Jun 20, 2011

The God Who Is There

4 Min Read

She was understandably frustrated. She had called from another state to learn how she could remedy the educational program for home school families she had been hired to direct. She complained that, though the program claimed it was making Christ known to students, it provided no specific teaching either in Bible or in Christian doctrine. As we talked, I realized her frustration was only going to increase when she tried to fix the problem. That’s because, when I spoke with her about the Bible’s basic storyline and its main ideas, what she was hearing was brand new information for her. I’ve taught children and teens over the years, and I’ve seen a steady decline in the level of Bible knowledge in children from Christian families. My assumption has been that parents aren’t spending adequate time teaching their children. After the conversation with this educator, though, I began to think that perhaps the problem is that Christian parents themselves don’t know what’s in the Bible.

D.A. Carson has written a superb little book to address this problem. The book is titled The God Who Is There:  Finding Your Place in God’s Story. Carson’s first chapter begins by stating the fact that at one time, almost everyone knew what was in the Bible, and knew it well—even those who didn’t believe the Bible at least knew what it said that they didn’t believe. A basic working knowledge of the Bible no longer being a given for most people (even Christians), Carson wrote this book to help.  In it, he assumes no prior knowledge of the Bible; early on, he explains how to find things using chapter and verse numbers. At the same time, there are riches in its pages for seasoned believers too. Speaking both to those who are new to the Bible and to those who know it well, Carson keeps his comments up-to-date, often pausing to point out the Bible’s perspective on popular attitudes and contemporary theories.

In The God Who Is There, the author accomplishes at least four things in every one of the fourteen chapters.  First, he carefully takes a key Bible passage, precisely chosen for the important Christian teaching it sets forth, and expounds it. He explains what the passage means, defines the religious terms it uses, and shows where it fits in the Bible as a whole. The result is a clear body of Christianity’s basic teachings, built on fourteen plus passages of Scripture, concise enough to be grasped by the beginning student and detailed enough to be satisfying to the more advanced.

Secondly, Carson delivers on the promise found on the book’s back cover to take readers through the big story of Scripture.  He hits all the important high points on the way. Beginning with  creation, the fall in Eden, and the stories of Abraham, he explains the Bible’s teaching of a transcendent God, the origin of sin and evil, and God’s grace in making a covenant with human beings. In covering the exodus from Egypt and the entrance into the Promised Land he explains the reasons for the moral Law, the tabernacle, and the whole system of sacrifices. He introduces the biblical idea of the kingdom of God through a discussion of the times of the kings and devotes a chapter to the wisdom literature (in our English Bibles, the books of Job through the Song of Solomon).

In a chapter (the seventh) transitioning between Old and New Testaments, Carson combines a very brief look at the promises found in the prophets with the opening chapters of the gospels. The emphasis here is on Christ as the fulfillment of Old Testament promise, with a superb exposition of the meaning of the Incarnation and a demonstration of why the concept of the Trinity is a biblical one. That’s a great deal to cover in one chapter, and, if I have one tiny quibble with this excellent book, it would be right here. I would like to have seen this chapter written as two chapters, with an entire chapter devoted to the riches found in the writings of the prophets. Isaiah through the end of the Old Testament is a huge block of Scripture, having so much to reveal about the beauty of God’s character, as seen in the severity of his holiness and the surprise of his grace. As a portion of Scripture, it is regularly misused or neglected, and I would love to have seen a greater attempt made here to invite people into a deeper acquaintance with these books. (Carson himself says that he wishes he had the space to devote several chapters to the prophets.)

The next three chapters tell of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, pointing out the significance of those things for the salvation of God’s people. Using the epistles and Revelation, the remaining chapters discuss justification, the church, judgment, and the return of Christ in glory.  As promised, The God Who Is There provides a concise overview of the Bible’s storyline, with enough detail to bring out all its key points.

The third thing D A. Carson accomplishes in this look at all the Bible’s parts is a clear presentation of how all those parts fit together. He promises in the preface: “If you have quite a few of the pieces of the Bible stored in your mind but have no idea of how the exodus relates to the exile or why the New Testament is called the New Testament, this book is for you.” All the way through, Carson is careful to point out important ideas when they first show up. He doesn’t lose track of them as the book progresses, but keeps reminding his readers of them, pointing out how they are developed, fulfilled, or finally consummated (depending on which part of Scripture is under discussion).

Fourthly, Carson does what the book’s title suggests: he makes clear that all the teaching of the Bible is, primarily, the self-revelation of God. The Bible’s story is the story of God. The title of every chapter of this book begins with the words “The God Who . . . .” The author’s focus is always on how this part of the story or that doctrinal teaching highlights the glory of God’s character. Time and again, I found myself setting down the book and pausing to marvel at the beauty of the God of Scripture.

An introduction to Christian Scripture for those who know nothing about it, a guide to making sense of the Bible for those who love it but find it puzzling, and profound devotional reading for mature believers—The God Who Is There is all that! I can’t think of anyone for whom I would not recommend it!