Reformed Reflections

The Drama of Scripture; Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story
by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen.
Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, Mich. 2004. Pb. 252 pp.
Reviewed by Johan D.Tangelder.

Popular Bible study methods often feature ingenious ways of studying the text - its words, its prophecies, its promises, its principal characters, its personal application and so forth - without ever reading Scripture within its context to gain its original intention.

How should Christian college students read the Bible? Too frequently they are encouraged to study the Bible by reading about the Bible. They overlook the historic Biblical plot-line and how it relates together. But it is this plot-line and the great story of Scripture that places Christ and the Gospel in its overall context. Graig G. Bartholomew and Michael W.Goheen, professors at Redeemer University College, point out that we must resist the temptation to read the Scriptures as is they were a religious flea market, with a basket of history and old doctrines here, a shelf full of pious stories there, promises and commands scattered from one end to the other. They argue that the result is that we lose sight of the Bible's essential unity. Instead we find only those theological, moral, devotional, or historical fragments that we are looking for. They rightly state that every part of the Bible - each event, book, character, command, prophecy, and poem - must be understood in the context of the one story line.

In this introductory college textbook to the Bible, the authors want their students to understand the true nature of Scripture. They show how the Bible truthfully narrates the story of God's journey on the long road to redemption, beginning with the creation and ending with the new creation. Only when it is understood what the Bible is can it become the foundation of human life, including the life of the scholar. Another purpose of the book is that students learn to articulate a thoroughly Biblical worldview. The authors masterfully explain how the themes of the covenant and the Kingdom of God provide a coherence for Scripture that helps the reader make sense of its varied parts. They demonstrate that the Gospel is not primarily about our needs and us. They argue that too often we reduce the significance of the cross to the fact that "Jesus died for me." But in their emphasis on God's purpose to renew creation, they do not neglect to mention the believers' need for a personal commitment to and walk with God. They state that believers do share in the accomplishments of His death, and we can say this with joy and confidence. In the cross, Jesus acts to accomplish His purposes for all of history - to save the creation. In the rising from the dead, Jesus inaugurates the renewal of the whole creation, including the physical bodies of men and women. Therefore, whoever believes in Jesus will live and share in His resurrection. In this restored world, the redeemed of God will live in resurrected bodies within a renewed creation, from which sin and its effects have been expunged. This is the kingdom that Christ's followers have already begun to enjoy in foretaste.

The authors emphasize that the Biblical story is about what God is doing in the world. They properly highlight the centrality of mission within the Biblical story. In fact, our Lord's mission mandate sets the tone for the book. In our own time, standing as we do between Pentecost and the return of Jesus, our central task is to witness to the rule of Jesus Christ over all of life. We are called to be busy with the creation, developing its hidden potentials in agriculture, art, music, commerce, politics, scholarship, family life, church, leisure, and so on, in ways that honour God. Although we are to claim every square inch of life for our Lord, we will never see a perfect world here on this old earth. The authors point out that the Kingdom Jesus describes is both present and future: already begun here, not yet here in fullness. The final judgment of the kingdom is reserved for the future.

I commend the authors for this excellent book, which offers a much-needed bird's eye view of the whole story of Scripture, including the intertestamental period. They show us how a good understanding of God's redemptive plan for the ages enriches the faith of believers and aids them in developing a Christian world and life view.