A long time ago I started The Story of God, the Story of Us, then set it aside to read school books and other things that seemed more pressing to my personal life and intellectual curiosities. With no real classes right now, it was on my agenda to get done—if for no other reason than to mark it off my incomplete books list—and now, at last, it is finished. I know I’m talking like I didn’t like the book, and that’s not true. I did like it, but… it also had its flaws.
Here’s what I loved: Sean Gladding tells the whole big story of the Bible in a way that could make sense to someone who either (1) is new to Christianity, (2) has not been exposed to much besides moral lessons, Bible heros, and bullet-pointed doctrinal statements, or (3) is the average pretty-darn-committed-and-decently-educated evangelical who still probably is underexposed to certain periods of history (ex: prophets, exile, etc.) or certain elements of the big story which Gladding highlights (as N. T. Wright says, “more on this anon”). He has two primary scenes: an old man retelling the story of his people to the Jews in exile and a Jewish Christian woman explaining the story of Jesus in a house church setting. While not a literary masterpiece, the book is well-written enough, and the invitation for readers to imagine a realistic dialogue about the Scriptures and their contents from the perspectives of these characters is exciting and challenging.
Here’s what could have been improved:
- Better coverage of the intertestamental period
- Clarification about pseudepigrapha (that whether or not people at the time acknowledged something was pseudepigraphal, most scholars today think it is—he should put this in a footnote, rather than the main text, of course)
- Not working with texts that didn’t exist during the time of the dialog (he admits to doing this with John)
More than anything however, I wish that the book had more general theological clarity, by which I mean, making it clear what is the author’s theology vs. a reasonable portrayal of the probable theology of a character. I do not feel I have the expertise in the Second Temple Period to tell you precisely how everyone at the time was thinking about various things, but I don’t think it was as clear-cut as the book makes it out to be, nor as perfectly aligned with moderate evangelicalism as the author seems to imply. (Perhaps after going back to re-read my texts from my Jodi Magness class five years ago, I will have more to say on this.)
However, there were also many other great things about the book, which still, probably, redeem this book for a general audience. It is very affirming of women in ministry, it constantly reiterates God’s concern for the poor and marginalized, it emphasizes the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultural contexts more than most, it weaves together a number of theological points and biblical texts into a cohesive story… it even avoids terrible interpretations of Revelation! All in all, it is a great effort and is a good book to serve as an intro to thinking about the Bible more deeply. It is not, however, written by a biblical scholar. While all fiction is fiction, I would still feel more comfortable recommending The Lost Letters of Pergamum to someone wishing to get a peek at the world of the NT church, and I wish to goodness the book didn’t include Rob Bell as a “source.” I suppose I feel Gladdings’ work is good, but it’s only as good as I myself could write as a seminary graduate… and I question whether that is ultimately enough.