Sunday, November 08, 2009

Review: "A Popular Survey of the New Testament" (Norman Geisler)

Title: A Popular Survey of the New Testament
Author: Norman L Geisler
Published: Baker Books, 2007.

Books of the popular genre tend to cover broad themes, without going into too much details. They tend to be written in a manner that captures maximum attention with minimal effort. This 347-pages hardcover book has everything to whet the appetite of the average Church-goer. It has very little scholarship citations which is useful for uninterrupted reading. It contains a fairly helpful list of bibliographical material for the more serious student, ranging from books, commentaries and articles. Using easy to understand tables that compare and contrast books of the New Testament, the author invites readers to comfortably enter into the New Testament material.

The Structure
The Introduction lays the main theme of the New Testament, which is the person of Jesus Christ.

Geisler uses a 6-point question structure to approach the survey of each book.
1) WHO wrote it?
  • This talks about the internal and external evidence of the origins of the book concerned. 
2) WHEN was it written?
  • This estimates the time the book was written, with careful attention to list the different possible views for the reader to note.
3) To WHOM was it written?
  • This is important for readers as it gives the context of the book's first audience.
4) WHERE were its readers located?
  • Often, the location of the readers give us a clue as to why the book was written.
5) WHAT is it about?
  • This forms the main section of each book surveyed.
6) HOW to respond to critics of difficult verses?
  • Some controversial verses were dealt with.
Finally, a set of study questions completes each book section.

My Comments
I must admit that Geisler has done a rather good job in distilling the New Testament simple enough for the average Bible reader. His highlight of themes gives a clear overview of the emphases of each book. I especially appreciate the compare/contrast format that Geisler uses to demarcate both differences as well as similarities of each book. His use of alliteration, memory keys and various pedagogical tools within the book gives a very useful framework for us to hang on to.

Having said that, there are some things I feel less than desirable.
  • Personally, I like his Christ-centered focus of the whole Bible. My question is, whether that truly reflects the intention of the original authors? While I am all for Christ being the entire focus, in inductive Bible study, we need to let the Bible speak for itself, to avoid putting words into the Bible.
  • His mnemonics chosen is too sleek for my personal liking. I feel he has overdone it.
  • Some of the themes he highlights, while memorable may appear to unfairly straitjacket the Bible. (for example, the table below while attractive, looks too simplistic)

In summary, I must say I enjoyed Geisler’s book. It makes a good introductory book to help educate the ordinary Church member who does not know much about the New Testament apart from choice verses. It also makes a helpful reference texts when we deal with controversial verses in the Bible. However, for the serious student, it will be better that this book be only an accompanying supplement to other reference books and commentaries. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.


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