Roberts, Vaughan. Life’s Big Questions.
Leicester, UK: IVP, 2004. 175pp. $13.00.
Copyright ?? 2008 by Alex S. Leung. All rights reserved.
The Christian Bible is the worldwide best-selling book that has been published in numerous languages and translations. Spanning over 2000 years of history, it was originally written by about 40 human authors in 2 languages who utilized many different literary genres. It is an enormous volume of 66 divinely inspired and authoritative books that form God???s Word to us. With its variety of literary forms and extensive recording of history, any reader would soon wonder how this extraordinary Book could be read in an ordinary way. How can anybody read and understand the Bible as a whole? How can it have a single message that links together all the different accounts of God???s work?In Life???s Big Questions, Vaughan Roberts shows us how there is unity in the diversity of the Scriptures. Building off of his previous acclaimed work (God???s Big Picture, 2003), Roberts presents the Kingdom of God as a unifying theme for the whole Bible and then seeks to answer six of life???s big questions with this theme in mind. For this book review, I hope to critically analyze the author???s thesis/purpose, the methods he has used in explaining it, and his success in achieving his purpose.
Thesis/Purpose. What is Roberts??? thesis and purpose in Life???s Big Questions? In the book???s introduction, Roberts tells us that he believes that the Bible holds together in unity, even in spite of it being a diverse collection of writings. Its one author is God and its one main subject is Jesus Christ and the saving work God accomplished through him (10). Whereas Roberts??? book God???s Big Picture has provided readers a map of the Bible, Life???s Big Questions thus purposes ???to help readers know how to use it??? (11). As noted above, the Kingdom of God is that unifying biblical theme (13) and Roberts hence strives to map out a way for understanding six of life???s questions in light of this: Who is the king? What does it mean to be human? How should we view money? What does God say about marriage? How does the Holy Spirit work in the world and in our lives? What part does mission play in the Christian life? The author traces out this Kingdom that undergirds each of these six questions.Methods. How does Roberts explain the underlying theme of Kingdom? What methods does he use to explain it? Early in the first chapter, Roberts provides the framework for which he will analyze the above six questions ??? a chronologically guide which provides an overview of the Bible???s story-line as it relates to the kingdom of God (14).First, we begin with the pattern of the kingdom, that is, the creation before the fall as recorded in Genesis. Second, the perished kingdom which encompasses humanity after the fall. Third, the promised kingdom contains God???s covenant promises given to Abraham. Fourth, the partial kingdom is the time when God???s covenant promises are partially fulfilled in Israel???s history. Fifth, the prophesized kingdom is the era in which the prophets point to a final and future fulfillment of those promises. These first five parts of God???s big picture cover up to the end of the Old Testament.With the New Testament, Roberts begins that part of the canon with the sixth stage of his framework that he calls the present kingdom, the time of New Testament history when Jesus is king (more specifically, this encompasses the history recorded in the Gospels as noted in Figure 31 on page 170). Seventh, the proclaimed kingdom is that time of the Apostles in which the gospel of Jesus is taken to the entire world. And eighth, the perfected kingdom is that future time recorded in Revelation when Jesus will return to introduce the new creation.Utilizing these eight components, Roberts takes this framework to explain the whole teaching of the Bible as it develops through the various stages of redemptive history. He applies this framework to the questions of God???s Kingship (ch.1), human identity (ch.2), marriage and sex (ch.3), money and possessions (ch.4), the Holy Spirit (ch.5) and missions (ch.6), and shows how each unfolds through the Scriptures. In each of the chapters, he begins with introductory remarks, and follows with an explanation of the topic under those eight framework headings. For example, in chapter 3 concerning marriage, Roberts starts off by including a heading for part one of the framework that???s followed by its main implication: ???1. The pattern of the kingdom of God ??? human intimacy with God in the Garden??? (64). He then goes on to explain that very point, giving ample biblical evidence to support it. He effectively does this in every chapter, showing how each issue unfolds in the progressive revelation of God???s redemptive-historical plan.Far from being too theological or hermeneutical in his approach to the biblical canon, Roberts also concludes each chapter with an application of this biblical theology by answering, ???How should we live now????. His inclusion of a ???summary??? section at the end of every chapter is very helpful in seeing the big picture of how the kingdom of God unfolds in relation to each particular question.Success. Is Roberts able to achieve his purpose and thesis? Does he successfully provide us with an how-to-guide for using the map of the Bible? In one word, yes! Roberts effectively answers six of life???s big questions with that eight-part biblical-theological model, and moreover, convinces the reader that the model can be easily applied to other questions/issues. Roberts aptly shows that the Bible is unified in its own theme of Kingdom, even though each component of the eight-part model may not apply to every theme that he strives to answer (he answers the question of human identity with the 5 of the 8 components; cf. page 60). In his answering of the six questions, here are some examples where he does a fine job of showing the how the kingdom of God unfolds.For instance, Roberts does a good job in explaining how the ???once and future king??? rules the world throughout the canon of Scripture (ch.1). In his explanation of the partial kingdom as it relates to God???s kingship, Roberts helps even the seasoned Bible reader understand how the era of the Jewish judges and kings fits into the story-line of the Bible. He shows that in the continuous cycle of sin of the Israelites, the people of God wanted a king ???of the kind that God had promised before they entered the land??? so that in the Promised Land ???things would improve??? (19).Roberts then begins unveiling the story of the kings, from Saul as ???the first king they are given [that] is very different from the kind of monarch God had intended for his people??? (19) and then to the adventure of finding the ideal king from Bethlehem. David is right shown as the good king that Israel waited for, he who is ???anointed and is filled with the Holy Spirit??? and yet ???one of the many surprising choices that God makes in the Bible??? (20). Roberts then nicely reveals that both the Son of David and Son of Man of the prophesized kingdom is finally fulfilled within the ???reality [that] comes in Christ??? Jesus (28) of the present and proclaimed kingdom.Concluding with the perfected kingdom, Roberts beautifully finishes his biblical mural of ???the once and future king??? by showing that Christ???s finished work is the basis for the future victory over evil: ???It is the past victory Jesus won on the cross that guarantees the final future victory when all his enemies at last will be destroyed??? (34).
Life???s Big Questions is a compact yet concise volume that aids Christians in understanding and applying the Kingdom of God as it unfolds through the Scriptures. Vaughan Roberts has written a book that is easy to read and still beneficial to seminarians or Pastors, for he puts forward a framework that helps readers use this unifying theme of kingdom to walk through the entire Bible. The inclusion of numerous figures is very useful in elaborating on the different parts of Roberts proposed framework as it relates to each chapter???s question. However, it would have been more beneficial if Roberts gave better mention in the text of the book about what the figures relate to (cf. Figure 26 and page 151 where he did do this well). Despite this minor faux pas, Life???s Big Questions is an amazingly practical tool for applying biblical theology to all of life???s issues ??? an aid to seeing the Scriptures as a unified whole. It is a Bible help that rightly keeps Jesus Christ front and center as the reigning Lord of the Kingdom of God.