3 Ways to Read the Bible as One Big Story
One of the core values of TGM, the curriculum I am helping develop for LifeWay, is that the materials be "Story-Focused." By that, we mean "focused on the grand narrative of Scripture."
Many Christians are familiar with certain Bible stories, but they are not always sure how the stories fit together into the Bible as a whole. By focusing on the grand narrative of Scripture, we want this curriculum will help participants connect the dots and think as Christians formed by the great Story that tells the truth about our world. We also believe this approach will provide a hope-filled outlook on our world because of the future God has promised. So even when we address theological topics from a systematic or topical standpoint, we want to keep an eye on how this theology is formed by God's big plan.
Here are three Bible-reading plans that help us see the big picture of the Bible. Two are for adults, and one is for children. Let's start off with the adult resources.
Reader's Guide to the Bible:
A Chronological Reading Plan
by George Guthrie
As part of George Guthrie's excellent Read the Bible for Life resource (intended to increase biblical literacy and help churches get the basic foundation of hermeneutics), this new Bible-reading plan takes readers through the Bible's overarching storyline in a way that shines light on the individual parts. The Reader's Guide provides small group discussion questions and personal devotional thoughts.
Guthrie's daily commentary serves as a helpful guide through the Bible. He points out important facts and theological concepts from the daily readings. But he never lets his brief comments overshadow the power and prominence of the biblical text itself. I've been going through the chronological reading plan this year and, so far, I have found it to be very beneficial.
(A full version of the HCSB Bible that follows this chronology will be released in November. But if you want to read chronologically through a different translation, this chronological reading plan will aid your reading, no matter which Bible version you choose.)
Another recent resource is an edited version of the NIV that puts the Bible into a story format. There are timelines, editor's notes (that summarize the parts of the Bible that this version skips over) and footnotes explaining theological words and concepts.
The strength of this approach is that one can read through the Bible as if it were a novel. There are no verse numbers or chapter divisions, the absence of which makes even the feel of the biblical text more like the original manuscripts.
The weakness of this approach is that the editors have to pick and choose which parts of the Bible to focus on. To their credit, they sample sections of wisdom literature and prophecy, not just narrative. It's obvious that their goal is to introduce people to all the genres of the Bible. In some cases (like the letters of Paul), this kind of historical context is helpful. In other places, the format is reductionistic. (There's very little from the Old Testament Law, for example. And harmonizations of the Gospels always bug me, because I love the distinctive voices of the Evangelists.)
Overall, this is a helpful way to get people into the Bible, to see the big picture and focus on the biblical text itself.
The Big Picture Story Bible
David Helm & Gail Schoonmaker
If I could pick only one story Bible for my children, this would be the one. This book teaches children the biblical story from Creation to New Creation – anticipating Jesus in the Old Testament and making his crucifixion and resurrection the proper climax of the New Testament. Even the illustrations convey a message. The artist thoughtfully and strategically places a “star” upon God’s chosen representative, from Abraham to Isaac, from Jacob to David and Solomon. There are future glimpses of Jesus throughout the Old Testament.
The story itself contains one central plot aim: ”God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” This theme provides direction for every story in the book. I've actually given this book away to couples with small children, hoping actually that the parents would read it and learn from it.
The Big Picture Story Bible does not shy away from theology. Of course, theological concepts are kept simple for children, but the author takes great care in pointing to Jesus through the Exodus, the kings, the prophets -reaching back to past events to fill in the meaning of the atonement. All of the stories ultimately point ahead to Jesus.
What about you? What resources have helped you understand the Bible as a whole?