As the title suggests, A.J. Jacobs sets out on a quest to try to follow the Bible as literally as possible. Jacob’s is a self-professed agnostic liberal with some Jewish family roots. This is his presupposition going into this one year experiment. While Jacobs is exposed to many different religious experiences and mostly extreme religious groups (both within the Jewish and Christian context), he never really gets past his initial presuppositions.
Nonetheless, Jacobs writes in a witty and engaging manner. Though I often cringed and disagreed with his conclusions, I found his book to be an enjoyable read. As a pastor within in the young, reformed, and evangelical movement, I find books like Jacob’s to be very insightful, helping me see religion in general, and Christianity specifically through another perspective (c.f. ‘Jim and Casper Go to Church’). I do believe we all have ‘blind spots’ and sometimes reading or listening to another person’s perspective is helpful in analyzing what we are doing and why we do it.
A.J. sets out on an adventure to follow all the laws and commandments of the Bible as literally as possible. Along the way he discovers the vast variety of interpretations available as to what it means to follow the Bible literally. He also discovers the great difficulty of following the law – To which I say, ‘you’re getting close to understanding the gospel now A.J.” – Or as the Apostle James writes, “10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10). Furthermore, Jacobs is immediately guilty of breaking the Law since it says that we are to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Dt. 6:5)” As A.J. admits, an agnostic simply cannot do this…
A.J. decided to spend the first nine months of his Biblical year focused on the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and the remaining months focused on the New Testament (since that is proportionally the same as the Bible as a whole). While I enjoyed his varied attempts at following ‘the Law’, I was really looking forward to his take on the New Testament. Sadly, this part of the book was the weakest part. He really didn’t know what to do with it… especially since Jesus came to fulfill the law and offer a gospel of grace. As a result, A.J. spoke briefly on a few random passages and went to visit some fringe elements of American Christianity such as Jerry Falwell’s church and the snake handlers in the Appalachian mountains. A.J. also had an old mainline theologically liberal pastor on his religious advisory board. It’s too bad too, since A.J. and his family live in Manhattan, New York. He could have easily met and interviewed one of the sharpest, most thoughtful, influential, and gospel-centered pastors in the country – Tim Keller.
At any rate, I enjoyed A.J.’s unique take on religion and his self-depricating sense of humor… you might too.