Believe: Student Edition: Living The Story Of The Bible To Become Like Jesus, edited by Randy Frazee
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.]
In looking at this possibly daunting 350 page book and reflecting that it is intended for students between 13 and 17 or 18 years of age, a reader may have a lot of questions. Indeed, this book itself asks a lot of questions it chooses not to answer, even implicitly, including such important questions as which among the Ten Commandments are still relevant today, which is entirely the wrong question, as well as which are doubtful areas about which it is possible for believers to disagree, an area that is only answered in the most superficial and flimsiest of ways. This book is intended, according to its editors, to address the serious problem of biblical illiteracy, and to that end it contains mostly biblical citations, often at considerable length, with light commentary and emphasis in the forms of some parts of the passages being put in bold text. This is to be praised. Yet at the same time the book tends to be content to instruct its intended audience of teens and (presumably) very young adults on a superficial level, which is less praiseworthy.
In terms of its organization, the book consists of three parts, “Think,” “Act,” and “Be,” each of which contains ten chapters. Ironically, perhaps, none of the ten chapters in the third section, “Be,” actually are grammatically correct when conjugated, “to be _______,” as they are chapters with titles like “love,” “hope,” “patience,” “humility,” and so on. To be sure, you can be loving, or hopeful, or patient, or humble, but to be love, hope, patience, or humility is extremely fatuous. That said, as a friend of mine said, a teen of low sophistication might view these chapter titles as “cool,” or even almost “mystical.” It is unclear whether the author wishes to write down to a low opinion of the reading comprehension of teens, or whether he does not realize the lack of congruence between his scheme of organization and the content that is being written, but either way it is unfortunate. At least the organization within each chapter works fairly well, with each chapter beginning with a simple key question, a rather superficial and basic creedal statement, in the classic form “I believe…,” along with a key verse and a map for basic organization, followed by the main body of more lengthy passages with some commentary and emphasis, closing with a statement of what an evangelical consensus believes about that particular topic with lots of uncited quotations in air quotes as well as explanation marks.
There are some areas where the book contains material that is laughable. For example, the first question of the book, “Who is God,” contains this oxymoronic statement, “I believe the God of the Bible is the only true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” paradoxical because it combines the statement “The God of the Bible,” with what is not, in fact, the God of the Bible. It does suggest, though, that as big a tent as this book has for Christians that it, like other books of its kind , does not in fact wish to include those who have a biblical view of God, at least as it is described in Daniel 7 or the introductions to all of Paul’s letters , or even the wisdom of Agur and Psalm 110 . The book also makes the extremely puzzling statement that the Church is the main means of God accomplishing His purposes on earth, a statement that requires a great deal of nuanced reasoning and clarification, which its chapter does not provide, which would lead the reader to a mistaken and pietistic privileging of “the church” over matters that were deemed “secular” rather than seeing all of them as being under God’s domain and subject to God’s laws and ways. Even more seriously, the book as a whole does not seem to connect the qualities of the heart it embraces and urges young people to embrace in their own lives and the practical applications of those qualities with God and with others. It is one thing to tout love and gentleness and kindness as good qualities, but it is entirely different to point out how one shows these qualities to others, especially as teens (just like the rest of humanity) can be expected to struggle to demonstrate in action what we will passionately claim is in our heart. Given that this book is intended to avoid merely knowing about God, this absence of practical application is mystifying and troubling, suggesting its author believed that merely knowing what the Bible says about a given subject is enough to provide the sort of specific and targeted guidance that is necessary for young believers to put their beliefs into practice. Consider this book, in its larger purposes, a missed opportunity with muddled understanding, but with good intentions, at least. If nothing else, this book contains some great and wide-ranging biblical citations from all over the scriptures that should provide plenty of material for Bible study and reflection for thoughtful teens, and perhaps at least a few adults too.
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