This review was written for the BJU Campus Store blog. The Campus Store knows that a lot of people buy books online, so it is attempting to provide another service: reliable recommendations from people who (are supposed to) know what they’re talking about.
The Bible tells one story and focuses on one Subject.
This simple point—it really is one point—has been revolutionary for my reading and understanding of the Old Testament. And Vaughan Roberts’ book, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible does a marvelous job introducing and explaining that point. (His book is good enough that it’s required reading in Dr. Ken Casillas’ excellent Old Testament Theology course). Roberts’ writing is admirably simple and concise while nonetheless making ample opportunity for direct quotation of Scripture to demonstrate his points.
The author explains in his preface that he’s only delivering to a lay audience what Graeme Goldsworthy wrote in the somewhat more technical Gospel and Kingdom, and therefore Roberts feels free to borrow from Goldsworthy directly in a number of places. The best example is in his recurring definition of “the kingdom of God”: “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing.” This kingdom, Roberts shows, was granted to and then lost by Adam and has been in the process of recovery ever since. Only through Jesus can it be fully restored.
I’m not a big fan of alliteration, but Roberts’ chapter titles provide one example of how it can be done well to aid learning. Through these titles he traces the story of God’s work to redeem His fallen creation, to restore His rule over the whole earth (1 Cor 15:20–28):
- The pattern of the kingdom: Adam and Eve start as God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing (Gen 1–2).
- The perished kingdom: All of those blessings are lost (Gen 3).
- The promised kingdom: God promises Adam—and later Abraham—that those blessings will be regained (Gen 3, 12, 15, 17, 22).
- The partial kingdom: God restores some of those blessings under Moses and under kings like David and Solomon (Ex 19–20; 2 Sam 7).
- The prophesied kingdom: God’s people split into two kingdoms, but God promises a future King who will unite them—and more (1 Kings, the Prophets).
- The present kingdom: God’s King has made a way through His death and resurrection for all people to become kingdom citizens (Gospels).
- The proclaimed kingdom: All things are not yet under the feet of God’s King; it is the church’s job to tell the world the good news of His rule (Acts, Epistles).
- The perfected kingdom: God’s King will return and set up His kingdom on a new earth (Epistles, Revelation).
Whenever you read the Bible, you’ve got to know where you are in this story. If you don’t, you will misinterpret what you read. This story approach Roberts takes is often called “biblical theology,” and it is increasing in popularity nowadays. I think that increase comes from two things:
- Faithful Christian people hunger for a big view of God, a God who isn’t waiting anxiously to see if mankind will accept this plan for fixing the mess they’ve created—and then having to resort to plans B, C, and D. Instead, God has been on Plan A since before the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4), and Plan A will most certainly succeed.
- Faithful Christian people are frustrated with the moralizing and allegorizing that turns the Old Testament into a series of morality tales, a grab-bag of heroes and villains. They know in their Spirit-filled hearts that God has to be the hero of the Bible, not man, and that allegorizing David’s five smooth stones, for example, was not what God intended. (“Do you want to slay the giants of sin in your life? Then just use the five smooth stones of prayer, Bible reading, going to church, doing your homework, and not dating unsaved girls.” Those are all truths we need to hear, but God didn’t put them in the story of David and Goliath.)
The Old Testament does contain moral lessons for us—from both positive and negative human examples. But there’s something overarching all of it: Plan A, the Big Picture, the glory of God, the Storyline of the Bible.
These major points in Roberts’ book stand very well. Only on a few (not insignificant) points of eschatology do I disagree with him in any major way. For example, he says quite clearly that “the New Testament never leads us to expect that there will be any fulfillment of the Old Testament promises other than their fulfillment in Christ…. We are not encouraged, for example, to look for their fulfillment in the State of Israel and to expect a new temple to be built there. That is to expect a renewal of the model that has now been dismantled” (p. 108).
But that’s difficult to fit with the explicit and insistent nature of God’s promises to Abraham and his seed. Jeremiah 31:35–37 is especially pointed: Israel will remain a nation, guaranteed. And yet Jeremiah 31 is probably the primary new covenant promise in the Old Testament. Romans 11, too, seems quite direct: “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…. All Israel will be saved” (Rom 11:2, 26). Prophecy-hounds may be wrong to read their eschatology too exactly into the daily news, but that doesn’t mean God is done with Israel for good.
Roberts doesn’t have space to deal with objections like these in his introductory work. Instead he does a very good job of putting forward the amillennial perspective. He is by no means alone in thinking as he does. But dispensationalists should be able to read the first 100 pages of his book—up to “the present kingdom” without much disagreement at all. And the biggest points of his eschatology chapters are assuredly true: Christ will return and set up a kingdom on this earth that will bring the unmediated presence of God to all creation.