Asking the Right Questions: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Applying the Bible. By Matthew S. Harmon. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017. 141 pp. Paper, $10.31.
Harmon is a professor of NT studies at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, IN. As the title suggests, the purpose of the book is to help the reader understand and apply the Bible. To do so, we must know the right questions to ask as we study the Scriptures (p. 15). Harmon gives the reader four such questions.
The book elevates the Scriptures. The Word of God tells a sobering story of what has happened in the fall of man. However, God will bring in a kingdom in which creation is transformed, God dwells with mankind, the curse is lifted, and men and women are reigning over that creation. That is the destiny of the believer. This destiny should affect every area of our lives (pp. 31-32).
Harmon rightly points out that it is the Scriptures which are able to transform the believer, and he appeals to 2 Cor 3:18 as a proof text (p. 37). In addition, we should look at every passage of the Bible as a way to point us to Christ in some way (pp. 52-53). Harmon also accurately says that taking up our crosses and following Christ (Mark 8:34-38) is a discipleship passage and does not give the requirements for eternal salvation (p. 38).
When we study the Bible, we need to understand the distinction between the Bible’s being written for us and not to us. God does not want us to sacrifice our children as He commanded Abraham to do in Genesis 22. Jesus told the rich young ruler to give everything away in Matthew 19, but that is not for us. Once we understand this principle, we can apply what the passages are saying to us (p. 61).
The heart of the book is chap. 5. It gives us the questions to ask when we study the Bible. As we study a passage, we should ask first of all, “What do we learn about God?” The second question is, “What do we learn about people?” The third is, “What do we learn about relating to God?” Finally, the last question is, “What do we learn about relating to others?” (pp. 64-71). The ultimate goal is to be transformed into the image of Christ. When we are transformed into that image, the Lord opens our eyes in order to see who He is, who we are, and how to walk with Him faithfully (p. 72).
The most disappointing part of the book is Harmon’s discussion on faith. He says repentance, which he defines as turning from sin, is part of faith. God gives repentance as a gift, so it is not a work. We begin the Christian life by turning from sin and trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of sin (pp. 78-81). Clearly this is a distorted presentation of the simple gospel of eternal life, which is that a person who believes in Jesus’ promise of eternal life receives it as a free gift.
The book has a short section on the different kinds of literature found in the Bible. These include narrative, law, poetry, parables, prophecy, apocalyptic literature, and letters/epistles (pp. 124-26). The limit of space does not allow Harmon to discuss the different types of literature in the Bible at length, but the section is helpful in letting the reader recognize that such differences exist. This helps in understanding how to interpret each type of literature and how to apply it to our lives.
This book has a number of positive attributes. It points the reader to the Scriptures as the means by which the Spirit transforms the believer. It gives helpful suggestions on how to look at the Scriptures, including looking at how they can lead us to love God and love others. It does not point people, as is so common today, to feelings or mystical experiences to accomplish these goals. Unfortunately, when it discusses the gospel, it presents unbiblical Lordship Salvation. Fortunately, that is not the purpose of the book, and the book does not dwell on it. The person reading it is not looking for a clear gospel presentation, but how to study the Bible. With that caveat, I recommend the book.