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Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting…

Getting the Message: A Plan for Interpreting and Applying the Bible

by Daniel M. Doriani

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Doriani’s book is particularly aimed at those who have a responsibility to teach the Bible, but he’s at pains to point out that doesn’t mean only preachers. It’s a book therefore that could be particularly helpful for Sunday School teachers (particularly those teaching teenagers), leaders of ladies’ bible-study groups, CU Hall group leaders, and those engaged in one-to-one discipleship. The book’s great strength is its emphasis on applying and teaching the Word, and it’s Christ-centeredness. He unashamedly writes, “Every passage in the Bible presents Christ both as the remedy for human fallenness and is the end point of God’s plan of salvation”. There is a danger in Bible-study that knowledge can simply fill the head and not the heart, so if that is a temptation for you, or if you are involved in teaching others, then this book could be a particular blessing.

This review is part of an article called Better Bible Study at the 4-14 christian theology website. ( )
  markbarnes | Oct 22, 2007 |
Reviewer: Robert Huffstedtler (Cary, NC United States) - See all my reviews

I have been on something of a quest to find the right book to use in an adult Sunday School class on biblical interpretation and application. While this book still isn't quite perfect, it stands head and shoulders above the other dozen or so books I have read on the topic in the past year. If I could assign it a more exact numerical rating, it would probably be about 4.7 out of 5.
The book is divided into 13 chapters, each ending with 2-4 exercises to allow the reader to practice the material covered in the chapter. The book is organised around an acronym, CAPTOR, which stands for Context, Analysis, Problems, Themes, Obligations, and Reflection. I'm not a big fan of mnemonic acronyms because I often remember the acronym and not what it is intended to stand for, and because adherence to an acronym sometimes necessitates choosing terms that don't exactly fit (for instance, Doriani admits that application would have been a better label than Obligations for that particular section of the book). However, many people find them far more helpful than I do, so I won't deduct any points for that.

Context is explained as both the literary and historical context. The book examines how one goes about understanding and applying each and directs readers to tools that might be helpful (e.g. bible dictionaries).

The section on analysis is divided into two chapters, one on analyzing narrative and the other on analyzing discourse (Doriani's catch all term for poetry, prophetic oracles, wisdom literature, the epistles of the new testament and so on). Initially I suspected that his attempt to abstract all non-narrative into a general category would fail, but he handles it surprisingly well. The few pages on understanding Hebrew poetry need to be greatly expanded. The author does provide several footnote references to Kugel's book for those wishing further study of that topic. One of the appendices also offers some genre specific advice for analysis.

One suspects that the chapter "Solving Problems" exists primarily to get a P into the acronym. Some good advice is offered there, but realistically the step of solving problems, which the author defines as "any term, concept, custom, or teaching that eludes our understanding" fits either into the context phase or the analysis phase depending on what sort of problem it is.

The themes chapter is good, but in my opinion spends too much time on the idea of approaching the bible with a theme in mind, e.g. "What does the bible say about marriage?" and not enough time on how to recognise the themes that are inherent in the bible (covenantal documents, the prophets as prosecutors of covenantal disobedience, &c.). This defect is remedied somewhat in the final chapter where he discusses the redemptive-historical method in the context of reflection.

The section on obligations is the best in the book. The author observes that too often, bible teachers leave their students with nothing but abstractions. He discusses how to derive an application from narrative, how to apply the commands of Scripture that no longer have direct relevance (e.g. parapets around roof tops and goring oxen), and how to derive an application from a text that is strictly theological (e.g. large sections of Paul's epistles).

In the reflection section, he attempts to bring together the previous five steps and discuss the different ways one can faithfully present the same text. That is, how does one distill one's insights about a text into a coherent message that best fits what one's listeners need to hear. Two approaches he suggests are the redemptive historical method (that is, how does this text fit into God's overall plan of redemption) and what he calls the fallen condition focus (FCF) (how does this text address the problems that are inherent in living in a fallen world?)

The imperfections in this book are mostly due to omissions of things that I think are useful. Doriani refers to many works in his endnotes that will fill in these gaps if the reader cares to pursue them. Also, the book is aimed at teachers and preachers rather than individuals. While that isn't a defect, it will mean that I have to do a bit of extra work to use it with a class of laymen.

The other problems are minor, and have more to do with the publisher than the author. For some reason, P&R chooses to use endnotes rather than footnotes - this is very disruptive when you wish to pursue one of the notes. Also, P&R never puts a bibliography in their books anymore - if you want to find the particulars on a book the author refers to, you have to dig through the endnotes to find the first reference to it. Lastly, P&R's bindings are not very good and tend to show wear very easily and very quickly. This book deserves a hardcover edition.
  bmmjmm | Nov 22, 2005 |
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