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The Reformed Reader
5 Stars Out Of 5
A MUST READ!
April 16, 2012
The Reformed Reader
Michael Williams in this new book How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens has created an incredibly valuable tool for the church. I highly doubt that you will have many people wondering what this particular book is about. The title is as clear as puritan sermon titles, which often would go into entire discourses just to tell you what the sermon was about. Williams does not go to that extreme in titling his book, but he has chosen a very precise title for this work.
As one may guess the purpose of the book is to display how every book of the bible looks to Christ in its fulfillment. The book devotes a chapter to each book of the bible. The first section of each chapter is devoted to giving the overview of each book of the bible. Within this section Williams highlights major themes and key figures within the book. Also, within this section Williams offers a memory verse, which generally highlights a major theme from the book.
Next, Williams has a section titled, "The Jesus Lens." Within this section, Williams points out how the particular book points to Christ and his finished work. I found this section to be extremely helpful, especially when looking to the Old Testament, where it is sometimes difficult to see Christ. Williams also does an incredible job at showing how the book of James is a Christian book pointing to Christ. Often times when an expositor gets to the book of James, his sole focus becomes what he should do. As a result of this, James begins to sounds like a book whose focus is work's righteousness. Williams shows how the book of James is a beautiful picture of what Christ has done for us. As a result of what Christ has done for us, we now have commands which we are to follow. Our works are the fruit of one who has been changed by Christ's finished work.
The next section of the chapter is called, "Contemporary Implications." During this section Williams addresses how each particular book and its message will have an impact upon how we view our present reality. Williams seeks to give the reader a "lens" through which he can apply the message of the text in their own day. Finally, Williams concludes by offering a "Hook Questions" section. Within this section Williams offers group discussion question, for those who are using this book for group discussions.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Often time's biblical theology (i.e. the study which focuses on looking at the full narrative of scripture as a whole) can be difficult to follow for those who are not acquainted with its jargon. Just like in every field of study, words often are created for simplicity of conversation, for the people who spend a great deal of time writing within their particular field. Williams does a great job avoiding this language and providing an incredible introduction to the field. This book belongs on the self of every pastor and laity alike. If you are a pastor preparing to exposit a book of the bible, you will definitely benefit from having this book upon your shelf. I am thankful Williams has written this book, in order that even young students of the bible will be able to read all of scripture through the lens of Christ.
Recent years have seen been an increase in quality books addressing the Christ-centered nature of Scripture. Following in this tradition, Dr. Michael Williams wrote How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens. Written in the tradition of the best-selling How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth series, this book aims to help readers to read the Bible through "Jesus lens" which will help Christians to "keep our reading, understanding, teaching, and preaching properly focused on God's grand redemptive that centers on his own Son" (9). The Jesus lens "ensures that our exegetical bowling balls stay within the lane and don't go crashing over into areas where they can cause a lot of damage to the faith of believers and to our ability to use the Bible fruitfully in our service to God" (9).
How to Read the Bible through the Jesus lens is very well-written and easy to use. Each chapter contains some introductory comments on the book, a memory verse, the "Jesus lens", explores the contemporary implications, and then concludes by giving hook questions. This approach is similar to that of God's Glory In Salvation Through Judgment A Biblical Theology, by Dr. James H. Hamilton Jr. While Hamilton's book is more academic in nature, Williams' serves as a lay-level introduction to how each book of the Bible points readers to Christ.
Christians who struggle to understand the Christ-centered nature of Leviticus, 1 & 2 Samuel, Kings and Chronicles will find How to Read the Bible through the Jesus lens a helpful companion on how to understand the way in which Christ is at the heart of every book in His Word. Williams' explanation of Leviticus will help Christians struggling to read through the entire Bible as he points out that the sacrifices in Leviticus, "With their emphases on acknowledging, celebrating, deepening, and restoring our relationship with god, reveal aspects of a coming ultimate sacrifice when we view them through the lens of Christ" (22).
While the book seeks to explain the Scriptures and does so faithfully, its greatest strength is Dr. Williams' pastoral approach. While over the years I've read many books in this genre, as I read this book I felt I was being shepherded to better understand the person and work of Christ in all of Scripture. At various points in my Christian life, like many Christians, I've struggled to read through Leviticus and other parts of the Bible, but during such times How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens will be a resource I turn to in my reading of the Word to better understand how Jesus is at its center.
How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens is a good introduction to the Christ-centered nature of Scripture. For further study one should consider checking out Hamilton's God's Glory In Salvation through Judgment or any of the work by Graeme Goldsworthy. This book would make a great gift for the new Christian, and also a great resource for the advanced Bible student to get a quick overview of the Christ-centered nature of Scripture. Whether or not we are new or mature Christians, we would all do well to read How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens and learn how Christ is at the center of redemptive history and the Word of God.
