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Roberts painted a wrong picture of the Bible
on 28 February 2010
Review Vaughan Roberts' "God's Big Picture
Tracing the storyline of the Bible"
This book written by Roberts built on two theological statements that are not proved from the Scripture. From these two incorrect starting points, he has painted a wrong picture of the Bible. Many of his arguments and proofs are no more than reading the Bible text out of context and reading into the Scripture something not there.
The first theological statement is found on page 17:
The Bible obviously covers a great deal of ground. But there is one supreme subject that binds it all together: Jesus Christ and the salvation God offers through him. That is true not just of the New Testament but of the Old as well.
And the second theological statement is the definition of the Kingdom of God which is found on page 21:
The kingdom of God: God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing.
1- Now, we examine the first statement: "There is one supreme subject that binds it all together: Jesus Christ and the salvation God offers through him."
I don't think anyone would object to salvation being a major theme in the Bible that runs through both Old Testament and New Testament. However, this understanding is incomplete. As sinners saved by grace, we often see things from our own angle. In our eyes, salvation through Jesus Christ is the greatest thing in the Bible. Although this view is not an error itself, it severely limits our understanding of the Bible.
If salvation through Jesus Christ is the only and the greatest one theme that binds the Scriptures together, then, we won't be able to see anything else apart from salvation. Now, as our salvation is already achieved through the death of Christ on the Cross, there is no more we can expect apart from how we live our life today, the Rapture and the New Heaven and New Earth.
1.1 The supreme theme of the Bible according to Paul. In contrast to Roberts' supreme theme, we examine the book of Ephesians; Paul gives us an understanding from the point of view from the heaven. From Ephesians 1:3-14, we see that Father God has a plan to glorify himself through His Son Jesus Christ. So the message in the whole Bible, as far as from God's point of view, is concerned, it is all about His glory. Even, the salvation through Jesus Christ is merely one of the many ways that bring God His glory. Because of this, we should see the Bible message a manifestation and a continuation of unfolding of God's glory. With this, we can accept that something Vaughan Roberts has rejected in the Scripture. These are something Roberts could not understand and he has to resort to spiritualize the Scripture into something else, for example, the returns of Christ on earth for a thousand year rule. The rule of Christ literally on earth is only one of the many things that will bring glory to God the Father.
Let's read Ephesians 1:3-14. These 12 verses are one single sentence despite many full stops you see in the English Bible. This long sentence consists of three revelations about God the Father.
Eph 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ
Paul makes a big statement with this verse to say that the Father wants to bless us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ. Then, he continues in v1:4-6.
Eph 1:4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 5 having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
1.1.1 This is Revelation #1; God destines us for adoption as sons through His Son (1:3-6). God the Father has chosen us for adoption in Christ for the praise of the glory of His grace. The centre is the Father. The plan comes from the Father. The object of His action is us. The purpose is to glorify Him.
Eph 1:7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence, 9 having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself, 10 that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on earth--in Him. 11 In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, 12 that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.
In these verses, Paul tells us that, in order to achieve God's plan of adoption, the Father has sent his Son to redeem us through His own blood (v1:7). What for? It is for the praise of the Father's glory (1:12).
1.1.2 This is Revelation #2, God sends His Son to redeem us. Again, the centre is the Father. The one who carries out the plan of adoption is the Son. The purpose is to glorify the Father.
We note that, "the riches of His grace in v1:7", "all wisdom and prudence in v1:8", "mystery of His will", "His good pleasure in v1:9", "the purpose of Him", "the counsel of His will in v1:11" are all of the Father. The Father is the centre and He is the architect and the driving force of this plan to glorify Himself.
We also notice that we obtain an inheritance in God the Father (1:11).
Eph 1:13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise,
Eph 1:14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Why did the Father seal us with the Spirit? It is again for the praise of the Father's glory.
1.1.3 This is Revelation #3; God seals us with the Holy Spirit of promise. Once more, the centre is the Father. The Spirit is the seal. The purpose is to glorify the Father.
Although we are already saved, the redemption of us to be the Father's possession is not complete until the dispensation of the fullness of the times (this is a reference to the Millennial Kingdom and the new heaven and new earth) when God the Father gathers together in one all things in Christ, both which in heaven and which are on earth.
So the 3 revelations are: first, that God has chosen us for adoption; second, that he has sent his son to redeem us; and third, that he seals us with the Holy Spirit of Promise. All of these are for the glory of the Father.
From these, Paul helps us to understand the message of the Bible, the work of God is to bring Him glory.
2- The second theological statement: "The kingdom of God: God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing."
From the definition of the kingdom of God given by Roberts, the four elements constituting a kingdom are: God's people, God's place, God's rule and God's blessing. Therefore, if any one of these four elements changes, the nature of the kingdom is changed and as a result, we are in a new kingdom. This is exactly we see in the book God's Big Picture.
Not only that this definition of the kingdom of God is not Biblical, in the book, we see that Roberts contradicts to himself.
So Roberts proposes 8 kingdoms of God in the history of mankind. Below are the eight kingdoms in their order of time. You can see the summary in Fig 42 on page 149.
