Philip Yancey has the ability to take the reader along with him as he struggles with questions many Christians find discouraging and difficult to understand. Yancey, as many do, found the books of the Old Testament difficult to understand. He asked, “Is the Old Testament Worth the Effort?” in his opening chapter. Many find the Bible offensive and most wonder how these writings can possibly be relevant to our lives today.
Philip Yancey, the author of The Bible Jesus Read, persevered in reading these books. He said he began to identify with the people in them. He said, “Through their lives with God I discovered my own.” He came to believe that “apart from the Old Testament we will always have an impoverished view of God.”
After tackling whether or not the Old Testament is worth reading in the first chapter, he dedicates a chapter each to: Job: Seeing in the Dark; Psalms: Spirituality in Every Key; Ecclesiastes: The End of Wisdom; and The Prophets: God Talks Back. He concludes the book with Advance Echoes of a Final Answer.
In the author’s words, “Job paints the drama of faith in its starkest form: the best man on earth suffering the worst….” Yancey summarizes some of his conclusions in ten points; then, he concludes the chapter with this statement about Job: “Through his undeserved suffering the righteous man Job gave an “advance echo” of Jesus Christ, who would live a perfect life, yet endure pain and death in order to win a great victory.”
His chapter on Deuteronomy and Moses had some good insights tying the book to Jesus. But I found his dramatized description of Moses as a frail old man to be at odds with the biblical statement that Moses had not lost his strength at the end of his life. (See Deuteronomy 34:7.)
When he begins his fourth chapter he wrote, “I have a confession to make. For years I avoided the book of Psalms.” He decided to use a vacation time to focus on Psalms by committing to reading ten in a row. He described his variety of reactions from repulsion of the violent contradictions to boredom with what he thought repetitious. He failed, he said, to appreciate them. Then he tried a new tactic, a systematic study. He said he acquired knowledge, but not enjoyment. Some of us have had similar experiences with various Bible passages, not just Psalms.
He finally discovered the key to reading Psalms; how, he doesn’t say. He learned, in his words, that “More than any other book in the Bible, Psalms reveals what a heartfelt, soul-starved, single-minded relationship with God looks like.”
In his next chapter, he compares Ecclesiastes to the writings of “existentialism.” He wrote, “The issues bothering the Teacher were the same ones that bothered Job, and that bother all fair-minded people today.”
In his chapter on the Prophets, he emphasized that through the Prophets, “God Talks Back.” His past view of these books was influenced by the “prediction-fixation” of his childhood church. He came to see that these books are not about predicting the future. Instead, they “offer hope” and “a challenge for us to live out the World as God Wants It in this life, right now.”
I would recommend Philip Yancey’s The Bible Jesus Read to anyone who has started to read the Bible but got bogged down and quit. His perspective is not the only perspective on the meaning of the books he highlighted, but I would recommend his book to those who have too narrow an approach to God and the Bible. God is bigger than one person’s interpretation. Philip Yancey looked honestly at his own reaction to the Bible and kept seeking to find God’s perspective in these ancient, inspired writings. Yancey’s perspective may help some readers also discover a portion of God’s perspective.
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