“The Whole Thing” By Jason English, a review

“The Whole Thing” By Jason English, a review

The Whole Thing: The Story of the Bible in Six Images by Jason English is a well-considered attempt to craft a single cohesive and coherent narrative from the Bible for individuals who may have been harmed by narratives more driven by shame, cultural power, or repression than the biblical narrative. From this perspective, the book’s intent is to serve as an education for those who have not been exposed to the biblical narrative or a reeducation for those who have been but for whom the exposure left wounds.

The author’s attempt, to allow 6 carefully chosen yet sparse, beautiful images to serve as guides for the biblical narrative is the central concept of the book and the book’s strongest feature. Each image hits the theological mark and serves to make the overall point the author is making about Scripture being a narrative leading towards wholeness. The images of finger, hand, heart, face, feet, and body are as memorable as the illustrations are beautiful. English causes each to stand a careful vigil over an aspect of the story of Scripture. None of the images disappoints in the task. At the books conclusion the images are repeated, this time with new words that signify the interaction of God with human beings through scripture and are labeled as pointed, reminded, cried, revealed, proclaimed, and complete respectively. These effectively remind the reader that the bible is not simply a book of information, but a book whose purpose is application. The illustrated images both as guides to Scripture and to the working of God in the heart are so powerful that it left me wishing that the author had spent less time explaining the bible and more time explaining these images and even how they might be used as icons in prayer or devotion through contemplation and an opening of the heart.

The notes from each chapter, an extended chapter by chapter bibliography citing the sources to which the author is alluding is also a significant attribute of the book. These detailed notes, quotes, summaries, and citations serve as signposts pointing towards instances of rich and healing theological witnesses. The only risk of these notes that they ultimately rival the author’s own work in each respective chapter. I, for one, often found myself stirred emotionally by reading the notes more than the author’s account.

English does solid work here, make no mistake. He covers the vast sweep of Scripture and with remarkable success does call forth a narrative that effectively communicates his overarching theme of wholeness. Because his aims are so lofty, however, his account can sometimes feel overly technical, too concerned with checking boxes pertaining to biblical detail or explaining quickly concepts that perhaps aren’t essential to the overall theme. One can gain the sense that the author is responding the voices (these unnamed voices in particular seem to be of a fundamentalist/traditional perspective) along his own journey, sometimes incorporating their witness and sometimes rebutting it, while still without an ultimate clarity about how his own voice finds a cohesive expression of the narrative.

One of the certainly not fundamentalist voices named as present is Rob Bell. The book seems almost self-consciously crafted in the tradition of Rob Bell, via the author’s invocation of Bell as he describes the scope of the book. This kind of comparison prepares you to not expect an answer to every question, but it ultimately doesn’t inoculate the author against the suggestion that major themes of Scripture have been inadequately treated, even or especially considering his theme of wholeness.

For example, while sin is named in the text, it is hard to get the feeling that evil, suffering, and pain are given an adequate treatment. These realities of human experience need not be permanent stumbling blocks on the way to ultimate wholeness, but they perhaps represent a more serious due than English gives them. English writes, “Sin, death, darkness, and brokenness are not the point of the story. The finger was never pointing in accusation against you. God was pointing at himself the whole time” (75). People who have been given the too heavy burden of personal shame from biblical sources, from a flawed culture, from a broken family, from an abusive person in their lives need to hear that word. English’s intent is undoubtedly to serve and bear witness to those people. God loves them. God does not reject them. God provides a way through the darkness, brokenness, and sin and it’s a way that does not involve their further condemnation. Nonetheless, that Scripture has no word of conviction pointing at human beings through either the law or the person and work of Jesus Christ is simply not accurate. In Jesus Christ a standard of perfect love is revealed, and this is convicting, it is a finger pointing. Some people reject this pointing, convicting finger with violence to the point that Jesus is executed (why Jesus is executed English doesn’t explain, for which we would give him a pass if it weren’t for this exact point). Perhaps the person reading this who has been a victim of an overly literal and shame laden reading of scripture which justified people around them in power needs to hear that Jesus does have a finger to point at people who do this kind of harm. It’s a gracious pointing, one that opens towards transformation towards wholeness. Make no mistake, however, God is not cool with that kind of exercise of power. There are some things which exist apart from and in an absence of God’s will and purpose even if God has the capacity to respond in a contingent way to bring about the wholeness on which English has rightly set his sight. English seems to miss or dismiss this reality, and in so doing, he potentially misses and dismisses the real suffering of those he set out to address and God’s real contingency to bring about repentance, transformation, and genuine wholeness.

The theological points, however, are personal quibbles with the theology expressed. Overall, the book is a simple introduction, filled with rich and theologically pregnant images that do much to helpfully orient the reader towards the aims of Scripture in its totality: the healing and wholeness of all things. This book would make a good gift, especially for those more artistically/aesthetically inclined and as I read, I couldn’t help but think of someone close to me who might appreciate it. Go ahead, get the book. It will be a healthy way to begin a journey of discovery and discussion and the images in particular might speak to you in ways English’s words never could.

 

 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.

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