In frameworks: How to Navigate the New Testament, An Extraordinary Guide for Ordinary People, Eric Larson shares what he has learned in the course teaching the Bible for thirty-five years. If you’re the type of person who’d opt for the double root canal rather than reading a 300+ page book on the New Testament, I think you may be just the person Eric had in mind when he wrote this book. Many college and seminary-level New Testament surveys can be a bit stodgy and are often overwhelming to the average person in the pew. That’s where frameworks strives to be different. Eric’s goals are simple and attainable. Rather than trying to expose you to everything there is to know about the New Testament, he’s seeking to help his readers grow in love for God by properly equipping them to understand what they read in their Bibles.
In the introduction, Eric profiles two different people who might benefit from reading frameworks. See if you can relate.
Person # 1
“You’re visiting a new church or attending the one you call home, when the pastor asks everyone to grab a Bible, open it up- “Please turn to Matthew chapter 25, verse 14″- and read along with him. On the back of the cushy auditorium chair directly in front of you, you see a spiffy red Bible that some wonderfully efficient staff person has placed there, correctly anticipating your current need.
Instinctively, you reach for it and crack it open. problem is, you don’t have the slightest clue where Matthew is or how on God’s green earth you’ll ever find chapter 25 in time, much less verse 14. As you begin to fumble your way through a few pages, searching in vain for Matthew, your eyes glance to your left where you notice that your neighbor is already safely him in Matthew and, smiling confidently, ready to read.
A few butterflies begin to flutter in your stomach as you contemplate your next move. At that moment you have two options; 1) fake it-put your thumbs squarely ove the word Habbakuk in the upper right and left hand corners of the pages you just opened to, smile and pretend that everything is okay; or 2) turn to that smug-looking person on your left and say, Excuse me-but where exactly is Matthew?” If this is you-you’ve come to the right place.” (p. 13)
“One day, you’re enjoying a cup of coffee with friends who, with your help, are reading the Bible for the first time. Suddenly, they look at you rather quizzically (O thou fount of all wisdom) and from nowhere blurt out: “We were just wondering why does the New Testament start with Matthew? And why are some books soooo long, and others so short? And why do most of the books have such peculiar names? We don’t’ get it. It’s all so confusing.” (Hmm… you mutter to yourself-good questions-I wish I knew.)
A few butterflies begin to flutter in your stomach as you contemplate your next move. At that moment, you have two options: 1) fake it-lean forward, strike a confident pose and make up some fancy story on the fly. “Well… you see… um… a long time ago… ahh… right after Jesus ascended to heaven…,” or 2) Simply look at them and say, “You know what? I have no idea. But I’m sure we can find out.” If this is you-you’ve also come to the right place.” (p. 13-14)
Sound familiar? If I’m honest with myself, I know there are times when I’ve been like the person in each of these stories, I bet you have too. When it comes to understanding the Bible, many of us would be embarrassed to admit that we don’t have all the answers. When we find ourselves in that situation, we can either muster up our pride and try to fake it or we can err on the side of humility and decide to do something about it. That’s where a book like frameworks comes in handy, helping us to finally connect the remaining dots.
So, what’s the root of the problem? Eric believes it comes down to two things: navigation and context. “Navigation is the ability to weave your way among the Bible’s 66 books (and 1,189 chapters) without getting lost-to know where you are now and how to safely travel to where you want to go.” (p. 14) “Context on the other hand, looks squarely at the forest, helping you see the big picture to discover how the trees fit together. Whereas navigation asks where and how questions, context asks who, what, when and why.” (p. 14) This is what frameworks is all about, it’s “a book about Bible navigation and context.” (p. 15)
Frameworks is organized in to two parts. Part 1 (New Testament Frameworks) “introduces the New Testament as a whole by first walking you through the story of Jesus’ life and then providing you with the context into which his story fits.” (p. 16) You’ll also learn briefly about the larger context of the Roman world, the New Testament’s origins, and its writers. Part 2 (Book Frameworks and Themes) “takes you on spectacular guided tours of the New Testament’s books, one by one.” (p. 16) In each of these chapters, Eric explores the following foundational questions for each New Testament book:
- Intro-What is this book like?
- Theme-What is this book about?
- Purpose-Why was it written?
- Outline-How is the book organized?
- Verses-How does it read?
- Navigation-How do I move through it?
- Unique things-What makes the book or its author special?
