For some of us our knowledge of the Bible is like a refrigerator door covered with post-it notes, each containing an important message but there is no coherence between them. For some it’s like reading a Dictionary; a lot of important pieces of information but no thread to the story. This course will help you make sense of all those pieces. Dr. Downs will give you a file cabinet containing major folders into which you can insert your individual file folders. I’m not sure what the exact age is, there probably isn’t one, but somewhere in the formative years of our spiritual development this should be a required course of learning. If you want to be able to summarize the Bible on a table napkin, this will give you a way to do that.
DESCRIBING THE ELEPHANT
In this first session, we’ll examine why having a “big screen” perspective for the entire Bible is so vital for all disciples and critical for those called to leadership. Through this journey, you’ll be introduced to the structure of your English Bible and how, in learning that structure, you can develop the skill necessary to manage the Bible’s content, purposes and applications throughout your life. You’ll also begin to learn how to use this big picture, Bible-management skill to enhance your own teaching and mentoring impact. Okay. This will be 30 fast minutes. Get your biblical track shoes on and get ready to run.
SETTING THE COMPASS
In our next 30-minute sprint we’ll explore the foundational books of the Old Testament. Known formally as the Pentateuch (literally, “the five books”), these writings set the course for our OT journey helping us understand the characteristics of the history we’ll examine later and the nature of the instruction being directed at the people living out that history. In these compass books we’ll see the plan of God with respect to his creation and then with his people, Israel. We’ll begin to understand how these writings reflect God’s desire to redeem his people from the consequences of original sin and transplant his character into that redeemed people, with the larger goal to offer redemption to all of mankind.
LIVING THE LAW
A Christian writer recently observed, “. . . among next Christians – and many older Christians as well – a relationship with God today is framed exclusively around beliefs that make little difference in the way we live.” It’s not a new reality as our trip through the Historical Books reveals. Our journey through this section covers about 1000 years during which you’ll see that reality at work: when belief and real-life connect the result is a culture of life, health and power, and when belief and everyday life disconnect, the result is selfishness, sickness and chaotic weakness. The key to watch for in these 12 books is how to the leaders and the people do in living out the foundational things recorded in Genesis through Deuteronomy.
SOUL FOOD OF THE POETS
The Instructional Section (Job – Malachi) contains 22 books that we’ll break into two units: Poetical Books (5) and Prophetical Books (17). In the Foundational Section we engaged God’s compass-setting for his people and in the Historical Section we observed how the people did in relationship to the compass. In this section, we’ll see the peoples’ experience through the eyes of the poets, examine heart issues in that experience and feel both the encouragement and correction of good instruction. Welcome to the poets! Get ready for some soul food.
WILL POWER OF THE PROPHETS
The instruction of the prophets falls along two lines: the rewards for doing right (fulfilling foundational things) in God’s eyes and the necessary corrections when “wrong” becomes part of the picture. Within that paradigm we’ll find mixtures of judgment and promise, encouragement and warning, present and future. The prophets, an interesting lot often called on to not just speak but to live out their prophesies, consistently call the people of Israel to craft their present-day realities in light of the foundational aspects of Scripture and the future hope of promise. If you think of the poetical books as revealing the heart of the people in their history, then it would be equally helpful to think of the prophetical books as revealing the heart of God in that history.
THE INTER-TESTAMENTAL PERIOD, THE NOT-SO-SILENT 400 YEARS
The history found in the Old Testament comes to an end about 400 years before we take up the story of the New Testament. In between the testaments is a period often called the 400 silent years because by Jewish reckoning no prophets spoke in the land of Israel during this period. Well, it may be called silent, but as you’ll soon see, it is anything but that. Rather, it’s a dynamic period of conquest, political and religious developments, and conflict around compromising or not compromising the foundational values and traditions of Israel. It’s a period that has the feel of God setting the cultural/historical table for the coming of His Son.
MEET THE MANY-FACETED KING, SERVANT, MAN, GOD
Through the books that we know as the Gospels we enter into the life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Each of the Gospel books – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – give us a different facet of this life that will change everything . . . but not without resistance as the one also called the Son of Man lives, teaches, touches and then gives His life a ransom for many . . . a ransom accepted by God the Father and affirmed in an ultimate miracle, Christ’s resurrection.
ACTS...THE GOSPEL HITS THE ROAD
With Gospel foundations in place, the disciples have only to put Christ’s mandate – “go and make disciples” – into action. But all isn’t that simple. With numbers small, their leader in heaven and plenty of confusion and opposition to go around, it’s going to take some miracle level experiences to get these early leaders and the church they’re called to launch on the move. And as always, God delivers just what they need just when they need it with the result that a church explodes into the Roman Empire and beyond. Let’s see how it all happened.
LIFE-CHANGING LETTERS FROM OLD FRIENDS OF THE CHURCH
Instruction comes in many forms. We’ve been using one form . . . the video classroom. Needless to say, it was a form not available to the early church leaders. If they wanted to minister to someone not in their presence, they had to rely on the most personal approach available next to an actual meeting – the personal letter. As we look at the 22 letters that make up the Instructional Section of the NT we need to remember that are just that . . . personal . . . letters . . . sent with love, care and concern to those bringing Christ’s life to His followers, the early church. And they bring that same personal love and concern to you and me.
THE FINISH LINE IS IN SIGHT
We’ve arrived at our final review which will conclude with the biblical author Jude helping us see the importance of the outcomes of our Scripture-wide journey. Remember as you move on from these sessions, that review is a crucial element in making this big-picture tool your own. Some consistent review over the next few weeks, and you’ll be building on this tool for a lifetime of spiritual growth and ministry. Conversely, with no review the tool will slowly slip away and along with it, its value to the life and ministry the Lord has for you. The message? Just a little more personal investment (review) and the return on your investment will far exceed what you might have expected. Both your maturity in Christ and your ministry for Him will be the beneficiaries.
Bert is the former president of Western Seminary (98 - 08), the retired executive director of a regional network of local churches and an experienced interim pastor.