Breakfast on the Beach: The Development of Simon Peter
By Johannes W. H. van der Bijl
Langham Preaching Resources, 2021.
Reviewed by the Rev. Cariño Casas
If you’ve watched The Chosen, the streaming series telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth, you know that they have made great efforts to authentically recreate first-century Galilee and Judea. More importantly, director Dallas Jenkins and his team of writers have made Jesus and the disciples, the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers seem as real as your quirky neighbor or your brash cousin. The visuals take you into Second-Temple Israel and sit you by the fire between bickering James and John. Breakfast on the Beach, by Johannes W. H. van der Bijl, does that same thing with only words, and you are in Simon Peter’s sandals for the ride, from his being called to be a disciple to Jesus’ ascension.
Perhaps because I was in the midst of binging season two of The Chosen, I found van der Bijl’s novelized account dovetailing with the visuals from the show in my head. While Jenkins and van der Bijl imagine the personalities of the disciples a bit differently, their fleshed-out visions of Jesus coincide and link the two works in my mind.
Van der Bijl writes in his preface that when first reading the New Testament he was baffled by the actions and reactions of the biblical characters because they lived in a time and place so different from his native Namibian context. Later he was able to fill in the voids with notes from study Bibles, but he was frustrated that those details were not in the text, in the flow of the story. While teaching in Ethiopia and later serving in South Africa, Van der Bijl began to learn how to contextualize the Gospel narrative and its Second Temple Period context. While serving with a discipleship ministry in greater Africa, he began to use Simon Peter as an example of how we develop as disciples of Jesus the Messiah. Then he traveled to Israel, where walking the land made the Bible pop into three dimensions. So, in Breakfast, we have the fruit of Van der Bijl’s own development as a disciple and teacher.
The author achieves his stated goal of not sounding like a commentary. The book reads like a novel but one is certainly learning along the way. The “commentary” is built into the conversations the disciples have as they try to figure out what Jesus is saying. In van der Bijl’s telling, Simon’s brother Andrew is better versed in the Hebrew Scriptures and often helps Simon along. Sometimes one wonders why van der Bijl made a certain creative choice, and usually there is a footnote to explain with a Bible reference, a bit of Jewish background, or an admission of educated conjecture. I so appreciate that Bible references are included throughout but that they are not parentheticals in the text. Then one has the choice to read the story through as one would a novel or to slow down and do a Bible study.
Breakfast on the Beach is very readable as it is written for use among those for whom English is a second or third language. This makes the book a great tool for an entry-level Bible study. It would work well for high-schoolers and maybe even motivated junior high students. It also makes a great personal devotional for those seeking to follow Jesus the Messiah more closely.
Van der Bijl (pictured with his wife Louise) recently announced on Facebook that Langham Publishers will be publishing Rock the World: The Multiplication of Simon Peter, the sequel to Breakfast on the Beach. I look forward to continuing to walk with Peter in his development into a teacher and church leader.
The Rev. Cariño Casas is the Communications Director of CMJ USA. She began as the media coordinator of Christ Church Jerusalem in 2014. She previously worked as a newspaper copy editor and photojournalist. Cariño serves as a deacon in the Anglican church in the Pittsburgh area.