Looking for a book to deepen your understanding of the Bible? Here's one to consider. J. Mark Lawson, Cracking the Book: How to Start Reading the Bible, Wine Press Publishing, 2011.
Lawson is pastor of the United Church of Christ in Bayberry, Liverpool, New York and an adjunct Professor of Religious Studies at Lemoyne College in Syracuse.
This book is intended to be an introduction to Bible study for those who know very little about the Bible, what it is and how it came to be. Its style is quite approachable and down to earth, yet it is clear that the author is well versed in biblical scholarship and able to present scholarly ideas in a clear and cogent fashion (an uncommon ability in some professors).
Chapter one contains discussions about Translations of the Bible, Getting Around the Bible, Where do I begin? Getting the Whole Story. In this chapter he makes the observation that the main purpose of the Bible is "to prompt, nurture, and deepen a relationship between its readers and God." He also suggests that those who are reading the Bible for the first time should probably not start at the beginning - Leviticus is particularly deadly (my adjective, not his) - but in the middle, i.e. the Psalms. "Like all great poetry, the Psalms speak powerfully to the human condition - both in times of joy and in times of despair."
Chapter two focuses on the Old Testament, its contents, history and place in the Christian Bible.
Chapter three deals with the New Testament, its contents, and a brief account of how the New Testament Canon came to be what it is.
The fourth and last chapter addresses issues of biblical interpretation and includes the following topics: The Debate about Interpretation, Reading the Bible on Multiple Levels, Text and Tradition, and Living with the Bible.
I found this last chapter the most interesting and useful especially for non-specialists. In particular, the discussion of the issue of biblical inerrancy and the ways various Christian groups use (and misuse) biblical narratives are particularly on target. I also share Lawson's emphasis on the importance of group study; he writes, "Personal Bible reading is a good discipline, but it needs to be complemented by group study... Churches need to provide group Bible studies that are led by people who are already familiar with the Bible and who are not afraid to let participants ask honest question about the text" [p. 109]. It is my belief that a well done Bible study can provide a unique opportunity for people to come together to share with one another their faith experiences in the context of a thoughtful and caring community wrestling with the central documents of the Christian faith.
In short, this is a good book for those who have never been involved in Bible study and who need a basic introduction to the Bible and ways of reading and interpreting its message. I would warmly recommend it for new Bible study groups as a good way to get started. (As I think about it, it would be good for established groups as well!).
Dr. Don Mills is the chair of Synod's Campus Ministry Team as well as a member of the Conflict and Healing Team. He is recently retired as professor of Classical Languages at Syracuse University.