Meeting God in the Bible: How to Read Scripture Devotionally. By John M. Linebarger. Dallas, TX: Fontes Press, 2019. 163pp. $15.95 (paper).
Of the making of devotional aids there is no end. Nevertheless, in his new book, Meeting God in the Bible: How to Read Scripture Devotionally, John M. Linebarger (MDiv, MBA, PhD) manages to find a new and unique approach to a common Evangelical topic. Linebarger accomplishes this in two ways. First, the main body of the book is in the form of a narrative, showing the techniques rather than simply describing them. Second, Linebarger presents both modern and ancient techniques in the course of the work.
By way of disclosure, John is a contributor to The North American Anglican as well as a personal and family friend. My parents, my sister, and my wife all were members of the same congregation as John for several years. In fact, my father served on the discernment committee for his ordination to the diaconate. Additionally, when I’m in my hometown of Albuquerque, I often try to connect with John for coffee or a meal. Furthermore, we’re members of many of the same social media groups, including the phenomenal Theological Languages forum for Anglican clergy that he moderates (as mentioned in the biographical blurb on the back cover). I can certainly attest to John’s heart for biblical studies, especially within the context of reaching the folks in the pews with an aim of strengthening their walk with the Lord. Meeting God in the Bible continues to show this passion on John’s part, and I commend both the work and his heart.
At noted above, Meeting God in the Bible is framed in the form of a narrative with two main characters. Sharon, a mature Christian, is a pastor’s wife (denomination unspecified), who is discipling a new believer, Victoria. Throughout the book the reader gets an inside perspective on struggles and challenges both women work through within their respective vocations and spiritual maturities. The reader sees how Sharon’s faith has taken her through church politics, marriage stresses, and the day-to-day difficulties of being a wife and mother. Similarly, the reader sees how Victoria’s new faith impacts a family health crisis, troubles with co-workers, and the challenges of being a witness to friends and family who don’t yet understand what it means for her to be “born again.”
The book begins with Victoria meeting with Sharon for advice and direction in reading the Bible with the aim of strengthening her relationship with God. Sharon presents Victoria with a variety of techniques, generally one per chapter, describing and modeling each. Some chapters show either one of the two women in their private devotions, giving the reader a hands-on example of the devotional technique in question. Other chapters show the women using the various techniques to apply to their specific situations.
These techniques include the Quiet Time, the ACTS Prayer, the SOAP method of spiritual journaling, the Jesus Prayer, and Lectio Divina. For readers who may be unfamiliar with the various methods, the first three are relatively modern techniques, common in the general Evangelical world, and the final two are ancient techniques championed by monastics. Additionally, there are chapters on Scripture memorization and Bible reading plans, both of which are common among most traditions. As noted above, this variety is one of the unique approaches of Meeting God in the Bible. Readers from more liturgical traditions are likely familiar with the Jesus Prayer and Lectio Divina, but may be less familiar with the ACTS Prayer and the SOAP method. The converse is likely true for many readers from a more “free church” Evangelical background.
I found the narrative and variety of methods are both the book’s greatest strengths and greatest challenges. As they are unique approaches, they necessarily make Meeting God in the Bible a unique book in the devotional how-to genre. This unique character makes Meeting God in the Bible well worth the purchase and read. However, I could not help but feel that it also gives a sense of the stereotypical American Evangelical wanderlust when it comes to the spiritual disciplines. In my experience in American Evangelical circles, a common tendency is for people to always be on the hunt for the “next big thing,” rarely slowing down to fully internalize the process. A characteristic of both monasticism and the Anglican Prayer Book tradition is the necessity to spend significant time, even years, in a particular discipline for it to bear lasting fruit. Indeed, I usually tell people from Evangelicalism that they need to spend at least six weeks attending a liturgical service before they really “get it.” That said, the narrative does not specify how much time has passed before introducing new concepts; the reader may be seeing snapshots of a very long process indeed. Of course, a presentation of such variety in a narrative form also makes this potential challenge a necessity. The reader would be cautioned to give each method some time when putting it into practice.
Back in 2017, I reviewed W. H. Griffith-Thomas’ classic Methods of Bible Study for this journal. I often found myself reminded of Griffith-Thomas when reading Meeting God in the Bible. Considering how much I love the former work, this is high praise indeed, and I intend it as such! That said, my main complaint with Methods of Bible Study also holds true for Meeting God in the Bible: we get no mention of the Book of Common Prayer from either author, despite both being Anglican priests. I have often said, and still maintain, that the BCP is the most important contribution Anglicanism has made to the rest of the Church, both for personal devotions and for public worship. While this minor quibble is something of “inside baseball” for our tradition, I do think we have something important to offer other Christians.
Overall, I do indeed recommend Meeting God in the Bible both for lay people and for pastors. A very helpful feature of the book is the appendix of study guides and suggestions for further reading. The support website also has additional resources for using the book as a group study. I could see the book well used in small groups, Sunday School, or other discipleship endeavors, so long as readers remember to take the time necessary to truly internalize each method in their devotional practices.