Monday, November 24, 2008

Book Review: The Year Of Living Biblically

Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs

Thanks to Lee who saw this on my Amazon Wish List and offered to let me borrow it. This book has had a fair amount of buzz to it, so I'm not sure exactly what I can add to the many reviews out there but I will try. First of all this book is quite unique. I mean it really is different. The story is about an editor for Esquire magazine (definitely not a Christian magazine) who decides to spend an entire year trying to follow the Bible as literally as possible. A liberal agnostic who is Jewish in, it is humorous to see him attempt to not just follow the commands but to attempt to be open to a faith that he fully admits he does not have. If you hear the premise of the book you can see two possible dramatic conclusions: an eventual embrace of faith or a passionate rejection of it. I don't want to give too much away from the ending of the book but neither of these happens. I liked that.

What makes the book so different and so unique is the tone of the author. You keep bracing for negativity and criticism but instead you are met with something else - respect. The book is witty and pokes fun at much but even as he interviews and considers the fringe elements of Judaic and Christian fundamentalism he treats them all with respect. Christians could learn something from this respectful tone! I also liked his honesty as he grapples with complex issues of religious observance and the difficulty of keeping even the simplest of commands (ex/thou shalt not lie). Some of his attempts to keep the commands about cleanliness, circumcision, and stoning had me both laughing out loud and thankful for the freedom that Christ followers have from the Law. His attempts at things like prayer and faith made me think about my own spiritual journey quite a bit and at times I felt myself quite moved. All Christians can fall into the trap of outward expression of religion for religion's sake and this book helped me to see how empty that really is (especially at the end).

The author spends 9 months trying to observe the Old Testament and then 4 months on the New Testament. It was interesting to see how he noted the major difference in Judaism and Christianity; Christianity to be truly embraced is the belief in Christ. The author fights this. All in all, I found his embracing of the last 4 months to be a bit lackluster but he is honest about it. How can he truly embrace it when he has not truly embraced Christ? I found his honesty refreshing.

I recommend this book to those looking for something a little different. I read portions out loud to Jobina some night and we both laughed hard. I was also challenged as I felt some of my own views towards God challenged and sifted. This book is not for everyone but it's a great way to see the Bible through the eyes of a honest spiritual seeker (albeit it one who admits his own impure motives in doing this experiment). It would be a great book club book or a nice break from all the sanitized and squeaky clean Christian books that you see in your local Christian bookstore. To hear/read a sample of the book go here. I rate it 4.4 stars out of 5.


Moxymama said...

I have been wanting to read this for a while. It sounds really interesting. BTW, did it take a long time for you to get your first book for that book review site? I still haven't received mine.

Mark said...

It is definitely interesting - a spiritual outsiders take on observing the regulations of the Bible. As for my book from Nelson, nope, haven't got it you!

Lifelines said...

I heard about this book a while back. Now I'm going to have to put a hold on it at the library. Thanks for the review!

roverT said...

I can't wait to read it. I have heard so many good things about it.