“Seven Stories”: A Review
I recently received a copy of Anthony Bartlett’s Seven Stories: How to Study and Teach the Nonviolent Bible from SpeakEasy. I am going to divide my review into different stages: aesthetic appeal, content, and overall thoughts.
The book itself is quite beautiful. The print is crisp and contrasts well with the predominately-white background. Even when other colors are used (from blue to green) the print is easily read and pleasing to the eyes.
The paper itself feels good to the touch. I enjoy printed books, and they are more enjoyable when the quality of the materials is high. The binding is solid, allowing me to bend the pages in order to lay flat on my desk. Additionally the pictures, charts, and inserts are well designed. They are simple and cover the point well.
The only negative aspect of the book itself is the size. It is designed (in part) to be used as a textbook. Bartlett notes on page 14, “Alternatively, Seven Stories can be teacher-led, where at least one individual with background in the study of scripture and theology will undertake to lead a group of students through the material.” While being a perfect size for a textbook, it does prevent easy transportation. Thus, I was limited in where I could bring the book. Overall, I’d give it a 9 out of 10 on design and quality of materials.
To understand where the book is coming from simply read “About the Author.” I had not previously heard of Dr. Bartlett, I had no idea what to expect. The title hinted at the content, but at times authors use appealing titles to draw in readers.
To sum it up (simply, so I beg your pardon!) he is writing for an emergent viewpoint. There is now a great deal of literature on this topic, and I encourage you to read through the vast amounts of materials according to your desire and time. This will provide a better framework for understanding Bartlett’s concepts and views.
Basically, it is a denial of biblical, orthodox Christianity in favor of a less-violent, less-offensive religion and view of God. In his introduction he develops the framework of the book, covering the different stories with accompanying lessons.
In the chapter “Method” he attempts to provide a brief treatment of the various methods of interpreting Scripture. He then presents his own method (modified and heavily relied on the work of René Girard) as the preferable method for understanding God as He truly is.
From this point he addresses each story, covering the biblical history and focusing on different issues or topics surrounding the story. For example, in his story on “Victim to Vindication” (or story 5). He develops the idea of “the way in which the victim’s vindication leads to forgiveness.” (Bartlett, 148) This, of course, builds off the idea of a bloodless faith that is examined in more details in stories two and three. At Bartlett notes, “Job is the indisputable case, the locus classicus, of the innocent victim who is vindicated.” (Bartlett, 148) He understands Job as vindicated from God (see pages 151-152). It is this different understanding of the account of Job that illustrates Bartlett’s method of interpretation and its effect on the understanding of Scripture.
On a different note, I love Bartlett’s ending for each lesson. In his story “The Temple and its Destruction” (pages 172-193), at the end of lesson one he includes the following: lesson questions, personal reflection, glossary, resources/background reading, and cultural references.
I found these to be quite fascinating, and something that, should I ever have the privilege of writing a book, would love to include in my work. The lesson questions are very direct and cover the materials addressed. The personal reflection takes the materials presented and personalizes them. The questions are developed around different aspects of the lesson but allow one to personalize them. The glossary provides the reader with excellent definitions of key terms (as a bonus, the terms and others can be found on pages 227-232). The resources/background reading provides the more scholarly student with additional materials that are similar. Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, the cultural references. Bartlett connects the teachings of the stories (or lessons) with various media in culture. For example, in lesson one of “The Temple and its Destruction,” Bartlett cites C. S. Lewis’ book Till We Have Faces, A Myth Retold “for descriptions of the terror and power of the sacrificial holy.” (Bartlett, 179)
As a Christian adhering to the orthodox creeds and faith, I found myself frustrated working through Bartlett’s book. Stemming from his method of hermeneutics, his understanding of Scripture simply brushes aside biblical doctrine, accounts, and theology to present a god in whom he can believe.
It is nothing new. Brian Mclaren, Rob Bell, and others have already attempted to present logical and scholarly reasons for rejecting the orthodox views of Scripture. Though at times he presents some interesting views, holistically it is unfortunate.
If you enjoy reading and being challenged on your biblical views, check it out.
If you do not believe in God as understood throughout centuries of Church history, then you will enjoy Bartlett’s reinterpretation.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.