Route 66: A Crash Course in Navigating Life with the Bible [book review].

20110825-053822.jpgEver left reading a so-called “Christian” book feeling empty? It happens to me all the time. Even as a new Christian 15 years ago I was almost shocked how sappy and substance-less the market was for books branded to help Christians grow. Whenever a solid book comes along, combining substance and style, I take heart. (There’s a false dichotomy separating those two, as if to be faithful and true we cannot be compelling? Or to be creative we must become soft on the true message?) I’m convinced that for us to have substantial lives we need to be challenged with solid truth and not just palatable platitudes. Please, no more easy-believism.

I was invited to participate in a blog tour for the new book, Route 66: A Crash Course in Navigating Life with the Bible, by Krish Kandiah. Here’s my review provided freely in response.

Buckle up, we have quite the adventure ahead. The subtitle of Krish Kandiah’s latest work Route 66 [paperback|kindle] summarizes the intent well: “a crash course in navigating life with the Bible.” Oftentimes the driving metaphors used in Bible summaries are such a far reach that it’s painfully obvious the message has morphed to fit into a new mold. Route 66 employs the metaphor of a touring a highway, navigating life with a guide in hand (Route 66 here in the States; think of the winding road in the Pixar animated CARS if that helps). Why 66? That’s the number of books in our English Bible.

What makes this book unique is the author is not content to try to fit God in the glovebox. He is not in the car along for the ride with us. He is in the driver’s seat, showing us the way. Unfortunately that’s rare in popular level Christian writing. Encouraged by the opening pages I grabbed my keys and began down the road optimistic about what lay ahead.

What’s Inside?

A glance at the table of contents:

  • How to use Route 66
  • Introduction: the journey
  • 1. Living Faithfully (the narrative literature)
  • 2. Living Distinctively (the Law)
  • 3. Living Poetically (the Psalms)
  • 4. Living Discerningly (the wisdom literature)
  • 5. Living Prophetically (the Prophets)
  • 6. Living Infectiously (the Gospels)
  • 7. Living Purposefully (the Epistles)
  • 8. Living Hopefully (the apocalyptic literature)

The book ends with a 8-week Bible reading challenge, a list of “tools worth investing in” and a more academic list of “source material.” The author has done his homework, but there’s no hint of bragging in there; Kandiah is eminently helpful in what he shares. Kicking off the 8-week Bible reading challenge, there’s a word of encouragement: “For those people wanting to really grasp the big themes of the Bible, there is nothing that beats reading it!” So true. Krish Kandiah cannot read the Bible for you. (Just as you cannot read it for me.) Reading the Bible aloud you would be finished in about 72 hours from cover to cover. Remember that the whole of the OT narrative literature is about the length of a Harry Potter volume. And it’s far more engaging, fantastical; those books prove truth is stranger than fiction.

We are meant to be involved in the Story, engaging with it, reflecting upon it, making sense of the surrounding world while anchored to it. The Bible is all about God, which is far better than if it were all about us. We’re quite boring and selfish — we hardly deserve a write-up in a magazine when compared to a whole epic story about the true and living God. The parts of the Bible that feel like a grease fire or a train wreck waiting to happen — yep, those are in there — are where WE are asserting ourselves (take Paul’s responding to and challenging the Corinthians for example). Remember, the Bible is not primarily about us.

Driving on the Right Side of the Road

I appreciated how Kandiah corrected the driving patterns of the readers, without be scathing or self-righteous. Take for example his take on our study of one of the 2,930 different characters scattered through the 66 books of the Bible:

“The main problem is that when we focus on a Bible character, we naturally try to draw parallels between that person and our own lives. Because we are biased, we like to identify with the ‘hero’ characters like David, Abraham, Moses, Deborah and Jesus, while the ‘villain’ characters like Goliath of the Pharisees we apply to other people — usually people we don’t like.” (p. 27)

We are more of a mixed bag than that; we are villains too. Take for example the white Afrikaans in South Africa who appealed to the idea of being God’s chosen people, dismissing and harshly treating the native black Africans. Even Apartheid had a Bible-based proof-texting component to it. I am ashamed. (Let’s not blame God for the horrible actions of those whose try to use Him for credibility.)

Another key element, perhaps for me the most important one, was his dealing with the Law. (This is a make-or-break component of all writing and preaching, for the imperatives must flow from the indicatives; the DO’s come after the WHO’s.) It’s commonly thought that in the Old Testament the people had to obey the whole law (or at least the 10 Commandments) in order to be “saved,” to be right with God. But, the story tells us far differently. The people of God, the nation of Israel, were rescued first and then giving the Law. God set out parameters for the good life of His redeemed people. Their obedience did not earn their relationship with God. Their relation to Him was proved by their obedience. As the internet ads tell us, there is one weird old tip to reduce flab: obey. Same spiritually. Since we are accepted, we can therefore obey.

In summarizing the giving of the Law, we read on page 43:

“The order of events is very important. God could have given his people the laws while they were in slavery [in Egypt] and asked them to earn their right to be rescued. But God saves his people first — by grace, and then shows them how to live consistently and distinctively as his people. As Old Testament scholar put it, ‘what the Lord does precedes what the Lord demands.'”

(Every time you hear a sermon preached or read a book, if the message is “if you do this, then God will do ________,” know that you’re being sold a empty bag of goods.)

