Thursday, July 15, 2010

Understanding the Bible: Three Helpful Volumes

These three books have different target-audiences. Philip Fogarty SJ 'Navigating the Gospels: John' aims to help the Catholic faithful get to grips with the essence of the purpose and teachings of the Fourth Gospel. Dean Drayton's 'Which Gospel? Three New Testament Perspectives' is an excellent summary of the NT's understanding(s) of what 'Good News' really means. And 'The Children's Bible: New Revised Standard Version' is aimed at young people.

1. Philip Fogarty SJ, 'Navigating the Gospels: John' is written by an Irish Jesuit, a former headmaster, whose aim is to reinforce the essential belief-system of Catholics against the unhelpful emphases of liberal theologians on the one hand and Protestant fundamentalists on the other. To the liberals he affirms Jesus was God; to the fundamentalists Jesus was truly human. 

Although he's done his homework in terms of the way the fourth gospel was put together (we learn a little about the sitz im leben of the Johannine community in 80-110 AD, especially their need to be encouraged in the basics of the Christian faith after being driven from the Jewish synagogues); and how this gospel was written and later redacted etc. there are hardly any references to the findings of biblical scholars. This book is a simple paraphrase of the stories and 'signs' in John, with a final chapter quoting the Second Vatican Council's statement on what it means for the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. A good, readable introduction especially helpful for Catholics who are beginning their quest to seriously understand this important New Testament gospel.

2. Dean Drayton is a well-known scholar-missiologist in Australian Uniting Church circles. This book - Which Gospel? Three New Testament Perspectives' - gives a helpful overview of various understandings of the notion of 'The Gospel' throughout Christian history, and suggests that all of them were lacking something important when put side-by-side with key New Testament emphases. Essentially, the Gospel is 'the Gospel of God' - it's God's initiative - not just a temporal/eternal palliative for individuals' needs for forgiveness, happiness etc. Again, although Dr. Drayton has read the scholars and is familiar with the findings of modern literary-historical criticism, very little of this is cited in this volume, which is aimed to help study-groups of thoughtful laypeople (with excellent prompts for personal and group reflection at the end of each chapter).

Here are some gems I marked to provoke thought:

* Bidden or unbidden, God is present

* Hebrews and Luke shun the term 'the gospel'

* The early church focussed its message on the resurrection of the crucified Jesus rather than his message of the Kingdom of God

* Isaac Watts' hymn 'When I survey' (c. 1707) is one of the first to use the personal pronoun

* Wesley was the last English-speaking mass-evangelist to have had a University education. (Others, notably Dwight D. (sic) Moody and Billy Graham weren't in that league)

* Liberal and Fundamentalist alike are rationalists

* The biblical God is not a 'democratic' God of choice, but a God of power

* The key understandings of the Gospel should arise from our 'aboriginal' (Drayton uses that generic adjective four or five times in this little book) documents, the texts of the New Testament.

Again, readable, thoughtful, useful for church adult study groups...

3. Children's Bible (New Revised Standard Version, Abingdon). 

Here's a colourful edition of the most popular version of the Bible in use in mainline Christian churches, targeted especially for young people. The colourful illustrations would appeal mostly to four-to-eight year olds; the helps (glossary, maps, summary-paragraphs throughout etc.) to eight-to-14+ year olds, and the paragraph titles (Colloquy ! etc.) to 14-plus year olds. You choose the age at which you give this to your child/ren. As Evangelical churches and Sunday Schools still mostly use the NIV translation, this one might have to sit on the shelf at home for further study. 

Rowland Croucher

July 2010

1 comment:

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God Bless
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