In THE VOICE OF LUKE, the fourth book in the multi-author The Voice series, emergent church author Brian McLaren tries his hand at retelling the Gospel of Luke while offering background commentary throughout, with interesting results.
The Voice series is a scripture project touted by the publisher as “designed for the emerging church culture and those seeking new ways of exploring Scripture.” For those not familiar with the term “emerging church,” it’s often used to describe young Christians dissatisfied with traditional Christianity and looking for alternative ways to pursue community and faith with Christ still at the center. The Voice is an ambitious project, planned to span all books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. In the series, authors work to present the scriptural text as narrative story --- including emotion, meaning, experience and more holistic communication --- rather than direct translation or paraphrase.
The formatting may take readers a while to get used to, with so many things happening on the pages. In McLaren’s Gospel of Luke, dialogue is set off and highlighted (avoiding the use of quotation marks) to intentionally give the reading the feel of a screenplay. McLaren uses present tense narration, which he believes helps the reader enter the story imaginatively. This, with McLaren’s commentary (or “devotional notes” as the book calls it), gives the book the feel of a contemporary Sunday morning service that features a long skit paired with pastoral teaching.
The italic typeface, often used in other books to give emphasis, is used here to indicate words not directly tied to a dynamic translation of the original translation. This creates the biggest hindrance in smooth story flow; I had a hard time not emphasizing those words as I read, and it made the narrative a little choppy. The frequent use of exclamation points also may seem a little overdone (one page alone had eight). But who can fault McLaren for letting the characters be so enthusiastic? (Shepherds: Let’s rush down to Bethlehem right now! Let’s see what’s happening! Let’s experience what the Lord has told us about!) Chapters are sometimes referred to as “episodes” within the narrative, and a chapter might open with “As our story continues…” This adds to the screenplay effect.
What may work best about THE VOICE OF LUKE is McLaren’s short “devotional notes” or personal commentary, given in shadow boxes on the pages. McLaren points out developing themes, looks at gaps in the narrative (such as Jesus’s life between birth and age 30) and draws the reader into the text by making relatable comparisons (“Jesus’ family was a lot like our own --- full of mishaps and misunderstandings.”) McLaren is in full pastoral swing in these sections: warm, engaging and educational. One of my favorites: McLaren explains in Luke 3 how, while genealogies may seem tedious to us (all those names!), they were crucial for the culture of Luke’s time. “Luke places Jesus in the mainstream of biblical history, connected to King David, Abraham, Noah, and Adam. Since all humanity is seen as Adam’s descendants, Luke shows how Jesus is connected to and relevant for all people.” Another interesting note tells of the symbolic nature of the rending of the temple curtain during the crucifixion. While a biblical scholar might find these sections basic, a young Christian engaging with the text for the first time will find the commentary helpful in navigating the story.
McLaren also speaks to readers directly in the commentary/devotional notes, inviting them to engage and apply the text: “In the coming chapters, as you encounter these signs and wonders, try to feel the wonder that the original eyewitnesses would have felt, and then ponder their significance as signs of the kingdom of God.”
I found myself nostalgically comparing this series to THE GOOD NEWS BIBLE, which in the early ’70s was my youth group’s New Testament of choice. It was considered radical by our parents, which was key to its attraction. It also tried (in its own way) for a “meaning” version of the Bible as opposed to a translation. Although The Voice project is very different, it continues the tradition of recasting scripture for new generations.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on July 4, 2007