Enjoying Your Bible: Finding Delight in the Word, by John Brunt (Oak & Acorn, 2020)
There are few things I love more than sitting down with a good book, whether an old favorite like Dickens’s Bleak House or a new find like George Takei’s “graphic novel” account of the Japanese internment experience, They Called Us Enemy. There’s nothing like having a snow day, schools closed, sitting on the couch near the wood stove with snowflakes falling outside, snuggled under a blanket with a good book.
But there’s one book I read that’s different from any other, one “inspired” book, one book I’ve been reading across the span of my life, the Bible. Okay, sixty-six books, as Graham Maxwell would always say, but also one book. This book is the subject of John Brunt’s new… what shall I call it, “study guide”? But that sounds a little too stuffy for the armchair companion voice that Brunt assumes for this volume – an expert who is also your friendly uncle helping you scout the territory. The book “is not intended for scholars," even though Brunt, as a longtime religion professor at Walla Walla University and author of many books and articles, is certainly a scholar, as well as a pastor. This book “is for the typical believer in the pew and for those who may not have occupied a pew for a while,” says Brunt (x). The goal “is not to talk about the inspiration of the Bible or to discuss all the theoretical issues of divine revelations – our goal is to help the reader experience the joy of listening to the message of the Bible” (x).
The book is divided into thirteen chapters, plus a preface and an epilogue. The first six chapters discuss general issues about reading the Bible, such as “Reading Wholistically” and “Enjoying the Bible’s Guidance.” The last seven chapters give introductions and suggestions for how to read specific portions of scripture, such as the gospels, the New Testament letters, and the Torah. There are questions and “assignments” for individuals and for groups at the end of each chapter, and you can see that the thirteen chapters would precisely fit with the thirteen weeks of a Sabbath School quarter – there are no references to Adventism or particular Adventist beliefs in this broadly-targeted volume, although a reference is made to the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary in one note. As an example assignment, from the chapter “Read Wholistically,” Brunt asks readers to find a short book of the Bible and read it through in one sitting. Then listen to it without reading – a free audio version is available at biblegateway.com – and compare the experience. As Brunt says, “the Bible was never intended to be read a verse at a time. It was centuries before it was even divided up into verses. In fact, most of those who first experienced the Bible didn’t READ it at all. They HEARD it” (10).
On that point, since the end of January I’ve been listening to The Bible Experience Audio Bible, in Today’s New International Version, from audible.com. I have always wanted an audio Bible and I really like this version, which has the Bible text along with occasional bleating sheep or other appropriate background hoo-ha. This morning I was listening to a bunch of laws that come after the ten commandments (Exodus 21-23), and it was actually pretty interesting. This audio Bible is getting me back into parts of the Bible I rarely visit, out-of-the-way cupboards in my biblical basement. And as Brunt points out, you get a much different experience of the Bible from listening to long passages at a stretch, rather than jumping from one verse to another.
As another example of the early chapters of the book, in “What If I Have Questions?” Brunt discusses the various uses of a Bible atlas, a Bible dictionary, a concordance, and commentaries – while simultaneously reminding the general reader not to get too bogged down in difficult passages and esoteric questions. In the chapter “Realistic Expectations,” Brunt counsels the reader not to be bothered if some passages of Leviticus or 1 Chronicles, say, do not inspire in daily devotionals. On that point he gives judicious advice worth quoting at length:
“The Bible was not merely written for devotional exercises. On a much broader level, it shows us the whole Judeo-Christian story of God’s interaction with humanity, from the creation of the world to the present. Understanding that history helps us understand God. We see how God continues to work with the people in spite of their failure. We see the direction God tries to move people. We see a loving grace that doesn’t let people go. All of this comes from catching a glimpse of the whole history of God’s relationship with humans, especially those God chose to be agents of grace to the world. Only this wholistic understanding will allow the reader to see the underlying harmony of the Bible” (33).
Passages like these renew my energy and enthusiasm for re-engaging the full Bible, and remind me of the theological framework in which to do this.
Following the chapters on general topics, Brunt has seven chapters giving guidelines and commentary on reading specific parts of the Bible. Revelation gets a chapter to itself, while all the other books are grouped – a chapter on the gospels and Acts, another on the Torah, and so on. Commentary is roughly proportional to the length of the book, so there are several pages on Psalms and a paragraph on Nahum. In the section on Psalms, Brunt presents the division of 150 psalms into five sections, and has helpful comments about the different subgenres of psalms: hymns, laments (individual and communal), imprecatory psalms, wisdom or instructional psalms, penitential psalms, royal psalms, and pilgrim psalms. He also discusses some of the literary techniques of psalms, such as parallelism, acrostic patterns, and alliteration.
Something that was very beneficial for me is that in each chapter professor/pastor Brunt emphasizes enjoying the Bible. “Enjoying” is in every chapter title, and (in various word forms) occurs more than fifty times throughout the text. I will enjoy and understand my Bible better with “Uncle John’s” friendly encouragement and counsel in mind, and will allow him the last word: “It is the thesis of this book that reading the Bible can and should be a delight and that the Bible is much more understandable than you might think” (x).
Scott Moncrieff is a Professor of English at Andrews University.
Book cover image courtesy of Oak & Acorn.
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