It's probably safe to say that Nahum may be the first book people don't turn to in their daily reading of the Scriptures. It's also relatively safe to say, that for many Christians looking to study a book with their small group, they probably are not going to land on Obadiah. Again, it's probably safe to say, that for many Christians, the Minor Prophets-as a whole-don't get much air time. But Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, wasn't leaving these 12 books out when he told Timothy, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV). In all reality, Paul was referring first to the books of the Old Testament.
For many Christians, the Minor Prophets, in part, and the Old Testament, as a whole, can often feel like more of a mystery than a major source of practical, daily food for the soul; or, at most, a collection of stories filled with characters whose examples are to be imitated or avoided. Is that really all there is to a majority of the Old Testament? Is it largely just a collection moral victories, moral mishaps, striking judgment, difficult genealogy, and obscure prophecy? If this is the experience you've had in reading (or trying to read) the Old Testament, and specifically, the Minor Prophets, don't lose heart! There is hope in learning how to see that these 12 small books are more than locusts, lament, and tellings of the terrifying day of the LORD. Each of these books, when properly interpreted, point in some way to the ultimate redemptive work that God has accomplished in his Son, Jesus Christ!
Dr. Michael Williams, professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, has written the latest offering in Zondervan's How to Read the Bible_ series. In Williams' How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens: A Guide to Christ-Focused Reading of Scripture the reader is introduced, in a wonderfully accessible way, to a redemptive-historical reading of the Scriptures. Simply put, Williams guides readers in the way of reading the whole Bible with the view of God's gospel work in Christ Jesus as the central thread of unity. That is, the Scriptures, the Old and New Testaments, either point forward in hope to the redemptive work of Jesus, or they look back to the cross and the effect of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ on the Christian and the world. Williams notes that the purpose of his writing is, "parallel to that of Christ for the disciples he joined up with on the road to Emmaus: "Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself" (Luke 24:27)."
As part of "The Jesus Lens Blog Tour", sponsored by Zondervan, I've decided to focus on only a section of Williams' work, as hinted at in the opening paragraphs of this postâ€”The Minor Prophets.
The Minor Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi are not minor because they are small in terms of their impact or importance. Rather, they were deemed the "minor prophets", by Augustine, to note their brevity in comparison to the "major prophets" (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, and Daniel). And though the Minor Prophets are often obscure in the minds of many readers of the Scriptures, Williams provides a helpful framework for approaching each book.
Williams divides his examination of each book into 4 sections: Background/Summary, The Jesus Lens, Contemporary Implications, and Hook Questions.
The Background/Summary section gives an overall summary of the book citing a theme and memory verse. These summaries are spoken in very plain language which will be a great aid to the person first encountering the meaning of each book, but will also act as an excellent resource for the student of any level who desires to summarize the overall message of the book in plain language.
THE JESUS LENS
This section guides the reader in the way of seeing how the work of Christ is either foresignified in the book or how the book looks back to his work of redemption. Williams defines reading through "The Jesus Lens" as "reading it the way it was intended. [The Jesus Lens] keeps our reading, understanding, teaching, and preaching properly focused on God's grand redemptive program that centers on his own Son."
How does the text apply to the believer today? After all, the Bible wasn't necessarily written to us, but rather for us. Because the Scriptures were written to specific people, in specific places, at specific times, for a specific purpose, bridging the gap to the lives of believers in the 21st century can often times be difficult. Williams, though, is able to do so with brevity and always with the gospel work of Christ in view which is needed (especially in terms of Old Testament interpretation) and helpful!
Whether you're using the book on your own, or in a group setting, these questions are designed to help the reader think deeply, intelligently, and practically about the overall point and purpose of the book in his or her daily life. Williams does a good job of keeping the questions practical, but not shallow; text-focused, but not overtly technical. This will certainly be a good tool for readers desiring to get the most out of this resource!
THE JESUS LENS IN FOCUS: JOEL
Rather than to engage all 12 of the Minor Prophets, for the purpose of this review, I thought I'd focus in on a chapter I found greatly encouraging and exemplary in terms of putting "The Jesus Lens" into practice; namely, the book of Joel.
Williams cites the theme of Joel as, "The day of the Lord is coming and brings judgment before restoration." Noting the drought and locust plague of Joel's immediate context, Williams demonstrates how these supernatural disasters were pointers to the ultimate day of the Lord when his judgment would justly fall on all those who spurned his grace. But how does all this relate to Christ?
Williams notes, "The apostle Peter quoted from Joel's prophecy on the day of Pentecost after Jesus' resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:17-21), indicating that Jesus' death on the cross was our day of the Lord, when God's judgment for our disobedience was experienced on our behalf by our sinless representative." Moreover, "Jesus experienced those dire consequences so that all who come to the Father through faith in him can be assured of life."
