Meet the Bible. It’s not what you thought

God Is Disappointed in You by Mark Russell with illustrations by Shannon Wheeler (Top Shelf Productions, $19.95).

This may easily be the best introduction to the Bible ever, especially for readers who haven’t yet plumbed the depths of this most-revered and often-misunderstood of texts.

Russell, who’s written for McSweeney’s, has a light-hearted and irreverent take that is actually that of a true believer. His approach—taking the individual books as a whole and in context—is fundamentally sound and provides a great overview of what the Bible actually has in it, as opposed to relying on proof texts to support doctrine.

That said, he’s also really funny—and that means accessible. Rahab, the prostitute who was spared from the destruction of Jericho because she helped the Israelite spies, is “the helpful hooker.” Jeremiah is “the most hated man in Judah” because he never says anything good about the country and his “Lamentations” are “bad high school poetry.” Or this: “The minor prophets basically existed to give Israel poor body image.” Jesus shocks his disciples with talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, then has to remind them, “Metaphors, people! Metaphors!” The chapter on the book of Acts is subtitled “How to piss off friends and alienate strangers.” Paul’s advice to the Ephesians? “Don’t let a grudge ruin the fudge.”

The book is illustrated with cartoons by Shannon Wheeler (like God telling Moses—who holds the tablets with the 10 Commandments—“Don’t forget the fine print!”). 

And the best is saved for last, in his description of the book of Revelation. He explains it this way in his epilogue:

For the first time in my life, I felt I understood this book [Revelation], not as predictions of events thousands of years in the future, but rather, as the prayer of a man who had witnessed the destruction of everything he loved and thought the end of the world was at hand. To me, this made the book infinitely more powerful, more human, than anything televangelistss or the Left Behind series had to offer.

In short, Russell finds the heart in the Bible—and makes fun of all the petty stuff. And that’s the quality that makes God Is Disappointed in You one of the best books about the Bible this year.