The section — week two on the Law, “Living Distinctively” — is a key feature of evaluating this book. I wholeheartedly agree with Kandiah’s take on deciphering and applying the various Old Testament Laws (ceremonial, civil, moral), and as a pastor recommend this approach to my people.

Going Somewhere

Route 66 is not only honest with the biblical text; it is also helpful. Each chapter, organized for eight weeks of reading, contains advice for handling and applying Scripture. Linked to the genres (writings, history, poetry, etc.) and themes of Scripture, these guidelines can be practiced immediately. As an epic Story, the Bible brings us the truth of God in varied contexts. The helps you will find are both thorough and concise, a rare feat for a book about the whole of the Bible.

As a pastor who teaches others how to study and enjoy God’s Word, I am constantly looking for tools that bridge the theological-practical gap. It seems anyone could pick up this book and experience an introduction to the Story of God, from the beginner to the expert. There’s something there for all, as the intent is as much transformational as informational.

No Cruise Control

As you read Route 66, the British flavor comes out. (Our is that flavour?) Makes sense, since Kandiah is English, and so we have Jesus our “Saviour” rather than “Savior.” I think you’ll get past those small details, for as you check yourself at the “queue” (line), you’ll realize this is a great book deserving — and keeping — your attention. It’s not entirely British — after all Route 66 is our first great interstate highway. You will be driving through some familiar territory, though challenged to traverse it in ways you hadn’t expected. Even the homework looks engaging. As we venture through each section, such as in the Psalms, we get to the “Travel Journals,” giving us an experiential element to the journey. As Kari and I recently returned from the UK on a teaching trip, the exercise on Psalm 27 caught my attention (that was our key text for the conference there). Consider how you may take this travel journal with you (p. 64):

  1. Use this psalm as a conversational starter between you and God.
  2. Note down what this psalm is allowing you to express to God. How is David’s example of intimacy and resolve challenging to you?
  3. What do you sense God is saying to you through this psalm? What aspects of God’s character stand out?
  4. Invent a catchy jingle using some of the words of this psalm. Sing them over and over until they have wormed their way into your head. Take note every time they pop up during the rest of the day.

We’re doing far more than an inductive study (Observation-Interpretion-Application) here, because we’re involved. The simple method Kandiah outlined here is an invitation for the Bible to study you, to make it personal, even to meditate on good truth.

Features

Along with walking (or driving) through the big Bible story, the author offers four additional features for turning reading into “exciting and effective discussions for discipleship” (p. 8):

Desire trumps Duty.

We can take the Bible seriously without taking ourselves too seriously. Krish Kandiah gets this, so he shares personal stories at appropriate times (like when he drove over his laptop or called his future brother-in-law by the wrong name the entire day they met). He also has a great approach to the Epistles, the application of Gospel truth. Because of who Jesus is, and what He has done, this is how we live courageously Him. There must much truth learning (head), emotional engagement and honesty (heart), and we truly have heard and felt what we live each day (hand). Our intellect fuels our emotions which give rise to our actions (p. 156). Think great truths, feel them deeply, live their daily.

The Open Road

As I finished up reading Route 66 I came back to the introduction to consider some key questions; Open to listen? Open to learn? Open to change? Open to critique? I found Route 66 taking me places in the Scriptures that I had forgotten about. I know they were there, but hadn’t given must thought to their scenic vistas and transforming truth.

For many of us the main obstacle to reading the responding to the Bible is not so much a lack of understanding as it is motivation. Though knowledge is a gap we must overcome, we are far too short on desire. We must each get to the root of why we turn to other sources of wisdom and truth. Why are we content to live vicariously through others’ relationship with God? We’re far too easily satisfied with living a second-hand faith. God has so much for us as we engage with Him through His Word. You can develop a history with Him.

If you’re up for the drive, I heartily recommend a good traveling companion, Route 66.

This book was published by Monarch Books and provided by Kregel Publications for review purposes.

Additional resources from Krish Kandiah’s site:

Free 3 minute Route66 devotionals: from Premier Radio

  1. Jesus the Hero of the Bible – finding Jesus in Old Testament Stories
  2. Jesus the Singing Saviour – finding Jesus in the Psalms
  3. Jesus the wisdom of God – finding Jesus in the Wisdom literature

About the Author: Krish Kandiah

Krish Kandiah Professional » Krish Kandiah is the Executive Director of Churches in Mission for the UK Evangelical Alliance. He is also an external examiner for Oak Hill College, an Associate Research Fellow at London School of Theology, and is part of the theme development group for Spring Harvest.
Dr. Kandiah previously held the position of Director of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, in addition to being Tutor for the Mission and Evangelism at Wycliffe Hall. He was also an Oxford University Theology faculty member.

Pastoral » Before becoming the pastor of a multi-cultural church in Harrow, Kandiah worked with students in the UK with Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship, and in Albania with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. He has wide experience in evangelism and cross cultural mission, and he is in demand around the world as a speaker and lecturer—though he is still a regular speaker at university missions and at Spring Harvest.

Personal » Dr. Kandiah and his wife, Miriam, have four elementary aged children and regularly take in foster babies. Kandiah has a keen interest in movies, photography, rock music, and Liverpool FC. (For us in the States, “FC” stands for Football Club, or as we call it, soccer.)

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