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Pocket Guide to the Bible

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The Pocket Guide to the Bible is, according to the subtitle, “a little book about the big book.” It is the third in a series of pocket guides written by Jason Boyett, the first two being The Pocket Guide to Adulthood and The Pocket Guide to the Apocalypse (my review). Like its predecessors, this is a book that is intended both to convey information and provide entertainment (if by entertainment we understand puerile, frat-boy humor, which reminds me that this is as good a time as any to note that if you disliked my review of Mark Driscoll’s Confessions of a Reformission Rev. you may just want to take a pass on this review).

The book begins with a glossary of terms called a “Biblicabulary” and then invests two chapters in defining a “Cast of Characters.” From there Boyett provides a summary of both the Old and New Testaments, an overview of the history of biblical translation and concludes with “Biblical Flotsam and Jetsam”–random and sometimes entertaining facts about the Bible.

The last time I reviewed one of Boyett’s books I wrote, “There were a few times in reading this book where I would laugh out loud, and then catch myself and question if the ends times are really a topic we should make light of. There were other times where I wondered if Boyett had crossed the line between humor and blasphemy. At best I would say there are a few places where he may be towing the line.” In this book I felt more certain that there were times when he crossed the line through deliberate provocation. Here is how he describes the crucifixion of Jesus. “Pilate frees a known criminal named Barabbas and ships Jesus off to be scourged, beaten to a bloody heap, nailed to a chunk of wood and crucified. For additional details, please consult Gibson, Mel.” Surely such an act by the very Son of God deserves greater respect than that! The central idea of Christianity is apparently this: “God is holy. People sin. The holiness/sinfulness divide is a significant one. But then Jesus dies as a big-league atoning sacrifice in place of humanity, and God offers forgiveness to those who have faith in him. The stuff sin screws up? It gets unscrewed. This is pretty much the central idea of Christianity.”

Much of the book’s humor hinges on pseudo off-color phrases and euphemisms. So the adulterous wife of Hosea is a “skanky prostitute who goes through lovers like greasy knife through Velveeta.” The angel Gabriel had the difficult task of telling “some teenage virgin that she’s gotten herself knocked up, spiritually speaking.” Jezebel is a “biblical beeyotch of the first degree.” Using the term fornication in a sentence leads to this: “Just because we did it in the back seat of her Stratus doesn’t mean it was fornication, does it?” And on and on. And on. There is some humor that is more sophisticated, but Boyett predominantly depends on cheap and easy laughs.

While the content of the book is, by and large, quite sound, it does contains a smattering of errors. For example, in the “Biblicabulary,” Boyett defines grace as “The undeserved salvation from original sin, granted to humanity by God through Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection.” Thankfully, grace extends far beyond only original sin to the sins that we commit on a daily basis. Another error was in the “Cast of Characters.” In discussing Abimelech, Boyett writes “Abimelech I [as opposed to the other two Abimelechs in Scripture] is a king of the Philistines who gets it on the Abraham’s wife, Sarah–but only because Abraham lies to him, passing her off as his sister.” But according to the passage of Scripture referenced, Genesis 20, God intervenes and protects Sarah’s purity saying, “I did not let you touch her.” He also contradicts himself, saying in the introduction that Jewish people call refer to the Old Testament as the Torah, but later says that they refer to it as the Tanakah (which is comprised of three sections, only one of which is Torah).

Strangely absent from this book was any discussion of the theology of Scripture. I had expected that even a little book about the big book might discuss issues such as the Bible’s inspiration, authority, sufficiency, inerrancy and so on. But this really is a book dealing primarily with the contents and translation of the Bible. Boyett does drop a few hints as to his perspective on the theology of Scripture. For example, in discussing Jonah he writes, “Luckily, a great fish/whale/allegorical stand-in is there to catch him, and Jonah spends three squishy days in Moby’s belly before repenting.” He discusses the book of 1 Timothy, writing “Oh, and one more thing: don’t allow any women to hold positions of authority, because ladies ought to be silent in church. Huh. Two out of three ain’t bad.” In discussing Judas he mentions that Judas commits suicide by hanging himself and in a footnote adds, “At least he hangs himself in the Matthew suicide reference. Acts 1:18-20 tells a different story. Here Judas buys a field with his dirty money, then falls down in the same field so hard that his body splits open and his intestines ooze out. The Pocket Guide prefers this death sequence, if only for its exquisite goriness.” While he is not clear about his understanding of exactly what the Bible is, one can read between the lines here and have good basis for concern.

I am uncertain as to what Boyett intends as the audience for this book. While I am sure there are some who would advocate giving it to unsaved friends or family, I would certainly hesitate to do so. It is, after all, vague on exactly what our understanding of Scripture ought to be. And, of course, it is irreverent and somewhat profane. I am guessing that the most natural audience is the kind of person who reads and enjoys Relevant Magazine. The Pocket Guide is, after all, published by Relevant Books.

The back cover proclaims that this is a “handy, hip reference to the world’s all-time best seller.” I suppose it is handy and hip. It’s also quite funny. But I’m not so sure that it’s worth your time or money. A few days ago I was speaking to someone within Ligonier ministries who assured me that R.C. Sproul would far rather have people ignore his books and read the original sources from which he draws so much of his theology: Calvin, Augustine, Edwards and so on. I can’t help but think the reader would be far more blessed to pass over the first 188 pages of Boyett’s book and skip straight to the bibliography. There he will find a list of books that will prove far more interesting and edifying. In particular, he may want to consider buying a copy of Ryken’s Bible Handbook. He won’t laugh as much in reading it, but he will surely learn far more.

I am reminded of some wise words of Richard Baxter who said “It is not the reading of many books which is necessary to make one wise, but the well-reading of a few, could they be sure to have the best.” This book will not make one wise and is certainly not among the best. So why bother?

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