Understanding the Big Picture of the Bible: A Guide to Reading the Bible Well

Edited by Wayne Grudem, C. John Collins, Thomas Schreiner

Having a proper understanding of the Bible as you read it is of extreme importance.  The bible is “breathed out by God”.  This means that when you open up your bible, you are not opening up a book mealy written by man, but a book written by God.  The words of the scripture make you “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and “complete, equipped for every good work”.  (2 Timothy 3:15, 17).  This is why Paul says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth”. (2 Timothy 2:15) The proper understanding of scripture is a matter of eternal life and death. If you don’t understand the Bible as the author intended, it will not make you “complete, equipped for every good work.  But there are challenges to reading the bible.  God chose to speak in a certain cultural context using certain literally genres.  Without understanding the context of the writers, the nature of the genre, or the big picture of the bible, the Christian will often be left to his own imagination, interpreting the text in a way that is unfaithful and often dangerous.

This helpful book is for the Christian who wants to grow in his understanding and knowledge of God’s perfect Word.   Faithfulness is not easy, yet the reward is more than worth it.  That is why this book is worth its weight in gold.  A newer Christian will struggle to follow along at times, but it is well worth the read.  The book starts with an overview of the Bible’s story line which is worth the price of the book by itself and then is split up into three main parts, Part 1 The Old Testament, Part 2 Background to the New Testament, and Part 3 New Testament and a fourth section having helpful timelines. Each chapter is written in an accessible way by bible scholars who are experts in the chapter’s topic.  Each author is biblical faithful and does an amazing job highlighting the beauty of the scriptures both in its unity and in its diversity.  By reading this book carefully, you will understand each section of the bible with more clarity and will be more equipped to deal with the challenging parts of the bible with more joy and ease.

This book review was written by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren

Buy the book here.

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Does God Desire All to Be Saved?

By: John Piper

Does God Desire All to Be Saved? The answer to this question clearly yes.  It is in the bible (1 Timothy 2:4) and therefore it is true. But after preaching John 6:44 which says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day”, I received a very important question from a Godly Christian who was struggling, (as most of us do) to understand the issue of God’s election.  How is it that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world” and how is it that he “predestined us” (Ephesians 1:4,5 cf. Romans 9) yet did not “choose” those who perish  How does this fit with the truth that God “desires that all people would be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth”? (1 Timothy 2:4 cf. 2 Peter 3:9, Ezekiel 18:23, Matthew 23:37)  If God desires that all people would be saved, why are there so many who are still resistant to the good news of Christ?

This is the great question that John Piper seeks to address in this book. He states, “My purpose in this book has simply been to show that God’s will for all people to be saved is not at odds with the sovereignty of his grace in election.” (54) The book is free and is only 55 pages (you could read it in one sitting) yet is packed full of scripture and clear biblical truth.  I must warn you though not to be fooled by the shortness of the book.  This book is not a picture book and will require some careful reading and some real contemplation.  As John Piper says in the introduction, “I admit that some of the paths in this book are steep. And some of the steepest places are through the thickest clouds. The climb is not for everyone. We all have different gifts, and not everyone is called to this kind of intellectual climb. Nevertheless, some of us are wired to make this climb.” (9)

I am thankful for Piper’s clarity and emphasis on the reality that all who come to Jesus are saved and will be raised to be with Christ.  He says “God’s plan from all eternity was to magnify his glory in creation and redemption. He aimed to make the glory of his grace the highest revelation of himself (Eph. 1:6). To that end, he sent his Son into this creation and made Christ—crucified for sinners and conquering death—the climax of the display of the glory of his grace…Christ invites everyone to come. And everyone who comes is saved. Everyone who receives Christ has been chosen from the foundation of the world and is an heir of an infinite inheritance.” (52)

Piper closes the book by saying this: “I affirm with John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4 that God loves the world with a real and sincere compassion that desires the salvation of all men. Yet I also affirm that God has chosen from before the foundation of the world those whom he will save from sin [Eph 1:3]. Since not all people are saved, we must choose whether we believe (with the Arminians) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to ultimate human self-determination or whether we believe (with the Reformed) that God’s will to save all people is restrained by his commitment to the glorification of the full range of his perfections in exalting his sovereign grace (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Rom. 9:22–23).This decision should not be made on the basis of philosophical assumptions about what we think human accountability requires. It should be made on the basis of what the Scriptures teach.” (53)

I pray that this is book helpful for you in your mission to understand the Glory’s of God and your desire to be faithful to God’s word.

