The nice folk at Faithlife sent a copy of Michael Heiser’s new book of that title, which is subtitled ‘Recovering the supernatural worldview of the Bible’. Here’s a copy of the TABLE OF CONTENTS.
Each of the 42 chapters sit within a section and each section is summarized before the next section is attempted. There are a number of charts, maps, and graphs, all helpfully illustrative. There are as well indices for subjects and texts.
What, though, do I think of it? I think it is a well written book comprised of short, easily digestible interlocking chapters which build upon one another as they proceed. I think it is, though, apologetic in nature and aimed not to convince those of differing opinions as much as to reinforce and strengthen the views of those who see things in pretty much the same way as Heiser sees them.
That isn’t a criticism. It is simply an observation (which, of course, is what a review is all about).
What Heiser does in this volume is lead readers through some of the most difficult and debated texts in the Bible (primarily from the Hebrew Bible) and using the many theological shades of color contained therein, paint a portrait of God and his interaction with humanity. Heiser wants to ‘defend’ (the meaning of ‘apology’) God and more than that he wants to defend the Bible as Joshua slaughters Canaanites and as Nephilim roam the earth and as Holy War is waged and as angels come and go. Heiser wishes to provide readers with a level of comfort in taking the Bible seriously (if not at times quite literally). Heiser wants, as this reviewer sees it, to make the Bible less embarrassing to modern Christians.
In sum and substance, Heiser wants to reverse the course of the historical-critical river and re-mythologize what Bultmann and his 19th and 20th century German colleagues de-mythologized. And – if readers are predisposed to Heiser’s reading – he manages it brilliantly. For those of kindred spirit, he rescues the Bible from post-modernism.
This is, whether or not one agrees with the author’s views, a compelling and intelligent work. It does not persuade (because the reasoning is circular) but it does, again, reinforce and substantiate views already embraced. So, for instance
The enemy knows who Jesus is, but, as noted earlier, the forces of darkness do not know the plan. Jesus has baited them into action, and act they will. He has given them the rope, and they will eagerly hang themselves with it (p. 287).
This point isn’t then ‘proven’ it is simply assumed. And there is much throughout that is similarly presented as fact sans developed argument. Evangelical Christians will understand exactly what Heiser means and others will be left wondering why he makes such statements. But, to be fair, Heiser is writing for Evangelicals and he knows his audience.
The volume concludes with a very helpful series of five ‘research principles’ which readers of this book and practitioners of Christian theology should keep in mind. The second is particularly important
The content of the Bible needs to make sense in its own context, whether or not it makes sense in ours (p. 386).
I agree with that absolutely. And it is that belief which allows, nay, impels, Heiser to re-mythologize the biblical text. Our task, I would add, is to make sense of the Bible in its own context before we try to import it into ours. Heiser, I think, wishes to do the same. And for that I applaud him.
The present work will be of great benefit to Evangelicals who make the effort to read it. I would even suggest that it could serve as the basis for a very good series of group Bible studies with each study devoted to a single chapter, in the order of their appearance.
On the other hand, persons who are not Evangelicals will not find it either persuasive or compelling. They will, instead, find it amusing.
For myself, I found it to be a genuine delight. even if the very act of reading was informed by a sense of disappointment that so much was assumed. Now, however, that I’ve worked through it as a critical reviewer, I think I’ll read it again as an interested neutral bystander. That is, in truth, the best way to read any book.