How to Read the Bible (without switching off your brain)
Simon J. Taylor
Church Times Bookshop £9
THE title of the book does not mean that it is about learning to read like an academic. It is not about reading around all the hard parts that might make life more difficult. It is about reading our scriptures with intellectual honesty and integrity. The Bible is hard to read for many reasons; and Taylor asks us to be candid about that.
Reading the Bible then becomes a fruitful adventure.
Taylor calls his book an invitation, a tool-kit, and a guide. In 129 pages, that is a tall order; but he pulls it off. It’s a gem of a book. It is elegantly written, readable, and assumes almost no prior knowledge. Taylor is at home with the Bible — the Bible read in church, studied in the academy, and as the basis of Christian discipleship and spirituality. He is a trustworthy guide.
The book begins with how (not) to read the Bible. Taylor’s ten commandments of Bible reading include suggestions such as reading it aloud, wrestling with it, and reading it with others, reading long sections, and reading small snippets. He then looks at what the Bible actually is.
The book evinces a narrative theology. Taylor introduces us to the Bible as a whole, as a book that hangs together, that reads itself, and reads us. He adapts N. T. Wright’s précis of the Bible as a dramatic play. Typologies are frequently pointed out. The story of Jesus is told, and the stories that he told are examined.
Stories of creation (Genesis, Babylonian, scientific) are compared. The account in Genesis is shown to be a critical reading of the Babylonian creation myth,
but now with a theological background of order, purpose, and goodness.
There is a chapter on prayers in, and praying with, the Bible. Three considered and helpful chapters follow on difficult issues: money, sex, and violence. The final chapter asks us to eat the book; to live it out. Each chapter ends with a couple of tasks to attempt, and also with a small selection of accessible further reading.
There are some real nuggets of wisdom in the book. Like us, the Bible is alive, born of humans and inspired by the Spirit; and, like us, it makes sense only in the light of Jesus.
This is a book for mature confirmands, for those who are discerning vocations, for befuddled students, or for anyone who wants to renew the adventure.
The Revd Dr Matt Bullimore is Vicar of Royston, and Priest-in-Charge of Falkirk, in the diocese of Leeds.