Saturday, August 20, 2011

Come Get Your Kicks, Biblical Style (a book review by an orthodox rebel)

Book: Route 66: A Crash Course in Navigating Life with the Bible, by Krish Kandiah. Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2011. 192 pgs. (including study guides and bibliographies)

Introduction: The Bible is not meant to be an obfuscating code book or a static artifact. It is the living word of God (Heb. 4:12) whereby God has spoken to us (Heb. 1:1-2) so that we may have direction as His children (II Tim. 3:16). Without its continued speaking of the truth into our lives, our spiritual growth would stunt and our walk with God would stagnate. Thus, it is a necessity. Unfortunately, it is also a difficulty. The Bible is a big collection of multiple books written in multiple different genres within multiple different cultural and historical settings that no longer exist today. Understanding its seemingly archaic notions and then effectively applying them to 21st century life feels daunting to say the least. In light of such an issue, author Krish Kandiah hopes to make it less daunting. In Route 66, he seeks to connect the Bible back to our lives through "a journey to discover how the 66 books of the Bible help us to know God and how to live for him" (7). As generic as that sounds, Kandiah's approach proves to be surprising.

Summary: Route 66 divides itself up into an 8-week devotional format by dividing up the Bible into its eight main genres: narrative literature, law books, psalms, wisdom literature, the prophets (major and minor), the gospels, the epistles, and apocalypse. Each genre is given one week of five days, and each day is set up with its own devotional entry and subsequent application questions. In addition, each week ends with group application questions, which make Route 66 useful for Sunday school sessions or Bible study groups as well as individual devotions. Each daily entry looks to apply particular Bible truths to daily life by a combination of the following: (a) cultural/historical tidbits about the specific genre or book being studied, (b) devotionally-minded tie-ins, and (c) anecdotal tales to flesh-out a particular application. Overall, the book's approach is simple, straightforward, consistent, and trying to be as practical as possible.

Review: "Practical" is the magic word for Kandiah. In laying out the whole point of the book in the introduction, he states quite simply that he wanted to give Christians a tool that would help them enjoy "the breadth and depth of the Bible" as well as be "packed full of practical help" (7). The "practical help" aspect is really the heartbeat of the whole book. Kandiah obviously didn't want another book of abstract theological musings that focuses too much on the "what" but not the "how". As he puts it, he wants Route 66 to be about "traveling by the [Bible]" rather than "traveling with" it (9), a notion that he unpacks into three principles (9-10): (a) understanding life through the Bible (rather than just understanding the Bible itself), (b) translating the Bible "practically into the nitty-gritty of everyday life," and (c) seeing our time with the Bible not as an obligation to duty, but rather as an invitation into the presence of God.

That last point sounds more like the abstract theologizing that Kandiah is trying to avoid, but it is the true center and value of the whole book, as expressed in what is easily its money quote: "The Bible is not a theological textbook, a small book of calm, a list of rules and regulations, a get-out-of-hell-free card or a fast-paced page-turner ideally adaptable for the big screen. The Bible is God's voice in our hands--he chose to speak to us in a book that is diverse in style, broad in context, grounded in history, deep in theology, true to life and perfect for growing faith whoever and wherever we are" (14). For Kandiah, the daily relevancy of the Bible is not an abstraction, and everyday in the 8-week study is meant to show that it will always matter, regardless of our circumstances. In using the above-mentioned combination of friendly anecdote and devotional musing, he makes good (if shallow) strides in that direction.

Recommendation: The fact that Route 66 doesn't dabble in much "deep theology" does make it a  practically-minded book, but it also makes it a less than meaty devotional fare. That being said, it is, as advertised, a hands-on approach to the Bible and a good (if simple) primer to the different genres and historical/cultural nuances that make the biblical voice unique. The application questions (both group and individual) are definitely the most valuable part of the book, forcing you to engage a passage and its ideas in a far more direct way. In the end, if you're looking for a decent devotional journey, then Mr. Kandiah has a route for you.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2011

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