What They Don’t Tell You: A Survivor’s Guide to Biblical Studies Book Review

The book titled What They Don’t Tell You: A Survivor’s Guide to Biblical Studies is authored by Michael Joseph Brown. The sole intention of inscribing the book was to help students reach conclusive understandings about the presuppositions and mindsets that relate to the academic discipline of studying the Bible. This book’s first edition was published by Westminster John Knox Press in the year 2000 in the English language. This whole book seeks to illustrate the expected requirements for one to be an astute Bible reader. Thus, to achieve this aim, Brown offers Bible scholars and students an analysis into the divergent presuppositions that exist in relation to the Bible by offering explanations that help to ease the tensions arising out of the textual interpretations that people give to the book. Other than the provision of the information on biblical criticism and the varieties of perspectives likely to be experienced as a result of biblical studies, Brown clarifies the difference between Bible study and biblical studies, furnishes the biblical interpretation methods and provides a brief history of biblical scholarship (Brown 22).

Description of the Book

The right book can be a great and invaluable resource material for a student for a long time. The selection of the right book also provides the student with the opportunity to deeply engage with the contents of the book in relation to its thematic requirements. The scope of this book seeks to meet the educational needs of beginner students in their introductory stages of the academic study of the Bible. The systematic arrangement of Brown’s book into various chapters and sub-sections greatly offers a reader the opportunity to identify the particular subjects under discussion. In chapter one, the writer outlines the underlying principle and methods of academic Bible studies in contrast to the devotional Bible studies. The succeeding chapters base on the foundational provisions of chapter one and through 28 rules of thumb the reading and interpretation of the biblical texts are expounded. Furthermore, these rules are intended for developing understanding and survival of biblical scholarship.

For the most part, the remarkable aspect of this book is the realization of the fact that a person can engage in academic study of the Bible without necessarily losing their faith in God. Relating this to critical and biblical scholarships, Brown notes that this is too much overstated, imbalanced, and full of arrogance, which cannot effectively enable an individual to re-evaluate their spirituality. More specifically, the author from a moderately critical perspective persuades the readers to seek an understanding of the biblical teachings expressed in the book. However, he does this without aggressively pushing the readers to accept the conclusions that he makes (Brown 86-93). This perspective leads to the understanding of the limits that exist in the study of the Bible.

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The book also expresses a form of skepticism in its recording of the historicity of biblical events, which might make it appear as frustrating, especially to a conservative student. However, the explanation given in response to this is that the key aim of the book is to provide the understanding of the methods, rules, and assumptions of the critical scholarships. Anyone who opts to study biblical studies should be prepared to contend with the radical ideas expressed in the book. Ideally, the radicalism as outlined by Brown may force a person to change or let go of some of the preconceived ideas they have in relation to spirituality and the biblical texts.

To this end, the structure and development of the book rightly highlight the importance of the rules to the theologian students. It is common knowledge that people have the tendency to project their identities biblically considering the adaptation to cultural orientations. Brown opines that the rejection could be as a result of the differences in personal attitudes.

Finally, the author immensely applies the contextual approach in his analysis and particularly focuses on the realities of the book. Consequently, the author from the descriptions provided seeks to create awareness into the potentiality of the contexts that one benefits from reading and application of the biblical concepts. This clearly brings out the decency he uses in the critique of the objectivity of academic religious studies. It is imperative for a person to develop an understanding of the fact that there are diverse approaches to the biblical criticism; however, the difference in the approaches given to the functions depends on the type of biblical text chosen.

Personal Appreciation and Evaluation of the Book

In my perspective, I find most of these rules of thumb to be sound. I would combine this perception with the statement made by the author that during reading the text, one should apply a critical eye. In reality, I think that the majority of the rules of thumb are honest and good. According to Brown, the 28 rules will enable beginner students and other interested readers to understand scholarly assumptions and comprehend the biblical texts. The distinctiveness of this manuscript is in the addressing of the problems that most students face in the reconciliation between their faith and the biblical studies. The acceptance of the principles of this book helps them to learn the biblical language as well as onslaughts and prejudices that they encounter in the learning centers (Brown 143 – 152).

I consider the advice Brown gives in his book in relation to the study of the Bible very succinct and clear; it enables quick comprehension of the message. However, he deeply expresses this message in a manner that may not be straightforwardly comprehended by a portion of the readers who are not fully interested in the book. As a result of the same, I would greatly recommend this academically enriched book to both the novice and the advanced learners of the Bible and biblical studies. Generally, I consider the book as a great source of information to the students of theology, which perfectly highlights the matters related to biblical studies.


I have come to a conclusion that while the best environment may not have been created for the critical inquiry of the text by a reader, the book harmoniously blends the thematic responses and uses the same to attain an objective introduction of the ideologies in theology to beginners.

In my view, this book can greatly help students to comprehend the nature of God. What a person looks for in the Holy Scriptures largely depends on their prejudice, and this may result from their upbringing spiritually. Thus, I would agree with the author that most of the Bible scholars usually have their own ideas which they only seek to approve or disapprove. Particularly, I am deeply impressed by Brown’s note that most of the biblical scholars derive their motivations from the reactions against religious commitments (Brown 112). For instance, it is interesting to read about how most scholars have only sought to read Paul’s biblical books through doctrinal lenses without attempting to understand the same.

Works Cited:

  1. Brown, Michael J. What They Don’t Tell You: A Survivor’s Guide to Biblical Studies. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2000. Print.

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