Glenn R. Paauw. Saving the Bible from Ourselves: Learning to Read and Live the Bible Well. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2016. See here to buy the book.
Glenn R. Paauw is critical of how Christianity has treated the Bible.
He does not care for the division of the Bible into chapters and
verses, for he believes that this has made the Bible into a book of
aphorisms that one can quote out of context, often for quick
inspiration. He is critical of the extensive notes in the Geneva Bible
because he thinks that the notes overshadow the biblical text and
prevent the Bible from being the Bible. He critiques the
individualistic approach to reading and engaging the Bible in the West,
for he believes that this discourages people from hearing perspectives
other than their own, plus he contends that the biblical writings were
and should be about community formation. He thinks that there should be
an aesthetic quality in terms of how Bibles look, which contrasts with
the mass production of Bibles.
If there is a theme that runs throughout this book, it is that the
Bible is earthy. Its writings originated in historical contexts to
speak to them. God chose to be revealed and to act within the messiness
of human history. The Bible’s vision is of a renewed earth where
justice reigns and where God tabernacles, rather than souls going to
heaven. It had things to say about how a just society should look,
about how people can live their everyday lives in a godly manner, and
about how the body of Christ should be as a community. It had stories,
not just abstract ideas. God values beauty and matter, so the aesthetic
appearance of Bibles is significant, as far as Paauw is concerned.
Paauw is often specific about how he believes that Christians should
engage the Bible, but occasionally he is not so specific. He believes
that Christians reading the Bible should digest whole biblical books
rather than focusing on individual verses as if they are disconnected
aphorisms. He thinks that Christians should read the Bible in community
and ask themselves what the text has to say about how the community
should be. On how the Bible should look aesthetically, he refers to how
fancy Bibles looked in the past (i.e., golden print), but I do not
recall him really saying how he believes Bibles should look today.
Paauw is critical of Bibles having extensive notes, yet he want for
people to consider the historical contexts of the biblical writings.
Often, though, notes are needed for Bible readers to do that.
As far as content is concerned, Paauw does not say much that is new.
Still, he says what he says well. His prose is elegant, beautiful, and
sometimes even riveting. I could almost feel the earthiness of the
Bible as I read this book. Paauw also draws from authors, scholars, and
thinkers, such as N.T. Wright, Alan Segal, and Thomas Cahill. (On
Cahill, what Cahill has to say about the Jews conceiving of life as a
story that has a purpose was beautiful.) Paauw’s book is a book of
substance. Even if I did not learn anything dramatically new, I felt as
if I were eating a hearty meal and was being reminded of important
Paauw was saying things that have gotten on my nerves when other
Christians have said them. In some cases, Paauw managed to present them
in a manner that I found pleasing and insightful. In other cases, the
idea still rubbed me the wrong way, but I could see Paauw’s point.
An example of the former concerns the contention by many Christians
that the Bible is Christocentric: that it prepares the way, foreshadows,
and even predicts Jesus Christ. I have long felt that such an approach
projects Christianity onto the Hebrew Bible, rather than allowing the
Hebrew Scriptures to be themselves, with their own diverse
perspectives. Some Christians say that, if you’re not seeing Christ in
the Hebrew Bible, then you are reading it wrong, to which I say that it
is those who fail to see Christ in the Hebrew Bible who are reading what
the text actually says. These reservations notwithstanding, I actually
liked what Paauw said on page 119: “And because the Bible is a
Christocentric set of books, we cannot merely pick up fragments from
just anywhere and presume they are God’s final answer.” Maybe the Bible
says diverse things, but what should we consider to be God’s final
answer? People may disagree on this, but I can understand Paauw’s point
that it should be Christ.
As a socially-anxious loner who has difficulty fitting into Christian
communities, I had problems with Paauw’s emphasis on community. Like
the people Paauw criticizes, I tend to emphasize my interior, personal
spiritual journey. I would also say that there is such a theme in the
Bible—-of people’s walk with God as individuals, or their personal
relationship with God. At the same time, I have to agree with Paauw
that there is also a communal focus in the Bible. Whether that entirely
overlaps with what Christian communitarians have to say is debatable,
in my opinion. (Where does the Bible say that we have to be in “deep
community,” as many Christians say? And is the idea that the church is a
community foreshadowing the coming Kingdom of God actually in
Scripture, or is it a theological interpretation that is being projected
onto the Bible?) Still, there is a lot in the Bible about loving
others in the body of Christ. I just wish that more Christian books
acknowledged that there are personalities that are introverted, and that
rigorously wrestled with how they can bring their strengths into the
body of Christ: how they can be part of a community, while also being
I take some issue with Paauw’s discussion of the immortality of the
soul. I agree with his overall point the the Bible talks about God’s
renewal of the physical cosmos and the resurrection of the dead. Still,
the immortality of the soul is a theme that occurs in Second Temple
Jewish works; in my opinion, it is not a Christian emphasis that
developed long after Jesus failed to return as a way to encourage people
to fear a coming judgment or anticipate heavenly rewards immediately
after their death. (Paauw does not say this is how a belief in the
immortal soul originated, but he argues that this is how it came to be
stressed in Christianity, as he draws from Alan Segal.) Paauw does well
to stress the Bible’s earthly emphasis, and yet writings forming the
historical background for the New Testament, and also statements in the
New Testament itself, arguably have a more heavenly focus.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.