This book seeks to present a “theological introduction to the Bible.” Following an introduction, chapters deal with biblical themes regarding Lost Eden, Abraham, Moses, David, Prophets and Psalms, Mathew, John, Romans, Hebrews, Revelation. The conclusion in large part considers Acts. However, what distinguishes this book is twofold: first, the treatment is structured around the notions of ‘Holy Land’ and ‘Holy People’; second, the authors’ reading of scripture flows from their Catholic faith.
To the first, while there may be a structural advantage in trying to ‘unify’ the formal anthology that is the Old Testament and the New Testament, it frankly seems forced and contrived. Thus it is suggested that Qohelet reflects ‘holy people’ while the Song of Songs reflects ‘holy land’. The Synoptics are placed in the category of ‘holy people’, while John falls under the rubric of ‘holy land’.
The second characteristic of the book, its Catholic-ness (rather than its catholicity) is central to the text. The book is certainly Catholic in its reference to Church Fathers, the writings of Pope John Paul II and the Catechism of the Catholic Church among other sources. Indeed a positive aspect of the book is its extensive and up to date bibliographical references in its footnotes. These references tend to reinforce and expand on the viewpoint of the book.
But it becomes problematic when a notion of Catholic is monopolized, and by offering no other Catholic perspectives yields the implication that the book’s view is the Catholic view. This can be illustrated in a number of ways. The word ‘Church’, when defined, is done so only as the Mystical Body of Christ. The book tends towards a Roman ecclesiomonism in the collapse of the notions of Christ, Kingdom and Church. It seems assumed that Church here is a Roman Catholic version given the book’s treatment of the sacramental question in John, the role of Peter, the hierarchical dimension of church, among other things.
This perspective is enforced by a preference for a set philosophical/theological outlook and language (e.g. original justice, indelible character, ontological order, divine wisdom always preceding divine love, an assumption of ex nihilo in reference to Genesis, the serpent in Genesis understood as the devil, mortal sin, etc). There is little wrong with this language per se but it seems at the least anachronistic in the context of an introduction to the Bible.
Speaking of language, the book occasionally slips into inclusive language. One is not speaking here of more controversial issues of Biblical translations and the naming of God but rather a sustained preference for man/mankind. Of course the impasse here is that either one gets the issue of inclusiveness or not!
The book offers an interesting perspective on violence, suffering and holiness. The death and violence portrayed in the OT is blandly stated (e.g. the plagues, three thousand killed when Moses descends the mountain, Jephthaah’s sacrifice of his daughter, etc.) as if acceptable as an expression of divine punishment. Not withstanding a footnote (p.86. ftn. 5), the book’s treatment here seems analogous to the child’s indifference and inurence to the violence of its video games much to the chagrin of the parent.
Yet in other contexts a non-violence theology is espoused. Thus it is noted that “creation proceeds not from violence but from divine wisdom” (p.27). This suggests a dig at the Big Bang theory which has just previously been mentioned. In a similar vein, one reads “Although the monkey and the human are both animals, the human being images God in a profoundly deeper way” (pp.27-28). While the avoidance of the term man/mankind is laudable, one wonders about the aptness, in this context, of comparing a monkey with a human. It sounds like a code reference to the evolution/creationist debate. Such a remark may offer solace to creationism, a view hardly amenable to Catholic theology.
Another catechetical opportunity is lost when treating the book of Revelation. No guidance is given on competing interpretations of the book either as a blueprint for the End or a theology of suffering and perseverance in the light of the contemporary circumstances of its authorship.
But to return to the issue of (non-) violence. While the book seems habituated to the violence in the OT, it throws out comments (like the one on creation) that oppose violence. This may be a salvo at Liberation Theology which is also implicitly targeted when the Exodus paradigm is treated under the heading “The Slavery of Idolatry”.
More significantly the non-violence approach is evidenced in the obedience of Christ leading to the Cross. This is portrayed in somewhat Anselmian manner: the obedience of Christ that “was due” his Father (p.204), the death of humanity [in Christ] that was “owed” (p.222). That Jesus freely embraced his suffering in obedience to God and that he offered no counter-violence is a theme developed with certain applications. It is suggested that many sins arise from the “fear of suffering that obedience to God’s commands requires” (p.216). Generically these sins are that of apostasy. Modern forms of apostasy are found in those “who flout the Church’s teaching on sex and marriage because of the suffering involved in infertility, or in marital chastity, or in not marrying again after divorce…The way of God involves suffering and precariousness, but it simultaneously conquers suffering into a means to glory” (ibid). Obedience to Church is also noted, that while the corporal works of mercy, holy purity and detachment form the three legs of a tripod, “the ground upon which the [tripod] stands is obedience to the Church, founded upon the apostles and their successors” (p.228).
In summary, while the book is often good when it treats certain issues in individual biblical books (e.g. the Old Testament context of Mathew, a rejection of a works-righteousness attributed to Judaism in the context of Romans), the overarching approach will be the ultimate appeal or otherwise of this book