Publisher: Bethany House (Baker)
[Disclaimer: I was provided with an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for my fair and unbiased review of this book. I was given no compensation and I am not required to provide a positive review.]
I'm just gonna go ahead and state at the outset that this book was a disappointment for me. I think the problems started with the the authors' a priori commitment to the standard conservative reading of the Bible. There's nothing necessarily wrong with the 'standard conservative reading' (I most likely subscribe to it myself, although a a little more nuanced), but at times it forces the authors to make statements for which there is considerable debate (e.g., "The original author and his audience probably knew the answers to such questions, but modern readers struggle to find the answers in the text", 14). And this commitment to such a reading colors the authors' understanding of the books and thus troubles their application of the books at the end of each chapter.
That being said, if I can sum up my thoughts in one sentence, it would be something like this: either the authors or the publishers don't think very highly of their readers. I mean, seriously, this book is written by authors who hold Ph.Ds in their respective fields and this book reads like something written for a someone in a very early high school class. This book might have been in mind when the author of Hebrews wrote, "Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity…." (6:1).
Both the Old Testament section and the New Testament section follow the same basic format. First, we learn a little about the 'Setting.' In this section we may learn a little about the place where it was written, the events that occasioned the writing, and the person who wrote the book. The authors also speculate about the timing of the writing. Also in this section the authors, almost without fail, tell us how we can 'divide up the book.' I found this dividing up to be a bit forced and unnecessary. I realize full well that this is what we do, but the problem is that it really didn't help us understand the books any better.
Second, there is a 'Summary' section. In my opinion, the summary section is the worst part of the book because it simply provides us with no significant information. It is, to be sure, merely a page and a half paraphrase of the content of the book being explored. Maybe paraphrase is too generous. Maybe it's more like an outline in paragraph form. The truth is, one can probably get more information by just sitting down and reading the Bible.
Third, in typical preacher fashion, the author complete the alliterated trifecta by giving us a 'Significance' section. In some instances, this section a page or so long (on my Nook). In other instances, it is merely a sentence or two. Although the authors try to vary the themes they broach in the significance section, I found that entirely too much of the time they state that the significance of the book is either God's Sovereignty (which is a good thing, except that their subtle or not so subtle commitment to Calvin's version of God's Sovereignty is troubling) or that we are going to suffer and we have to be faithful. I guess for me that's just not enough.
I always go back to Luke 24:27, 44 where Jesus gives us the ultimate in exegetical mastery: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself." And, "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms." I'm thinking this is fairly significant and ought to be explored a little more deeply. Yet even the times when these connections are brought up, they are not brought up to the end that the reader is left thinking about Jesus as the fulfillment of God's righteous action in this world. In short, there is no real commitment to the meta-narrative that stretches from Genesis to Revelation.
I'm not one who happens to think the Bible can be piece-mealed into a mere 66 books easily divided after the first 39. There is a grand story being told and I'm not convinced the authors are as committed to it as they should be or as they claim to be. Even for a terribly elementary book such as this there should be a string stretched from one end to another connecting everything together. The subtitle of the book is, "Understanding the Big Picture Book by Book" and it is exactly at that point the book fails. To understand the big picture, there has to be commitment to the meta-narrative. And I didn't see it even if the author of the Old Testament section did a better job of trying than the author of the New Testament section.
I think that thread is Jesus. Don't get me wrong, He is present in this book but Jesus is not necessarily the focus of the book so much as each book is the focus of the book. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but what I came away from this book thinking is that it is hurried, it is sloppy, and it is terribly shallow and safe.
I'm not sure why this book was written or to whom it was written. There are hundreds of bible survey books available on the market that are infinitely better than this book. I'm sorry to say it, but this book falls short.