Chris Webb fire of the word as reviewed in Phantom TollboothWebb slips deep truths into easy-to-read chapters, making this insightful work valuable for both new and mature Christians.

Publisher: Formatio / Renovaré

When I read that Chris Webb wanted to make us think about using the bible less as an intellectual exercise and more as a place to meet God, I had my questions: surely we can still meet God when reading the bible if we think about how it is written? Why do bible study otherwise? Doesn’t Jesus tell us to love God with all of our mind?

But Webb proves in this work that he knows what he is writing about and he is keen that we use the full bandwidth of the bible to hear God’s voice.  Before we start, we have to lay down our preconceptions and relearn both how to read and how to be attentive to God’s Spirit.

A typical chapter begins with at least one story (and one that hints at Webb being a frustrated novelist – adjectives abound). He then explores an area with depth and insight, with help from centuries-old wisdom, before ending with a set of seven relevant readings that help the reader to engage directly with biblical texts. With fourteen of these chapters, the book could provide over three months of daily readings.

Webb starts by emphasizing  that God really loves us. This is a phrase that we could read in many, many books, but Webb brought this alive for me in just over a page. And once he has used Song of Songs and (unusually) the account of the Gerasene demoniac to show God’s love, he insists that we respond by reading the bible, not as theorists, but as lovers. “We do not come primarily seeking moral and ethical principles, theological insights, or even practical life applications. We come to be kissed by Christ.”

But Webb goes deeper and delves into the lessons learned over two thousand years of spirituality, particularly exploring ‘the anatomy of the soul’ and how that helps us to bring the entirety of our beings to reading scripture.

As a book from the Formatio / Renovaré stable, Webb is keen to stress valuable options in the contemplative tradition, such as practicing the presence of God and Ignatian reading.

Webb tells of a friend’s uncle, who read the bible once in a year, then read it once every month for twelve years – and died the bitterest man. Towards the end, he comments, “Don’t be rushed. There are any number of bible-reading plans that will sweep you through the book in record time… by all means, use them to grasp the big picture. But then slow down.”

As someone reading the bible in a year at the moment, I completely concur and can hardly wait to take it slowly again. When I do, I’d like to re-read this book, using its insights, hints and wisdom. It is a work whose value may last throughout my life.


Derek Walker

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