Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Pocket Guide to the Bible

Jason Boyett, my junior high classmate and acclaimed author, has just published the Pocket Guide to the Bible (A Little Book about the Big Book). Knowing that the readers of mattandsally.com are a god-fearing and book-buying bunch, he gave us a copy to review. Little did he know that I would likely thrash the book out of envy of his status as published author.

Imagine my surprise (and gall) to have actually enjoyed the Pocket Guide despite my predisposition against it.

The Pocket Guide is a survey of the protestant Christian scriptures, extremely condensed, streamlined, and humorized for quick consumption. Boyett also includes a glossary of bible terms and notable bible people, as well as a brief but enlightening discussion of how these particular scriptures were determined canonical, translated, and distributed.

Jason writes with a breezy sarcasm that would seem at home in a Daily Show segment. In fact, the tone of the Pocket Guide is not dissimilar to Jon Stewart's America: a Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction. Jason scatters pop culture references and drops into pop dialect throughout the book. I was tempted to criticize the book for this - saying that it won't age well, or that it reminds me of ESPN's Stuart Scott (only briefly, thank God) - but I think those criticisms are misplaced. The Pocket Guide seems to have the same goals as the Daily Show: to amuse the reader and to encourage deeper study, both of which it does very well.

When you read the Pocket Guide, you will laugh. If you want joke spoilers, feel free to browse Jason's Amazon reviews for a list of some notable one-liners. Between and during laughs, you will also read passages that will make you want to crack open the actual bible and see what's there. I found myself asking, "that's in the bible?" several times. For example, I had no idea that books of canonical scripture made explicit reference to books that had been judged non-canonical. That strikes me as an interesting authority issue that deserves further study.

Jason's irreverent tone, and a few of his stances, are likely to displease various brands of Christians, but overall, the Pocket Guide seems to try pretty hard not to draw denominational conclusions. I especially enjoyed the description of the various translations of the bible as well as the process by which scriptures made the cut to become canon. Because those issues implicate a lot of denominational issues, I propose that Jason begin work immediately on The Pocket Guide to the Reformation (a Little Book about a Big Schism).

Our recommendation: Read it.

Prior book reviews.

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