Monday, July 22, 2013

"Bible Savvy" by James L. Nicodem: Book Review

Review of Bible Savvy by James Nicodem. 

I received this set of study guides to review, and not recognizing the author, I was intrigued by the endorsements by both D.A Carson, and Franklin Graham; so I had high hopes for this interestingly packaged, colorfully covered set of books from Moody press.  I took the time to listen to a couple of the videos on the web-site, and I came away with the impression of a well-spoken pastor, but when I started reading these books I was disappointed with what I found. 

Nicodem’s indicated audience is adult seekers and Christians learning how to read the Bible. He spends time writing about the facts and statistics of how reading seems to be a lost art, and most adults read at or below a “basic” level; yet throughout the set of books he frequently lampoons decisions to study, and seems to have a very intimate knowledge of “Cliff-notes.”

Further, these books are peppered with words like “wow”, “cool” “huh?” “so stupid” and “so lame,” which does not seem to support this author’s claim to being a reader and aficionado of great books.  I did find some well thought out advice and observations using the “COMA” acronym; a memory aid in interpreting biblical passages, but my overall impression of this set of books is inadequate for the stated purpose.

 My advice to reach a generation of people who are internet-educated and “savvy” in technology, would be to take the highly successful approach of Tim Keller, from Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, with his book The Reason for God; a fine example of current, educated apologetics to reach the contemporary seeker; one who knows a little, has questions, and who appreciates a serious answer. Putting “QR” codes as the beginning of each chapter is not a selling point for education.

 I noted that the analogies primarily used were examples from the world of sports. I do know a bit about golf, have personally played soccer, and have even been given wonderful life advice from a retired NCAA Eastern Division basketball referee (advice I still treasure), but this seems to be trying to reach a small segment of both believers and seekers.  This may be a shock, but not all persons that he is trying to reach are sports fans as exhibited in this quote from Epic:

     Now imagine you’re the coach. Your rules cover everything from showing up on time for practice, to working out in the weight room, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a B average in schoolwork, dressing up on game day, demonstrating sportsmanship on the court, and so on. Why all the rules? Because you want your player to look and behave and carry themselves like champions—like a breed apart.
          God wanted His people to be a breed apart… (p. 51)

Really? This is a truly unfortunate analogy to explain the separateness of the Jewish people from the other cultures surrounding the early nation of Israel.

          But he goes further when in writing in disagreement with Jewish author Herman Wouk, Nicodem writes, “The Jew’s best contribution to all peoples has been Jesus!” (p 52)  I agree that Jesus is the priceless treasure of God’s one and only Son, but with that comment Nicodem disposes of all the history, drama, context and teaching of the entire Bible.   Did he somehow forget that both the Old and New Testament was written by Jews, in fact Jesus is recorded in the Gospel of John saying; “Salvation is from the Jews.”(John 4:22b) How could this pastor of 30 years forget that?

There are far too many anti-intellectual leanings in Christianity today to refuse to challenge and teach congregations, and answer seeker’s questions about the Bible in a concise and educated manner.  J.P. Moreland, in his book Loving God With All Your Mind wrote  “…as with every other area of life, you have to study hard and gain an intellectual grasp of the issues so you can be confident and courageous.” (p. 52)

And this includes how we understand and interpret the Bible.

How can we ever expect to follow the challenge of the Apostle Paul that we should “…not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds...” (Romans 12:2) by following the advice of these little books.  This author seems to make it a point to make light of education and the educational process throughout these study guides.  These are deep and important truths of salvation we need to understand through contact with the amazing book that is called the Bible, in order for us all to understand the finished works of Jesus Christ, not football locker-room antics. Frances Schaeffer made this clear when he wrote in The God Who is There;

As we get ready to tell the person God’s answer to his or her need, we must make sure that the individual understands that we are talking about real truth, and not about something vaguely religious with seems to work psychologically. We must make sure that he understands that we are talking about real guilt before God, and we are not offering him merely relief for his guilt-feelings. We must make sure that he understands that we are talking to him about history, and that the death of Jesus was not just an ideal or a symbol but a fact of space and time. If we are talking to a person who would not understand the term “space-time history,” we can ask “Do you believe that Jesus died in the sense that if you had been there that day, you could have rubbed your finger on the cross and got a splinter in it?” Until he understands the importance of these three things, he is not ready to become a Christian. (p. 157)

And glib, pseudo-hipster language is not how we attract people to the Gospel nor encounter Scripture.

Overall this is not a resource I would or could recommend for either seekers or Christians looking for education on how to understand their Bible. There are great apologetics materials and biblical study guides in print today that can be used for small groups, or large adult classes which are well written, and much more “savvy” than anything I read in the Bible Savvy set.

The books below I would recommended for those wanting to know more on how to study the Bible, and to answer questions about the Christian faith:

J.P Moreland, Love Your God With All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul.  (1997, Colorado Springs, Navpress)
And The God Question: An Invitation to a Life of Meaning (2009, Eugene, Harvest House)

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, (2008, New York, Dutton)

Introductory text in biblical interpretation:

J. Scott Duvall & J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God's Word (2005, Grand Rapids, Zondervan) This is a college level text with exercises at the end of each chapter.

Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth (1993, Grand Rapids, Zondervan) Basic text but still challenging.

For more guides for what to read, and reviews from professors, see the Denver Journal, provided by Denver Seminary.

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