Noting the contemporary significance of "the day of the Lord", being that believers now live "between "days of the Lord", Williams helps believers see how the gospel work of Christ was Christ's substitutionary enduring of "the day of the Lord" on behalf of the elect. But, for those apart from Christ, "the day of the Lord" is still in the future. For believers, then, the future, consummate "day of the Lord" does not need to be looked to in fear, because believers now dwell secure in Christ, for he has endured the wrath of that day in their place.
All in all, Williams gloriously focuses on Christ throughout his writing, ending his chapter on Joel noting that, "Jesus offers us his own righteousness to replace our blameworthiness, unshakeable joy to replace our circumstantially determined happiness, and justifiable confidence in him to replace our justifiable doubt in ourselves."
Paul noted in his introduction to the Romans that the gospel was something that God "promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son" (Romans 1:2-3). In reading How to Read the Bible Through the Jesus Lens, you won't miss the gospel in the Minor Prophets. Williams provides readers of all levels with fresh insight and helpful tools that they may begin to see the gospel of Christ in all the Scriptures. I heartily recommend it!
*As a part of the Jesus Lens Blog Tour, the publisher, at no charge, for the purpose of review, provided a copy of this book. I was under no obligation to write a favorable review.
In Luke 24, after Jesus talked with the two unnamed disciples on the road to Emmaus, He began to teach these disciples the scriptures starting with Moses through the Prophets concerning Himself. Jesus told the religious figures of His day, in John 5, the scriptures testify about Him. The Bible is not a collection of stories. The Bible is all about one story with one topic, Jesus Christ.
In How To Read The Bible Through The Jesus Lens, Michael Williams takes each books of the Bible and shows how that book has Christ in it. Each chapter begins with a summary of the book(s) that chapter is discussing along the theme of the book and a memory verse from that book. Then Williams brings to light how this book reveals Christ along with the contemporary implications along with some hook questions to get the reader thinking about Christ in that book.
One book of the Bible I was highly impressed with how Williams handled was Leviticus. Lets face it, not that many Christians want to read Leviticus due the mentioning of animal sacrifice and blood. Yet the Jewish sacrificial points people to Jesus because he fulfilled it through His perfect life and brutal death on the Cross. Williams said, "Christ is our holiness. He is our spotless offering. He is our blameless priest."
This is a perfect book for those starting to read the Bible and those who teach through books of the Bible. I am so thankful there is now a book that addresses Christ in all of scripture.
Here's a volume providing an overview of each book of the Bible with the special emphasis on how that book presents Jesus Christ to us. Quite a catchy emphasis, wouldn't you agree? If you agree that the Person of Jesus Christ with His great mission of redemption is the key of the entire Bible as I do, then this is a worthwhile subject to pursue. Perhaps some books of the Bible reach for a more generalized subject matter and required some stretching on Mr. Williams part to give us the view through the Jesus lens, but the book has real value.
The publisher (Zondervan) asked that I focus on one segment of the Biblical corpus in this review, and I chose the Gospels since that has been a special point of emphasis in my studies for 4 or 5 years now. I thought his explanation of Mark and Luke were superior to those for Matthew and John. I might not personally agree with his ultimate opinion of each Gospel's main theme, but his are worthy of consideration. Books of the Bible, and particularly the Gospels, have such depth that there will never be overwhelming consensus. What we readers need are those key and unique features of the book that will help us wrestle with our own conclusions about the book's theme. Things like Matthew focusing on 5 key sermons, or Mark being geared toward Roman citizens, or Luke being fascinated with the problem of sin, or John highlighting the need to believe. These helpful discussions you will find in this book.
This book covers each book of the bible in around 4 pages. In every case there is a discussion of the theme and some specific "Jesus Lens" comments. These are quite good and are followed by "contemporary implications" and "Hook Questions" that are not quite as valuable. How would you pick the main contemporary implications of an entire book? I fear that would only give us the chance to say anything and yet nothing.
Still, this book is helpful. Don't let the length fool you. It helps with perspective to look at some things from the big-picture viewpoint rather than just long, detailed, scholarly tomes.
Currently, a trend exists in many places to say that the redemptive aspect of every passage is what must be preached or we are just engaging in "moralistic preaching." This is, of course, overdone as such an approach might make us miss what the Lord is actually saying in a passage. I can agree, however, that I should never let Jesus Christ get too far from my thinking in expounding a passage of Scripture or in personally studying it. It is in this vein that this book succeeds.
In my library there is a place for books that help me get the big picture of a Bible book that I am beginning to study, and this volume will take its place there as one that I will always consult. What better recommendation could I possibly give it?