Ryken’s Bible Handbook

Tyndale have sent along a quite nice little handbook for review. Right up front I have to say that though brief and therefore necessarily rather shallow (in the sense that much detail has to be ignored because it is a handbook and not a full blown introduction), the volume has much to commend it.

Tyndale publishes volumes for Conservative Christians.  This is a conservative overview of the Canon of Scripture.  Each book is outlined (in grand strokes), described in terms of form or key characters or key doctrines.  And, extraordinarily,  those in the Old Testament, include a section titled ‘Contribution of the Book to the Bible’s Story of Salvation in Christ‘.  Meaning, of course, that this handbook is not at all interested in a Jewish reading of their own sacred texts.  Book discussions conclude with a series of quotations from leading conservative Christian (and in some Old Testament cases, Jewish) commentators about the biblical book at hand.

Interestingly, the treatment of Ezekiel includes a section on ‘Visionary Writing‘ and ‘Tips for Reading or Teaching Ezekiel‘. Our authors, Ryken, Ryken and Wilhoit, know a tough book to Christianize when they see it!  And their handling of Ezekiel’s massively striking and provocatively and intentionally sexual imagery is as follows:

The descriptions and put-downs of the unethical behavior of Judah and its neighboring countries exist to raise our own ethical consciousness and prompt us to act morally toward our fellow humans (p. 331).

If only Ezekiel had put it so cleanly!

And that brings us to the serious problem that I have with this otherwise useful and well produced tome: it’s skill at leveling and homogenizing the Biblical text into essentially one core message.  The Bible contains not some sort of ‘single theology’ – it contains ‘theologies’.  To blend them all into one (the message of salvation in Christ) may at first blush seem an honorable enterprise but in fact it serves only to silence that mighty chorus of witnesses who sing different notes the mighty acts of God. The mid 20th century’s quest for the Mitte der Schrift is a Sackgasse that no one should go down again.

God acts.  And not just in Christ.  After all, if the path presented in volumes like the present are pursued to their logical conclusion, the entire witness of the Old Testament can be jettisoned, since in the New Testament, we have all we need to know of Christ.  This is the Marcion-ic solution so detestable to Christian theology.