- The pattern of the kingdom: This is before the fall of Adam and Eve.
- The perished kingdom: After the fall of Adam and Eve till Abraham.
- The promised kingdom: From Abraham till the beginning of Israel.
- The partial kingdom: From the beginning of Israel till Solomon.
- The prophesied kingdom: after Solomon till the end of OT.
- The present kingdom: From the birth of Jesus to Pentecost.
- The proclaim kingdom: From the Pentecost till the second coming of Jesus.
- The perfected kingdom: After the second coming of Jesus.
Straight away, we can find a few weaknesses in this kind of division of the Bible. Although there are more can be said, below are only four points. We shall say more about the individual kingdom when we come to it.
- Weakness #1, angels are excluded from the kingdom of God as they are not in any kingdoms although they are also ruled by God.
- Weakness #2, According to Roberts, there is no-one in the perished kingdom. So Enoch and Noah are not in this kingdom, therefore they must be in another kingdom that is not mentioned. What is this another kingdom then? Again, if there is no-one in the perished kingdom, who did God rule over, because a kingdom without subjects is not a kingdom anyway, why is it called a kingdom?
- Weakness #3, Naaman (2 King 5) is counted as part of, and share in the partial kingdom (P128). According to Roberts' kingdom definition, to be part of that kingdom, Naaman had to convert to Judaism like Ruth and Rahab and be circumcised so that he could be in the commonwealth of Israel (God's people), he had to be in the land of Israel (God's place), and to follow the law and obey the king (God's rule and blessing). However, Naaman had none of this. So, there must be another kingdom Naaman was in. What is this another kingdom then? Obviously, Roberts is very imaginative but he did not read the Bible because, Paul says in Ephesians 2:11-12 "EPH 2:11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)-- 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world." It was not possible for Naaman to be even share in the kingdom without first converting to Judaism.
- Again, in the prophesied kingdom, the God's people is said to be the remnants of Israel (P95), God's place is the new creation and new temple of Ezekiel (P97), and the God's rule and blessing is New Covenant, new king and great blessing (P100-103). However, we all know that the new creation and the new temple were not even there, and New Covenant and king and blessing did not come until the first coming of Jesus. So, is the prophesied kingdom a kingdom at all, as there was no God's place and no God's blessing yet at that time?
We can see how Roberts' division of kingdom runs against his own definition. I am not surprised that there are so many errors in his book that I have written a 46-page essay to point them out one by one.
At the end, Roberts' book is not worth reading at all. I only use his book to demonstrate to other Christians as an example of bad theology.
3. How should we interpret the Bible?
It is easy for us to bring our own interpretations, ideas and worldviews into our understanding of scripture, and unified understanding of the word of God is not automatic. It is something we grow in, and that leaders should guide us in. The general rule is `From the known to the unknown' i.e. doctrine is not pick and mix, or based on single verses that are difficult to understand, rather we start with the clear known revelations and use these to inform our understanding of the trickier passages. I would like to recommend a Golden Rule of Interpretation given by Dr. David L. Cooper. It is states that "WHEN THE PLAIN SENSE OF SCRIPTURE MAKES COMMON SENSE, SEEK NO OTHER SENSE; THEREFORE, TAKE EVERY WORD AT ITS PRIMARY, ORDINARY, USUAL, LITERAL MEANING UNLESS THE FACTS OF THE IMMEDIATE CONTEXT, STUDIED IN THE LIGHT OF RELATED PASSAGES AND AXIOMATIC AND FUNDAMENTAL TRUTHS INDICATE CLEARLY OTHERWISE."
Starting with a literal interpretation, unless we are given good reason to think otherwise, gives us a consistent understanding of the Scripture. This is a foundation for achieving the very important unity we discussed in Ephesians 4 :13. Part of the discipleship role that our leaders play is to teach and train us how to interpret and understand the word of God well, and to invite the Holy Spirit open up our understanding.
Having said so, there are still many Christians who object to a literal interpretation. Some of them hold the view that it is a matter of opinion. If the meaning of the word of God is a matter of personal opinion or it depends on the miraculous revelation at that time; and the next day, it can have another meaning. Then, we can't really help them.
However, some Christians have genuine concern about a literal interpretation. Most of these Christians believe that the bible message is all about redemption and salvation. As we stand today, the redemption has already completed on the cross. In Christ we have everything. Why on earth God wants to bring Israel back? Why does he want to build a Millennial Temple restoring a sacrificial system? Why does Christ have to reign on earth for a thousand year? So they tend to explain these kinds of passages away by spiritualization. You notice their argument is very much looking from a human viewpoint. Yes, we don't need to have Israel back. We don't need the sacrifice. We don't need Christ reign on earth as He is already King in my heart. Living in heaven is much better than being on earth for 1000 years.
However, their concern is unnecessary. If we understand the Bible message as a continuous unfolding of God's own glory as Paul teaches us tonight, the fulfillment of His promise and prophecies to Israel is only part of His glorious plan. Not only that, spiritualization of the Scripture will not bring us to a unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God because once we have moved away from the literal meaning of the word of God, it can become many meanings and any meaning and there will not be a unity.