Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Review of How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens

Part of God’s calling on my life is to teach students how to read the Bible.  Occasionally, I will have some students that desire to learn how to do Bible studies, write sermons, and do other types of ministry.  Inevitably, in both these endeavors I find myself consistently telling them to make sure that Jesus is the hero of every text.  That is a question I ask of my own preaching and one that I hope to instill in the lives of students that God has entrusted me with. 

One of the difficult things in this endeavor is to have a Christ-focus in various Old Testament passages.  It can be rather difficult for the beginning Bible reader to discover how exactly Christ is found in Leviticus, the conquest of Canaan or other passages.  Even in some New Testament passages it can be easy to apply the imperatives (do this) without first putting on the Jesus lens (indicatives). 

Michael Williams’ new book, “How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens” is written to help beginning Bible readers learn how to use a Jesus lens in reading all of the Scriptures.  The book covers all 66 books of the Bible in four pages each.  Every section has a short summary of the book with a helpful statement of the books major theme.  A memory passage is also highlighted as well as a few “hook questions” to give each chapter staying power.  Williams also applies the Jesus lens to the books major theme and then dives into a few contemporary implications. 

What you are getting with this book is a brief, popular level (though not shallow), introduction to the Bible.  This book is written for beginning Bible students with the hopes of “avoiding the dry, data-intensive introduction to the Bible” that most introductions fall into.  Here you will get a simple and concise theme for each book and then be shown how the books overall thrust can be read with a Jesus lens. 

I figured one of the best places to give the book a trial run would be the book of Job.  Here Williams views the theme of the book as being the truth that “God is active in areas and realms beyond our understanding”.  In response to this theme, Williams encourages the reader to use the book of Job to “see God at work in our suffering”.  When we put on our Jesus lens we see that Christ gives us the “ultimate picture of the righteous sufferer as he accomplishes God’s saving purposes” (71). 

How To Use This?

With every book that I read and review I try to determine who would benefit from reading the book.  With this particular book I know that the audience will be those that are relatively new to reading the Bible (or perhaps those new to trying to reading it in a Christ-centered way).  As I went through this book I tried imagining one of my students that is newer to reading Scripture.  How would he use this book?  Would it be beneficial?  What disciplines would reading through this book cultivate in his walk with Christ? 

I picture a new believer opening up his Bible to Job.  The only Bible that he has is just a simple pew Bible with very little “helps” inside of it.  There is no introduction to his copy of Job, but he did just pick up a copy of this Jesus Lens book.  Before he begins reading Job he reads through this book.  He learns here that the book of Job is about suffering—and suffering that doesn’t seem to make sense.  From the beginning pages he knows that Job will be exhorting him to trust in God even when it seems really dark.  He will find—through picking up his Jesus lens—that Christ is not only a model for enduring suffering but is the one by whom we are able to endure suffering and the one in whom suffering is ultimately conquered. 

My Take

Part of me really likes this idea.  I am in absolute agreement that we should read the Bible “through a Jesus lens”.  I also welcome a simple and easy to read introduction to not only this practice but also to books of the Bible.  I love being able to hand someone a quick reference that will help them see how to apply a “Jesus lens” to the book of Job, or Nehemiah, or any other book in the Bible.  So, part of me loves this idea.

The other part of me is…something.  I’m really not certain what word to call it.  Disappointed?  That’s too strong.  Cynical?  Yes, but that probably doesn’t apply here.  Whatever word you want to call it I question whether this book will actually accomplish what it intends to do.  I do not think it is myopic (that means narrow focused) to read everything through a Jesus lens.  But what I do think might be myopic is applying the Jesus lens only to the books major theme. 

Job has more gospel in it than simply that “God is active in areas and realms beyond our understanding”.  There is more to it than that Christ is the ultimate righteous sufferer and that He is in the business of making all things right even when we do not see His hand.  I agree with all of this theologically, and I even agree that these truths you can find in Job.  But what about what we can learn through Job about Christ-centered counseling?  What about the truth that Christ is the instrument by which God’s proclamations in Job 38-41?  There is so much more that a Jesus lens enlightens than could be covered in four pages. 

So again I’m…still can’t find the word.  I love the idea.  I love the practice.  I even like the simplicity of this book.  I just wonder if the fact that each book is only given four pages will be training readers to be a tad too myopic in their reading of Scripture.  Does it really train them to read through a Jesus lens or does it train them to read the Bible through a meta-narrative?  Both are crucial, but they are different.

Should You Buy It?

If you have been reading the Bible for years and already practice reading the Bible through a Jesus lens you may not find a ton of help here.  It’s not really written for you.  But you could buy it and give it to a new believer.  Even with my reservations I do heartily recommend this book for new Bible readers.  Do not attempt to make this book a stand alone or even the definitive book on teaching someone “how to read the Bible through the Jesus lens”. 

You can buy the book here.  And you really should.  Williams is a really good writer and he packs some in depth stuff into a really short section.  He does it, though, in a way that is not “heady” but it is written on a popular and very helpful level.  You will benefit from the book. 


I received this book free from Zondervan in exchange for a review.  This review is also part of a Blog Tour that you can check out here.  Read the other reviews because other reviewers focused on other books of Scripture. 

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