Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

About Kingdom & Rulership Redemptive-Historical Arc

How to improve God’s Big Picture

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5 minutes to read Vaughan Roberts’ God’s Big Picture is a video series worth watching. It rightly emphasizes kingdom as the backbone of the gospel narrative, but suffers from some typically Western blind spots that water down that narrative in unfortunate ways.

Vaughan Roberts has a free video course available called God’s Big Picture, in which he teaches an overview of the Bible. This seems to be content summarized from a book of the same name. [ Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (IVP Books, July 2012).]

Talking about the “big picture” is something of a fad in evangelicalism at the moment. [See for example Ronn Johnson, What is the Bible’s Big Story? (February 2018).] Unfortunately, though this renewed interest in the redemptive-historical arc is great in principle, most of it seems to be done backwards: building biblical theology on top of systematic theology, instead of vice versa. This inevitably turns the Bible into a narrative of personal moral failure and restoration—rather than what it is: a story of cosmic failure and restoration.

Put simply, most big picture accounts don’t see the narrative of Scripture and the gospel as being about who is ruling, who is being ruled, where, and how.

Vaughan does. Watching the videos, I was pleasantly surprised.

But this isn’t to say I think he sees Scripture’s kingdom theology as clearly as he ought, nor that he draws all the connections he ought. His overview, while structurally sound, has notable omissions—so while I’d recommend watching it, I’ll also venture a few comments. I don’t add these to criticize the man, but rather to expand on his efforts; I can sympathize with his project, having spent a lot of time going through the same kind of thought process myself—as documented in my series on kingdom theology. [ D. Bnonn Tennant, What is the kingdom of God? (2017).]

Quibbles

  1. It’s unfortunate that Vaughan doesn’t pick up on a lot of the Semitic worldview that adds so much richness to the Bible’s story. For example, he doesn’t see the serpent in Genesis as a higher member of God’s kingdom—it is just an “evil snake” to him. Nor does he seem to appreciate that God’s kingdom itself is dynastic in structure, so that it includes sonship. These kinds of insights would have greatly expanded and nuanced his presentation of how passages like Exodus 12 correlate with the cross (Colossians 2:15 etc). At the risk of expecting more from his video series than I ought, Vaughan doesn’t seem to have considered obvious questions like who the powers were that Jesus defeated; and over whom they have authority; and why. To miss the divine council in the biblical narrative is really to miss the telos of membership in God’s people, reducing it from a real and present dynasty in both realms to a largely future dynasty in the earthly realm.
  2. Given his emphasis on kingdom, it’s striking that Vaughan largely ignores the image of God as rulership on God’s behalf (Genesis 1:26–28). This waters down his understanding of the kingdom we proclaim now, and what it is in conflict with; his view of the gospel message itself is unfortunately attenuated by this oversight. This is exacerbated in concert with other omissions—for instance, he fails to note that:

    • The Spirit living within us makes us God’s territory (“place” in his nomenclature);
    • The NT depicts Jesus as presently reigning from heaven, placing all of his enemies beneath his feet in the last days—rather than only doing this at the end of the age (1 Corinthians 15:25; Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34–35; 1 Peter 3:22; Daniel 7:13–14 etc);
    • The Great Commission predicates the gospel proclamation on Jesus’ authority as king over all nations (Matthew 28:18), thus creating an implicit expectation of what it will achieve; it is, indeed, a directive to conquer;
    • Believers themselves are depicted in warfare against spiritual rulers with power over peoples (Ephesians 6:12–13 etc).

    I realize he probably wants to avoid controversies over eschatology, but the fact is that the gospel just is eschatology; the transfer of people from one kingdom to another until one becomes the other (cf. Colossians 1:13; Revelation 11:15).

  3. I broadly agree with his interpretive approach to Revelation—where the seals, bowls and trumpets represent parallel, possibly cyclical events—but I think he misses the nature of prophecy as having immediate and future fulfillments. I’d say Revelation was written before 70 AD and predicts primarily the fall of Jerusalem—though without precluding the same patterns occurring in future history, and culminating at the end of the age.

Commendations

To end on a positive note, there were certain elements of the series I especially appreciated:

  1. Vaughan’s overall emphasis on kingdom as the backbone of biblical theology and gospel narrative is impossible to over-appreciate. I do wish he’d gone further, and spoken of the urgency of preaching Jesus himself as king over the western world. Perhaps he talks about this in his book, but given his blind spot with regard to the trajectory of the gospel as producing universal submission to Jesus, I doubt it. All the same, a resolute focus on kingdom ultimately leads to these kinds of effects, so I am very glad to see it at the heart of his presentation.
  2. His recognition that Pentecost is the reversal of Babel is important, because this a key clue in establishing the trajectory that returns us eventually to a universal kingdom; a single people under the rule of God in Jesus. Again, Vaughan doesn’t follow that trajectory, but it’s encouraging to see the pieces in place.
  3. Finally, