William Barclay-- Insights: Love (Review)

INSIGHTS:  Love: What the Bible Tells Us about Christian Love.  By William Barclay.  Foreword by John Miller.  Edinburgh:  Saint Andrew Press, 2012,  xii +60 pages.

When I was in college, more than three decades back, studying Bible and Ministry, William Barclay's Daily Bible Study commentary series (now available as New Daily Study Bible: Complete Set, 17 vol. set)  was the go-to resource.  The equivalent today might be N.T. Wright's New Testament For Everyone Set, 18 Volumes.  

One of my Bible Profs used them as a text book, so I got to know them well.  Besides providing valuable exegetical help, they offered spiritual and theological insights that held value for us as individuals and as budding preachers.  

Barclay (1907-1978) was a well-regarded biblical scholar from Scotland who had a knack for speaking with clarity and grace to the general reader.  These commentaries were designed for the popular audience, but they were rooted in Barclay's critical scholarship.  He was Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism at Glasgow University, and was considered liberal by some.  I would learn some years later, after reading his autobiography, that he considered himself a universalist.  He was willing to raise deep questions about the text, and yet I never found him off putting, despite the fact that at the time I was relatively conservative in my beliefs.  Perhaps I didn't pay that much attention to where he might diverge from my perceived orthodoxy.  

Barclay has long since departed from this world, and has has been replaced by other scholars, like Wright and Marcus Borg who have found a way of speaking to a broader audience.  Although Barclay isn't as well known today as yesterday, I think he has a few words of wisdom to share with us.  

And that's what he does in this little book of insights on love.  This small book is part of a series of books published by Saint Andrew Press and distributed in the United States by Westminster John Knox Press that pick up specific topics -- in this case love -- and provide readings from Barclay's commentaries on the topic.  In this particular book there are fourteen reflections.  

To give a sense of his style and perspective, consider this paragraph from his reflection on Matthew 5:43-48.  It's the closing paragraph:

It is the whole teaching of the Bible that we attain our humanity only by becoming Godlike.  The one thing which makes us like God is the love which never ceases to care for others, no matter what they do to it.  We fulfill our humanity, we enter upon Christian perfection, when we learn to forgive as God forgives, and to love as God loves. (p. 20)
Or consider this reflection on John 12:1-18, where we read of Mary's anointing of Jesus:

We see love's extravagance   Mary took the most precious thing she possessed and spent it all on Jesus.  Love is not love if it nicely calculates the cost.  It gives its all, and its only regret is that it has not still more to give. (p. 28).

If you're looking for brief, readable, insightful reflections on these issues and seek a word from Scripture that is interpreted with critical care and spiritual devotion, I think this set of books will be worth your examination.   Although the publisher sent me copies of each of the above mentioned topics, I've only read the book on Love.  But that was sufficient to remind me of Barclay's wisdom and grace.   


Anonymous said…
Thanks for sharing this. I recently started reading Barclay's book on the Apostles' Creed and, while I had always been adverse to stating creeds, I have found this book to be extremely helpful in understanding the real role of creeds in one's life in a religious community (much different than I had believed it to be previously). I look forward to starting this book on love after I finish the book on creeds.
Robert Cornwall said…
Andrew, I think you'll enjoy this little book! Barclay writes well!
Steve Kindle said…
Bob, you reminded me of Barclay's "universalism," and I recall this (near) quote from his autobiography: "If there is a hell it is only for redemptive purposes."

I knew a student studying at St Andrews who dropped in on Barclay one afternoon. He was spotted by a gardener while lolling about, wondering if he should knock on the door. He invited him in to meet the man. Barclay dropped everything and spend a good hour with him. What a guy!!!

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