Book Review: Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton

  • p12-AH-makingsenseHardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (March 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006223496X
  • HarperOne

Many thanks to HarperOne for a review copy of Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible: Rediscovering the Power of Scripture Today.  According to Hamilton, his book is “an attempt to honestly wrestle with the difficult questions often raised by thoughtful Christians and non-Christians concerning things taught in the Bible.”  He did not write for the scholar.

An Overview

Making Sense of the Bible is divided into two sections: Section One. The Nature of Scripture.  This section is further divided into two, the Old Testament and the New Testament.  In the Old Testament Hamilton tackles issues of biblical geography and timeline, who wrote the Old Testament, when, and why?  Which Books made it into the Old Testament and Why?  Jesus and the Old Testament, etc.  And in the New Testament, issues such as who really wrote Paul’s Letters, how, when, and why the Gospels were written? Why Books made it into the New Testament and why? etc.  Furthermore, both an overview of the Old and New Testaments are given, each of which, according to Hamilton, can cover in fifteen minutes.  In this section, the reader also encounters the various genres of Scripture, matters of canonization, etc.  B. Questions About the Nature of Scripture.  Is the Bible Inspired?  Is the Bible the Word of God?  How Does God Speak to and Through Us?  Is the Bible Inerrant and Infallible?  And A High View of Scripture?  For Hamilton, when it comes to the Bible’s inspiration, the only difference between the biblical writers and preachers who mount the pulpit today, in the 21st century, is the proximity to the events described in the Bible.  On the question Is the Bible the Word of God, Hamilton relies somewhat on Karl Barth, concluding, “The Bible contains the word of God found within the words of its human authors” (p. 152).  Hamilton rejects both the doctrines of inerrancy and infallibility and challenges the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, favoring instead the fact that Jesus, “This Word of God is inerrant and infallible.  He is fully inspired.  He did not come mediated by others” (p. 150).  Furthermore, “The early Christians did not see an inerrant Bible as the foundation for their faith.  For them, it was Jesus Christ, God’s enfleshed, that was the foundation of their faith” (p. 168).  On the question of a High View of Scripture? Hamilton does not believe a high view of Scripture is defined by inerrancy or verbal, plenary inspiration.  Rather, someone with a high view of Scripture appreciates its history, its humanity, its divine inspiration and who actually “reads its, listens for God to speak through it, seeks to be shaped by its words, and tries to follow its commands” (p. 182).

Section Two: Making Sense of the Bible’s Challenging Passages.  Hamilton addresses Science, the Bible, and the Creation Stories, Were Adam and Eve Real People, Were There Dinosaurs on the Ark? God’s Violence in the Old Testament, Suffering, Divine Providence, and the Bible, etc.  After laying the foundation of the nature and how Scripture should be interpreted in section one, the reader now sees how Hamilton applies them to challenging questions of Science, women in ministry, homosexuality, etc.  The way Hamilton approaches these challenging issues is through the following: (A) the nature of the Bible’s inspiration, (B) what reflects the heart and character of God, and (C) three buckets that biblical passages fit into: (1) Passages of Scripture that reflect the timeless will of God for human beings.  (2) Passages that reflect God’s will in a particular time but not for all time.  And (3) Passages that reflect the culture and historical circumstances in which they were written but never reflected God’s timeless will.  For example, Hamilton is able to say, “But it was only as I began to recognize the complexity of scripture, its humanity, and the various ‘buckets’ into which its passages fit that I was able to see that the prevailing position within much of Christianity may not, in fact, reflect God’s will for homosexual people” (p. 276).

A Critique

Hamilton set out to write a book  thoughtful Christians and non-Christians who honestly wrestle with the difficult questions concerning things taught in the Bible.  For the most part, I believe Hamilton has achieved his goal in these passages, while encouraging the reader to dig deeper.

Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible is a breath of fresh air.  For the most part, while I appreciate Hamilton’s rethinking of the nature of Scripture, regarding issues of its inspiration, the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible debate, I cannot accept all of Hamilton’s conclusions (I don’t think he would want me to, either).  Hamilton has gone places (though not necessarily wrong) where I’ve not gone before nor prepared to go, at this moment.  For example, in chapter 26, “No One Comes to the Father Except Through Me,” while rejecting the pluralist/universalist and exclusivist positions, Hamilton proposes “Christian inclusivism,” a position held by C.S. Lewis and the late John Stott, and a position I find attractive, but not prepared to embrace.  I do appreciate what he has to say about Science and the Bible, especially the first two chapters of Genesis.  On how the biblical authors were inspired to write what they wrote, I believe Hamilton has left a lot to be desired here.  For example, though he tackles a text like 2 Timothy 3:16, there’s no such attempt at 2 Peter 1:21.  I also found something of an inconsistency or confusion, if you will: central to Hamilton’s rethinking on the Bible’s inspiration is this thing about today’s preachers are inspired in the same way as biblical authors with the only difference being that of proximity.  But Hamilton makes the concession that there’s a mystery to the inspiration of the Spirit.  On the issue of women, I wish he had engaged a text like Ephesians 5:21ff.  His chapter on how to read the Book of Revelation is something of a treat.


As I said above, Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible is a breath of fresh air.  For example, it couldn’t be more different than Kevin DeYoung’s Taking God At His Word, which I recently reviewed.  While DeYoung’s work only served to confirm what I already knew from the Reformed and Calvinist camp, Hamilton’s work challenged me to rethink what I believe about the nature of the Bible, especially its humanity, which is so often overlooked and left unappreciated.  So it should come as no surprise that I highly commend Hamilton’s work.  For I think it a good practice to read those with whom oft disagree.

This entry was posted in Adam Hamilton, Inerrancy, Infallibility, Kevin DeYoung, Miscellanies and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton

  1. Pingback: Book Review: “The Bible Tells Me So” by Peter Enns | New Leaven

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