This article is based on an interview by Tim Chester with Matt Searles, author of God’s Story (Lion Books, 2021). Matt is formerly a pastor in London, now serves as Director of Training for the South Central Gospel Partnership and as a faculty member for Crosslands Training.
How does your book differ from some other Bible Overviews on offer?
Like all Bible overviews, it’s trying to help people into the scriptures, but the visual aspect makes it very accessible, with lots of images, photos, charts and diagrams. The two key distinctives of the book are a focus on the story and a focus on Jesus. The Bible, although made of many books, is one story – that of Gods plans for the world. So every individual part of the Bible finds its context and meaning in light of the overarching story. And this story centres on Jesus! So that’s the second distinctive: a focus on Jesus. In particular, every old testament chapter has a section ‘looking ahead to Jesus’, showing how that part of the Bible points to our saviour Jesus Christ. Every new testament chapter has a section ‘Old Testament fulfilment’ showing the Old Testament background that is being fulfilled in this part of the New Testament.
Who are you aiming this book at?
The primary audience I’ve written for are young Christians, perhaps those who have recently done an Alpha Course or Christianity Explored. So I’ve explained unfamiliar terms, and even written in a way that someone who is not a Christian could engage with. But there are places where I’ve been able to go quite deep, albeit it in a brief way, so I’d hope mature Christians would find lots to encourage and teach them also. We look at some of those intertextual links in the Bible that we may struggle to see if reading chapter by chapter. Even many mature Christians don’t really know how Numbers or Esther point to Jesus, exactly what the exile was about and how that relates to the Garden of Eden – and how Jesus is the one who brings his people home!
How do you anticipate it being used, or suggest it might be used?
With 56 short chapters, it’s been designed so the reader could just dip in, to provide a bit of context about a given book of the Bible that they’re about to read, so that they can make more sense of what they’re reading. But I also want people to be able to read it cover to cover, so I try and finish a chapter on a cliffhanger, which is actually how much of the bible works. So I hope when people finish reading a chapter, they want to read just one more! Another great way I’ve heard some people are using it is for daily devotions with teenagers. Finishing each Old Testament chapter with a focus on fulfilment in Jesus makes it ideal for this devotional use.
When discussing Biblical Theology, some people like to define their Biblical overviews as one of Kingdom, Covenant, People or Sacrifice. Where do you sit in terms of theme?
Personally, I believe that the Bible is simply just too rich for just one theme. I feel if you focus on one, you lose on others. Sometimes the theme you focus on can become too controlling, too narrow. But by having a few of the big bible themes, you can get a deeper understanding. I believe you can tell the Bible story in all sorts of ways. There is just such richness in the consistency of the scriptures, that actually we should expect them to be coherent. So whilst I trace major themes such as God’s creation plans, kingdom promises, covenants with his people, serpent crushing etc., there is no one that dominates the others. I’ve drawn on Greg Beale’s helpful exploration of Eden/Temple themes throughout the scriptures, and this is one theme in the book that might be more unfamiliar to some people.
Can you give us some thoughts on how biblical theology should shape our preaching?
I love Biblical Theology, and think it very important, but the danger is that we just preach our Biblical theological framework and therefore all our sermons sound the same! I believe there is one big story to the scriptures that does make sense of all the little stories, but we have a very long Bible, so we need to enjoy the detail of the individual texts. So I try to always have an eye on both, which I think is a healthier discipline: spending my time in one text, but knowing where it fits into that big picture, but to do this in a way that doesn’t obliterate the contribution of this text. Otherwise, if we can sum up our Bible overview in a few minutes, then why have we got so much Old Testament?
Biblical Theology is not just about the one big story. It’s also about reading the Bible as the Biblical authors want us to. They write expecting us to make links with other parts of scripture. Biblical Theology is reading scripture in light of scripture – and discovering the coherence and beauty of the Bible. We’re not reading Christ in to the Old Testament, but saying that Jesus and the apostles were right when they saw the Old Testament as really testifying to him.
What’s the lowest age would you say this could be used for?
The primary audience i wrote for was adults, but the visual format and explanation of all unfamiliar terms means that it is very accessible for teenagers and even a bit younger. Primarily the book is really geared towards new Christians, so the average 10 year old who has grown up in a church environment would probably find it pretty accessible because they’ll generally have a far greater background in reading the bible.
What are you hoping will happen as a result of this book?
I’d love people to be excited about the scriptures, so to give them just a taste that the Bible is wonderfully relevant, wonderfully coherent, and worth getting to know better. Like a map to a foreign country, I hope the book helps orientate readers of the Bible, and encourages people to want to explore more of the Bible itself! And hopefully they’ll come away with a better view of God’s greatness and His character!
Have you got any plans to run courses, or help create resources for us to run courses alongside reading this book?
I’d love to do that. However, the plan I think is to let the book come out and see how people are using it and engaging with it, and then perhaps see what we can do there.
Transcribed and edited by Myles Drake