To do this Bible Class that has consumed the past few months of my life (and this blog–I swear I’ll stop talking about it soon), I had to read a lot of stuff, including these (as well as their New testament counterparts). I checked out stuff from the Philadelphia library, and watched a bunch of lectures from iTunesU (especially these). I looked through commentaries and websites and articles and handbooks and sermons.
In other words, I at least glanced over a lot.
But there was one resource that I found more helpful, clear, and amazing than any other Bible resource I’ve ever found. No exaggeration. No hyperbole. I’m serious.
It’s a pair of textbooks (one on the Old Testament, one on the New, one combined with both) written by a theologian I had never heard of before. his name is John Drane (here’s his painfully poor-designed website as well). Yes, textbooks. And I read most of the Old Testament one and all of the New Testament one.
What makes them so great?
It’s been hard for me to put this into words these past few weeks as I’ve tried to explain it to others. First, they are clear. It’s written in a super-accesible and breezy, conversational style. He writes like a real person having a chat with you over coffee.
Second, it’s comprehensive. As I read article after scholarly article on different nuanced, niche, and potentially seemingly-obscure issues (like what was the precise Johanine community crisis leading to the writing of 1,2, and 3 John?), Drane consistently touched on these issues, explained them well, explained the different arguments for different views, gave his opinion, and even gave the reader the proper resources to think through these things well. He covers nearly every issue surrounding the scholarship of the Bible in a way that anyone can understand.
Third, it’s faithful. He consistently writes of spirituality, not hiding the fact that he’s writing from a consciously Christian perspective, and is ruthlessly biblical. Certain parts of the biblical pictures of the church and spirituality that most other traditions tend to downplay he gives ample time. He talks about what the Bible talks about to the degree the Bible talks about it. He doesn’t seem to give more or less preference to the treatment of certain ideas, books, or perspectives based on any prior commitment to denomination or tradition.
Fourth, this ruthless biblical rooting leads him to a place to which (I believe) all ruthless biblical rooting leads: right in the middle of the liberal/conservative divide. He masterfully holds a commitment to the Scriptures and their authority, all while looking at them as they truly are and not in some defensive way to try and make it fit some prior-held belief about how the Bible should be. He engages the real issues and goes where the evidence takes him, all while firmly planting himself within Biblical and Christian Orthodoxy.
Lastly, his “special articles” that he thrown out amidst the book are amazing gems of wisdom and scholarly thinking. Do you ever read something and think to yourself, “yeah, but what about _______?” or, “man, I wish this guy would talk about ____?” Well, Drane does! He seems to know all the questions and concerns real people bring to the Bible, and he pastorally and comprehensively helps them. Really, I am walking away from these books feeling so much more equipped in approaching both the Bible and this world.
In short, these books are everything–and more–that I could ever possibly have dreamed my class this summer to be.
But, there’s some bad news.
Unfortunately, just like other textbooks, these are expensive. I had the benefit of electronic copies bundled into my copy of Logos Bible Software, on which an old friend graciously helped get me a significant discount (thanks again, Ryan). I was able to spit these books out onto my Kindle and enjoy them there.
But for most people, they’re left with Amazon, and it’s not encouraging. Here’s the breakdown for the third, most recent edition:
- Introducing the Old Testament: $45
- Introducing the New Testament: $45
- Introducing the Bible (a combined edition of both): $65
Personally, I was reading the second edition, both of which currently sell for less than $40, and they were still great (here’s the OT, here’s the NT). But, I am thinking about picking up the new ones just to have them.
I know they’re pricy, but honestly: if you care about knowing the Bible, its content, and its background better, I would tell you this is the singular resource you need to have. Honestly. If you only buy one “Bible” book this year, let it be this. You won’t regret it.
If you have any questions on this, are able to find it cheaper, or if you’re in Philly and just want to borrow my copy, just let me know.