Book Review by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren

Get the e-book free here

Get a paper copy here.

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How Should we React to God’s Choosing of us?

John 6:44 says “No one can come to me (Jesus) unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In other words, apart from God drawing us, we would reject Jesus eternally and would be without hope. What effect should this reality of God’s adoption and election have on us?

  1. It should humble us. Titus 3:5 says “he saved us not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”. You did nothing to earn a right standing with God. You can do nothing. This reality aught to lead us to the throne of God in humility.
  2. It should cause Thankfulness. When you realize that you did not save yourself, that God did all the work, you will be thankful. I think of Ephesians 1:4-5, “God chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ according to the purpose of his will to the praise of his glorious grace.”
  3. It should bring Hope. Because of that fact that salvation does not depend on man’s ability, because of that fact that it is God who is in charge of salvation, you can have hope for those who are lost. No matter how dead in sin they are, no matter how resistant they are to the gospel, all it takes for them to come to Jesus is God drawing them to himself by opening their eyes to the beauty of the gospel. Salvation is rooted in God’s mercy and God’s power, not man’s ability.
  4. It should lead to Prayer. If no one can come to Jesus apart from the father drawing them, then praying is the most powerful tool in evangelism. You can prepare all you want. You can have all the right bible passages memorized. You have all of the most “effective” evangelism techniques. But if you are not falling on your face before God asking him to open the eyes of your lost neighbor, asking him to change the heart of you family member or coworker, you will be working with your own ability, witch is useless without the power of God.
  5. All glory goes to God. Biblical texts that deal with God’s choosing, election, and predestination say that it is all for the sake of God’s praise and Glory: “ChosePredestined…to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph. 1:6), “Predestined…to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:12), “God’s purpose of election…to show my (God’s) power… and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Rom. 9:17 & Ex. 9:6) “to make known the riches of his glory…which he has prepared beforehand for glory- even us whom he has called” (Rom. 9:23)
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Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace

By Heath Lambert

Pornography, lust, and sexual immorality are enemies to the church.  They creep into a Christian’s life and into the life of the church only to leave devastation, destruction, and heart-ach.  This is why I am overjoyed to tell you about a book that was written to provide freedom through God’s word for those who struggle with pornography and lust.  Paul says to the Ephesians, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people” (Ephesians 5:3).  Do you want to be freed from the grip of Pornography?  This book will point you in the right direction.

Heath Lambert makes clear from the start that the book that it is not ultimately about pornography.  Rather, the book is about the “amazing power of Jesus Christ to free you from pornography.”  He goes on to say that “Jesus’ power is extremely practical, and so this book is practical as well.”  Lambert goes about providing eight biblical strategies to help those struggling with lust and pornography have freedom.   One of the radical strengths of this book is its emphasis on grace being the power to change.  Many books of this kind leave you discouraged and overwhelmed.  This book leaves you encouraged, empowered, and dependant on Jesus, the only real provider of freedom.  Lambert says “Every strategy you employ in your fight for purity must be grounded in the grace of God in Christ if it is to lead to lasting freedom.”  This is the main reason I recommend this book.

Chapter 9 is my personal favorite chapter.  This chapter leads the reader to see victory overpornography as more than just not looking at pornography.    The real victory comes when you desire and seek to look at Jesus more than you desire and seek to look at porn.   As Lambert says, “you cannot look at Jesus and look at porn at the same time.  You have to stop doing one to do the other.”  This understanding of desire is central and beneficial.

Each chapter ends with a set of main points and exhortations.  This helps readers go from knowledge to action in practical ways.  Moreover, this book is not just for those who have a struggle with pornography.  This book provides help for addiction in general and provides a helpful tool when helping others through this challenge.  I pray that if you deal with this death causing sin, you would find the magnificent power of God’s grace by reading this book.

Book Review by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren

You can buy this book here.

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Socrates Meets Jesus

By Peter Kreeft

Socrates Meets Jesus is a short book with a creative story-line and a miraculous ending. The thesis of this book is that the claims of Christ are not false or absurd. When you pick the book up, you will have trouble putting it down until it is done. While reading the book, you will see how the bible and the claims of Christ are so robust and true that even history’s greatest questioner, Socrates, would have great reason to reject deism, open theism, and other worldviews through the reading, testing, and examination of the Word of God. This philosophical work is a collection of fictional interactions between Socrates and students at Have it Divinity School ending with Socrates’ acceptance of the gospel through philosophical and logical reasoning and God’s Word.

Peter Kreeft’s story line is simple, Socrates comes back to life in this age to discover the modern day beliefs of many professing Christians and then evaluate the Scriptures in order to come to a final, rounded understanding of Jesus. Through the book, Socrates seems to realize slowly that the miracle of his return to earth years after his death was an act of a higher being and he even eludes to the fact that this higher being may be more than the god’s that were worshiped in his day, but rather a single God who is Sovereign. Socrates does this using thinking and methodology that Socrates has in Plato’s writing. He comes to this realization through a presentational idea that he has a porpoise in being back on earth, most likely the discovery of a new idea or a more rounded understanding of the “Unknown God”.

Peter Kreeft does an amazing job portraying the historical Socrates living in a modern context in a way that puts his historical method of learning on display and applies it to the claims of Christ as well as The Scriptures. The Socrates displayed in this book used the Socratic method of asking questions in a way that makes this imaginary Socrates come alive in a philosophically accurate portrayal of what would actually happen. It’s hard to open to a page of this book without reading some kind of clever and eye-opening question that displays the effectiveness of the Socratic method in a theological and Christian context. An example of this is when he is talking to Bertha about how love and justice correlate. “Why could God not be both a loving God and a just God?… Does not love make its own judgments? Has love no eyes? And is love not like an earthquake as well as like a still small voice? In fact, is not love the greatest earthquake?” (56).

Socrates Meets Jesus is filled with eye-opening truths and ideas that challenge the liberal perspective of religion. Socrates uses his method of asking questions in order to challenge the liberal idea of miracles (59-76), ethics (91), essence of religion (88-98), and being open minded (79-83). In Kreeft’s section What is the point of being open minded?, Kreeft helps the reader realized how irrational it is to be open minded without a desire and goal of coming to understand a truthful idea or logical, truthful conclusion. Kreeft uses Socrates to help drive the point home that being open minded is similar to the point of opening ones mouth; to bite down on something, in this situation, a dependable truth. The book can also help readers understand the problem with the Open-Theist idea of love. Socrates shows that if the Scriptures are true, the loving thing to do is not shut up and let the ones being lied to parish, but rather speak up about what is true and help others see it. The largest strength of this book is the effect it can have on world view. Everyone has a world view but not everyone has a correct one and Kreeft helps challenge so many ideas and bring false ideas to their logical conclusions by bringing out contradictions that some people overlook.

Socrates uses a presuppositional approach to thinking about the ideas on love, truth, joy, and many other topics. Using this form of logic helps in showing the contradictions that appear all over different worldviews, ending in the acceptance of Jesus and God’s Word in the Bible as the only reasonable explanation of everything. The book did defend it’s thesis, the claims of Christ are not false and absurd but are so robust and true that even history’s greatest questioner, Socrates, would have great reason to reject all other worldviews through the reading, testing, and examination of the trustworthy Word of God.

Socrates Meets Jesus helps readers have a better understanding of the Socratic method and the Christian faith. The book is easy to read yet great at capturing Plato’s writing on Socrates with scholarly precision. The way that almost every page of this book is full of all kinds of clever and eye-opening question that displays the effectiveness of the Socratic method in a theological and Christian context makes the book perfect for anyone who loves philosophy and theology yet does not want a difficult read. Even though the book is fictional, it is quite enlightening and relays the message of the Christian faith with clarity. I would recommend this book to someone who wants an easy and entertaining read that wants to think more deeply about philosophy, logic, and liberal theology.

This book review was written by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren.

You can buy the book here.

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The Gospel and Personal Evangelism

By Mark Dever

The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is packed full of help for the believer that is having trouble sharing their faith or maybe just wants to be more competent in spread the gospel. Their was several different themes that stood out to me in this book but I will only talk about a few important ones.

One big idea that Dever hits home is the necessity of a strong gospel understanding. he lays the groundwork for evangelism, a proper understanding of what the Gospel is and what it is not. Dever makes clear that the gospel is not just good news, the gospel is not simply God’s love or that he want to be our friend. The gospel is not primarily concerned about social justice or community survive. The gospel is the good news that Jesus died on the cross to reconcile sinners to God. This is naturally applied to my life in ministry through the way that I share the gospel. When sharing my faith, I am not simple sharing my opinion on life. It is not just about sharing simple steps to living a moral life. I am sharing the good news that sinners can receive forgiveness of their trespasses and can be transferred form death to life.

Another aspect of personal evangelism that Dever hit home for me is the reason that we should evangelize. Within a few pages, the reader is exposed to biblical reasons why he or she needs to be involved in evangelism. We are called to share the gospel because God command us too, we love the lost, and we love God. This applies to my personal life in ministry during times that I am not motivated to share the gospel. I am reminded by this book that it is my calling as a Christian to share the gospel, and I should be motivated by a love for God and a love for the lost. Often times I loose site of why I should be doing evangelism but these reasons applied to my ministry remind me of my mission. I can apply this section of the book to my ministry by keeping these think in mind when I am not motivated to speak the truth or when I want to keep to myself. This is not what we have been called to do as Christians.

The biggest overall help that this book provide is a better understanding of the gospel and its application of everyday evangelistic opportunities. By going through the scriptures use of word good news, we see that the gospel has many different parts. The coming of Christ, his life, his death, his salvation, his work in believers, his return and several other thing are all part of the gospel. In other words, the gospel is not necessarily one specific simple thing but rather a collection of events and realties that come together to make the gospel good news.   You can apply Dever’s teaching about the gospel every time you interact with a lost person. This book is worth your time and will benefit your everyday ministry.

This book review was written by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren.

You can buy this book here.

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Total Church

By Tim Chester and Steve Timmins

Total Church; A Radial Reshaping around Gospel and Community  is a radical book that powerfully pushes the boundaries of the readers understanding of church.  If you read this book, it will help you shape a biblical understanding of the Church and community.  For me, personally, I had a somewhat off balanced perspective on Church. One sentence in the introductions highlights the focus of the book, “we think that conservatives often do not ‘do truth’ well because they neglect community. Because people are not sharing their lives, truth is not applied and lived out.” This statement is informative and right on. The authors go about explaining that we as the church need to understand how to organize our priorities and use community for the advance of the gospel. The most helpful pages in the book are pages 44 and 45 where we see two pictures. The first picture has one man who is trying to juggle all his priorities, his calendar, his work, his house, and his church.   This is often how our lives and our churches are organized. The second picture is the alternative. It is a picture of “persons-in-community” with all the priories in life being tackled in community. This understanding changed the way I do ministry and interact in the church.

The authors of the book give several examples of this model of church being lived out. The reality is that when community is at the center of church, it leads to so many gospel opportunities, not only to minister to those in the church, but to invite lost people to experience gospel centered community for themselves. This is one of the goals of this reshaping of the church around gospel and community. Instead of trying to reach lost people by inviting them to a church they will probably never be confortable going to, we invite them to share in community and get to know the people in the church first through this gospel community. Instead of sharing the gospel with someone and then inviting them into community, we invite them to be a part of a community as we share Jesus with and let them see the gospel lived out for themselves. This will lead many lost people to recognize that this is something different. In fact this is something that no secular community or friendship can come close too.

I am very thankful for this book and know it will continue to inform and change my ministry. Until churches start living out gospel in community, the truth will not be lived out in a way that the members are mutually built up and challenged. I am thankful for this radical explanation of the gospel in community. As the authors said in the book, “Only the truth of the gospel reaches across barriers of age, race, and class.”   Let us as the church live out the gospel in community so that the church is build up and so the kingdom of God may grow.

This book review was written by Jonathan Ahlgren.

You can buy this book here: Total Church

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Shepherding a Child’s Heart

By Tedd Tripp

The author of Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Tedd Tripp, is an elder at Grace Fellowship Church in Hazelton, Pa. and wrote several books including Preparing Your Teens for College, Instructing Your Child’s Heart, and co-authored Knowable Word: Helping Ordinary people Learn to Study the Bible.  I would recommend all of Tedd Tripp’s books to you, but especially Shepherding a Child’s Heart, a solid book about how to be a biblically faithful parent.   In our day there is so much confusion on the do’s and don’ts of raising children. This is obvious by the amount of parenting books out their all with contradictory advice and information. Many parents would admit that they honestly don’t know how to raise their kids- where do you turn for help?

