I used to read the Bible like God was tweeting @ me. A random verse here, a verse there. I had a couple favorite passages (usually pulled out of context) I would go to over and over when I was feeling down as if I was reading a therapeutic book written by some psychologist. Don’t get me wrong, this motivation is great—turning to God for help—but doing it in this way misses the richness of God. When I did read a chunk of text like the story of Abraham or Joseph or one of Jesus’ miracles I would immediately jump to some individualistic-applicational interpretation of the text that had little to do with the actual story I was reading. I’m not sure where you are on the spectrum of reading the Bible. Maybe you’re still on twitter with God, maybe you’re reading large portions of the Bible but lost as to how it all fits together? I’m here to tell you that it fits together. From Genesis to Revelation the Biblical story, God’s story, fits. These books will help you see the Biblical narrative for what it is: One Story, not thousands of random verses. The amazing news is that when you read the Bible like this your picture of God will become more grand and glorious. You’ll begin to see that God meets you where you are, but doesn’t leave you there. Read and enjoy God’s Word afresh!
6. The Servant King by T. Desmond Alexander
This is a tremendously helpful book by a distinguished biblical scholar. The Servant King is only 168 pages, but Alexander covers the whole Bible, scanning for the “Portrait of the Messiah” (the book’s subtitle). It is a quick and easy read, full of helpful information. You will grow in your understanding of Christ and and grow in your love for Christ as you see Him throughout the Biblical Story. Alexander provides his own bird’s eye view of the book, “The purpose of this study has been to trace the development of the portrait of the Messiah through the Bible. While the specific designation Messiah is not used at the start, we noted how Genesis focuses attention on the coming of a divinely promised monarch. Beginning with the Lord God’s promise to Eve concerning the defeat of the ‘seed of the serpent’, the Genesis narrative highlights a unique line of ‘seed’ which is traced firstly through Seth to Noah and then from Noah to Abraham. Against the background of humanity’s existence under God’s judgment, Abraham receives the promise that through this ‘seed’ all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”[note] T. D. Alexander, The Servant King: the Bible’s Portrait of the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Regent College Publishing, 2003), 165.[/note] And we’re off! Following this “seed” through the rest of the Biblical Story. I highly recommend this short, but fantastic overview of the Anointed One.
5. How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright
The four Gospels are about Jesus. Often times though, we read our own modern problems into the narrative. We select what parts of the Gospels we read haphazardly, choosing this story or that story because it seems to communicate advice to our present life circumstance while ignoring the bulk of the other stuff. I’m not saying that we can’t glean practical advice from the Gospels, what I am saying is that they are not self-help books. This is not why they were written, therefore, that’s not how we should read them. All of the Gospels are stories, so we need to read them as stories. Prolific author and renowned biblical scholar, N.T. Wright, helps us mightily in this regard. To properly read and understand the four Gospels, Wright makes use of a handy analogy. He says to imagine buying a new quadrophonic surround sound speaker system. There are four speakers, one in each corner of the room, but the sound is uneven and distorted, so now you have to adjust the volume of each speaker to make sure the sound comes through beautifully clear and organized. Likewise, Wright argues that there are four strands or “speakers” that must all be simultaneously turned up and tuned together to be able to hear the beautifully clear and organized story of the Gospels. The four “speakers” he discusses are: (1) The Story of Israel, (2) The Story of Jesus as the Story of Israel’s God, (3) The Launching of God’s Renewed People, and (4) The Clash of the Kingdoms. Unfortunately, many of us read with only one speaker blaring and the rest are completely turned off (or maybe all of them are completely turned off). By turning all of the speakers on and adjusting the volume to bring them into unison, Wright believes the four Gospels sing this major tune: “The story of how God became king–in and through Jesus both in his public career and in his death.”[note]N. T. Wright, How God Became King: the Forgotten Story of the Gospels, Reprint ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2016), 175.[/note] We can always be nit-picky here, but I think he’s generally right (HA!). I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in the Gospels and what they say about Jesus. Christians, non-Christians, and skeptics alike will better understand the story of the Gospels and hopefully enjoy the music they produce.
4. From Paradise to the Promise Land by T. Desmond Alexander
T. Desmond Alexander (a favorite scholar/writer of mine if you can’t tell) has written a superb introduction to the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy). Do you struggle reading through parts of Genesis (maybe), or Exodus (maybe), or Leviticus (definitely), or Numbers (yes & insert Christian pick-up line), or Deuteronomy (Idk even know how to spell that, let alone read it)? Then this book is for you (so basically it’s for everyone). Part 1 of the book deals exclusively with textual criticism of the Pentateuch, especially form and source criticism. Don’t be turned off by the first part of the book if you have no interest in textual criticism (most don’t), it’s only ~100 pages so simply skip over it and move onto the bulk of the book: Part 2 “The Main Themes of the Pentateuch”. Although I should mention, the last chapter of Part 1 is worth reading for anybody, whether interested in textual criticism or not. Part 2 is exactly like it sounds. Alexander makes his way though the main themes of the Pentateuch. These themes include: Royal lineage in Genesis, the blessing of the nations, paradise lost, who is the Lord?, covenant, passover, tabernacle, clean and unclean foods, holiness, and much more. Alexander overviews the Pentateuch in the first chapter of Part 2, concluding the chapter with this statement, “Although the Pentateuch is a very distinctive history of the world from its creation to the arrival of the Israelites on the borders of Canaan, it is much more than a history of what has taken place. The divine promises of blessing and nationhood, which are so important to the development of the plot, remain unfulfilled by the end of Deuteronomy. As a result, the Pentateuch is oriented towards the future. What will become of these promises? To answer this we must look beyond the concluding chapters of Deuteronomy. As it stands, the Pentateuch is an unfinished story.”[note] T. Desmond Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land: an Introduction to the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 100.[/note] The Pentateuch is the story that begins THE STORY, and reading this book will help you see both. Delight in finally coming to enjoy the Pentateuch and not cringing over hearing the word “Leviticus” or knowing more about Numbers than that cheesy (but funny) pick-up line. Read this book!
