Episode 135: The Bible in One Sentence
What’s the Bible in one sentence? It can be easy to view the Bible as a variety of writings that are put together without a pattern or purpose. But, this is not the case at all. The Bible, we find, tells one unifying story with one purpose. This week we look at what this story is, how it can be summed up in one sentence, and how we can shape our lives around it. We’re thankful to have pastor Jonathan Neufeld with us to walk us through the Bible’s story.
With me today is Pastor Jonathan Neufeld. Jonathan pastors in the Lower Mainland, Chilliwack, here in BC, Canada. He’s served generally in ministry for the last five years. But, has been in the church for a long time.
He’s just got his Master of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. When was that, by the way?
I graduated just over a year ago.
Just over a year ago. Okay, that’s awesome. It’s great to have you with us today in studio.
Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Who are you? I mean, we know a little bit about who you are. It’s great to have someone face-to-face, because usually, if you’re a regular listener of indoubt, we’re talking to someone via FaceTime Audio or Skype.
Anyways, yeah. Tell us a little bit about who you are.
Yeah. Well, as you said, I’m a pastor right now in Chilliwack at Central Community Church. I lead one of our campuses up in Promontory there. But, I’m probably most known to your listeners, at least, because of my relation with Dr. John Neufeld, who I normally call dad.
There you go.
Yeah. I, obviously, grew up in a bit of a Christian home. I really grew up knowing a lot about the Bible. I was the pastor’s kid, I was the good pastor’s kid. You hear about sort of the rebel ones or the bad ones. I was really the good one.
I was the kid who had all the answers in Sunday school. But, the problem was, especially growing up, I just realized I didn’t actually believe those things. Those were the things I knew. I knew how to act, I knew what to say.
But, truth be told, I didn’t believe most of those things that I was saying. Those were just the answers I thought I had to say because I was the pastor’s kid. At least, for me, where God really started getting a hold of my life was hwen my uncle was actually killed in a car accident. Really, suddenly, out in Alberta, he was killed. I remember going to his funeral and for the first time I was sitting there going, “I could actually die at any point. I would stand before a God who could actually see through all of my lies. All of the things, all the right answers I said but didn’t really believe, God could actually see those things. He’d actually know what all was going on there.”
That was really at the point where I just realized, this was something I either had to make my own, because, I had no guarantees I was going to live until 70 when I could then do it on my death bed. No, you never really know. It really became my own around that time. That’s really where I became a Christian, where God really got a hold of my life and then started leading me into ministry after that.
And you’re married, as well.
I am married. Yes. My lovely wife Korinna, we’re coming up on our seventh anniversary.
When you were a PK at a pretty large church in the Vancouver area, did you have these aspirations of becoming a pastor? You know, “I want to be just like my dad and preach”?
You know, it’s funny, but actually the opposite, I never really said, “This is where I’m going to be going.” Really, from an early age, my dad always would say (because people came up and asked, right?), “You going to be a preacher like your dad?”
Yeah, pinch your cheek.
Exactly. My dad always just said, “You know what? You go into ministry if and only if God calls you. It is a calling that God will place on your life, it’s not just sort of a decision you do because your dad preaches.”
For me, I didn’t grow up with that aspiration at all. It wasn’t until after I graduated. I ended up in a Bible college in Northern Ireland. That’s where God started actually showing me that I could understand the Bible for myself. I could read that, and I could actually understand what was being said. I just got so excited. I came home and was like, “Guys, do you realize? Do you realize what’s in the Bible? There’s so much here!” Really, just out of that desire, out of that sort of joy, I started getting involved in different teaching areas. Eventually a pastor said, “Hey, do you want to give a shot actually preaching? Here, we’ve got a young adult’s group.” I got first little exposures. Through that, God was just working in my heart. Changing, changing, changing.
Finally, I said, “You know what? God is clearly calling me into ministry.” I just got to go. You know, obedience to what he’s doing.
Yeah. Absolutely. Anyways, speaking of when we read the Bible. Today we’re talking about the Bible, not just generally, but more specifically how the Bible fits together as a unity, as a story. In fact, I’ve never really heard an apologetic argument (maybe there is one out there, I’m sure there is) for the inspiration, the authority, and just the uniqueness of the Bible on the basis that it wasn’t written by just one person at one time, like, say the Quran, but written over a much longer time span – stretching way wider, yet has one storyline, one purpose. Anyways, I think that’s really cool to see that diversity, yet unity at the same time. We’re going to talk about the Bible today.
In a more physical sense though, Jonathan, what is the Bible in a more physical sense? Because some people think it is one book like the Quran that was just one sacred writing. But, yeah.
