"The Story" (Zondervan): Reading the Bible?

Posted on by Brooke

As a kind of resolution for 2010, our rector has decided that we’ll be reading the Bible this year (I pause here for jokes about the Episcopal Church and knowing nods; better now? okay). The initial vehicle will be a ten-week reading group, working through The Story: Read the Bible as One Seamless Story from Beginning to End (revised edition; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008). Amazon/Publisher

I should say right away that, on balance, I am excited that we’re pushing Bible and finding ways to encourage familiarity with it. This church happens to have racked up some pretty staggering accomplishments in outreach, in community service, in local and international charity, and (less quantitatively but not less noticeably) in growing a community marked by a joyous mutual love. A more solid biblical foundation can only strengthen the kind of theological thinking that already drives the congregation.

Now for the gripes.

The Story starts with the TNIV as a base text. Put positively: at least it’s not a paraphrastic, expansionistic re-telling of the biblical text tending toward commentary (like at least one prominent translation I could name). Put negatively: I didn’t have any use for the NIV, and the TNIV doesn’t do anything to change that assessment. I believe strongly in the educational value of underscoring, rather than denying, tensions among the biblical texts. Harmonizing translations interfere with that project of teaching and learning, so I normally avoid them except for illustrations of the problems I associate with the harmonizing project. Overall, then: could be worse.

In terms of “Seamless Story from Beginning to End”: obviously the editors have had to decide on a timeline. Decisions made here are predictable: early patriarchs and exodus; Isa 40–66 as predictive prophecy; Solomon as pious but ultimately satyric author of Proverbs (but not, apparently, Ecclesiastes. Hey, where the heck is Ecclesiastes? Holy mo…where’s Job!? I guess there’s no room for the “dissenting wisdom” in The Story). And so on.

Where The Story skips or summarizes parts of the Bible, their stated plan is to put such summaries in italics, so that this editorial material can be distinguished from the biblical text itself. A couple of observations:

  • That transitional material can run to heavy-handedness (for Noah’s generation, life had become “one big party”? How do you get that from the biblical text’s description of “wickedness” and an inclination toward “evil”?).

  • The book inserts plenty of non-biblical commentary that is not set into italics. For example, this piece, that follows Gen 15:16 (“it was credited to him as righteousness”):

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.

Similarly, after Gen 22:
Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a matter of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

The perspicacious reader will observe that Paul of Tarsus has been set amok here, and that a brand of Pauline hermeneutic is shamelessly passing itself off as Hebrew Bible.

All this said: our rector is fully aware of the strengths and shortcomings of any attempt to abridge and narrativize the Bible, and she has invited the congregation up front to argue, wrestle, denounce, and question (which I’ve no doubt they will do). So, on balance, again, it’s a project that I can totally get behind and get excited about.

Anybody out there already have experience with The Story? Any stories about The Story?