3. God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham Cole
What a title, right? Graham Cole says this of the title, “[The title] attempts to capture this important biblical perspective on what God intends for His broken creation.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 22.[/note] Cole, a respected theologian, sets out to write a Biblical theology on atonement (quite the task), and he hits a biblical-theological-doxological home run. The first three chapters tell the story of the world’s problem, while the next three chapters tell the story of God’s solution. These six chapters are an outstanding and edifying overview of the Biblical storyline. Chapter 7 “explores how the peace/shalom that comes through the cross works itself out at the personal, corporate and cosmic levels.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 30.[/note] Chapter 8 deals with how we are to live in light of what God’s done in Christ and chapter 9 discusses the purpose for it all: God’s glory. Cole concludes with this grand statement, “The triune God’s reconciling project will see God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule living God’s way enjoying shalom in God’s holy and loving presence to God’s glory.”[note]Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 230.[/note] This is one of my favorite books because I came away having learned A LOT (about the Biblical narrative and about atonement), but also having worshiped God A LOT. Cole communicates deep biblical-theological truths in ways that produce doxological(worshipful) hearts. I pray that reading this book will help you understand what God has done in Christ, but also that this understanding will lead to worship.
2. Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster
Rarely do I find a book that I know I will reread and continue to reread for the rest of my life, Dominion and Dynasty is one of those books. The subtitle of the book describes the book well, “A theology of the Hebrew Bible.” Dempster sees the Old Testament, specifically the Tanak (the Hebrew Bible is called the ‘Tanak’ because it is made up of three parts: Torah, Nevi’im, and Ketuvim) as one unified Story. The Tanak is structured differently than our Old Testament. They both contain the same books, but they are in a different order. Dempster argues that following the order of the Tanak: Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) shows purposeful structure, composition, and narrative plot. By the way, Jesus seems to affirm the Tanak order as the Scripture He used in Luke 11:51-52 and Luke 24:44-47. Dempster begins the book with a short discussion on hermeneutics (fancy word for interpreting a text) and argues for what he calls a “literary” approach to reading the Tanak (the introductory chapters 1 and 2 should not be overlooked). Then, Dempster works through the Story from Genesis to Chronicles (the last book in the Hebrew Bible) and shows how the unified themes of “Dominion and Dynasty” develop throughout the Narrative. The following quote will give you a taste of the entire book: “This represents the story of the Tanakh, a story that leaves Israel still in a type of exile, waiting for someone from David’s house to come and build a house to bring about the restoration of all things. To be sure, it consists of many texts, but these find their part in a larger Text. The many stories together constitute a single Story. And this Story is about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic Dynasty. In short, it is about the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is unfinished.”[note]Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: a Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2003), 231.[/note] Overall, this book is fantastic and will revolutionize how you read the Old Testament. I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially Pastors and Teachers of the Word. This will inform and transform your reading of the Hebrew Bible. Read and see the Story about Dominion and Dynasty, Geography and Genealogy, God’s Kingdom and God’s King.
1. From Eden to the New Jerusalem by T. Desmond Alexander
If you purchase one book on Biblical Theology, this is the one. If you purchase one book on this list, this is the one. I’ll go so far as to say that the next book you purchase that has anything do with the Bible should be this one. It’s that good. T. Desmond Alexander is a great scholar and an excellent author, and his book From Eden to the New Jerusalem will absolutely transform how you see and read the Bible. Essentially, Alexander traces several themes throughout the Biblical Narrative, drawing these themes from Revelation 21-22. These themes include: God’s dwelling place (tracing the “temple” from Eden to the New Jerusalem), God’s throne (dealing with the reign of God and the reign of Satan), evil and its (his) destruction, the slaughter of the Lamb (following redemption through the Biblical Story), the tree of life, and living as the people of God. A quote from the conclusion of the book previews its material, “The coming of Jesus Christ is vital for the ultimate restoration of the earth as God’s abode. Bringing to fulfillment a series of interlocking expectations that link to the royal line of David, Jesus Christ, as the perfect man, overcomes Satan through his death, resurrection and ascension. As a result of his sacrificial death upon the cross, Christ brings about a new exodus that delivers people from Satan’s control, and bestows on them a holy and royal status. By repenting of their sin and acknowledging Christ’s kingship, human beings are enabled by the Holy Spirit to become citizens of the kingdom of God.”[note]T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: an Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2009), 191[/note] All I can say is that you need to find this book, buy this book, read this book, and grow in your love for The Book.