In my book for teachers and small group leaders, Gospel-Centered Teaching, I recommend asking a “big story” question during preparation: “How does this topic or passage fit into the big picture story of the Bible?” It’s a question we always ask as we work on The Gospel Project curriculum.
A gospel-centered teacher wants to help people learn to read the Bible for themselves, to understand the flow of the narrative, how the different genres fit into that narrative, and how to apply the truths of the Bible with wisdom.
One of the best ways to get a feel for the Bible’s narrative is to read through the Bible chronologically. Another way is to read at least one or two Bible overview books a year.
Here are twelve books I recommend. Each provides an overview of the Bible, moving from easier to more difficult.
Kids and Family
The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm
This book is for young kids. Beautifully illustrated, it walks through the Bible, following the plot line of “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule.” Full confession: I’ve been known to give this out to parents with preschoolers hoping that the parents would find it as beneficial as the kids.
The Big Picture Interactive Bible Storybook from The Gospel Project
This illustrated Bible stays close to the biblical text. It focuses on the major stories of the Bible (and gives a lot of attention to the major and minor prophets).
There is a “Big Picture Question and Answer” for every Bible story (which serves as a catechetical exercise for parents who want to instill biblical truths in their children). Each story also includes a Christ connection that points forward to Jesus’ work for us.
The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd Jones
Sally Lloyd Jones does a remarkable job of pointing forward to Jesus, showing how “every story whispers His name.”
This is the kind of book that demands multiple readings, for adults and children alike. The more I’ve used this with our kids, the more I’ve come to love it.
Overview of the Bible Book by Book
This is not a book I would read straight through. Instead, I’d add it to my daily Bible reading. Whenever you read a book of the Bible, you ought to consult Williams’ work. He will show you how every book of the Bible is ultimately pointing us to Jesus, and he does so in a way that does justice to each book’s particular context and history. Let this book supplement your daily Bible reading.
Overview of the Bible Through Stories
A booklet which takes the reader through 40 essential Bible scenes (20 Old Testament and 20 New Testament), while distilling eight theological truths from the stories.
These resources are helpful if you are hoping to “story” through the Bible with an unbeliever who is curious about the Christian faith, or with a new believer who is eager to learn the basics of biblical and systematic theology.
Overview of the Bible Through Themes
God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts
This book shows how the Bible is telling the story of the kingdom of God. In just a few short chapters, Roberts walks through the story of God’s kingdom as it unfolds in the Bible.
One of my favorite aspects of this book is the alliteration (the pattern of the kingdom, the perished kingdom, the promised kingdom, the partial kingdom, the prophesied kingdom, the present kingdom, the proclaimed kingdom, and the perfected kingdom). I’m a nerd, I know.
From Creation to New Creation: Understanding the Bible Story by Tim Chester
Another short book. Chester traces different themes through the Bible, showing how the Scriptures hold together to tell one overarching story. He treats these five:
- promise of salvation
- a people who know God
- a place of blessing
- a King and a kingdom
- blessing to the nations
A Walk Through the Bible by Lesslie Newbigin
One of the most important missionary theologians of the 20th century, Lesslie Newbigin’s brief telling of the Bible’s story from Genesis to Revelation culminates in the creation of a missional people for God’s glory.
Originally delivered as a series of radio addresses, this short book walks through the Bible in a way that emphasizes God’s missionary heart and His passion for the nations.
Overview of the Bible in our Hermeneutics
According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible by Graeme Goldsworthy
Graeme Goldsworthy’s work shows how the Bible fits together with Christ at the center. Many view this book as a classic, a life-changing resource that helps us see the unveiling of Christ through the pages of Scripture.
Some may be unconvinced of a few of Goldsworthy’s typological interpretations of Old Testament texts, but the beauty of this book is the way it simply and convincingly lays out a way of reading across the Bible, seeing how the divine Author weaves together a story of redemption.
The True Story of the Whole World: Finding Your Place in the Biblical Drama by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen
This book helpfully lays out the story of the Old Testament and shows how everything culminates in the person and work of Jesus Christ. There is also a more academic version called The Drama of Scripture.
If you or your leader is seminary trained, I recommend The Drama of Scripture. If the idea of studying the Bible’s grand narrative is new to you or your leaders, I say start with The True Story. Both are well done, but The True Story is more immediately accessible.
Living God’s Word: Discovering Our Place in the Great Story of Scripture by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays
This is a manual for understanding the Bible’s storyline. A helpful resource that reads like a textbook, you’ll want to study this one with a group.
The benefit of Living God’s Word is that it serves as a resource you can return to again and again to get the overview of different Bible sections and how they fit into the whole. You’ll probably not read this one from cover to cover, but you’ll find yourself returning to it often.
The God Who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D.A. Carson
As Carson walks through the storyline of the Bible, he draws out the theological building blocks essential to Christianity. This book is a more difficult read, but one of the most rewarding.