It’s interesting you bring up the Quran, because the Quran, as you said, one author. And yet, it actually doesn’t have a narrative within it. Right? Each of the stories are very distinct within the Quran, whereas actually you find almost the exact opposite in the Bible.
You have the Bible which has 66 different books, somewhere around 40 different authors over about 1500 years, right? You have this massive, massive scope. And yet, as you’ve just said, it is telling one story all the way through.
Through all these different little stories that are going on, God is revealing one giant narrative to his people. It’s just this amazing work that God is working through. We have all these different authors, and yet there’s really one author. God is the one who has inspired his Word. 2 Peter 1 talks about the Holy Spirit being the one who has actually been carrying all of these authors along. He is the one who is actually writing this, crafting this whole thing together.
That’s so cool. It’s just amazing though because you think of a book like Leviticus, this book with the laws for Israel at the time. Then you have this letter written from Paul in prison to Philemon – a very specific book about receiving his slave back as a Christian brother. These two books somehow fit together, yet there is a huge length of time between them.
I feel like a lot of people, though, they don’t see the Bible like that. Even if they do see it like that, they still see it as just various stories and various sayings. They think of Proverbs as all these one-offs, and then David and Goliath, and Noah’s Ark. All these different things are seen as bits and pieces.
Yeah. I’m wondering if you could help us un-see the Bible that way, especially for a lot of us that grew up in the church. Sometimes viewing the Bible this way can just happen.
Help us un-see that and help us see it more as a unity. Is there that one storyline? What is that storyline from Genesis to Revelation?
It’s definitely common in the church that you kind of have this, “We pick out this little verse, and this little verse, and this little verse.” We think, “Well, okay. I guess the Bible is just like a sack of marbles. You can kind of pick one out. Oh, look, that’s nice. And put it back.” There’s nothing really unifying about it. Whereas, I think a helpful analogy is: you’re walking down this giant trail through the forest. God has this one-story line he is telling. Yet, there are all these little paths off to the side that give you a new perspective.
Some take you up really high – you can see this grand picture of what God is doing. Some bring you down real low and bring you into the grit of what God is redeeming. You have all these different things that are going on.
But, ultimately, it’s driving one whole story. I think it’s tricky to try and put everything God has said into one sentence. Right?
That’s where even the scholars are all over- well, not all over the place, but there are different ways of trying to say, “This is what it’s all about, this is what it’s all about.” I think it’s easy to say the Bible is really the story of God working in his creation to redeem fallen humanity. That is the overarching and global storyline that gets told. Lots of people talk about, in different ways, the idea of “Creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.” Right? The big sweep of what’s going on really starts all the way in Genesis – it starts with God creating this place and Adam and Eve to be these image bearers to spread the glory of God throughout the whole world.
Of course, by chapter three we have that already breaking down. Adam and Eve say, “Nope, I want to do it my way. I care more about my own image on earth.” So, the image gets broken, and a curse gets given. But, even as God gives the curse, he gives a hope right there.
You can almost say that in Genesis three, you have a snapshot of what everything else is going to do. You’ve got this picture of Eden. You have humanity sinning and starting to fight already amongst themselves. But, Adam and Eve, only two people there and they’re already blaming one another as soon as sin enters the world. God’s saying there’s a curse, but there’s also a hope.
There is a hope that’s coming. There’s one who will crush the head of the serpent. Right there, you see the starting off of what the storyline is going to look like.
Really, the rest of the Bible is that starting to get played out, in different ways, in different people. That’s the storyline that God is working. And ultimately it comes, the redemption, in Jesus. Right? Jesus comes to be that one who will crush the head of the serpent. Then it looks forward and says, “Now there is still coming a greater restoration, a glorification. We will one day have eternal life with God.” That’s really sort of this grand narrative.
It gets broken down more and more as you go, and God begins to give little hints as to what that restoration is going to look like. From the Bible you get these different covenants that form a very helpful backbone. I’m using language that I’m taking from Dr. Well and Dr. Gentry, they were my professors.
They wrote a book and it was very helpful for me. You see this backbone, this main storyline in these covenants that God makes with his people. You see that with Adam and Eve, you see it with Noah. Noah’s sort of this ‘new Adam’. God wipes the planet clean and says. “Alright, Noah, you get to do it.” Is Noah going to be the one to be able to actually bring pack peace?
Not quite. He’s drunk by the end of it.
Very quickly the human partners are the ones who are breaking down. God makes these promises, these covenants with his people, and it’s the human partner that can’t quite actually fulfill what God is promising.
