Book Review: Adam Hamilton's Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today
Review by Polly Guequierre & Aaron Moberly
Adam Hamilton is a very charismatic and engaging author. He writes in first person, and is very conversational with his reader. Every chapter was a joy to read, the kind of book that is hard to put down. He included chapters like “The Old Testament in 15 Minutes” and “The New Testament in 15 Minutes.” In those chapters he was clear and concise, and to the point.
In his introduction, his first sentence is, “I love the Bible.” He seems to have an intimate relationship with scripture, and it shows. Though he has read and studied it entirely many times, he admits he still wrestles with and questions parts. (Many of us can relate!)
He includes anecdotes and personal stories to exemplify many of his points. He is very persuasive, wise, and knowledgeable about how he has come to perceive scripture. I can’t recommend this book more highly! (I encouraged my son-in-law to read it. See his thoughts below.)
I was challenged by my mother-in-law, a devout Presbyterian who likely is uncomfortable with being called “devout” but very proud of being called Presbyterian (the thinking person’s church), to read the book “Making Sense of the Bible” by author Adam Hamilton. As a previous Evangelical, who now considers himself agnostic at best, I found this book to be a breath of fresh air.
Adam Hamilton is a United Methodist pastor who has taken it upon himself, along with several others like Brian McLaren and John Shelby Spong, to try to re-define what biblical scripture means for us today, along with what it does not mean. He does this in a way that is un-patronizing to individuals with more “conservative” backgrounds, while providing explanations for why he takes a more “liberal” view of scripture, which, in fact, he considers to be a “high view” of scripture, because it takes seriously the history, culture, and perspective of the scripture writers. Specifically, the recognition that scripture was written by people, although divinely “inspired” in some mysterious way, leaves open many opportunities not only for Christians to disagree on how to interpret the scriptures, but also the recognition that they may not get it right all the time.
Two pieces of this book provided a proverbial punch in the gut. First, Hamilton discusses how some readers of the Bible think that scripture is a “book of promises” from God, leaving open the opportunity with life experience for scripture to end up turning into a “book of broken promises.” As someone who, like many others, experienced a personal loss that transformed into a time of serious spiritual darkness in the death of a close family member, this statement struck home. However, a more reality-based perspective of scripture as the experience of ancient individuals interpreting their own personal experience of God, suggests my previous simplistic view of God as the healer – if we just believe or pray enough – to be faulty. I’m not convinced I was wrong to believe the promises that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well,” but perhaps
I was naïve in accepting a scriptural perspective that was not as grounded as I thought as a black-and-white thinking college student.
The second gut-puncher was that Hamilton suggested that the “inspiration” of scripture writers was likely similar to the inspiration experienced by current-day believers. That is, the idea that believers experience inspiration from God through the Holy Spirit through reading, reason, the input of other people, and through the “still small voice” of God, which requires both interpretation and a degree of humility and self-doubt. Unlike believers who think the Bible was somehow clearly divinely inspired and dictated to its writers, Hamilton brings the experience to current-day Christians, who constantly try to
figure out what God wants them to believe and how He wants them to live. This is no easy task. If the God of scripture is the same God that works today, it is comforting to know that He relies on faulty vessels to deliver His message, one that is imperfectly conveyed.
Although these two gut-punches led me to reconsider my agnosticism, the perspective of Hamilton also makes me uncertain that I should immediately turn my back on agnosticism and reembrace Communion. First, as a seeker, it has been several years since I have truly experienced what I would consider the “still small voice” of God, despite extensive reading and praying, with as much sincerity as I can conjure. Second, if scriptural writings are ultimately demoted to the level of the “inspired” perspective of individual writers, at what point do they lose their value simply as the sum of individuals’ ideas within their own upbringing, culture, and perhaps their own personal mystical experience? Why should I care and trust if Paul experienced a transformative spiritual experience on the road to Damascus, a man who never actually met Jesus in the flesh? Joseph Smith claimed to have received the golden plates, but most of us don’t take that seriously.
In summary, Adam Hamilton presents a beautiful perspective on why the Bible might still be reasonable to believe today, as long as one puts aside a literalistic and black-and-white perspective of both the history and application of scripture. He makes me want to believe again. But he leaves uncertain “why” I should believe. Maybe that’s coming in his next book.