Cloaking Device

America’s book is seldom read. Those of us who spend an unusual amount of time with the Bible know this from personal experience, but others are starting to notice too. Kenneth A. Briggs’ The Invisible Bestseller: Searching for the Bible in America is a rambling account of the way a variety of everyday people from prisoners to academics and clergy use, read or not read, and perhaps inwardly digest the Good Book. There are moments of stark insight in this book, but with no narrative arc it is somewhat easy to feel like you’re reading about what random people say about the Bible. I don’t need a book to tell me that I’m odd, but much of what I read here was old hat to a guy who grew up Evangelical, went to seminary but never got ordained, completed a doctorate and taught the Bible nearly two decades before being booted out of its company. I’m not sure what I expected to find. Perhaps redemption?

Briggs does provide some useful statistics, and not as maniacally as sociologists do. We learn that few people read the Bible and the numbers are declining. Still, people buy the Bible and tend to have multiple copies in their domiciles. It is cheaper than insurance, after all. Holy Writ, however, is an alien among us. Few people have any idea what it was like to live before smart phones, let alone before the smelting of iron. The concerns and dialogues of the Bible seem so terribly provincial and, to be honest, unenlightened (if one can say such a thing about divine revelation). Still, we won’t accept a president who doesn’t lay his (and it’s always his) hand on the Good Book and swear to uphold America.

The Invisible Bestseller gave me plenty of information to ponder. Some of the tales Briggs tells are interesting. Others are so mundane as to be stultifying. The overarching fact is that the Bible is an established object in our culture. Some take it seriously enough to read it and stick with it—this isn’t easy to do, and I speak from experience here. Such people are rare. After all, apart from getting you a hall pass out of Hell, the Bible doesn’t seem to do much for people these days. Still, when I take a moment to read the Sermon on the Mount, I can’t help but feel we might be missing some wonderful rhetoric by ignoring the Good Book so much. But then again, I’m fully aware that I’m the one that’s odd. Briggs’ book stands as a testament to a couple of testaments that continue to wield enormous power without ever being read.

3 responses to “Cloaking Device

  1. Kenneth Briggs

    I thank Steve Wiggins for reviewing my book and for the most part feel that it speaks for itself.

    What is missing from the review is the attention the book gives to the social and religious struggles that contribute to the decline in Bible reading. The factors go beyond incomprehensibility of the biblical world to a widespread inability of the modern, secular mind to grasp the meaning of transcendence. Closely related is the shift toward individualism and empiricism and the impact of electronic technology on reading itself. Evidence of those forces, and their effect on Bible reading and study, was plentiful across the entire church spectrum. I believe this dimension of the book enlarges its scope far beyond being a collection of disconnected voices randomly reflecting on the Bible.

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    • Many thanks for your comment! Indeed, I often feel constrained by my self-imposed word-limits on my blog here. I very much enjoyed your book and am still pondering the implications.

      The disconnects, I’ll glad admit, are mine. (I do most of my reading on a long commute into New York, and my experience of many books suffers from those conditions, I’m afraid.) Thanks for taking the time to comment here!

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  2. Kenneth Briggs

    Your reply is most gracious and refreshingly candid. It’s the kind of thing that inspires trust. Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

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