George B. Thompson, Jr.
Wipf & Stock, 248 pages
As a pastor, one response to the invitation to join a Bible study never ceased to amaze me: Inevitably, someone would say, “I don’t know enough about the Bible to be in a Bible study!”
The fear was that being in a group studying the Bible might expose one’s unfamiliarity with the Bible. I always thought that the purpose of Bible study was to gain a deeper understanding of Scripture, to grow in faith, hope and love, and to discern more clearly within the company of disciples what it means to follow Jesus. Yet, fear can overcome the willingness to take the risk of entering into the world of the Bible. So, “Welcome to the One Great Story.”
Thompson’s survey of the biblical narrative is designed for all who stand on the edge of adventure. The book invites us to explore the central story that flows through and unites the diverse biblical witness. It is the story of creation and redemption, of loss and hope, and of promise and fulfillment. Thompson follows the story of God’s promise as it begins, builds, shifts and falters, but is never lost. He helps the reader see how the story is renewed, revived and transformed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. It becomes our story in the gift of the Spirit to the church as we continue to witness today.
He sees the story through a particular lens. Thompson writes, “We could argue that its most central theme is whether the called, chosen ones will demonstrate their trust in the One who – because of the call given to them – promises, acts, expects, holds accountable, and persists against the odds.” The promise given to Abram and Sarai is given to us so that we too may be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. His emphasis upon the inclusivity and universality of the church’s call invites the readers to see their own lives and calling through the lens of the one great story.
The organization of the book makes it an excellent resource for an introductory group study. It is divided into twelve chapters, each containing questions for reflection and additional exploration. The opening chapter – which lays out the nature of biblical literature and the cultures from which it arises – is particularly useful. Thompson helps the reader understand how the one great story is woven out of different languages and cultures, diverse authors, and historical periods. He does not attempt a survey of each book of the Bible. Instead, he focuses on those books that are key contributors in telling, shaping and reshaping the biblical narrative. His chapter on the psalms, for example, demonstrates how the psalms lift up in worship the story of God’s mighty deeds and the experiences of the people as they celebrate, lament and give hope to their own place in that story.
The final chapter invites us to find ourselves within the continuing story as we wrestle not only with issues of biblical interpretation but also with faithful life in the Spirit in a world that is tempted by the lure of wealth and power, as well as a desire to exclude the marginalized. One could wish that Thompson had focused more on the theological dimensions of the story, but perhaps that is a topic for another book.
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Lewis Galloway is the retired pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Indianapolis and is now living in Black Mountain, North Carolina.