The heart of it all - a book review by Peter Mitchell
During this past week I've been reading a book called 'The heart of it all' by Samuel Wells (vicar of St Martin in the Fields, in Trafalgar Square). The book's subtitle is 'The bible's big picture' and in it Sam has, by his own admission, had the "temerity to abridge the holy scriptures and presume to render the heart of their truth in a narrative one-thirtieth of their length" (96 pages).
I really enjoyed reading this book, for it explains the whole of the bible, both Old and New Testaments, in a straightforward narrative which links all of the key events and has running right through it a series of golden threads which are the main themes of the bible.
It doesn't begin the OT with creation, nor the NT with Christ's birth, but instead Sam has chosen to begin with what he sees as the decisive events which led to the recording of the narratives: the Exile in the OT and Jesus' resurrection in the NT. Everything else flows out of this and makes for interesting reading, with frequent echoes and reflections of OT stories in NT writing and foreshadowing of NT stories in OT writing. I like the way in which this book isn't bound by the traditional ordering of books within the bible, which can sometimes be a bit of a barrier to broader understanding.
And the book is based on the idea that the heart of the bible is built on relationships between God, creation, Jesus, the Church, the Spirit and the Kingdom. It also provides frequent reminders that the bible still speaks to us today, in our contemporary circumstances. Sam supports his points with frequent quotations from the bible, which readers will recognize; that they aren't referenced doesn't detract from the book's value, it simply means that readers have to discover them for themselves.
I recommend this book both to those who are relative newcomers to the bible, to help to introduce the whole story in an accessible way, and to those with some familiarity with the best known passages of the bible, to help to find a greater understanding of the big picture and the key events and themes. Either way, it should help readers to read and to study the bible with more confidence in future. For those who took part in The Bible Course last year, this book will reinforce that learning experience by looking at the same subjects from a different angle.
At the end of the book is a short study guide, which provides readers with bible passages to read, questions to consider and prayers on which to meditate. These can be used for individual or small group study.