Tedd Tripp’s book will help you think about parenting from a biblical perspective, helping you understand that merely training your child’s outward behavior is not sufficient. You must learn how to “shepherd” your child’s heart.

Because there are so many different opinions of parenting out there, is important to understanding what God’s word says about parenting. This is why in the first half of the book Tripp deals with “Foundations for Biblical Childrearing”. This includes chapters on teaching your child to have a godward orientation, chapters on authority and obedience, as well as more practical chapters on communication and instructing.

The second half of the book is titled “Shepherding Through the Stages of Childhood”. This section goes through teaching and raising your child as he grows in maturity and Christlikeness from infancy through the teenage years.

This book is a must read for every parent.   Even though I do not yet have children, I was blessed and influenced by the biblical insights that Tripp gave into raising children. Dr. David Powlison is right when he comments, “ Tedd Trip knows what he is talking about and who is talking to. He knows children, he knows parents…and he knows the ways of God. This book teaches you what your goals should be and how to pursue these ends practically. It teaches you how to talk to your children and what to talk about. It will inspire you to become a different kind of parent. This is a masterful book.”

Review written by Pastor Jonathan Ahlgren.

You can buy the book here.

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I am Already a Christian, Why Should I Read my Bible?

1 Timothy 3:14 says that the scriptures make you, “Wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”.  Does that mean that when I receive salvation I don’t need the Bible anymore? The answer to that question is no.  In this text, Paul is not only telling Timothy that the scriptures are what led him to salvation.  Paul is saying more than that.  He is saying that the scriptures currently make you wise unto salvation.  The bible not only saves you by making you born again, but it continues to save you by sanctifying you.  Being in the Bible regularly is one of the most important things you can do.  If you are not in the Scriptures regularly, you are in danger. Let me give you two truths to show you what I mean.

  1. Perseverance is necessary for Salvation. Matthew 10:21-22, “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” (Also see Romans 8:13, 8:17, Col. 1:22-23, Heb. 2:1-3, 3:12, 6:4, 1 John 2:19 Rev. 2:5-7, 2:17, 2:25-27, 3:5, 3:11-12, 3:21-22 and many more)
  2. God gave us his Word as a means of our perseverance. Jesus prays for our perseverance in John 17.  He prays of us “keep them in your name” (v. 11) and “Keep them from the evil one” (v. 16).  Then he gives us the way he is going to do it in v. 17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”.  As Christians who have received the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our inheritance, and as a provider of Joy in Christ, we will continue in the faith to the end through being sanctified by reading and enjoying the Word of God.  (Read Psalm 119).

Application: Be in the word.  If you are not in the scriptures daily, you will soon find yourself walking away from the faith. I would like to challenge you to read four chapters of the bible a day. Use a bible reading plan if that helps you.  Or you can simply read one book of the bible at a time and soak in the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge.  No other book can claim to make you “wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus”, and “complete, equipped for every good work” (1 Tim. 3:15-)

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”               – Philippians 1:6

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Yearly Assessment

Happy New Year! Praise the Lord for another year of serving him and growing in our knowledge of his glorious grace and kindness to us.  In light of the New Year, I want you to assess your spiritual growth over the last year.  How has the Lord changed you?  What have your learned?  What were some setbacks or challenges you faced?  How did you get through them and what did you learn from them?

The reason this is a good time to ask these questions is because it is the time of year for you to be thinking about an even more important question.  What are you going to do different this year?  One of the reasons why my family try too get away for a few weeks every year is to ask these questions and assess our relationship together and our relationship with Jesus.  I would encourage you do the same as we all start the New Year together.   Make a resolution to do things differently this year or maybe keep up a habit that you started last year.  Maybe it’s reading your Bible more or being more intentional in serving your spouse.  Maybe for you it’s doing nightly devotions with your family or being more constant in daily prayer.

I pray that you would commit to running after Jesus this year with more enthusiasm.  That you would cut out more of your time to growing in the riches of the knowledge of Christ by reading God’s word and praying daily.  May God bless you!