How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor: A Practical and Entertaining Exploration of the World's Most Famous Book releases on March 3, 2015. This book is the first Bible reference work (1) that I have ever read cover to cover, and (2) that has ever made me laugh out loud. Recently, the book’s author, DTS academic dean Dr. Mark Yarbrough, took some time to talk about this new resource.
What motivated you to write How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor?
In the history of evangelicalism, we’ve been blessed with great books about the Bible. We have wonderful commentaries, and we’ve listened to sound expositors, especially in the past thirty years. But one of the potential side effects is that we have forgotten to teach people how to feed themselves. So my hope is to give people confidence in their study of the Word. If just one person who reads this book gains the confidence to run toward the Word, I’ll be eternally grateful.
The “voice” of the author makes it seem like you had fun writing it. Yes?
I had a blast. It was so much fun. I loved everything about it. I loved talking it out, storyboarding, and even getting up at 3 AM. Sometimes I would get up early and an entire chapter would just come out. I did most of my work at our kitchen table when the chaos of life happened around me. I could build a little mental glass wall while the spaghetti was being slung around me, and occasionally I would stop to help a kid with algebra. The book came out of the midst of life.
You used lots of personal illustrations, especially stories about your kids. What’s your favorite in this book?
I guess I don’t have a favorite. I love them all because they are about my kids! However, “Contaminated” (Chapter 19) makes me laugh, and it was such an unusual experience. My oldest son, from the moment he hit planet earth, was full of life and energy and into everything. On one occasion he drank some diesel fuel, which scared the living daylights out of me. Especially because I was the parent on duty—a little fact that I don't think I mentioned in the book. I learned this funny thing about how the human body dissipates fuel. You know how the “Peanuts” character, Pigpen, is surrounded by a little cloud? That was my little boy. Ultimately it was a great picture of who we are in our sin—an event drawn from everyday life that speaks theologically.
What audience did you have in mind when you wrote your book?
The reader I envisioned was someone with a passion for the Word of God. I didn’t write an apologetics or evangelism book. This work speaks directly to someone who has a heart for the Lord—someone with a real life, real family, real struggles, and real inferiority. I mean, the Bible can be intimidating. It’s big. (He whispers) and GOD WROTE IT. As the author, I’m just a normal person, and I wrote out of the context of life.
I do think some schools will use the book in programs where the Bible is the central text. But lots of people will never take a class. These folks simply want to be better students of the Word. I tried to speak to both groups.
What are some of the most common ways we misuse the Bible?
We misuse the Bible by lobbying for our personal perspectives without understanding the whole of Scripture. We appeal to the Bible as an authority to validate our opinions. In fact that is where I start the book. Some teachers read a text and ask, “What does this mean to you?” without first finding what the text actually says. So the most common misuse is that we don’t slow down and observe the text and see what is actually in front of our eyes.
How do you think a seminary professor’s take on the Bible differs from that of the average person?
Typically seminary professors, the ones I envision at least, approach the text assuming it is authoritative. In other words it is God’s Word. He has spoken. It is truth. But seminary professors also acknowledge that the Bible is really good literature. Many people don’t understand that second part—that the Bible is God’s Word given through human means. God spoke his authoritative Word, and he chose to reveal it through those carried along by the Holy Spirit. And because of that, we have different “types” of literature. We want to honor how God chose to reveal it to us in all its majesty. In evangelicalism there is—I hope and pray—a strong authoritative emphasis. But often the average person does not see the Word or approach it as having great literary beauty.
What’s a common misinterpretation or misapplied passage that you deal with in your book?
I spent a lot of time, my longest example, talking about how to read narrative literature. Take the Book of Jonah and your typical Sunday School message out of the book: “Shame on Jonah; he didn't go. God got his attention. Jonah finally gets it.” We teach it this way. But then we have no clue what to do with chapter 4 [the part where Jonah pouts and waits for God to destroy the Ninevites]. I wanted to show the power of narrative literature, because when we see “what the author is doing with what he’s saying,” (to quote one of my colleagues), he paints readers in a corner at the end. Jonah is a bad prophet from beginning to end. God basically says, “You are that prophet”—if your heart is like Jonah’s. And think about that in its larger historical context. Oh, how God wished his people in his land had responded like the Ninevites did. God desired Jeroboam II to respond like the king of Nineveh! The Book of Jonah is a parody and a challenge—for then and for now.
What are some wrong ideas that people have about the Bible?
They think, “It’s only for professionals.” I hear that regularly. Or people say, “I can’t understand it” or “I’m overwhelmed with its complexity.” We make it complex, and the evil one helps us. J. I. Packer once said, “’If I were the devil, the first thing I would do is keep people from digging in the Word of God.” That quote has motivated me for years. We need to know the master story of the Bible, and often we don't. People hear bits and pieces. They might hear a good sermon, study one Bible book, or get a good lesson from a Sunday school class. But most people don't get the big picture. So that is where this book begins—with the big picture.”
In Dr. Yarbrough’s book, his wife and each of his children appear in at least one anecdote. Mark said, “They all signed off, everyone said, ‘Dad, I’m in.’ Some wanted even more than one page. Ha!” From left they are Joseph—Lost at a rock concert (Chapter 5); author, Mark; Jennifer—“Honey, where are my black socks?” (Chapter 7); Jacob—Contaminated with diesel fuel (Chapter 19); Kayci —“Look Daddy, no hands!” (Chapter 9); and Kayla—“I grow’d, I grow’d!” (Chapter 14).