Introductions to the Bible– for Beginners

Sometimes I post a reply to a specific customer’s request, or a slightly edited version for BookNotes readers. Daily, we get inquires—sometimes just for prices or shipping costs—and sometimes they present an opportunity to develop a handful of recommendations. This nice Lord’s Day I thought I’d share a portion of a recent correspondance with a good friend, who is trying to help a friend of hers come to know the Bible better. That gal asked for things that describe each book of the Bible. Hope you enjoy seeing my quick list to her. Thanks for being a part of this work, and for caring about the mission here at the bookstore.
Dear xxxxx,
Thanks again for your great inquiry. You know how important this good question is. I’m so glad to present a few suggestions. You may know the first ones, at least; if they aren’t useful for your situation, though, please be honest, and we can recommend others. Eager to stay in touch…
I’ll suggest two different kinds of books—-the overview, I’ll call it, and the handbook.

My favorite book for an overview of the Bible is The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Drama by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen (Baker; $17.99). It has that neo-Calvinist worldview vision and talks about God’s intentions for the planet, the significance of covanents, the Christ-centric focus of the entire Bible, the coming of the Kingdom and our whole-life responsibilities to be stewards and history makers, etc. etc. But, given that narrative approach with worldview formation as the goal, it still is a story-by-story unfolding plot of the drama of the Bible. It walks you through everything in the Book as well as anything I know. Not tooooo hard, yet not simplistic, with engaging text and true insights. The best.
How To Read the Bible Book By Book Gordon Fee & Doug Stewart (Zondervan; $18.99) You probably have How to the Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, which is the best book to start with for what the fancypants call hermeneutics; this second one is pretty much a standard Bible handbook, and our pick for one of the very best. That is, it gives you a book-by-book summary, showing the way to read, interpret, study and best understand each book of the Bible. An indispensable handbook, a guide to each book. Very useful.
There are others that do what each of these two do; some others that accentuate the unfolding drama of the story like the first one. A really good one, we’d say, is Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption by Michael Williams (P&R; $17.99) which has a similar vision, but is a bit more, uh, eccentric. Very passionate and has some good, wild insights. I love it, but I think it might be a bit more feisty and a bit less straight-line chronological than Drama of…) Walk Through the Bible (recently reissued by Wipf & Stock; $9.95) by the great missiologist Leslie Newbigin has a great overview approach, with an exceptionally clear tone, showing the basic plot line, but it is really brief. Some CCO staff use it a lot with younger students; they were originally given as radio talks in England.
There are a few more like the second one (a handbook) I described but that have drawings and sidebars and such, something similar to the “for dummies” series, if she’d like something like that, with factoids and cartoons and charts. One I like is the No Brainer’s Guide to Reading the Bible (Tyndale) by James Bell which is cleverly written with great wit, and the less clever but very clear Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding the Bible; (Holman; $14.97.)

And there are expensive ones, with beautiful full-color photos and excellent info. My favorite is a lovely and well-written one now published by Fortress called The Bible Guide (used to be the Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible but Fortress picked it up, re-issued it with a considerable amount of re-writing, editing and all new illustrations making a fabulous resource volume.) That sells for $29.95, which, for the size and quality, is a very good value.
I’ve been enjoying dipping into (only briefly) a new book called Reluctant Prophets and Clueless Disciples by Robert Darden, editor of The Door (Abingdon; $25). The sub-title is “Introducing the Bible By Telling It’s Story” and it is a slightly irreverent Bible overview, a parallel guide to the main characters and their sometimes wacky behaviors. It looks funny—cartoons through-out—but it isn’t for kids and it isn’t silly. It just walks you through all of the primary stories, re-telling them, sussing them out, exploring and reflecting and occasionally adding helping, blunt, comment (“…he was still a mean old coot…”) I think you’d like it.

And, a truly cool one: Story: Recapture the Mystery by Steven James ($14.95) is a fabulously creative memoir, full of poetry, essays, auto-biography and a bit of Bible expositions. Think crossing Blue Like Jazz-man Miller with Rob Nooma Bell with a creative Bible handbook. These chapters all retell the Bible story in one way or another and is a very postmodern, twenty-something overview of the Bible. Fascinating and good, although probably not exactly what your friend needs…
I suppose I should ask: does she have a good Bible, perhaps a study edition in a modern language? Squinting through tiny print KJV that somebody’s great aunt gave them 15 years ago may not be the best. I love the Life Application Study Bible because of the very clear notes, the practical applications, and the excellent overviews of each book of the Bible. Those may be the most interesting overviews, with a devotional quality, amidst sidebars, timelines and themes and mega-themes (and why they matter today always spelled out!) It comes in the NIV and the New Living Translation and the older KJV as well. Speaking of new Bibles, the NIV Study Bible has long been considered by those in the know to be the best study Bible on the market—conservative but fair, more notes than any other edition, good balance and solid scholarship. Those notes have just been adapted and put into the TNIV translation. So now, we have the TNIV Study Bible which is stunning in it’s breath and insight. There is a brand new version of The Message (paraphrase) that is a daily devotional, with an Old Testament and a matching/relevant New Testament reading for each day. It is actually called The Message Remix: Pause and is being called “a daily reading Bible.” (NavPress; $24.95) Remix: Pause is supposed to be put together in a very coherent pattern, meaningfully connecting two different texts (a brilliant idea) that, if done each day, will get you through the Bible in a year. Looks really great!