As Carson notes in the preface, many devotional guides will have you read a handful of verses here and some personal gems there. Both the selection of readings and the application comments made on them may well provide encouragement to the Christian, “but they do not provide the framework of what the Bible says—the ‘plotline’ or ‘storyline’—the big picture that makes sense of all the little bits of the Bible” (p.x). Carson continues:
“Wrongly used, such devotional guides may ultimately engender the profoundly wrong-headed view that God exists to sort out my problems; they may foster profoundly mistaken interpretations of Scripture, simply because the handful of passages they treat are no longer placed within the framework of the big picture.”
After exposing the needs of the hour, this devotional seeks to meet them. First, by its reading plan: an average day’s allotment is four chapters, all from four different books of the Bible (a slight modification of the plan devised by the great Scottish minister, Robert M’Cheyne). After a year the reader has read the entire Bible once, and the NT and Psalms twice. Second, by the comments, which generally focus on just one of the four readings for the day. I will review the reading scheme and the comments in turn.
As previously mentioned, an average day calls for the reading of four chapters from four different parts of Scripture. So on January 1st, for example, one would read Genesis 1, Ezra 1, Matthew 1, and Acts 1. This example of readings illustrates the potential this plan has for meeting Carson’s end, for one realizes that each of these chapters tells the story of a distinct ‘beginning’ (a fitting theme for the first day in a new year) in the Bible (in reverse order, the beginning of the church, of Jesus Christ, of God’s people’s return to Jerusalem, and of the universe). Reading the chapters against each other leads one to discover legitimate links throughout the canon, links which make up the “framework” of Scripture.
Reading consecutively from different sections of Scripture not only helps the Bible ‘stick’ to the reader, but it helps the reader stick to reading Scripture! Reading multiple chapters from the same book of the Bible might be great when you’re in Esther, but what happens to your motivation when you’re faced with three days in a row of 1 Chronicles 1 – 12? Reading across Scripture rather than through it guarantees that what seems (at first, at least) to be leaner sections are supplemented by scriptures whose nourishment is more easily gleaned.
Like the readings, these too are committed to “helping the reader keep the big picture of the Bible’s ‘story line’ in mind, and to see what relevance this has for our thinking and living” (p.13). Carson’s commitment to showing the big picture edges out concerns of always providing a personal, individual, ‘boost’ to the reader: “although I want the comments to be edifying, this edification is not always of a private, individualized sort. My aim is to show, in however preliminary a way, that reading the whole Bible must stir up thoughtful Christians to thinking theologically and holistically, as well as reverently and humbly” (p.13).
I know of no other devotional whose comments are as faithful to context and yet stirring to the imagination. Carson never (I dare say) makes an application at the expense of context. And for him, unlike many others, context is not restricted to the historical and literary, but also includes the canonical. Thus reflection on Psalm 68:11 (“The Lord announced the word, and great was the company of those who proclaimed it”) begins at the historical contextual level, where “the ‘word’ that the Lord announced is the word of [battle:] victory”, and legitimately winds its way to the canonical level, to Jesus Christ himself:
“The ultimate end of the exile, the ultimate triumph of God, lies in the gospel itself. As in the case of the beautiful feet pounding across the mountains to bring the good news, and as in the case of the company of those who proclaimed the word the Lord announced, so also with us (and how much more so!): the only right response to the word of the glorious victory of God in the cross of Jesus Christ is that there be a great company to proclaim it.”
In this volume Carson frequently comments on the readings that lie in the minor and major prophets. Most of us would admit that at times these books of the Bible can be tough slogging. Carson’s comments not only furthered my understanding of these important books, but they also kept me coming back each day for more!
Tune in a year from now, Lord willing, for a review of Volume 1. And in the meantime, pick up one of the volumes yourself and enjoy!
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