You see the same thing with Abraham. You see a very famous covenant God makes with him. He says, “I’m going to make you into a people. You’re going to be a blessing to all the nations. Abraham, go be this blessing.” And you see hints of that. He’s interceding for Sodom and Gomorrah, “Come on. If there’s just, how about five less? How about just five?” You see this, and yet, Abraham is also a liar. He’s also fallen. He’s also not actually fulfilling everything God is calling him to do. You see hints of it, but it’s not the fullness yet. You can go on.
The next covenant you see there is with Israel. Israel is Abraham’s descendant. They are the physical offspring. God calls them out of Egypt and says, “Alright. You are going to be this holy nation, this royal priesthood. You are going to be this nation set among the nations, go out, mediate between them and God. Bring them into this relationship.”
And, I mean, Israel is a mess. That’s what God calls them to do and yet they’re not even close to actually doing any of that. They are just constantly falling short, caring about themselves. They’re abusing their own poor people. There are all sorts of problems.
God says, “Well, okay. I told you there was covenant curses as well as those covenant blessings.” So, he takes them out of the land and says, “I put you in this land to be this priesthood to the nations. You didn’t do it? Alright, I’m taking you out.” You see this constantly.
Same with David. God makes a covenant with David: “There’s going to be one, from your offspring, who’s to come. He’s going to bring blessing to all the nations, he’s going to have this eternal kingdom. He’s going to make a house for God’s name.”
You see this again, and again, and again, and he doesn’t fulfill it. Solomon comes in, he’s building a house for God.
He’s the one!
He looks good! Then he doesn’t fulfill it. At the end of his life, he’s falling away. You see this pattern again, and again, and again. God makes these promises, makes these covenants. Yet, it’s the human side that can’t fulfill what’s coming up, until we get to Jesus Christ.
Finally, here is now ‘God made man,’ who will fulfill all of these covenants. He is the better Abraham, the next Adam, the true Israel, the greater son of David. You see this theme again and again. Jesus is the one who can actually fulfill all these promises and this blessing to all the nations.
That’s really what we see. He’s the one who brings in this redemption. All the curses of sin, all the muck and the mire that they go through. He’s the one who actually changes hearts, he’s the one who actually redeems us from the curse of sin so that we do have this hope and this future in eternal life with him. All of it is this story of redemption. And it’s all focusing on Jesus Christ.
The Old Testament, it’s providing us this background. What is going to come? Here are all these promises, but we don’t see them coming. We don’t see them coming until, finally, Jesus comes on the scene. You’ve got John the Baptist saying, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” This is the one. We’ve been waiting for him, this is finally the true one who will bring a new covenant that will actually last. An eternal kingdom, all of these things that we have been talking about, looking for, longing for. Really, that’s the storyline that we see throughout the whole Bible: God working redemption.
If you start to miss that theme, you actually break everything else apart. You can’t understand all the different aspects of what goes on. All the stories become just meaningless stories unless they’re connected into this thing that God is doing. That’s where, I think, we get into trouble because we’ll read these independent stories like David and Goliath and say, “Okay. That’s a cool story of courage.” Or rather, “Is this God at work to defend his people through a greater Messiah who is yet to come?”
If we start missing that, we can get ourselves into all kinds of trouble. It’s an important thing to know.
Absolutely. That’s so good and thank you. That was very, very helpful. So many questions that come from that though! One of them is about something you said at the very beginning. You don’t have to go into too much length here, but, when you say that Adam and Eve’s purpose as image bearers was to go and fill the earth with the glory of God, well, what does glory mean? If the whole purpose is for God to be glorified by us imaging him, what can we understand to be God’s glory?
Yeah. No, that is a good question. I think that’s a big question. First of all, it’s just a display of who he is. His character, his being. Especially when you have Adam and Eve outside of sin, I mean, that takes on an amazing thing of the purity of God. His love, his relationship with him. In the garden of Eden you have God at rest with humanity. It’s this notion of peace, of God in this relationship. We give glory, we give honor, praise. We reflect who he is. He becomes sort of this ultimate end and it’s not on us. It comes into who God is. It’s a display of his character. There’s my nutshell answer.
If you were to sit with someone on the bus and they asked you what the Bible was about, and they’re about to get off, what would you say?
Right. That’s always a tough situation. Essentially, it’s going to be about how God redeems us from sin – takes us out of that. That’s something that needs so much more explanation. If I were able to take a minute or two, I’ll usually say, “The whole Bible is the story of the gospel.”
If you can share the gospel, you can share what the Bible is really about. I usually say this in my mind, I have four sort of ‘hooks’ that I use to tell the gospel. It’s God, man, Christ and response. that’s what the Bible is all about. It’s about God, who he is, what he has done. It’s about who we are – that we have fallen short of what he has called us to do and be. We’ve actually rebelled against him. In fact, there’s a curse against us and a punishment that’s coming, accounting for our deeds. But, the good news is that Jesus has come. He has actually died in our place. In fact, for those who respond in faith, who put their trust in him, who repent and believe, will have eternal life. That’s the story of the Bible. It’s the story of the gospel. It’s not unintentional that, that story is really what we are called to proclaim. It’s really the whole counsel of God.
