The Bible is a complex book, full of countless stories, prophecies, and genres of writing, each of which (ostensibly) applies to the Christian life in some way. It is no easy task, however, to read the entire Bible and grasp how each portion relates to the others or how 21st century Christians should engage the scriptures in their complexity. To assist those journeying towards God through a close reading of the Bible comes Believe: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus (Zondervan: 2014) edited by Randy Frazee.
There are few modern books written like Believe, which contains topically organized selections of the Biblical text (New International Version). Selections are broken down into three major thematic categories: Think (What Do I Believe?), Act (What Should I Do?), and Be (Who Am I Becoming?). Each of these categories is further subdivided into ten chapters on various topics. To name a few examples from each category, “Think” includes chapters on God, the Person of God, Salvation, the Bible, the Church, and Eternity, while “Act” covers Worship, Prayer, Spiritual Gifts, and Evangelism and “Be” outlines Christian Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Hope, and Humility. Each section begins with a short introduction to the main theme and each chapter opens with a key verse and key idea for the idea being examined.
Most of each chapter is composed of various selections from the Biblical text, each of which is briefly contextualized and interpreted through italicized editorial selections. There is a good canonical emphasis in these selections, as both Old and New Testaments are read together (not bifurcated as many Christians often see them today) and portions of each Testament are allowed to interpret and inform the other. Good balance is also struck between the number and length of readings from each Testament (noted in a helpful table in the end matter), as focus on readings from the New do not overshadow the messages of the Old, and the volume of readings from the Old do not mask the particularly good news found in the New.
Apart from there being topical selections of the Biblical text, the presentation of the scriptures in the medium of transitions and contextualizing remarks may be the most unique aspect of Believe. These generally brief passages help this work read less awkwardly than a mere collection of topically outlined Bible passages and often provides helpful information for the proper interpretation of the selections of the Bible at hand. The perspective of the editors in these remarks comes across as admittedly American Protestant and “scripture focused,” sometimes at the expense of being focused on Christ. While ideals concerning the authority and centrality of Christ and scripture are not mutually exclusive, the picture painted by the selected readings and editorial commentary of Believe certainly propagates a certain American Protestant view of the scriptures, a view which often denigrates theological and historical reflections upon the Biblical text.
In some ways, Believe reads somewhat like a partial-Biblical commentary from an earlier age of Christian faith, which scriptural passages and commentary were presented side by side and scripture was used to interpret and re-read other scripture. Overall, Believe reads like an attempt to help 21st century Christians read the Bible as something more than a merely literal text. In the manner of Gregory the Great and many Christians from the Middle Ages, Believe calls Christians to read the scriptures morally and anagogically—to read scripture in order to understand how we are supposed to live (a moral reading) and then live out the precepts of scripture (an anagogical reading).
Believe is not a Bible, but rather topically arranged selections from the scriptures. Accordingly, a good historically and theologically sound Study Bible will almost always be more valuable to the reader than the type of thematic presentation offered here, and thus I do not recommend this book for everyone. Believe: Living the Story of the Bible to Become Like Jesus will be helpful for pastors and teachers who could use a resource for understanding some of the broad canonical portrayals of certain themes and topics. Additionally, this may be a useful tool for those who are somewhat familiar with the Bible (or portions of it) and who want to expand their knowledge through topically study, perhaps in a group setting. Believe is an interesting and helpful project, and the message of lived Christianity is an important one for today. However, there is too much “cut and paste” from a certain theological position to make this book worthy of recommendation for everyone.
I received this book from Zondervan in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.