The Month of Reading “The Year of Living Biblically”

This book actually came to me via Hubby who picked it up at the airport bookstore during a trip. I took it with me to Houston in June fully anticipating to have it completely read by the time I got home. Well, not only did I have much time on the trip to read as I’d thought, for me it wasn’t the kind of book to speed through in a few days. The premise is that author, A.J. Jacobs, is trying to follow the Bible’s commands as literally as possible for a year. There was quite a bit that I wanted to think about (aka, mull over). Plus, it was organized well for slow, daily reading. Each section started with a verse followed by how Jacobs tried and/or failed at following that passage literally.

Jacobs stops shaving and grows a Moses-like beard, wears robes and sandals, follows the rules about what to eat and not, etc. But there’s more to it than that. He goes super-literal, like above-and-beyond literal, which beautifully illustrates several things. One of those is an idea he presents at the end of the book as he is summing up his year, and that is the idea of Cafeteria Christianity, that we pick and choose the parts we want or don’t want, much like at a cafeteria. And Jacobs concludes that that’s OK. I’m not sure I agree that that’s how it’s intended to be, but I also don’t know what other option there is. If nothing else, Jacobs reveals how difficult following the Bible literally can be, especially when commands seem to contradict themselves.

Two other things struck me as I read: One, that Jacobs, who does not profess to being a Christian, knows the text of the Bible better than I do. I claim to believe it all yet only know the “high points.” So I need to study my Bible more. The second thing that struck me was to not forsake my daily Bible reading time to read a book for pleasure, even if the pleasure book is about the Bible, like this one was. The book is quite humorous but can also be of value to those interested in looking at the complexities of knowing which parts of the Bible to follow strictly, which parts have implied meaning, and which parts may no longer be relevant. But it’s not The Word and I had to be careful of not letting this replace actual Bible reading.

One final thought. Early on Jacobs talked about the concept of freedom from choice, that instead of being free to do whatever you want there is freedom in limitations. “There’s something relieving and paradoxically liberating about surrendering yourself to a minimal-choice lifestyle,” Jacobs wrote. I couldn’t agree more and I think that’s a difficult concept for non-believers to understand. It’s easy to think that being a Christian will suck out all of the fun with its long list of “thou shalt not’s.” But it can actually be quite freeing and I’m glad that Jacobs saw that.


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