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  • Writer's pictureMichael Burgos

God's Big Picture: A Review

God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible. InterVarsity Press, 2012.

by Vaughn Roberts

God’s Big Picture is an overview of the metanarrative of Scripture through the unifying theme of the kingdom of God. Presented from the perspective of traditional covenantal Protestantism, God’s Big Picture provides an introductory treatment of biblical theology. That is, it is surprising that this text was chosen for a graduate course. While the author, Vaughn Roberts, has done an admirable job of producing an extremely accessible introduction, the greatest strength of this volume (i.e., accessibility) is its greatest limitation since it does not deal with any of the thornier issues within biblical theology as it relates to the kingdom of God.

From the outset, Roberts insisted that the Scriptures must be read with the recognition that the text of the Bible is written by men and God.[1] He rejects viewing the text of Scripture as a mere collection of books that display disparate messages and theological content. On this view, human authorship accounts for the diversity of style, genre, and emphasis portrayed in the biblical text, and divine authorship accounts for Scripture’s inherent consistency. Though seemingly rudimentary, such a position is rarely articulated even among evangelicals in our day. So too, Roberts’ insistence on this point is the only suitable basis to build any systematic or biblical theology.

Robert’s criticized the versification of Genesis 1-2 by suggesting the chapter division is unhelpful since it implies that human beings are the pinnacle of the created order. Instead, Roberts views “rest” as “the goal of creation.”[2] This is, however, an arbitrary conclusion that neglects the singular uniqueness of God’s image-bearers. Moreover, the goal of creation is not rest but worship. That worship is the telos of both creation and redemption is seen both in God’s placement of man upon the earth as his moral agent and vice-regent (Gen. 2:15-17) and the eschaton wherein a people more numerous than the stars in the sky sing praises to the Lamb (Rev. 5:13).

At times Roberts makes significant theological assumptions without divulging to his readers that there is important debate relevant to his conclusion. For example, in his discussion of the fall, Roberts suggests, “The New Testament identifies the snake as Satan (Revelation 12:9; 20:2), but we are never told where he came from.”[3] This conclusion ignores some of the classical loci used to fill in the backstory of Satan (e.g., Isa. 14:12-15; Ezek. 2:11-19). Even while rejecting the traditional Protestant exegesis of these passages, it would have been helpful had Roberts cited a relevant source or relegated his rationale to an endnote. Instead, these sorts of assumptions leave the reader desiring more or worse, unaware of the broader discussion.

The author’s treatment of Revelation is perhaps the most interesting section of this volume. Roberts began by asserting that Revelation was written and distributed within the era of Domitian[4] and he rehearsed some of the standard interpretive approaches to Revelation.[5] While he presented his treatment as compatible with any of these interpretive approaches, he concluded by asserting that the events described in Revelation 6:1-20:15 refer to the ongoing saga of living in the last days. This view is virtually synonymous with idealism and is not, therefore, consistent with the other views. For example, on an orthodox preterist view, the events in question are viewed as having a historical fulfillment in the life of John and thus do not refer to the afflictions brought about by contemporary events. It would have been better had the author explicitly divulged his viewpoint.

Roberts’ use of the kingdom of God as a motif for biblical theology, though not unique,[6] is one that naturally accords with the text of Scriptures. It is the central facet of Jesus’ preaching (Mark 1:38) and is consistently prefigured in the OT from the Abrahamic Covenant to the Second Temple. For this reason, I feel that this is the most valuable takeaway from this volume. At the same time, Roberts’ lack of explanation as to the specific timetable for the arrival of the kingdom is disappointing (cf. Matt. 26:29; John 19:29-30).

Portraying the unified nature of the text of Scripture in both theology and theme is something I regularly try to depict in preaching and teaching. The kingdom of God is one motif I commonly appeal to in that regard in addition to the consistent theology proper/Christology portrayed in the entire canon. I find that in my ministry context, most evangelicals do not have a sufficient grasp upon the OT and thus do not see the relevance of its contents beyond its function as a historical document. In neglecting to see the ongoing value of the OT for Christian living and theological reflection, the import of the NT is diminished and misunderstood. For this reason, God’s Big Picture is a helpful introduction to the metanarrative of Scripture and a worthwhile analysis of the kingdom of God as it is consistently portrayed in the canon.

[1] Vaughn Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), Kindle ed., loc. 152. [2] Roberts, God’s Big Picture, loc. 310. [3] Roberts, God’s Big Picture, loc. 365. [4] Roberts, God’s Big Picture, loc. 1701. [5] Roberts, God’s Big Picture, loc. 1742. [6] E.g., Peter Gentry, Stephen Nichols, God's Kingdom Through God's Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015); Sigurd Grindheim, Living in the Kingdom of God: A Biblical Theology for the Life of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2019); Nicholas Perrin, The Kingdom of God: A Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019).

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