AN ALTERNATIVE title for this book might have been All the Questions You Ever Had About the Bible (But Were Afraid To Ask), although those familiar with a similarly titled film should not expect a comedy. The book is serious but engaging.
Its approach could fairly be characterised as “liberal” (not a dirty word in everyone’s vocabulary), but it should be emphasised that its three Anglo-Dutch authors are enthusiastic about the Bible and very keen that people should read it for inspiration, convinced that it can lead to transformation.
That is the aim of the book, and its means is to ask questions and so make the reader think. If questions that emerge naturally from the text are not enough, there is a “box” at the end of each section articulating some.
This means that the book would lend itself well to study by a group, a context in which engaging with the scriptures, as the authors correctly observe, is likely to lead not just to individual transformation, but to change on a larger scale. It would
be a good way to engage people
with people on the edges of faith: it relates the scriptures to questions of concern in society at large.
I find it helpful to recall that Jesus was forever asking questions, and seldom answered them. In the Gospels, he asks 307 questions; and he is asked 183 questions himself, directly or indirectly, and only answers three of them straightforwardly. To the others he gives no response, changes the subject, asks another question, tells a story, or says that it is the wrong question. The only thing on which he concentrates insistently is the goodness and reliability of God.
In this book, questions are grouped in chapters focusing on the crucial topics of sacrifice, vulnerability, the planet, the economy, and then, unexpectedly, the Book of Ruth. The authors characterise this gem as “a clear four-page story about loyalty, money, family relationships, the future, faith, sacrifice and the immigration issue”. Here it is engagingly adapted into a play.
There is also an interlude on the Bible, literature, and film, and a final chapter on reading the Bible in the context of present-day life — though that is actually what the whole book is about. The text is helpfully laced with allusions to novels, philosophy, poetry, art,
and film, “to add to the conversation as a parallel flow of imagination”.
The authors are adamant that we should not be choosy about which bits of the scriptures we decide to read for illumination. “The Bible surprises us with finding holiness in the most unlikely places,” they remind us.
That put me in mind of the author Fay Weldon, who recounted how, having rejected Christianity in her youth, she was asked years later to write a foreword to a publication of 1 Corinthians, in a series of books of the Bible published separately — not an obvious place for an ardent feminist to be directed to find inspiration. It converted her.
I do not agree with everything in this book, but anything that encourages rigorous engagement with the scriptures – something sadly lacking in today’s society, even among churchgoers — is a very good thing, in my view. This book can certainly do that. The inspired Word of God will do the rest.
Dr John Inge is the Bishop of Worcester.
Re-imagining the Bible for Today
Anna-Claar Thomasson-Rosingh, Sigrid Coenradie and Bert Dicou
SCM Press £19.99
Church Times Bookshop £18