Category Archives: Ministry

A Redemptive-Historical Bible Reading Plan

(Note: I created this primarily to use in conjunction with RTS-Orlando’s Teaching Women to Teach initiative. In March, I’ll be teaching on redemptive history, so I wanted the attendees to have a tool like this.)


 

Bible reading plans are plentiful. Some of the best can be found at Ligonier (see also here). And as a regular part of the Christian diet, reading through the entire Bible in a calendar year can be a helpful thing. I’m not at all opposed to it.

I’ve found, however, that the required reading pace can be at times be counterproductive. There are 1,189 chapters to cover in 365 days (and some plans skip weekends; thus, 262 days). That’s 3.3–4.5 chapters per day. Even if one were supremely saintly and dedicated one hour to the task a day, that’s still a really fast clip that provides little time for reflection, prayer, detailed study, and so on. It’s simply content. Divine content, no doubt—but it is a lot to take in.

It is no surprise that many aspiring Bible-in-a-year resolutions end up being unsuccessful. Many folks flame out somewhere in Numbers, just like the Israelites! Moreover, the implied pressure to keep up with the checklist (or even friends who are doing the same plan) can sometimes turn the whole thing into a joyless (or even guilt-filled) slog.

Putting some bones underneath that meat

Even for those who successfully complete the task, the net effect may not be what they expected. Reading 3-4 chapters a day (often as fast as possible because, well, the kids are about to get up, if they haven’t already) across nearly 1,200 chapters is not a recipe geared towards comprehension. You may finish doing it and still have no idea what exactly Habakkuk or 2 Chronicles were about.

One way, perhaps, to make this task more effective is to give the reader a better comprehensive framework into which all the chapters can be sorted out.

To use an analogy: if the 1,189 chapters are the entire body of Scripture, it may be helpful—rather than only  reading through all the assorted body parts in some sort of order in a year—to get the skeleton in place first, on which all the body parts are supported. In other words, get the bones in place, and then, when you revisit the task of reading the whole Bible, you are putting the meat on a solid skeleton, rather than approaching it just as some sort of mush pie.

Redemptive history is the decisive skeleton, in my mind. It puts Christ at the center for both the OT and NT but is also faithful to the progressive way in which God pursues his people from creation, to fall, to redemption until new creation. It gives a coherent way of understanding the flow of the OT and its complex fulfillment in the NT.

A redemptive-historical reading plan

So what I have done is crafted a selective Bible reading plan and organized it around the major movements of redemptive history. I was pretty surprised to see that (so far as I can tell) this has not been done before.

I have outlined redemptive history in 16 stages, from creation up through the open-ended expectation of the Day of the Lord. Then I provide carefully curated sections from the OT that trace this history. I tried to pick at least one chapter from every OT book, but to keep it reasonably short I had to leave some out. I also pepper in psalms along the way. Then, for each stage, I provide a chapters from the NT that bring out how each of those steps of redemptive history (for ancient Israel) are fulfilled in the new era in Christ.

I could have simply done the OT chapters, gotten up through the end of the restoration period, and then said: “Now, go read the NT to see how this all worked out.” That would be one way of doing redemptive-history.

But I chose to do it differently for a key reason: every step of redemptive history finds its organic, divinely-intended fulfillment in Christ. It’s not just something where the OT tells a big complex story, then Jesus comes to die on a Roman cross and fix our sin issue. That is a key part of it, but there’s so much more—if you are paying attention to how the NT authors themselves understand redemptive history. So this parallel tracking helps bring that out. The selected NT readings in almost all cases quote the passages selected from the OT, thus helping the user develop biblical intuitions in grasping how the two testaments work together.

It works out to be 137 chapters from the OT and 63 from the NT: 200 total, thus bringing this to 17% of the total Bible. This frees the user to read at his/her own pace: read one chapter a day (or less); re-read the same chapters for a few days in a row to fully get your head around them; meditate on one aspect of redemptive history for a couple weeks; do some extra research; etc. There is no imposed chronology, so you can pick it up or put it down as you want. It can even serve as a guide for a group Bible study (16 weeks through redemptive history, or something like that).

The goal after going through this is to emerge with a stronger foundation in how the entire Bible fits together. To be able to articulate the storyline of the OT, to see how Christ completes it in numerous ways, and to then be able to build on that foundation for years to come.

And, if nothing else, you will have read some of the most famous chapters of the OT and NT.*

Outline

  1. Creation
  2. Fall, Original Sin, and Judgment
  3. God’s Covenant Promise to Abraham
  4. Promise Continued through the Patriarchs
  5. Exodus from Egypt
  6. God’s Covenant Law Given through Moses
  7. Rebellion in the Wilderness
  8. Conquest of the Land and Early Leadership
  9. Establishing the Monarchy
  10. Religious Life of the Nation
  11. Degradation of the Monarchy
  12. Israel and Judah in Exile
  13. Grief and Consolation during Exile
  14. (Partial) Restoration from Exile
  15. Anticipating an Eschatological Deliverer
  16. Anticipating the Day of the Lord

Download

Click the image below to download. I’d love your feedback on what I left out, or what could be cut or replaced with something else.

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* On that note: I fully affirm that all Scripture is God-breathed and equally glorious. That said, some books are more pivotal in terms of telling the story of redemption than others. We even see this in the way NT authors tend to gravitate to the same dozen or so chapters [Genesis 15; Psalm 2; Psalm 110; Isaiah 6; Isaiah 53; etc.]. Christians, thus, need to read all the books and all the chapters. But there is wisdom in getting a big picture or the “skeleton” firmly in mind, so that you can navigate all the pages of Scripture wisely. That’s all this is attempting to facilitate. So I don’t want to see any snarky comments about how I’m privileging certain chapters over others.

