The God who is there
Finding your place in God's story
REMAKING A BROKEN WORLD
The heart of the Bible story
By Christopher Ash
Authentic Media. 196 pages. £8.99
THE GOD WHO IS THERE
Finding your place in God’s story
By D.A. Carson
Baker Books. 232 pages. £8.99
Bible overviews seem to have been very popular in recent years. Two worthy examples are the new books by Christopher Ash and by Don Carson.
Early on, Ash describes very helpfully both the point and limitations of such retellings of the Bible’s big story. His particular overview is around the themes of gathering and scattering. Thus after an opening chapter on ‘the God who is one’, he focuses on Eden and Babel (expelled to wander, scattered by pride), then Sinai and Jerusalem (gathered under the word, and under the king), and finishes with the exile to Babylon (back to Babel). Moving into the New Testament, he deals with Golgotha, Pentecost and Church (gathered to Jesus, by the Spirit, worldwide), and closes with a chapter on the New Creation (gathered forever). Each chapter ends with questions for discussion. One welcome note from Ash is his insistence on the priority of the local church in God’s plan to remake a broken world: ‘I want to persuade us to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to belonging to, and serving God in the fellowship of, a local church; and that this may prove to be the most significant thing we do with our lives’.
Believers and unbelievers
Carson’s chapters deal respectively with Creation, Fall, the covenant with Abraham, the Law, the Kingdom of Israel, the Psalms and other Wisdom Literature, the Incarnation (God taking a human nature), what ‘born again’ means, God’s love, the Easter events, Justification (God declaring the guilty just), people transformed and gathered into churches, final judgment, and God’s final triumph. The chapter titles show how each part of the Bible’s story reveals something about God: for example, the second chapter is titled ‘The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels’.
For the main part, Carson expounds one or two key passages in each chapter of his book: Genesis 1-2, Genesis 3, Acts 17.24-25, Exodus 20, 2 Samuel 7, Psalm 1, John 1.1-18, John 3 (over two chapters), Matthew 27, John 20, Romans 3, Revelation 14, and Revelation 21-22 — all in his lucid, incisive style, and with occasional anecdotes. Much of this material is reworked from his earlier books, e.g. his Pillar commentary on John, and his books Scandalous and The difficult doctrine of God’s love.
In some places he offers brief comment on a number of passages: I found this material less gripping, though it may be more useful for someone less familiar with the overall Bible storyline. Indeed, Carson writes as much for the unbeliever as the believer: he tries to assume nothing, and to address objections, e.g. regarding science, or popular caricatures of God. I suspect, though, that it would take a very interested unbeliever to work through such a substantial and demanding book. Someone willing to do so would surely come away with a detailed and rounded view of the whole Bible story. Carson is rigorous, but (thankfully) not ‘coolly objective’: this is godly scholarship.
If I had to choose?
Which one to buy and read? They really are quite different, and complementary. Carson is more intellectually demanding, and contains more detailed exposition of actual passages. Though Ash has some of this, he more often draws lessons from the overall unfolding story. Ash’s book is also different in that it is explicitly organised around a theme (gathering/scattering). Consequently, whereas Carson covers familiar key texts, Ash deals with more material ‘off the beaten path’ (Genesis 11, Psalm 122, Ezekiel 34-37, Babylon, etc.), which helpfully maintains interest. I found his treatment of ‘becoming like children’ in Matthew 18 particularly helpful and thought-provoking. One very minor query I had was with Ash’s insistence that turning from God inevitably leads to disunity — it seems to me that the problem in Genesis 11 is a godless unity which God needs to fragment. Carson’s book is fuller in its doctrinal content, and indeed larger in general — despite a similar page count, the smaller print and big format makes it almost twice as long as Ash’s book. Both are warmly recommended: Carson’s book for the person looking for a comprehensive description of the Bible’s storyline, and Ash providing a fresh slant, and much needed exhortation concerning commitment to the local church.
elder, Grace Church, Westerleigh, S. Glos.