of the Godhead missing in the theme is the Son. Also interesting to me is the fact that each biblical book is given a “subtitle” in the chapter heading and that for Acts, this subtitle is “witness,” yet there is nothing explicitly stated in the theme related to “witness.” I do not mean to be pedantic here and I realize that thematic statements are generally characterized by brevity. But, I see am unfortunate disconnect here between what should be (at least to me) interconnected elements. Acts 1:8 as a memory passage is fine, predictable, and appropriate, especially since this verse both references Jesus and the idea of witness (“My witnesses”) that were notably absent in the theme. Similarly, the specific discussion of the “Jesus Lens” helpfully captures the Christ-focus of the book beginning in Acts 1:1 with “what Jesus began to do and teach” and tying that into the work of Jesus through the Spirit in the rest of Acts. The section on “Contemporary Implications” is okay for what it does mention, but begs for some mention or clarification related to the transitional period in Church history covered in Acts and issues related to what is descriptive and what is prescriptive in the book. I am not sure that any discussion of contemporary implications can be considered adequate that does not wrestle with these issues. The three “Hook Questions” are fairly broad and would probably provide the desired entrée into a deeper discussion that would lead to application. 

As I have already noted, I am thankful for How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens. I am also grateful for the free review copy provided by Zondervan and the opportunity to participate in this blog tour.


Jason said...

I appreciate this review as it very much lines up with my thoughts here:

It's not like the book is bad, because it's not. It's not like his themes and summaries are untrue, because they aren't. I just think that the format of this book is inadequate for what he was trying to do. My fear is that someone reads this book and thinks, for example, that Genesis is all about "separation" and doesn't think more deeply about other themes.

Charles Savelle said...

Thanks for your thoughts Jason. I share some of your concerns, but I suspect that oversimplification might be inevitable in a work like this.