The Heart of it All: The Bible’s Big Picture
In this slim volume, Sam Wells manages to include an overview of the whole Bible in 93 pages and a six-week study guide. The motivating idea behind the book is equipping Christians to give a summary of the whole biblical story. Chapters 1-8 tell the story of the Old Testament, including key themes such as covenant, fall, exile, renewal and return. The New Testament section, chapters 9-18, begins with Paul in Rome, in a chapter called Resurrection, and returns to the person, teaching, work and death of Jesus, before moving to Pentecost, Paul’s missions, and Revelation. The final section of the book is called Commentary and consists of a three-part commentary on what has gone before. The Epilogue speaks of the wonder of Easter Day.
Written from a Jewish perspective, sections on the Old Testament story manage to combine the narrative with some interpretation, without being dogmatic. Chapter 1, Fire, Water and Wilderness, tells the story of the exodus from the perspective of the later Babylonian exile. Chapter 2 begins ‘It turns out that fire, water and wilderness were all about preparation,’ and goes on to say, ‘Under Moses we discovered that our security came only from God.’
The New Testament section of the book begins, in chapter 9, Resurrection, with the words ‘Paul was in a different kind of exile.’ It looks back to ‘who was this Jesus whom God so raised from the dead?’ and makes links with Old Testament prophecy – ‘Isaiah had said “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”’
The commentary makes the point that biblical writers did not know they were writing the Bible, and that both the Old and the New Testaments begin in the middle. Each of these points might be new to congregations!
The study guide invites theological reflection rather than propositional learning. Substantial reading is required, including several chapters of the book itself, and several smallish portions of the Bible. Rather than questions, the studies ask ‘I wonder if …’ or ‘I wonder whether … .’ For example, Week One says ‘I wonder whether Israel wanting a king was a sign of faith or a sign of unfaith.’ In this way, the studies are non-judgemental, and leave room for a range of opinion.
The book seems to provide a very useful focus of study for a sermon series or for home (Zoom?) groups. The ability to present the Bible narrative in such a short space has much to commend it.
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