Sunday, April 21, 2013

Game-Changing Book

Have you ever read a book that changed your life?  I miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight have a tendency to embellish from time to time, but I finished reading a book two weeks ago that I'm calling a "game changer" in my life.  The book is The Bible Compass: A Catholic's Guide to Navigating the Scriptures by Dr. Edward Sri.

Despite being a cradle Catholic and having attended Catholic school for grades 1-12, I still had what Dr. Sri calls a "Humpty Dumpty" knowledge of Sacred Scripture.  I knew the major players and the big stories, but I had noooooooooooo idea how they all fit together in the big picture of salvation history.  

The Bible Compass is compact, hard-hitting, and simple enough for an everyday lay person like me to access.  Dr. Sri wrote the book in 4 parts:

Part I - Divine Revelation: The Unveiling of God
Chapters 1-2: What it means when we say that the Bible is "inspired by God," and how Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium all tie together.  Without an understanding of how Catholics view the Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium as being inseparable, we cannot arrive at an authoritative interpretation of Sacred Scripture. 

Part II - Five Keys For Interpreting Scripture Correctly
Dr. Sri explains how a Catholic uses the "five keys" for interpreting Scripture from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to make sure we're reading with a Catholic lens.  The five keys are:
  1. Discover the author's intention
  2. Be attentive to the unity of Scripture
  3. Read Scripture within the Living Tradition of the Church
  4. Read Scripture within the symphony of God's revelation
  5. Use the four senses of Scripture: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical (with descriptions of each)
Part III - Where Did the Bible Come From?
Chapter 8 discusses the creation of the New Testament Canon and the Gnostic "Gospels," and Chapter 9 tackles why Catholic Bibles are bigger in a discussion of the Old Testament and the Deuterocanonical Books.  

Part IV - Biblical Background
With the foundation from Parts I-III, the reader is ready to take on Part IV--the nuts and bolts background you need before actually delving in and reading Sacred Scripture.  This was the part of the book where I underlined every other line, starred most paragraphs, and wrote notes in the margins.  I would have bought the book just for Part IV!
  • Chapter 10: Taking God at His Word: Is the Bible Trustworthy?
    • Reading "literalistically" vs. literarily ("carefully examining the literary forms being used and seeking the author's intention"), avoiding fundamentalism, science, history, and dealing with difficulties
  •  Chapter 11: The World of the Bible: Archaeology, Geography, and History
    • "In order to understand better the words of the Bible, we must strive to learn more about the world of the Bible."  This section explores how studying archaeology, geography, and history reveal the context in which Sacred Scripture was written.  This helps us as modern readers to use the "Five Keys" discussed in Part II.  
  • Chapter 12: Knowing God's Story: The Twelve Periods of Biblical History
    • Holy Cow!  Hands down, this was my favorite part of the book!  Dr. Sri uses the "narrative approach" to break down all of the books of Sacred Scripture into 12 periods to tell "the 'big picture' of salvation history--the overarching narrative from Adam to Christ and the Church."  Here's the best part: in 6.5 pages, Dr. Sri briefly summarizes each of the 12 periods of salvation history and shows you how they all fit together.  After spending ten minutes reading those pages, I felt like I knew more than all of my theology classes combined ever taught me about the Bible.  
    • If you think that is cool, then you should know that there is a Bible study called The Bible Timeline by Jeff Cavins (also published by Ascension Press) that uses to same narrative approach to delve even deeper into these same 12 periods of Biblical history.  (If you don't have the time to dedicate to that in-depth study, consider reading Walking With God by Jeff Cavins.  I'd call it a "Cliff's Notes" version of The Bible Timeline.  I'm reading Walking With God now, and I'm about to start facilitating The Bible Timeline.)  Awesome, awesome, awesome! 
  • Chapter 13: Getting Started: Translations, Resources, and Methods
    • Translations: Not all translations are created equally, and different translation methods affect the reading
    • Tools & Resources: Brief introduction and explanations of how different tools/resources such as concordances, Bible commentaries, Bible atlases, etc. enhance your reading of Scripture
    • Methods: Brief overview of the 2 main categories of biblical criticism (historical criticism & literary analysis)
  • Chapter 14: Lectio Divina: Praying Scripture
    • An explanation on how to pray with Sacred Scripture so that it can penetrate your daily life.  Dr. Sri introduces the four basic steps of Lectio Divina
      • reading
      • meditation
      • prayer
      • contemplation
After reading The Bible Compass, I feel ready to start exploring Sacred Scripture through The Bible Timeline study.  Without The Bible Compass, I know I would have felt very intimidated and overwhelmed.  The Bible Compass gave me some very, very helpful tips and tools to access Scripture as a beginner and incorporate it into my daily prayer.  If you've ever felt overwhelmed and completely lost when it comes to reading the Bible, do yourself a favor and read The Bible Compass.  It will give you direction (it has the word "compass" in the title, after all!) and confidence that you are reading God's Word through the Church's lens. 


  1. We are big Dr. Sri fans here. Haven't had time to get into this one, but wow, I must make time now. Great review! Thanks for the recommendation.

    1. I learned so much from this book! I'm starting "The Bible Timeline" with a group of ladies this Thursday, and I feel confident (enough) leading a Scripture-based study after reading The Bible Compass.

    2. Have you read Dr. Sri's A Biblical Walk Through the Mass? That one's next on my list.