The 30-Minute Bible, Craig G. Bartholomew and Paige P. Vanosky, with illustrations by Br. Martin Erspamer. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2021.
Summary: An overview of the big story of the Bible, broken into 30 readings of roughly 30 minutes in length, accompanied by charts, diagrams, and illustrations.
Paige Vanosky, a co-author of this book describes its beginning with a request from an ecumenical women’s group, asking if she could “explain the story of the Bible in just thirty minutes?” This, in turn led to a chronological study of the message of the Bible with women’s groups and her collaboration with theologian Craig G. Bartholomew in development of The 30-Minute Bible, a collection of thirty short readings tracing the big story of scripture through six acts:
- Act One: God Establishes His Kingdom: Creation
- Act Two: Rebellion in the Kingdom: The Fall
- Act Three: The King Chooses Israel: Salvation Initiated
- Act Four: The Coming of the King: Salvation Accomplished
- Act Five: Spreading the News of the King: The Mission of the Church
- Act Six: The Return of the King: Redemption Completed
The largest portion of the readings are devoted to Act Three (15 readings covering Old Testament history from the fall to the intertestamental period) and Act Four (7 on John and the ministry of Jesus in the gospels).
The readings are straightforward, clear, and free of technical language. Here is an excerpt from Chapter Two (Act One) on the Creation:
“If, like us, you love art, Genesis 1 is like being taken to the most extraordinary exhibition you have ever seen. But imagine if, even as you are exploring the exhibition with wide eyes, a friend comes up to you and asks, “Would you like to meet the artist?” Of course, your answer would be, “Yes.” This is exactly what the Bible does in its opening chapters. Yes, the creation is wonderful, but even more wonderful is the One who made it, and a major aim of the Bible is to introduce us to the Creator God. What is the Creator like? The opening words begin to provide our answer.“Craig G. Bartholomew and Paige P. Vanosky, p. 15
At the conclusion of each chapter of four to six pages, short scripture readings related to and often referenced in the readings. The authors encourage reading these passages in a modern translation. In my own reading, I found I could read each chapter and the scripture passage in about twenty minutes, although one might want to take a little more time for reflection, so the title is accurate.
This is not a comprehensive introduction to every book in scripture, although a helpful chart outlines the organization of the books in our Bibles. The Old Testament portion focuses on historical narratives, with scattered references to the writings and the prophets. Likewise, in the New Testament, the greatest attention is to the gospels and Pauline works, Acts, and Revelation. The authors suggest online and written resources that help in going deeper.
The readings do include charts, chronologies, maps and diagrams that help provide background context. One of the most delightful features are the illustrations by Br. Martin Erspamer, allowing for a visual as well as textual engagement of the story. I was particularly taken by the art piece showing Jesus with Mary in the garden after the resurrection.
I’ve worked with many intimidated as they try to read the Bible. They got lost in Leviticus or numbed by Numbers. They lack a sense of how all the books of scripture cohere. Even for many who have some familiarity with the Bible, they know the stories, but lack a sense of the big story of God, how this is for everyone, and relates to all of life. The authors point out how all of us live within Act Five, Spreading the News of the King, looking forward to Act Six, the Return of the King. Knowing the story within which we live is life-shaping, speaking to our sense of purpose, what we value most dearly, how we relate to the different communities we are part of, and how we think about the substance of our work. This compact book leads the reader into discovering that story. I wish I had this to pass along years ago and I look forward to using it with groups in the future.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.