Monday, July 19, 2010

Book Review: Bible Delight

The longest chapter in the Bible has always been slightly mysterious for me. Psalm 119, with its 176 verses arranged in 22 sections of 8 verses each beginning with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, was gold nugget territory. Pick a random well-known verse and use it, but never seeing any structure in the whole thing, or understanding the big picture of Psalm 119. I can't say that any more, as a result of reading Bible Delight by Christopher Ash.

I know it's remarkable to say it given that we're barely halfway through the year, but I think I've read my best book of 2010. Bible Delight is exceptional exegesis, coupled with great application and wonderful wee illustrations peppered with humour from Ash. Early on, he says that the preacher's task is didactic (teaching the meaning), affectional (tuning in to the feelings) and volitional (moving the will to join in). Ash certainly achieves his goal in a book that will be returned to time and again.

Arranged in the twenty-two chapters, one for each section, the book could usefully be the basis for a month of daily readings and devotions, using Sunday as a catch-up or to review the week's readings and discussion questions. I didn't use it that way, preferring instead to continue on and read it, but at some point I'll use it at a slower pace.

The book has the appropriately high view of Scripture needed, with Ash pointing out the eight 'word' words used throughout the Psalm, each of which is helpfully explained, and together which are facets of the Covenant, 'two-directional words whose first direction is grace.' But the book isn't just produced to increase our Bible knowledge. Rather, like the Psalm being studied, 'This Psalm is about formation more than it is about information. It is about the habits that change the heart.'

Ash is also incredibly realistic and open about the struggles of the normal Christian life. No prosperity gospel here, but rather in his own words, 'the Adversity Gospel' with enemies surrounding. Yet the affliction is identified as 'God's good gift to his people', because it brings us to God and his word. Not that we worry about those enemies - there is an assymetrical attentiveness: while my enemies wait for me, I wait upon God. He is also frank about the dangers for 'professional' Christians like pastors of turning from speaking to God in the second person to speaking of God in the third person exclusively.

Bible Delight: Heartbeat of the Word of God: Psalm 119 for the Bible teacher and Bible hearer (what a long title!) is the first completed volume of a new series of books being produced by the Proclamation Trust on the point and purpose of preaching. If the rest of the series continue in the vein that Christoper Ash has begun with this volume, then it will be a mighty series.

I would heartily recommend Bible Delight to any Christian, new or old, because it will be profitable to explore just what the Bible is; how Christian obedience and discipleship works; what the normal Christian life is like; how to understand Scripture; how to face difficulties and opposition; and how to glory in God and his word. A brilliant book, which will drive us back to The Book, which is surely the purpose of all preaching and all Christian writing.

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