What’s the Bible About?

I recently tweeted that the Bible is about the need for, the context of, and the effects flowing from the Gospel. I stand by that summary but perhaps it is too trite, too simplistic to be of any real help to anyone? An elderly German lady I had the privilege of leading to Christ and, within a year, of burying, approached me once after a Sunday morning service and said, “Pastor Joe, I have a qvestion,” (you’re supposed to read that with a heavy German accent). “Why is so much of the Bible full of violence and God’s anger?” (Those weren’t her exact words but this was the gist of what she asked me.) If I had just told her, “The Bible is about the need for, the context of, and the effects flowing from the Gospel,” she would have just repeated her question since I would not have given her a satisfactory answer. Her life was hard and she had suffered much. So she was not patient with pat-answers and flippant theology. I don’t quite remember how I answered her… but I know I covered something like the basic points of sin, guilt, God’s justice and the Gospel. I don’t think my answer to this lady’s question convinced her at that time to trust in Jesus. But I do think God used what I taught her as part of how He helped her with her doubts and questions and finally saved her through faith in Christ. She was born again sometime in early Spring 2008. She had a stroke while doing her Christmas shopping later that same year and died a few days later. I can assure you that she now is glad her fumbling, inexperienced young pastor did his best to answer her myriad questions. I’m sure glad God brought her into my life. I look forward to seeing her again!

Someone has said that to be an effective pastor is to prepare people to die. It is to be used by God to connect sinners, in the midst of their sin, suffering and complex experience, with the major themes of the Bible, assisting them to appropriate the reality of who Jesus is and what He has done. Any summary of the Bible, if it is going to be of any practical help in addressing the real struggles many people have with the actual content of the Bible, has to somehow address the tension between the Gospel—the good news about Jesus Christ—and the bad news that makes the good news so good. The Bible spends a lot of time—much of the Old Testament in fact—establishing how and why humanity deserves God’s anger and that God is rightly angry. But throughout its pages, even while establishing the justice of God’s wrath, there is a thread of hope. There is in some places the merest hint of grace; in others a blazing epiphany of God’s loving provision of a way of salvation. The Bible is about our rebellion and God’s consequent wrath and about our desperate need and God’s extravagant provision. Both streams—rebellion/wrath and need/provision—come together in the climax of the cross. D.A. Carson tells it like this:

I found this video on C.J. Mahaney’s blog (posted by Tony Reinke) along with these two helpful resources: a quote from Carson in which he summarizes the Bible even further in just 240 words, and a book by Carson in which he expounds the message of the Bible in 240 pages.

The Bible in 240 Words

God is the sovereign, transcendent and personal God who has made the universe, including us, his image-bearers. Our misery lies in our rebellion, our alienation from God, which, despite his forbearance, attracts his implacable wrath.

But God, precisely because love is of the very essence of his character, takes the initiative and prepared for the coming of his own Son by raising up a people who, by covenantal stipulations, temple worship, systems of sacrifice and of priesthood, by kings and by prophets, are taught something of what God is planning and what he expects.

In the fullness of time his Son comes and takes on human nature. He comes not, in the first instance, to judge but to save: he dies the death of his people, rises from the grave and, in returning to his heavenly Father, bequeaths the Holy Spirit as the down payment and guarantee of the ultimate gift he has secured for them—an eternity of bliss in the presence of God himself, in a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.

The only alternative is to be shut out from the presence of this God forever, in the torments of hell. What men and women must do, before it is too late, is repent and trust Christ; the alternative is to disobey the gospel (Romans 10:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Peter 4:17).

(Source: D. A. Carson"The Biblical Gospel" in For Such a Time as This: Perspectives on Evangelicalism, Past, Present and Future, ed. Steve Brady and Harold Rowdon [London: Evangelical Alliance, 1986], 80. I found this reposted on Of First Importance from C.J. Mahaney’s blog here.)

The Bible in 240 Pages

Carson also wrote a 240-page book entitled, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, developed from a wonderful series of talks by Carson which I have blogged about previously. In Tony Reinke’s post on C.J.’s blog, he writes, “The book is a reliable guide for any reader seeking to better grasp the Bible’s major storyline…”. So if you feel like you need to see just how the above summaries of the Bible are actually connected with all the stuff you’ve read about bloodshed, war, sin and an angry God in the Old Testament, and much more, you can buy the book, the DVDs, the study guide or download the free video and audio.

People don’t need to know their pastor is their buddy. They don’t need their pastor to give them parenting tips and self-help drivel. What they need is the Saviour. God has given us the Bible to lead us to the Saviour. If you’re a pastor and reading this, not only are there better things you could be doing with your time (why on Earth are you reading my blog?) but you will be held accountable by God for whether you prepared people in your care to die well. Here’s a tip: try using what He gave you for just that purpose: the Bible. That’s what it’s all about.