Saturday, May 26, 2012

Book Review: Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible

Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible. Edited by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, Thomas R. Schreiner. Contributors: Vern S. Poythress, C. John Collins, Gordon Wenham, David Howard, David Reimer, Paul House, J. Julius Scott, Jr., David Chapman, John Delhousaye, Thomas R. Schreiner, Darrell Bock, Dennis Johnson. 2012. Crossway. 160 pages.

I hate to say this, but, I think this is a book about the Bible that requires you to bring your own passion, enthusiasm, and motivation to it. I have always found the Bible to be exciting; a book that engages your heart, mind, and soul. The individual stories are anything but boring. And collectively, the story they tell as a whole is exciting, thrilling, DRAMATIC. How much more dramatic does it get than God sending his very own Son, Jesus, to save a world full of sinners?! From cover to cover, the Bible is about Jesus. And it's a story, or message, that matters. When you really, truly get it, you'll never be bored with the Bible again. (Okay, I make no promises about Leviticus.) But still. This is a book of God's revelation to us. It is how he has chosen to reveal himself to us. This is how he speaks to us. So as a Bible enthusiast, as someone who is passionate about the Word, I was disappointed by how very dry and tedious the text was. Yes, the facts themselves are there. The basics, the essentials, things that you'd be likely to find in any serious study Bible like the John MacArthur Study Bible or the ESV Study Bible are there. Here's the table of contents to show you what to expect:

  • An Overview of the Bible's Storyline
  • The Theology of the Old Testament
  • Introduction to the Pentateuch
  • Introduction to the Historical Books
  • Introduction to the Poetic and Wisdom Literature
  • Introduction to the Prophetic Books
  • The Time Between the Testaments
  • The Roman Empire and the Greco-Roman World at the Time of the New Testament
  • Jewish Groups at the Time of the New Testament
  • The Theology of the New Testament
  • Reading the Gospels and Acts
  • Reading the Epistles
  • Reading Revelation
  • Old Testament Time Line: An Overview 
  • Intertestamental Events Time Line
  • New Testament Time Line

I found the chapters to be a little dry, a little too technical: sharing too much at times, above and beyond what you'd actually need to know to understand the Bible. Reading this one is about as exciting as reading a text book. It just wasn't reader-friendly. Yes, readers could benefit from this one if they dig into it and actually don't mind motivating themselves to read and study. But for anyone who already has a good study Bible (John MacArthur Study Bible in NASB, NKJV, ESV; ESV Study Bible; HCSB Study Bible; etc.) then reading your book introductions and/or study notes and/or articles included within the Bible will do just as good a job. I think the information could be presented in a way that is inviting--still challenging, perhaps, requiring readers to focus--and engaging, encouraging people to connect with their Bibles and see the glorious wonder of it all.

There are three children's storybook Bibles that I'd recommend to adults looking for the "big picture" of the Bible. (Two are published by Crossway, the third is not.) Of course, I'd recommend them to parents to read with children too. But I think adults could benefit greatly from reading these. Because like it or not, it's not safe to assume that people, that believers, are Bible literate.

Sally Lloyd Jones' The Jesus Storybook Bible published by Zondervan.

David Helm's The Big Picture Story Bible published by Crossway.

Starr Meade's Mighty Acts of God: A Family Bible Story Book published by Crossway.

Adult books about the Bible that I'd gladly recommend include:

On the Old Testament by Mark Driscoll
On the New Testament by Mark Driscoll
Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God's Word by Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach
How To Find God in the Bible: A Personal Plan for the Encounter of Your Life by Woodrow Kroll
Read Your Bible One Book At A Time: A Refreshing Way to Read God's Word by Woodrow Kroll
Knowing the Bible 101: A Guide to God's Word in Plain Language by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz
Knowing Scripture by R.C. Sproul
How To Get the Most from God's Word by John MacArthur

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible


Annette said...

I loved your review. The beginning of it was an honest expression of how you felt and you expressed it well! Sometimes non-fiction can be a dry academic type read.

Becky said...

Thank you, Annette! Part of me felt horrible for not loving this one. But, I felt I needed to be honest too. I tried to be as fair as possible and explain why I reacted the way I did.

Italia said...

I'm constantly discussing Old Testament vs New with my family and friends; having grown up reading only the Old Testament, I'm fortunate to be quite familiar with it, but how the New Testament books fit in with the old has often been confusing to me. Likewise, there is a gap between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the new (when Jesus was born and then began his ministry up to Calvary.)

There are thirteen essays. The first, by Vern Poythress, covers how the Bible storyline fits together and most importantly, covers where in the Old Testament, the prophesies and promises all point to Christ. For me, this is the best part of the book, and fitting that it comes first, as it is, for me, the most amazing aspect of Bible study.

There is an essay on the time between the testaments (Julius Scott, Jr.) and a study of the Roman world at the time of the New Testament as well as a discussion of who the Jewish groups were at that time in history. An essay leads you through Revelation, which for many people, is a very challenging and often-misinterpreted book of the Bible.

A study of how to read the Epistles, Gospels and Acts, plus the theology of the New Testament, followed by timelines makes this a compact but deep study guide and how I wish I had this years ago. Surprisingly, it's only 162 pages, but it is packed with many areas that I've had questions about for years and since I have not had the opportunity to study theology or the history of Christianity except in my own reading, this is a really helpful and fascinating guidebook. Obviously, the subject is much deeper than this book could possibly cover, but it's an excellent place to begin reading.