Biblical Theology, Book Review

Book Review: “God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible” by Vaughan Roberts

The Bible, though a diverse collection of writings, is one book. It is not a collection of individual books placed together; it is one book with one story. Vaughan Roberts in God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible attempts to trace that unified storyline of the Bible. Roberts presents the concept of “The Kingdom of God” as the unifying theme of Scripture, borrowing Graeme Goldsworthy’s definition of the kingdom: “The kingdom of God is God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing.” Roberts then traces the theme of God’s kingdom diachronically through Scripture. He divides the storyline of the Bible into eight major parts, which are the eight chapters of his book.

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Summary

First is the “pattern of the kingdom.” Roberts argues that Genesis 1-2 shows God’s original, perfect creation. He emphasizes four truths from creation: (1) God is the author of creation; (2) God is the king of creation; (3) human beings are the pinnacle of creation; and (4) rest is the goal of creation. God’s desire is for human beings to live with him, share in His rest, and enjoy His creation. This is the pattern of God’s kingdom: “God’s people (Adam and Eve) live in God’s place (Eden) under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.”

The second section speaks of God’s “perished kingdom.” God’s perfect creation was ruined in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve sinned. The consequences of sin affected man’s relationship with his wife, mankind’s relationship with creation, and ultimately man’s relationship with God. Adam’s sin and its consequences have been passed to the entire human race. This is clearly demonstrated in Cain’s murder of Abel, the genealogy of death, the flood, and the tower of Babel.

The third chapter is about the centrality of God’s plan of salvation through God’s kingdom, ultimately fulfilled in Christ the King. This chapter highlights God’s grace amidst judgment of sin. After man sinned, God looked for His people, clothed them, and gave them a promise concerning a Serpent-crusher. The translation of Enoch suggests that even in this fallen world, there is a hope of knowing God and escaping the consequences of sin. Noah also found grace in the eyes of God. The climax of God’s grace in the early chapters of Genesis is God’s covenant with Abraham. This covenant includes three key elements: people, land, and blessing. The covenant with Abraham is a promise of the kingdom of God: God’s people (Abraham’s descendants) in God’s place (the promised land) under God’s rule enjoying His blessing.

The fourth chapter focuses on a huge section of the Old Testament, from Abraham to Solomon. The kingdom-promise of God, in some ways, is partially fulfilled in Israel’s history. God’s promise of a people was partially fulfilled in the growth of the Israelites in Egypt. While the children of Israel were in Egypt, the Lord demonstrated redemption by saving His people through a Passover lamb and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea. At Mt. Sinai, God gave His law to His people for them to enjoy God’s blessings through obedience. God also provided instructions on how He would dwell with His people (tabernacle) and how His people could relate to Him (sacrifices). Led by Joshua, Israel finally entered the Promised Land. Through David, God added a fourth element to His kingdom-promise: a king. During the reign of Solomon, Israel seemed to be enjoying the fulfillment of God’s kingdom-promise, only to see the kingdom divided because of Solomon’s sin. Israel’s kings were far from perfect. God’s people then looked forward to a king greater than David and Solomon.

The fifth section focuses on the role and function of God’s prophets. The prophets in Israel were God’s spokesmen. Their task was to warn the people and enforce the Sinaitic Covenant. The dominant themes of the prophets are the messages of judgment and hope. By the message of judgment, the prophets exposed sin and called the people to repent. The prophets also spoke of hope: the fulfillment of God’s promises of a new nation, a new Covenant, a new Jerusalem, a new king, and a new creation. Now, God, through the prophets, revealed the coming of His Servant who would rescue His people—both Israel and the nations. The New Covenant, which the prophets had prophesied, would eventually be inaugurated by Jesus’s death. The new Servant, the new covenant, and the new King all pointed to Jesus. After the exile, God restored His people back to the land through Nehemiah and Esther. Even after the exile, the people’s expectation of a perfect kingdom had not yet been realized. God’s people awaited the coming of Jesus.

Chapter 6 opens with the genealogy of Jesus Christ. He was the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham and to David. Mark identifies John the Baptist as the prophesied herald who will prepare the way of the Messiah. Jesus Himself claims that the Old Testament Scriptures testify about Him (John 5:39). All the prophetic hope in the Old Testament is summarized by the phrase “kingdom of God,” which is a major theme in teachings of Jesus. Christ is the true Adam and the true Israel. He introduces the New Covenant, inaugurated by His death, whereby many are ransomed. He is the new king from David. The kingdom has come because the king has come.

Chapter 7 deals with the time between the first and second comings of Jesus, also called “the last days.” In this period, the New Testament letters were written. The reality of the kingdom is both “already” but “not yet.” Those that trust in Christ, the king, are recipients of the New Covenant and are God’s kingdom citizens; yet, the full expression of its blessings are not yet realized. The reason for the delay is God’s patience in waiting for people to repent and giving them a chance to hear the Gospel. Christ called His disciples to be witnesses of the Gospel. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to enable Christians in their witness.

The last chapter focuses on the last book of the Bible—Revelation. The Book of Revelation is an unveiling of John’s vision of Jesus Christ. After the Lord Jesus addresses the seven churches, urging them to be faithful, John sees a vision of God’s throne room in heaven. From God’s throne, He will destroy all the evil in the world. Afterward, He will recreate the world. The last two chapters in Revelation are about God’s new creation and the New Jerusalem. The New Testament ends where the Old Testament ended: waiting for the final fulfillment of God’s promises.

Analysis

This book is helpful in at least four ways. First and foremost, Roberts accomplishes what he said he would do in this book: trace the storyline of the Bible from beginning to end to help Bible readers see the Bible’s big picture. The summaries and diagrams at the end are helpful in guiding the reader through the storyline of the Bible. In God’s Big Picture, the reader will come to see how the Bible is a unified whole with one story. Second, Roberts clearly demonstrates how the Old Testament relates to the New Testament through Jesus. He points out how Christ fulfills many of the images, shadows, and promises in the Old Testament. In almost every chapter, Roberts points his readers to Jesus. Even his proposed theme of Scripture, “the kingdom of God,” finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ. Third, Roberts’ style is engaging, with various illustrations; yet, it is not theologically shallow. Lastly, God’s Big Picture is beneficial for Bible reading. In the epilogue, Roberts provides helpful practical points on how to read the Bible.

Some weakness in this book, however, include its lack of engagement with the Poetic Books. Roberts’ discussion on how the Poetic Books contribute to the Bible’s storyline was not satisfying. In his parenthetical section on the Wisdom Literature, he only considers three books: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes (p. 88). My dispensationalist friends may not appreciate his view that the fulfillment of some Old Testament promises is not literal, but Christological. To be fair, a full treatment of the issue was never the point of the book. In addition, his specific interpretations in Revelation are debatable. While he introduces the various views on Revelation, he fails to defend and clearly define his hermeneutic of choice. This weakness, however, does not distract from his presentation of the point of Revelation.

Overall, this book is a great summary of the storyline of the Bible. It is engaging, succinct, clear, and enjoyable. This book is a good complement to Bible reading. Roberts will help you see Jesus in the Bible. I recommend this to everyone.

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