Tim Chester. Bible Matters: Making Sense of Scripture. IVP Books, 2017. See here to purchase the book.
Tim Chester pastors Grace Church in Boroughville, North Yorkshire and teaches at Acts 29 Oak Hill Academy. This book presents to Christians reasons that they should read the Bible, as well as offers occasional guidance on how to read it in a spiritually-constructive manner.
Here are some thoughts about the book:
A. Chester believes in the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Bible. That, for him, appears to be the only way for the Bible to be reliable and authoritative. He seems open, though, to the possibility that Genesis 1 is not to be interpreted literally. And, like a number of evangelicals, he does not believe in the divine dictation of all of Scripture. God dictated to Moses, but “at other times the human authors wrote down their own thoughts and drew on their own existing knowledge,” yet “God so worked in them that their thoughts were God’s thoughts” (page 23). Chester refers to Luke and Paul as examples of this: Luke researched sources and Paul wrote letters, and neither was waiting for the Holy Spirit to move them. Still, in some way, as they performed their human activities, they wrote under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Does this model of inspiration work? Chester looks to the Scriptures themselves to define how Scripture is inspired. For him, Scripture demonstrates that God not only spoke the Scriptures, but that God still speaks through the Scriptures. Indeed, the Scriptures themselves seem to have a high view of how the biblical writings were inspired, stressing the divine side of the equation. This appears to be so, even if analysis of those Scriptures (i.e., looking at the ideologies and writing styles within the Bible) can call into question that view of inspiration. A question would be whether Paul and Luke believed that they were writing actual Scripture: perhaps they themselves stressed the divine side of inspiration, but they wrote their writings as humans and did not consider them Scripture, even though Paul thought that he was bringing the Word of God (the Gospel), and Luke was attempting to write an orderly narrative about Jesus.
B. There were times when Chester was rather dismissive of other perspectives. He said that people who harp on biblical contradictions usually cannot name too many of them, and they are rebellious against God, anyway. Well, in this age in the Internet, all one has to do is google “biblical contradictions” and see examples of possible contradictions! Chester was dismissive of scientific and archaeological challenges to the Bible: scientists can be flawed and biased, and archaeology interprets artifacts that do not speak. Maybe there is a valid point somewhere in there, yet should not their case be heard, rather than dismissed? Chester offers a fairly decent case that Jesus in Matthew 23:35 and Luke 11:51 believes in the Palestinian canon, which excludes the apocrypha, then he casually explains away Jude 1:14-15’s quotation of I Enoch 1:9. Chester says that Jude is not quoting Enoch as authoritative Scripture but is simply quoting a source, as Paul quotes the Stoics in Acts 17:28. That does not work, though, because Jude treats those words of Enoch as an actual prophecy.
C. Chester attempts to offer some basis for belief in Christianity. On the one hand, he employs a form of classical apologetics: he states that the apostles were eyewitnesses and would have prevented any errors about Jesus from entering the Bible. It is like the apostles were the Snopes of the ancient world. There may be something to this, yet it is too neat, perhaps too neat than what the reality was. On the other hand, Chester states that those who have the Holy Spirit are enlightened, and they will see Christ in the Scriptures. If that is the case, why are there believers who struggle to derive edification from the Bible, as he himself acknowledges?
D. That said, Chester does engage good questions. For instance, he tackles the question of how he can believe in Christianity, without having studied every alternative religion. His response is that he did not have to date every woman before he concluded that he loved the woman who became his wife.
E. Chester echoes Tim Keller in saying that, if God were real, then God would contradict us, as other beings do. This makes sense, yet it is a difficult saying to accept. Granted, our moral sense may be flawed, as we look back in history and see flaws in previous generations’ perspectives. Still, should we shut off our moral sense in evaluating if a statement in the Bible is good or bad? Does not the Bible in places appeal to people’s reason or moral sense, implying that they are, in some measure, reliable?
F. The book would have been better had it had more examples. Examples of what? Well, Chester talked about how Scripture challenges, then comforts, believers. More anecdotes about how it does so may have illustrated what Chester meant. These anecdotes would have been especially effective had Chester shown how seemingly barren passages of Scripture could edify Christians, or even how offensive passages could instruct them.
G. The book was effective in making some of the points that it did make. Chester argues that reading Scripture is about encountering God, not so much arriving at novel insights. Chester employed analogies in making this point. Chester said that he is interested in why verses say what they say and why they are present in a given biblical passage; that resonates with me, from a scholarly perspective, and Chester himself performed a close reading of biblical passages in this book, drawing interesting conclusions. Chester effectively demonstrated how Scripture itself stresses continually the power of God’s speech. Chester also includes insights from Zwingli and Puritans on how to prepare spiritually to read Scripture. Overall, Chester does paint a compelling picture of how a person of God can cherish and value Scripture.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My review is honest.