Ryken’s Bible Handbook
Tyndale House Publishers Inc.
Every once and a while a gem like this comes along. Pick one up for a loved one.
Someone did me a huge favor. As an early Christmas gift, a couple in our Church (thank you Howard and Sheila!) got me the new Ryken’s Bible Handbook. And I would love to see this wonderful tool in the hands of tons of folks.
As a Pastor, one thing I deeply desire to see is people really “reading” their Bibles. This year in fact, we have printed up a one year reading plan to get us all reading the Word through together. Now, if I could just get every household in the Church to buy a copy the RBH to go along with it, I would be thrilled beyond words.
For years, the standard in these types of Bible reading aids has been Halley’s. A trusted friend and companion to many of us. But Ryken’s takes the Halley’s premise and makes it a far more user-friendly and more likely to be a real Bible “companion”. It is less technical, but moves far past its more statistically oriented brethren. Ryken’s Bible Handbook is aimed at maximizing the Bible reader’s success by supplying the key information for each book quickly, and then going beyond to include helps that I’ve not seen packaged this way before, anywhere else.
Let me highlight their treatment of Ecclesiastes as a great example of making a somewhat daunting part of Scripture, accessible and useful.
As is the case for each book of the Bible, they begin with a “Fact Sheet”. First, the book of the Bible, with a one sentence summary as a subtitle to get your thinking in gear. In this case: Ecclesiastes, Life under the Sun and above the Sun. A great way to help you memorize the key concept.
Next comes the “FORMAT”. 12 Chapters, 222 Verses; Followed by a series of short comments to give you reader’s grasp of the essentials. Some of these headings are followed by one or two quick sentences, or a short paragraph as needed. The headings run:
What Unifies the Book
Special Features (of the book)
Challenges Facing the Reader or Teacher of this Book
How to Meet the Challenges
The Most Common Misconception About This Book
This arrangement makes it clear that the trio of authors are really laboring to equip the reader to get the most out of the book, and to give the teacher a sound grasp for helping others learn it. This would be a terrific tool for group Bible studies for instance. The helps are so good, that novices could navigate their way through a cursory study with little likelihood of veering off into speculative side paths.
Next, comes a quick outline of the book, followed by another set – or maybe yet, a second layer of slightly deeper helps. Here you get a quick grasp of: The Form of the Book; The Story; Key Words and Phrases; The Structure; The Aim of the Book; Key Doctrines; Tips for Reading or Teaching the Book; and then on to the third layer – a little deeper yet: “Quick Overview”.
The Overview section again works through the outline and gives slightly more in-depth treatments of:
The Flow of the Book
The Main Themes
Contribution of the Book to the Bible’s Story of Salvation in Christ
Applying the Book
This last section also includes things like a one page bulleted scan of “Wisdom Literature” and “Perspectives”, which is a series of insightful quotes from various individuals on the Book. For Ecclesiastes, that includes Herman Melville, Thomas Wolfe, Martin Luther, Jacques Ellul and G. S. Hendry.
Other handy and useful charts are interspersed throughout. A mini atlas of 19 exceedingly clear and updated maps appears at the end. There is an index of the 30 topical articles and even a one year Bible reading plan included.
I have but one negative comment, and that has to do more with taste than anything else. I found the graphic layout a tad busy and hence slightly confusing. Too much for me. I’m a straight forward print man. But that is hardly a reason not to recommend an unusually rich and useful book for everyone who want to read their Bible and get as much out of it quickly, with reliable helps that are truly practical. In fact, I’m getting this for my wife for Christmas, and intend to borrow it regularly.
Churches should have this on hand to give to every Sunday School student and new believer.
If you know a new believer, I would say this is a MUST buy to keep them reading the Word with interest and profit. Maybe you’ve been a Christian a long time, but there are parts of the Bible you just fear to plunge into – please do yourself a favor and pick this up. If you’re afraid to try scaling Isaiah, read the short, mere 15 pages they’ve compiled on it first, and then dive in. You’ll be in safe waters. If the thought of tackling the minor prophets gives you the heebie-jeebies – get Ryken’s. You will fear no book in the Bible any longer.
One last comment. A Christmas wish. I would REALLY love to see this exact set of helps incorporated into a study Bible – preferably the ESV. It would make an extraordinary package. Are you listening Crossway?