The Bible: A Story That Makes Sense of Life by Andrew Ollerton
Engaging, intellectually rigorous book which communicates the whole arc of the biblical narrative and shows how its core themes engage with the human condition
The Bible: A Story That Makes Sense of Life
By Andrew Ollerton
Hodder and Stoughton
Reviewed by Ernest Lucas
A mark of post-modernism is said to be an aversion to metanarratives, over-arching stories, because they are considered to be ‘oppressive.’ Many people, however, feel the need for ‘a story to live by,’ something that makes sense of their life. Perhaps that is one reason for the growth of interest in family histories in recent decades. In a culture in which individualism, identity politics, and other forms of social fragmentation are leading to increasing disunity, there is need for some overarching human story that makes sense of life and can bring people together. One function of the Bible is to provide a grand narrative that can do just that. The aim of this book is to communicate the whole arc of the biblical narrative and to show how its core themes engage with the human condition.
Dr Andrew Ollerton is a Methodist Minister who is the Bible Communication & Engagement Consultant with Bible Society. As the writer and presenter of The Bible Course he has shown his ability to communicate complex theological ideas in a relevant and engaging way. He says that The Bible: A Story that Makes Sense of Life ‘isn’t primarily about whether the Bible is fact or fiction. It’s about whether it resonates, whether it makes sense at the deepest level. Can it scratch our contemporary itches and answer real life questions?’ (p. 2).
He divides the arc of the biblical narrative into six parts: Origins, Exodus, Exile, Messiah, Spirit, and Hope. He connects these with six aspects of the human condition: the human desire for meaning, quest for freedom, cry for peace, need for love, thirst for community and longing for home. Each section contains seven mini-chapters which take 5-10 minutes to read and end with a recommended Bible passage and ‘reflect’ exercise. At the end of each section there are a number of ‘review’ questions. This structure means that the book can be used both as a basis for personal reading and reflection and also as a basis for group discussion.
It is written in an engaging style, using non-technical, language, yet it is intellectually rigorous and reflects a good depth of scholarship. Helpful connections are made between biblical teachings and modern western culture by references ranging from the results of modern psychological and sociological studies, to the expression of the human condition in popular films, plays, books, songs, and TV shows.
This is a great book to give to anyone seeking to make sense out of life. Given the evidence that the Bible Society has presented of how biblically illiterate many church-goers are today, it is also a book that many Christians would benefit from reading. It would give them the over-arching narrative of the Bible and encourage and help them to dig more deeply into it. It also provides a model of effective communication of biblical teaching in our culture which would be of benefit to preachers, teachers and other church leaders.
The Revd Dr Ernest C. Lucas is Vice-Principal Emeritus, Bristol Baptist College and an Associate Research Fellow, Spurgeon’s College