The title of this book would imply that it is not a book for me. The first time I read the New Testament was when I was eight years old - I think I understood about ten percent of what I was reading, and that was on the surface level. But I did read it. Since then, I've read it multiple times, including out loud, in Latin, in Greek, and for intensive classes at the graduate level. So, naturally, there's nothing in this book for me, right?
I am chaplain in a retirement community where the average age is over 80 - this is perhaps the last American generation where most people grew up with a regular knowledge of the Bible, and yet even in this group, as we go through our Bible studies, many confess at one point or another that what we've covered is new, or different, or in some way a challenge. As a perhaps overeducated person in this field, one of my tendencies is to go for the technical, the intensive, the deep, when perhaps the question is as simple as saying someone's name again. (As an aside, I had one man who once was complimenting my abilities to another, at how wonderful my Bible study sessions were; just as I was tempted toward pride, he then announced, `Yes, he can pronounce all those names!' So much for theology, literary analysis, and the like...)
Ron Allen referenced Dragnet in the introduction, in that he intentionally presents a `just the fact, ma'am' approach, and writes in a deliberately informal (and hence accessible) style. He gives historical background for the book and the people in the book. Understanding the world of Judaism and the world of antiquity helps the reader to put the New Testament in perspective - this was not originally a book written in King James English or in an Elizabethan setting, after all. He then gives two brief overviews of the New Testament, one chronological based on events contained in the narratives, and one chronological based on the authorship of the books (this latter is a bit more fuzzy in that there is greater debate on the order of several of the books, but Allen places them in their brief context here).
His succeeding chapters then give overviews of the life of Jesus, the time after Jesus but before Paul, the Pauline mission and letters, the Gospels (which is in fact a later set of writings than many pieces from Paul), and then later writings. One particularly interesting chapter is the one on famous passages from the New Testament - the `Love Chapter' of Corinthians, John 3:16, the Golden Rule, etc. Allen sets these in context as well as discusses the way they have been used (and potentially misused), and warns against prooftexting, the idea of dueling Bible verses to try to prove a point.
Allen's appendices give the reader guidance for further study, for ways in which to read the New Testament, and a brief discussion on terminology. On the whole, this is a good book, even for the more advanced scholar, who will be reminded of some basic truths and approaches useful for those outside the academic realm, but particularly for those who are looking for a gentle introduction without too much jargon or assumption of set theological or educational background. A willing spirit and open heart will find something useful here.
My one wish would be for an index. Apart from that, Allen's own writing at the end is useful instruction: `While we wait for final and complete knowledge, we should keep in mind that representatives from each end of the spectrum of interpretation all agree that God is love. The nature of God should determine what happens in the church. We should love one another.'