Absolutely. The whole counsel of God. Paul says to the Ephesian elders, “I’m not guilty of any of your blood because I have faithfully preached the whole counsel of God.”
And kind of in thinking that, if the story of the Bible, this whole grand gospel story of the Bible is so important to grasp, how can we shape our whole lives under that it? How do we immerse ourselves in the story of the gospel?
Yeah. I mean, for us to be shaped by it, it means we need to know it. It maybe sounds obvious or simple, but we need to simply be reading our Bibles. I think so often we get caught in this sort of, “I read the little parts I like. I can sort of pick out the nice little bits.”
But, if we want our lives to be shaped by the whole thing, we actually need to know the whole thing. We need to be going through it and actually start seeing these grand narratives and grand stories that are in the Bible.
I think of 2 Timothy 3:16 where Paul says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God, profitable for training, correction, proof, righteousness.” Paul is talking there about the Old Testament. It’s not specifically about the New Testament there, but he has in mind all of the Old Testament Scriptures. I think we tend to ignore that as New Testament believers, right? We tend to stick with where we like. Actually, that leaves us, sometimes with a deficient understanding everything God has done. We need to actually have this sense of, “I know what’s in Leviticus, I know what’s in Deuteronomy,” because- by the way, Deuteronomy is an amazing book. It’s almost like reading the New Testament, the way Moses talks. He’s talking to Israel, “Here, you have the law. Be changed in your hearts, that you actually might follow God from the heart. Not just as this legalistic obedience.” We need to have this full orbed thing.
And we get these Bible reading plans and we start off in Genesis and we’re loving it. It’s great. Genesis is fantastic. And then Exodus, we’re cruising through. We get half-way and we’re talking about the temple and it’s getting a little tougher. Then we hit Leviticus and we’re just dying. We’re getting swamped in all these details.
Sometimes it’s really refreshing to take big chunks. Just take, like, five chapters at a time, just read. That way you’re not spending a month in Leviticus, you’re only spending a week.
You’ll start seeing these bigger themes that develop. Sometimes we go so focused on, “I’m going to read one chapter,” or “I’m just going to read one verse,” and that can be good. I’m all for meditating on Scripture, really soaking in it. But, there are also times to say, “I need to understand everything. I need to get those bigger pictures.”
Be reading in a bigger way and getting help as we’re going through, especially the Old Testament. Get some helpful commentaries, get a study Bible – ESV Study Bible, the new NIV Study Bible. Really, really helpful to put some of those bigger themes together, so that we can actually be applying them.
And be applying them well, so that it’s not just sort of moralistic obedience or something like that.
Absolutely. As you say that, I have two encouragements to people, and I’m speaking to myself as well. But, I feel like sometimes we, as Christians, should be viewing the Bible differently than other books. But, at the same time, just read it like other books as well.
I know there’s one guy, Peter Krol from Disciple Makers down in the States. Every January, before he reads any other book, he’ll just read the Bible. Right away. He’s not doing a plan every day, he’s just reading the Bible. He’ll just read it. He’ll have it done, in something like February or March. Then he’ll go onto his other reading. I think that’s really helpful and encouraging.
The other helpful thing is that I remember thinking I was really smart a couple years ago doing some math on how long it takes to actually read the books of the Bible. I came out with, “44 out of the 66 books of the Bible can be read under an hour,” if you’re an average reader.
I’m like, “That’s a huge chunk of the Bible! 44 out of the 66 books you can read in under an hour!” A lot of them take, like, maybe 45 minutes. Sure, you can watch a Netflix show and enjoy that with your family, or you can literally get a whole letter that Paul wrote to a church or what have you. I think that’s really helpful.
But, anyways. Do you have any last things that are in your mind that you want to say before we wrap it up?
Yeah. I would just say, learn to genuinely love the Word of God. Just love to soak in it. All the complexities, all the oddities that you find in the Bible, God put them there so that we might actually get to know him. That we might love him.
All the stories that weave together to give us this grand picture of what God is doing, and what God has done in the world gives us such great hope and great confidence in eternal life. God has been faithful in the past and he will continue to be faithful in the future. I just think the more we soak in that, the more we revel in that glory, it’s just fantastic. It gives us such confidence in our walk with God.
That’s so good. Thank you so much Jonathan, I appreciate you coming on here. And talking with us today.