- Recap-What should I remember most?
- Questions-How can I explore further or go deeper?
- Insights-What one verse can I apply right now?
Here’s a bit more detail on what you can expect to find in part 1. Readers will quickly notice that Eric is offering them a grid they can use to organize and interpret what they’re reading in the gospels. For instance, he divides the life of Jesus into the following phases:
- Birth and youth
- Ministry year one
- Ministry in Galilee
- Training the Twelve
- Road Trip
- Passion Week
Amazingly enough, phases two through six make up the bulk of what we find in the gospels, yet they only cover approximately three and a half years of Jesus’ life. For each of the seven phases there is a map of Palestine and the surrounding area showing where specific events took place, a page of “highlights” summarizing the important events from that phases of Jesus’ life and a list of related Bible verses, so you can “Read about it.” Next Eric moves on to the unique circumstances that influenced the New Testament world, namely the influence of Roman military rule, Greek culture and Jewish religion. Finally, this section comes to a close with some additional coverage of the New Testament in general. First he notes that the text of the New Testament is divinely inspired, written during a 50-year period, widely copied and circulated amongst the larger Christian community and confirmed in the fourth century. Last, but not least is the division of the books of the New Testament into six groups:
- Paul’s letters to churches
- Paul’s letters to people
- General letters
Now for a few thoughts on part 2. This part of the book is laid out based on the six divisions mentioned above. First up is the Biographies of Christ, which encompasses the four gospels. It starts out with a bit of commentary on how the gospels show different sides of Jesus’ life and work and that they address audiences in four different regions. Next the book covers the four gospels in order, utilizing the ten foundational questions noted earlier. I especially like the recap, questions and insights sections at the close of each chapter. They help to bring what you’re learning together in a way that will be fruitful for personal study and equally as useful for study in either a small or a large group. And so it continues throughout the rest of the book, covering the letters, history, and prophecy following the outline of the ten foundational questions.
Let me take a moment to comment on the layout and design in the book. Frameworks has an elegant look and feel that I definitely wouldn’t have expected from an independently published book of this sort. There are many contemporary pictures and artwork throughout. Some of the images are digitized versions drawings that Eric had developed for his course as well as more than 125 four-color images that help bring what you’re reading to life. Eric noted in an author Q&A session interview that the layout of the book was influenced by Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations by Garr Raynolds (New Riders, 2009) and the ways in which he tries to communicate ideas in the book is influenced by Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath (Random House, 2007). Like Eric, I have sat through hundreds of boring power point presentations and have read through my share of poorly designed books. I was excited to see somebody in the Christian publishing space putting forth the effort to take some of the great ideas put forth in these two books to produce a uniquely beautiful New Testament survey the likes of which I’d need seen before.
The final thing I’d like to comment on is who would benefit from this book. If you think back to the two people Eric identifies early in the book (person # 1, who was totally new to the bible and person # 2, who is much more biblically savvy), they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. I think that’s exactly the point Eric was trying to make. Whether you’re encountering the New Testament for the first time or you’ve read through it fifty times, he feels that he has something useful for you in this book. As I mentioned earlier, he wants to help you grow in your love for God through a deeper understanding of that you’re reading in the New Testament. Frameworks: How to Navigate the New Testament is well-suited for personal study, small groups and even a larger classroom setting. Most readers will be able to complete each chapter in under thirty minutes, making it accessible even to those to whom reading for long stints is a struggle. I look forward to reading Eric’s forthcoming Old Testament book tentatively titled Building Your Bible Skills: Old Testament, which Lord willing we’ll see from Eric in the future.
About the Author:
Eric Larson is a writer, teacher and speaker, who for the past 35 years, has helped people from Cleveland to Castro Valley crack open (and navigate) their Bibles. A successful Silicon Valley business executive, he is the founder of Frameworks Resources, a Bay Area publishing company, and is a Bible Teacher at Cornerstone Fellowship in Livermore, California. He and his wife Bonnie live and work in Danville, California.
Where to Buy:
This book was provided by Academic PS for review as a part of the frameworks book review blog tour. The reviewer was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.
Latest posts by Shaun Tabatt (see all)
- Book Review: The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross - April 2, 2016
- Book Giveaway: Being Dad: Father as a Picture of God’s Grace by Dr. Scott Leonard Keith - January 11, 2016
- Free Audiobook: COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE – AUDIO EDITION - January 5, 2016