I received my first Bible as a gift from my grandmother on December 25, 1962. I was nine years old. I was moved by her gift, but only because I knew through movies and television that it was supposed to be a special book. Cecil B. DeMille, the director of several epoch movies, was the only teller of Bible stories I knew. Charlton Heston, the actor who played Moses in “The Ten Commandments,” was the only holy man. Beyond that, I was not sure what to make of it. It was a talisman, a lucky charm.
Our family was not a religious one. No appeals were ever made to the Bible, or to God, to support any belief or decision, or to reinforce any kind of moral behavior. The only time Bible-related topics were discussed was when I, or one of my siblings, asked questions like: “Mom, what are we religiously?” or, “Do you believe in God?” or “Is Jesus the Son of God?”
I remember picking up my gift-Bible on a number of occasions wondering what to do with it, wondering where to begin, wondering how to begin. I was a poor reader. I struggled with comprehension, and quickly gave up trying. So, the Bible remained an unresolved Rubik’s Cube.
Enter Valerie. We met in junior high school, and began dating in high school. I eventually attended church with her and embraced the gospel on June 27, 1971. Some of what the Bible taught came into clearer focus. I could even remember a text here and there. Eventually, I was invited to teach a high school Bible class.
My hunger for knowing God and understanding Scripture grew along with my desire to leave my job with the phone company to attend a school of biblical studies. I attended the Southern California School of Evangelism (SCSE) in Buena Park, California. We studied the Bible book-by-book, church history, logic, English, and whatever else the leadership deemed important. The course that came closest to helping me see the Bible as a whole was taught by Don Sullivan. The course was the Scheme of Redemption, a subject he studied under Ed Wharton. Don helped us to see the thread that held all sixty-six books together. It began with the promise God gave to Abraham—that in his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed—and how that promise was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. My appreciation for the story dimension that provides the literary vehicle for redemption history came a dozen years later.
Leland Ryken begins his book, Words of Delight, writing:
Because the Bible is a book with religious authority we tend to assume that it is a theology book. But if we look at how the Bible presents its material it resembles a literary work more than anything else. It is filled with stories, poems, visions, and letters. The thing that it is emphatically not is what we so often picture it as being—a theological outline with proof texts attached. (11, 1993)
The Bible tells a story. It is God’s story. It is about God’s mission, the Story of redemption. It tells us how God saves man through His Son to God’s glory. Paul states it succinctly in the long rich sentence that opens the letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14). Three times he affirms that man’s salvation is to the praise of the glory of God’s grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14). He summarizes the theme of the Bible when he writes that God, “through Christ reconciled us to himself ” (2 Cor. 5:18). John summarizes the story with the words of a great multitude crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev. 7:10)
The aim of this work is to point the reader to the underlying Story of the Bible. That Story is the thread connecting Genesis to Revelation and every book in between. It provides the context for the individual doctrines by which we do business. It will help the reader to understand their origin, purpose, and destination because the story the Bible tells is also our story. It will tell us how the world got into the mess it is in, and how to get out of it. These are the sorts of things that form worldviews.
Outline of the Book
Every story has a beginning, middle, and an end. The beginning of the Story the Bible tells is easy to find. It is in the opening pages of the first book—Genesis. We find the middle of the Story at the cross of Jesus Christ, and the Story ends with His return.
There are hundreds of episodes that make up the whole Story. Some of those episodes move the Story along to a greater degree than others. There are around a dozen such episodes. These turning points alter the direction of the Story, or advance it in some way.
Other books have been written that help readers to understand the Bible book-by-book. This book will draw primarily from the narrative sections of the Bible (Genesis to 2 Chronicles; the Gospel accounts, and Acts), and from the more expositional (the prophets and the letters of the New Testament), and poetic (the Psalms) texts to supplement what is written in story form.
To get us started, I would like to simplify matters by pointing you to some work done by N. T. Wright (Wright, p. 141 NTPG, 1992). Professor Wright suggests that the Story of the Bible can be divided into five acts:
Act 1 Creation
Act 2 The Fall
Act 3 Israel
Act 4 Jesus
Act 5 The Church
Craig Bartholomew adds a sixth act to N. T. Wright’s five-act scenario. He adds the story of “The Return of Christ.” We will follow suit by calling the sixth act, “The Return of the King” (13, 2004).
Other students of the Bible view the Story a bit differently, in particular the last two acts. I am not going to spend time refuting paradigms I think are off the mark, or defending the Story as I present it in this book. My primary purpose is to help the reader understand that the connecting thread of the entire Bible is best seen by means of the cohesive story it tells. If you do not know the Story, perhaps this is a good place to begin. Later, if you disagree with the outline I provide, you will know why you disagree. At least you will have begun to see the Bible through a narrative lens.
While my breakdown of the Story takes into account six acts, my focus will be on the major turning points in the Story. The subtitle of this book is: Pivotal Moments in God’s Story. The emphasis is on Turning Points. While five of the six Acts are turning points in themselves, Act 3 contains six turning points.
The turning points are as follows:
The Giving of the Law
Give Us a King (two chapters)
The Departure of God
The Return Home
The Return of the King
The concluding chapter identifies several of the benefits that accompany knowing this Story.