Book Review: God’s Story: The Bible Explained

I’ll not lie, my heart usually sinks when I get an email that includes the words, ‘I’d really love to send you a copy of my new book.’ If I say ‘no’, I might well miss out on a book that turns out to be extremely helpful and valuable. If I say ‘yes’, I feel obliged to read it. Why should being obliged to read it matter? Because, more often than not, Christian books really aren’t that great (despite what the masses of endorsements in the early pages tell you). Often, they are boring, repetitive and giving you little in the way of new insights. I have finite time and I can think of myriad things to do with it that are preferable to wasting it reading it dull, uninspiring books, no matter how worthy the subject may seem.

So, when I was asked whether I would be willing to receive a copy of God’s Story, I must admit I wasn’t enamoured at the thought of having to read it. Then, when I learnt it was a Bible overview, I immediate wondered whether we even need another one of those. But I was told I could get a free copy with no obligation to do anything with it. That seemed a guilt-free way to get a free book that I could always leave it on my shelf and ignore if I wanted. But that felt a bit wrong, so I thought I would dip into the first few chapters and if was rubbish, put it down and forget it. Or, if I was so inclined, read as much as I could bear and then write a review on my blog telling everyone that it is useless and not to bother buying it. So, I said alright and got a copy in the post.

This is one of those rarer occasions I’m glad I did. The book is written in a straightforward way (another rarity for most Christian books), beautifully illustrated and full of helpful yet simple tables and diagrams. But perhaps the biggest strength of all is its brevity. Each chapter is three or four pages, a decent chunk of which is either pictures, tables or diagrams. The amount of reading required for each chapter is miniscule, but the amount of Christ-centred, scriptural theology packed into each one is just incredible. You’d imagine you could say almost nothing in such a short space, but this book really packs in a lot of great stuff. It is concise and meaty at the same time – a protein bar of a book!

A little irritatingly there are 56 chapters, when we can all see how much more helpful 52 would have been, particularly if – as I am now seriously thinking – you might want to use this at your weekly midweek groups or for personal reading in a quiet time or something. But that really is a minor quibble and, of course, there are lots of other ways to break things up. The way our midweek groups are structured, we would probably take several chapters once per month.

I imagine the target audience of the book is new(ish) believers or those who perhaps have reasonable Bible knowledge but a less solid handle on biblical theology and how the storyline of scripture sits together. In my view, however, I wouldn’t get so hung up on that. I can see that this sort of book would be particularly helpful for anyone in my church, perhaps especially as part of a wider teaching programme in which there is study through particular books of the Bible. Again, were I to implement it in our midweek groups, I would spend one week looking at this book – grounding our people in the Bible’s overarching storyline – and spend another week digging into a specific book (probably the one we are looking at on Sundays) that we can be in more of the details. But I struggle to believe there are many people who wouldn’t benefit from the book in some way or other, including seasoned Bible teachers who want a quick overview of a book or to briefly place something in context.

I particularly valued the way that each chapter took a book, character or story which moved the storyline on helpfully. On top of that, the Old Testament section included in each chapter a section ‘looking forward to Jesus’ and sought to show how this part of the Bible’s story related to Christ. The New Testament section similarly had an ‘Old Testament fulfilment’ section, doing much the same thing but looking at how the old is being fulfilled in the new. It not only laid out the storyline of the Bible, but helped to show the interconnectedness of what it says too.

All in, I would really recommend getting yourself a copy. The brevity of each chapter is a great strength and the language is simple and straightforward. It is the kind of book you could give to a young believer looking to get an understanding of the Bible’s storyline or you could give to a more mature believer who may have great knowledge but a less clear sense of how the Bible holds together as one. I can see value in using it in small groups and even forming part of the teaching programme of the church. There are few, I think, who wouldn’t or couldn’t benefit from it.