Wittmer, Michael. The Bible Explainer: Questions and Answers on Origins, the Old Testament, Jesus, the End Times, and More. Uhrichsville, Ohio: Barbour, 2020. 464 pp.; Pb.; $19.99. Link to Barbour Books Link to Amazon
In the introduction to this new book from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary professor Michael Wittmer, the publishers explain the Explainer as simple answers to common questions about the Bible. The book is like a “frequently asked questions” page for the Bible and basic Christian theology. Many of these questions and answers clear up misunderstandings about the Bible and Christian theology, others are concise summaries of Christian beliefs.
The book is divided into six parts. The first part covers eighty questions on “Bible Basics: What it is and how we should read it.” Some of these questions are good for new believers opening a Bible for the first time, such as “why does the Bible have chapters and verses” and “why are some letters red?” “What’s a Study Bible?” “What about translations?” Others are more apologetic in nature, such as “How were the original Bible writings preserved?” The answer, “they weren’t.” What follows is about a page on how copies of ancient books were made. A few questions deal with authorship questions. For example, “Did Moses write the Pentateuch?” and “Who wrote Isaiah?” Three related questions (36-38) deal with the truth of the Bible; question 41 asks, “What should I do if I think I’ve found an error?” Question 54 lays out a simple four-point method for understanding any Bible passage and several other questions and answers focus on reading various genres in the Bible. For example, question 64, “What’s up with the Song of Solomon?” The final line of the answer is, “take a cold shower.” Questions 75 and 75 lay out six steps in applying biblical passages to one’s personal life.
The second part concerns Origins: Where everything comes from (forty-six questions). Much of this section is what might be called theology proper, with questions on Trinity and the nature of God. He answers why, when and how God created the world. In question 92, Wittmer compares four views of creation, noting both strengths and weaknesses of each view. This section also tackles Adam and Eve, Sin and the Fall, the origin of Satan and the fallen angels, and the problem of evil. The section covers many questions people have about the flood and the events after the flood. Wittmer also gives an answer for where Cain got his wife and whether (or not) the angels had sex with humans.
In part three, Wittmer answers questions on Israel and why the Old Testament matters today (thirty questions). If Part two covered Genesis 1-11, part three covers the seep of Israel’s history from Abraham (Genesis 12) to the years just prior to Jesus in about sixty pages. Some are questions of basic facts, such as “Why are God’s people called Hebrews, Israel and Jews”? or “Who is Yahweh?” to more difficult theological problems such as “did God command Israel to commit genocide?” The section has several matters of application of the Law, such as “what does the Bible teach about” issues like immigration, homosexuality, polygamy, or slavery? Wittmer deals with the very common criticism of Christianity, “Why do Christians follow the Old Testaments teaching on homosexuality bit not its commands about eating bacon and shrimp?” And yes, I caught the allusion to Ron Swanson: “bacon wrapped shrimp.”
Part four concerns Jesus: who he is and what he means (forty questions). This unit is more theological than the first three, beginning with “who is Jesus?” and “Was Jesus divine?” Wittmer deals with several questions about Jesus’s teaching such as was Jesus a pacifist, a feminist, socialist, or a racist? (He answers “Was Jesus married” with a simple, one-word answer. You will need to buy the book to find out what it is.)
The fifth part of the book covers a range of theological questions on “how the New testament affects our world” (thirty-two questions), but the primary focus of the section is what the church believes and how the church functions today. For example, he defines grace, salvation, faith, repentance, adoption, and prayer (although there are no questions and answers on justification by faith, redemption, reconciliation). He also defines key terms used frequently in churches a new believer may not fully understand, such as sacrament, baptism, Lord’s supper. Several questions in this section clear up misunderstandings about what the church is. “Does God want my money?” Does God want to take away my fun?” There are a few controversial issues here, such as women in ministry, speaking in tongues, and how Christians ought to relate to their government.
The last section concerns the end times, heaven and hell. At only seventeen questions, this is by far the shortest section, although questions these topics could fill an entire book. More than half of these deal with heaven and hell. He defines millennium, rapture, antichrist, Armageddon and the significance of 666 (no, it is not who you are thinking…) For most of these he compares and contrasts the views of dispensationalism and amillennialism and he treats both sides fairly. But the most important things for Wittmer are the “three Rs: the return of Christ, the resurrection of the body, and the restoration of all things” (438).
Occasionally he sneaks an extra question into the book, for example, “What are BCE and CE” (page 48). There are two-pages each on the Roman Catholic Church vs. Protestant church and the Western church vs. the Eastern church. Since these are not phrased in the form of a question, they are not counted as one of the 250 questions. Wittmer has a sense of wry humor, and this comes through in his answers. For example, “the Bible is a big book. It’s much larger than Cool Dads of Teenagers or The Wisdom of Daytime Television, though it is still roughly 30% smaller than the Harry Potter series” (18). In discussing how Christians ought to relate to their government, “I’m looking at you America.”
Conclusion. The Bible Explainer is an excellent book for a new or young believer who has questions about the content of the whole Bible. It would make an excellent supplement to a basic discipleship class in a local church or a supplement for a small group Bible study or a handy reference for Sunday school teachers. Although Wittmer includes plenty of Scripture in his answers, the book may be even more useful if each question (or group of questions) concluded with suggestions for further reading.
NB: Thanks to Barbour Books for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.