How To Understand The Bible!, by Nathaniel Burson
One of my Twitter followers, @adrianolivas__, sent me a link to a book because he enjoyed seeing my prolific book reviews, with the commentary that the book was short and that he was looking forward to a review. The link to the book shows it as free for ePub and Kindle, and so I downloaded the Kindle version and read it quickly. Without knowing anything about the author (his name did not ring any bells), I can guess a bit about him and his background that accounted for the fact that I found the author’s thinking about the Bible so strikingly similar to my own. For one, I noted that the author posted as his address Big Sandy, Texas, which signified to me that the author likely had some kind of involvement with the Worldwide Church of God or one of its offshoots. Readers of my blog will know my own history with WCG and my own biblical approach , and will therefore correctly gather that I judge this person to have been on the “conservative” side of the doctrinal disputes of the last few decades when it comes to fundamentals like the Sabbath and Holy Days and the chronology of Jesus’ death and resurrection as well as the generally dual nature of biblical prophecies, all of which are positions I share, however much I may be rightly considered “progressive” insofar as the Church of God is concerned on other issues. I do not know what, if any, organization the author represents or heads nor can I endorse it, but when it comes to recognizing a like minded author about the Bible who feels compelled to write about his biblical worldview, that I can and do wholeheartedly appreciate.
The contents of this very short book, which has the length of a short correspondence course, consist of the author using a few brief examples to describe his view of what in Latin would be called Tota Scriptura. The author’s approach to questions of biblical harmonization is to take all of what the Bible says about a given topic and then to combine the details together to see what possible picture would be supported by all of the details in the firm knowledge that the Bible does not contradict each other and that all scripture is valid for doctrine and correction. This happens to be precisely my own approach to various scriptural questions of interpretation, and even where the pressure of time and the limitations of space prevent one from presenting all of the scriptures at any given time, that is the standard by which I judge any legitimate interpretation of scripture. It did not take long in this short booklet before I had a great feeling of familiarity about its approach, and that is when the author wrote about a comment John made about no one having ascended into heaven except for the Son of Man and said that no one believed that verse as it was stated, to which I said within myself, “Au contraire, that is exactly what I believe.” By the time the author gave his rock-solid case for three days and three nights as an illustration of his view of interpreting the Bible, I was convinced that the similarities in our approach to the Bible came from a similar background and a similar teaching, to which we had both held firm. Obviously, then, whatever the angle the author is working from in presenting himself as a Bible teacher, and whatever our differences on twiggy or peripheral issues may be, I recognize in this short volume someone of a kindred spirit and background and approach to scripture as my own with whom I share deep and fundamental agreement. To the extent that you share my own approach to scripture, you will likely find much to appreciate in this book(let) as well.
The foregoing suggests to me something that I have not always given a great deal of attention to in my own thinking. I have pondered, for example, how Sabbath keeping is particularly common in areas where the Bible is read in a straightforward fashion without all of the nonbiblical hermeneutics that twist it to something other than what it says in order to correspond with a certain historical interpretation held by others. If you take the Bible in a naive fashion, and take it at its word, and according to the approach it lays out for itself, you come up with a set of doctrines and approaches that can be seen as roughly similar across wide boundaries of culture and time that share an obvious kinship even if there is no direct dependence between them. I wish to point out that I do not mean naive in a negative of pejorative sense here, but rather in the sense of someone coming to the Bible without preconceived notions as to how it should be read or applied. In seeking to understand the Bible, I feel it of the utmost importance not merely that we believe the right things, but that we have the right fundamental rules of interpretation prior to any interpretation being made, namely that we come to the Bible with a firm commitment to believe that it is the Word of God and that we believe what it says and will, as best as we are able, live according to it, even as we recognize that our own understanding of it will be limited by our ability to understand its larger context and ramifications, which will encourage us to be humble and to seek to further our understanding of what God has said in times past to His prophets and apostles, and what that word says to us today. Having gone on at some length, I would like to thank the author of this short volume for providing me the opportunity to think of the common origins of our faith not only in terms of history and institutional origins but also in terms of our shared approach to the scriptures as a whole.
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