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A Brief Note on the “Problem of Suffering” in Tabletalk

The most recent edition of Ligonier’s Tabletalk focuses on the theme of apologetics under the title, “Giving an Answer.” I had the privilege of contributing a small piece on the very challenging topic of, “Why Do Bad Thing Happen to Good People?”

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Autumn Seminar: Why These Books? Intro to OT and NT Canon

Screen shot 2014-09-16 at 10.30.44 PMChrist Church Cambridge is hosting a variety of seminars (see full listing) this autumn, covering a range of biblical and church-related topics. I am leading a 4-week series covering how and why we consider the biblical books authoritative for faith and practice. Specifically, we will be covering the following questions, among others:

  1. What exactly is canon, and why does it matter?
  2. Who “picked” the books (if anyone), and on what grounds?
  3. Who decided we needed a canon in the first place, and who “closed” it?
  4. Why are some books considered part of the biblical canon and not others?
  5. Why do the Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches have different canons?
  6. What are we to make of all the other works that are roughly contemporaneous with the OT/NT but which were not received as canonical?
  7. How can we know we have accurate copies of the right books?

The seminar audios and handouts for each class will be posted below as they become available. If you would like the full set of teaching notes, feel free to email me.

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“So You Want to Get Married?” Brief Thoughts on Pre-Marital Counseling

In honor of the fact that today is our 8th wedding anniversary—and in honor of the woman to whom I have been delightfully attached for over 12 years—I wanted to do a quick post following up on recent pre-marital counseling sessions we did together.

We had the opportunity to meet with a young couple to talk about marriage before they tie the knot in June. It was our first time doing it, and it was a tremendous blessing both to get to know them and to think about our own marriage through the process.

As we didn’t necessarily expect to be doing this while here in Cambridge, all our marriage books (and our own pre-marital counseling notebook) were left in storage in the States. So we had to put together something ourselves.  While what we came up with is far from perfect, we found it worked well and was simple enough to serve as a framework to build upon, depending on the amount of time one might have with any given couple.

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New Sermon: Mark 8:11–21

Earlier today I had the opportunity to preach at Christ Church Cambridge, where we currently attend during our Cambridge sojourn. We have found a most welcoming home at Christ Church. The philosophy of the church and, in particular, the two ministers, is to foster and encourage the pastoral development of those in the flock who (like me) are pursuing a long-term calling to the ministry. So I was humbled and delighted to be extended the opportunity to preach, given that an expatriate with a Southern accent and a desire to keep serving in some way while abroad cannot necessary presume such chances will automatically be there. So I’m quite grateful, and I hope to be able to do so again.

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Grief Without a Label

In the span of a little over a year, three friends of mine on both sides of the Atlantic have mourned the death of their infants either just before birth or just after. Late yesterday I learned that the son of one of my friends lived from 10:08am to 10:28am that morning, after which his young but eternal spirit entered the presence of his Creator to await a glorious resurrection, when the phrase “chromosomal abnormality” will have been conquered.

Words cannot adequately give voice to their grief—the silence of phantom cries, which should be there but aren’t, is too loud. Tears cannot adequately capture our own suffering with them—for though we can help bear the burden, we cannot take it away.

Few funerals have been harder for me than seeing a classmate bravely and brokenly deliver a eulogy for his son who died after only one 24-hr period of life. Few videos cause more tears than watching another friend hold his 3-yr old daughter’s hand as they delicately placed flowers on her deceased sister’s fresh grave.

Few things are more difficult than knowing what to say to a friend who has entered into such a period of suffering.

And, oddly, there isn’t even a set way to refer to such a person. A child whose parent(s) have died is called an orphan. An adult who has lost a spouse is called a widow/widower.

But there is no label for this kind of grief. Parents who have lost a child far too early. Families with a gaping hole torn into the family portrait that is invisible to everyone but those who still remember. Brothers and sisters with a sibling they will only know from vaguely recollected, tear-stained stories.

We all know that, should the Lord tarry, our children will ultimately die. But some parents are prematurely bereaved.

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The Biggest Lost Sheep

Too Big to Fail.

Screen shot 2014-01-18 at 10.24.20 PMThus is titled a best-selling book (and HBO movie) about the bailout of several major US banks during the economic collapse of the late 2000s. [Side trail: how many people even remember that whole sequence? I was working in the financial sector then, afraid of losing my own job, and even now I have trouble remember all the details: who bought whom, who collapsed, who merged, etc. We need a new syndrome to replace Attention Deficit Disorder: “How Mass and Social Media Keep Us Entertained and Ruin Our Memory by Shuffling Major Story after Major Story Until They All Run Together and We Cannot Remember Anything that Happened 3 Hours Ago, Let Alone 3 Years Ago.” But HMSMKUEROMSMSAMSUTARTWCRAH3HALA3YA is a horrible acronym, and probably hard to remember. Wait, what was I talking about. Let me check Twitter again…]

Anyhow, the whole premise of the book, the movie, and, frankly, the historical reality upon which they were based is simple: some banks were so big and so important that they deserved to be rescued – in fact, they had to be rescued – at whatever cost, even if it meant losing a lot of other things along the way (taxpayer dollars, other banks, other industries, international reputation, etc.). In other words, only the biggest things – because they are the biggest – are worth striving to save and rescue when the going gets tough.

Sometimes it feels like that with the Lord. Fortunately God does not operate on that principle.

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