Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Only Bible Handbook (I Know Of)...

...that uses the word "bazongas". (To quote the author accurately, he's defining the Biblical usage of the word "flesh", giving an example in the sentence: "When Angelina Jolie showed up with her newly adopted AIDS orphan, my spirit sympathized with her concern for the hurting children of the world, but my flesh kept staring at her bazongas.")

And that, my friends, is an excellent litmus test to see if you'll enjoy and/or find a use for the
Pocket Guide To The Bible: A Little Book About the Big Book, written by Jason Boyett & published by Relevant Books. If the thought of an overview of the Holy Bible making irreverent pop cultural references to explain theological concepts makes your skin crawl, you are probably not the audience for this book. OTOH, if describing the Egyptians pursuing the Israelites across the Red Sea with the pithy aside that "at which point Pharoah's army realizes 'Swim Like An Egyptian' will never be the title of a hit Bangles song," then this might be right up your alley.

It's important to define what this book is and is not. (I'll leave it to ex-President Clinton to attempt to define what is is.)
  • It is a funny book... on purpose. The author is trying (and often succeeding) at penning humorous glimpses at the stories of Scripture and the history of how it got into our hot little hands. It feels a bit like The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy for the Bible. (Please understand - I mean this as a compliment. And I'm not referring to the less-than-spectacular feature film.)
  • It is informationally sound... even if it's primary purpose is humor, the basic information presented is a reasonably fair & accurate representation of current scholarship on the Bible.
  • It is NOT a tract. As far as I can tell, the author does not intend for this book to be used as a tract for evangelism. There are plenty of church-y concepts & words spiced through the book that could be a bit daunting for the uninitiated. Heck, they can be a bit daunting for the initiated who didn't pay attention in confirmation class (not me - I'm Baptist) and/or seminary (that would be me.)
  • It is NOT about to replace a good quality Bible handbook and/or commentary. The author raises a number of important questions about Scripture (Why the blase attitude towards slavery? What's with all the killing in the Old Testament? Why do the major & minor prophets all start to sound like broken records?) without giving any kind of commentary on possible answers to those questions. In other words, the book is primarily about a humorous & thought-provoking overview of the Bible, rather than an attempt to deal with the questions raised by the Scriptures.

So, who do I think could enjoy/use/at least find amusing this (check all that apply) this book?

  • long-time followers of Christ who need a wake-up call about the Bible - Those of us who've been doing "the Christian thing" for a long time need to take a funhouse mirror look at this stuff every once in a while so we don't get caught in our own preconceived "this is the way it is" ruts as we journey with Jesus. And it doesn't hurt if we get to laugh while we're doing it.
  • people who have no Bible background and are in an ongoing conversation with a follower of Christ - I can think of a couple of guys (atheists both) who would appreciate the humor and get something out of the content of the book. I'd hesitate to hand it to them and walk away... but it would be great starter material for conversation about the Bible.

Because it's a funny book, three funny moments:

  • Boyett lists what he calls "marketing-driven biblical packages. The NIV Women's Devotional Bible, The Catholic Couples Bible, The Purpose-Driven Pimply Teen Boy's Extreme Study Bible." He then footnotes this with "That last one's made up. Hopefully."
  • When he defines parable, he notes: "Not to Be Confused With: Parable Christian Stores, an association of more than two hundred independently owned retail booksellers that will likely refuse to stock this book if the Pocket Guide speaks ill of them. God bless the wide selection, personal service, and exceptional value of Parable retailers. And as long as we're on the subject, God bless Wal-Mart, too."
  • "One Statement By Paul That, When Taken Out of Context, Makes Him Sound Relatively Hip: 'Peace to the brothers' (Eph. 6:23)"

Closing Thoughts:

I'd liked the book... more in a "chuckle chuckle... hmm, hadn't thought about that" kind of way rather than a "guffaw/laugh so hard I am in danger of needing a Depends... wow! incredible spiritual insights abound" kind of way.

I will take this opportunity to recommend the Pocket Guide To The Apocalypse (by the same author) which does a bang-up job of explaining a variety of end-times theories/theologies and poke fun at the Left Behind series at the same time!


Anonymous said...

thanks for the review. I've been wanting to read that book myself.

Chris Lewis said...

Sounds like something I would enjoy too. My problem is, what if someone picked it up without the foreknowledge that it's not "serious." I'm sure there's no imprimatur...you point out that it doesn't add commentary. I wonder- does it commentate "subliminally" like the NIV, even if it doesn't have boldface headings that say "commentary"?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

It's possible... but the tone from the beginning is more SNL than DTS. (The category on the back is 'General Knowledge/Humor'.)

And I won't attempt to read between the lines of your comments about the NIV. Sigh. (The book actually does a nice job of explaining dynamic equivalence to those who haven't been sucked into 'The Great Translation Wars'.)

I use NIV and HCSB for study... and use The Message & Word on the Street for devotional reading. NASB is also good, but it reads choppy & convoluted.

Chris Lewis said...

I understand where you're coming from. I appreciate The Message very much for its easy reading, but my problem is that it's not authoritative as a translation. Easy to read, though, and I love that.

Of course, officially my faith uses the New American Bible (which is the NASB without the deuterocanonical scriptures deleted), but I also like the authenticity of the Douay Rheims (though it is hard to read) and would like to get my hands on the new Ignatius Bible also. I've heard that it does not have near the political correctness of the NAB.