Book Review: The Story by Zondervan, publisher

The Story published by Zondervan is an excellent condensed version of God’s redemptive story.  In 31 chapters, the highlights of the Bible are threaded together so that the reader might gain insight into the high points of the historical sequence of events of Genesis through Revelation.  It is based on the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible. It has connecting comments weaving the biblical narrative together, interspersed with portions of wisdom, literature, poetry and a portion of the epistles in the New Testament section.  What a joy to read through the volume to remember where each of the portions are found in Scripture.

The NIV is written at an eighth grade level, so it is designed to be more readable for a larger portion of the population.  While, the NIV is a more readable translation, it is not the best translation.  It often leaves out important words and also imposes a theological bias on the text of Scripture that is not neutral.  So, by using an eighth grade reading level version and by taking highlights, it contextually puts the volume at a much lower reading and understanding level.  That is not bad, but it should be recognized.  We have a habit of reducing material produced to lower and lower levels of understanding, rather than stirring people up to higher levels of thinking and loving Jesus Christ.

The 31 chapters are a great way to condense the number of sections of the biblical story.  Just like Proverbs, which has 31 chapters, a person could read the chapter related to the day of the month and have something to read through several times in a year.  If a day is missed, it would likely be picked up the next month, if a person is doing regular devotional reading. Several chapters are devoted to separate books of the Bible like Ruth and Esther and other chapters are primarily focused on other books like Nehemiah with portions of other books of the Bible supplementing the narrative.  It weaves a good explanation of the story at that point. Each of the chapters has a list of questions that help the reader reflect and remember what he has read (pp. 473-487).

I greatly appreciate the thoughtfulness, discernment and wisdom invested into “The Story.”  It is obvious that many people will be encouraged and built up by the work.  Overviews are very helpful and should be available to people for a quick read of Scripture.  The volume can easily be read in a week or two, whereas reading the Bible takes 90 hours.1

The reason for “The Story” is to help people get the big picture.  It provides a framework, a skeleton, or should we say a structural outline for the sequence of events of God’s story. The authors have wisely chosen major impactful portions of Scripture to get a better grasp of the flow of history.  This would be a great tool for children and those who are spiritual children. However, let us not remain children. Do not read any further in this book review if you do not want to read about any drawbacks.

There are many drawbacks of “The Story.” First, I found myself grinding my teeth at important portions of Scripture rejected. The Tower of Babel, The cycles of the Judges, the failure of Judah from Jeremiah’s perspective (and yes Jeremiah is used, but the degeneracy of Israel is not described in the detail God uses) and the Tribulation in Revelation.  I realize in order to produce a condensed version or “Readers Digest” version, many portions must be removed. There should at least be a cautionary warning that much of Scripture has been removed.

Secondly, I also struggled with only highlights from the chapters mentioned (p. 495-496). The portions cited for each chapter are tied to the chapters in the Bible, but not the verses.  It comes across as though those chapters are included in full.  In many cases only a few verses from a chapter are included. It is as though what is included is sufficient and the portions left out are not important. It almost seems like a warning from Revelation 22:18-19 is necessary about adding to or leaving out God’s Word.

Thirdly, if spiritual leaders are excited about this, then are they excited about the entire Bible?  If they are not excited about the entirety of God’s Word, then do we convey to others that it is okay to pick and choose what Scripture a person will want to read and study? Are the portions left out less important than what is included? Are spiritual leaders excited about all portions of Scripture because “The Word of God is living and powerful!” (Heb. 4:12) If spiritual leadership is not excited about every portion of the Bible, then people will eventually not be excited about this condensed story.  There is likely excitement now, because it is “interesting,” “only the highlights,” or “so fresh, because it weaves the story through.”

Fourthly, it seems like it is an accommodation to the grumblings of people who get frustrated by the “overwhelming” nature of the Bible. God wrote the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16). God’s Spirit guides people into it (John 16:13) and He carried men along to write it (2 Pet. 1:21).  I want to cause people to learn as a teacher, but I would never want to take away from Scripture without giving a significant caution or warning of what I have done. “The Story” has accommodated too far.

With those cautions and warnings, I would recommend the book (but only with clearly stated warnings). Leadership needs to use tools to get God’s Word into the heart of people and this is a good tool, but do not let people remain at the spiritual child level.

1The ninety hour figure is for an average to slow reader. If a person keeps track of reading the Bible, he will find out that he can read the entire Bible in 90 hours.  That would make it possible to read through the entire Bible four times a year if a person read one hour per day.  That also means that a person would only have to read for 15 minutes per day and he would be able to read through the entire Bible in one year.  Can you spare 15 minutes per day to read the most important Word from God?

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