The Book that James Wrote

Earl F. Palmer, The Book That James Wrote, Vancouver, B.C.: Regent College Publishing, 1997. 90pgs.

I am currently doing a study in James with a friend, and so a couple weeks ago I dropped by the Regent bookstore and library to get some books on the subject. I decided to buy two, and then see what the library had to offer. Usually, when I am buying books on a subject, rather than getting specific books or specific authors, I talk to the people at the bookstore and get their recommendations. They tend to be good. And that is how I came to have, and read, Earl Palmer's The Book That James Wrote.

This short book is a kind of commentary on, or exploration of, the book of James (I know, your shocked). Palmer approaches James as a book written by a pastor seeking to give sound advice and wisdom from within the Jesus tradition. Palmer pictures James as a man throwing stones into a lake, and watching as the waves ripple around the lake. James' themes interact, overlap, and repeat, all in good Jewish fashion. Within this, Palmer pulls out three major themes which James circles around: Faith (what true faith is, and what it means to have it), God (who He is, and how we can understand Him better), and pastoral advice that comes, largely, out of these first two themes.

Palmer begins his book with several short introductory chapters explore the place where this book was written (Jerusalem), who it was written to, its style, and its introduction. From there, the majority of the book (the last three chapters) explore James' three main themes.

Palmer writes in a style I have always found frustrating. Its a bit like reading Henri Nouwen. He is brief, straightforward, and simple. None of those are bad things. My reaction, nearly every time I read a book such as Palmer's, is this: when reading books in this style I feel like the author is not saying enough, or is too simple, or is making something seem deep when it really isn't. My struggle with that is that this reaction can have two sources, and they are difficult to distinguish. On the hand, it may be accurate. I could really be holding a book which is a waste of time. Or, I could be holding a book which is just beyond my experience. So, the simple and straightforward writing appears overly simple and brief to me not because it is, but because I am failing to understand and relate to the points being made. This second reaction is what I have found to be true with Henri Nouwen. Nouwen is always highly recommended, so I read a bunch of his books in my undergrad, and continually wondered why he got such good reviews. However, as I grew older, had new experiences, and specifically as I began in ministry, Nouwen became more and more helpful. But other than waiting and reading the book again, how can one tell the difference between these two sources of my reaction? I have no concrete answer to this. Partly, I rely on the advice of others; if lots of people think the book amazing, then I am probably missing something. Partly, I try to examine my reactions more deeply. Was there some part of the book that did seem to strike home? Is that an indication that the rest was badly written, or that I am not ready for the rest? And I can answer that question by comparing the different sections.

So, which is this book by Palmer? I think its a bit of both. Some of his sections are indeed simple and short. They are included, I believe, merely because Palmer had to say something about each verse, but he did not, in fact, have very much to say. However, there is some gold in this book. Particularly chapter 8, on James' pastoral advice, was excellent. This is likely because this is the section closest to Palmer's own heart, as he is a pastor in Seattle.

This may be a good place for some to start in studying the book of James. However, if you have thought deeply about the epistle before, or if you are used to reading literature on biblical writings, you will probably find this book disappointing.


synsia said...

hey! you said if i ever found a book that i liked i should recommend it. try "sky blue" by travis thrasher. its a book i got from someone on my baptism day. give it a shot

Andrew said...

It is not on my list of books to read :) Could I borrow it from you?

Either way, I will read it and let you know what I think.

synsia said...

sure thing i'll bring it next time i see you since i'm away at nelson this week ..or i'll pass it to carrie :) and thank u ..for the parable. its a story that really makes me rethink my opinion about God and what this plan is... thank you