The Bible Unfiltered by Michael S. Heiser is published by Lexham Press. Never heard of Lexham Press? Then you are in for a treat. They are publishing a wide range of top notch Christian books, including works by such pillars of the Reformed faith as Abraham Kuyper and Gerhardus Vos. They are also publishing works by contemporary authors and theologians on Biblical and worldview issues.
Never heard of Michael S. Heiser? Then you are in for another treat. Dr. Heiser’s website features articles, resources, and podcasts on his Bible research and teachings. This past year I read The Unseen Realm, a best seller work also published by Lexham Press.
The Unseen Realm was highly recommended by several people I know, so I got the book and read it. It is challenging, often convincing, and always fresh and Scriptured-centered. By Scripture-centered what I mean is that Heiser is very honestly and directly trying to uncover what the Bible says. Does he always succeed? No need to answer that, but he always tries.
Our problem as Bible readers, sermon preparers and sermon listeners, and Bible students is that we can never approach the Bible objectively. We are finite, and we live (in most cases of those reading this) in the United States in 2018. We are culturally conditioned. We are not just conditioned by the culture around us. In fact, we are often alert to the perils of modern society, Hollywood, secular humanism in the recent forms, and the like. But we are conditioned by Western Culture, by the last 2000 years of Greeks, Romans, Carolingians, Catholics, Protestants, Puritans, Colonists, English speaking peoples, Enlightenment thinkers, converts during the Great Awakening, Calvinists, Arminians, Dispensationalists, Post-millennialists, Dutch theologians, and all sorts of others tweaking and touching our way of thinking, processing information, and coming to settled opinions.
That is not all bad. I wish I some of those listed above influenced me more. But what we all have to do is to keep going back to the Bible, ad fontes, and seeking out what it is saying to those to whom it was written and when it was written. Research into the ancient languages and cultures (Greek and Hebrew, but also the neighboring tribes) is a growing and expanding field. Don’t forget that Medieval people often knew of Homer and his epics, but the actual texts went underground for centuries. The same has happened with other realms of languages and knowledge.
This detective work is Heiser’s specialty. He digs, discovers, and offers new interpretations. That is the strength and enjoyment of his work.
Concerning the book at hand–The Bible Unfiltered–let me make some observations.
First, I read the book last year in November. I read it dutifully as a book reviewer and enjoyed it, but delayed getting a review together. This past week, I started re-reading the book and am enjoying it as more than a book-reviewing duty. It can be read and re-read with enjoyment and profit.
Second, it is unusual in a few respects. The Unseen Realm calls for the reader to gear up and do some heavy lifting, but The Bible Unfiltered is much lighter and easily read. It would be great as a prelude to reading Heiser’s more challenging work or as a follow up.
The chapters are all short–usually 3 to 4 pages. It could be read as a morning devotional, but unlike most devotionals, this one would feed that part of us that fits under “loving God with all our minds.” Don’t assume that mental growth is not connected to spiritual growth.
This makes the book a delight for the “I’m too busy to read theology” person. This book is good, sharp punches rather than a long drawn out match.
Here are the topics for the first long section of the book:
- Part One: Interpreting the Bible Responsibly
- Serious Bible Study Isn’t for Sissies
- Getting Serious—and Being Honest—about Interpreting the Bible in Context
- Sincerity and the Supernatural
- Let the Bible Be What It Is
- Bad Bible Interpretation Really Can Hurt People
- Unyielding Literalism: You Reap What You Sow
- Everything in the Bible Isn’t about Jesus
- Bible Reading and Bible Memorization Are Not Bible Study
- Marxism and Biblical Theology Aren’t Synonyms
- How to (Mis)Interpret Prophecy
In my re-reading, these are the ones that are freshest in my mind. My thought on the first one, which is on serious Bible study, is that I need to read that to my theology students and to myself often. In these short chapters, Heiser knocks the props out from under many false or unthought-out ideas. The chapter on bad Bible interpretation discusses past bad uses of the Bible to justify race-based slavery (sons of Ham). “Unyielding Literalism” lays flat an overly simplistic approach we often fall prey to. The portion on Marxism and theology struck me as a bit dated. Does anyone still see Marxism as an application of Christian community? But it never hurts to chop the head off of a dead snake.
I did not readily agree with “Everything in the Bible Isn’t about Jesus.” I mention that as a selling point, not a turn off. It just so happens that I am currently reading a book titled The Christ-Centered Expositor by Tony Merida. He is teaching pastors how to make preach with Christ as the message, no matter what the text. Is he right or is Heiser? Well, it is not that simple. Both men point out ways that well-intentioned expositors can make connections that just aren’t there in the text. So, even the chapter I question still provides me some cautions in my own Bible readings.
On the one hand, I would love to jump right in and finish reading number two of The Unfiltered Bible during this coming week. With sixty chapters and 230 plus pages, it can be read quickly. But I prefer to keep it handy, to use it as the book to carry to an appointment, to read in short snatches, to use for nutritious snacking. However, one read it, it is a fine work.