Taking a literary approach to the Bible is both dangerous and useful. It's dangerous because it tempts many to stop taking it seriously, to view the Scripture of Christianity not as God's Word but as a mere story. However, the Bible is literature, and looking at it as such can help us get a better grasp of the overall message and trajectory of both Testaments. That doesn't mean we stop looking to the Bible for God's self-revelation, it means we understand it more and more in context.
If there's a fault of contemporary preachers, it's their near-universal inability to teach a passage of Scripture in context. Most pastors will read a Bible verse (at least one) per sermon and attempt to preach on it, but often these sermons are simply their own interpretation of the out-of-context verse, rendering it meaningless. The Bible is presented to us as a totality because it is the whole counsel of God, and works together for our education and spiritual enlightenment.
It is their ability to help us understand the unity of God's Word that makes Bible surveys particularly helpful. Untrained Bible readers can easily become lost or confused amid the plethora of narratives, poems, prophecies, letters, and doctrines, and a good survey can help clear the fog. Of course, a bad one will only contribute to the confusion and possibly lead readers far afield from the truth of the Gospel, but we've done our best to avoid those.
Good surveys and introductions include information about the cultural context of the various biblical nations and ethnicities, sound overviews of the various books in the canon, theological summaries of long and short sections, and any supplemental information that may make the actual biblical text more clear, like maps, outlines, and biographical sketches. Good surveys also take into account the literary elements of each book, helping readers learn to interpret poetry, narrative, and prophecy.
There is no book more important than the Bible. This is true for everyone, but especially for Christians, since the Bible is where we learn about God and the Gospel. Though Bible surveys are extremely helpful for obtaining a deeper understanding of God's Word, they can never take the place of it, and should never be substituted for actual Bible reading. That said, we'd encourage new Bible readers, recent converts, and beginning Bible students to supplement their Bible reading with a good survey.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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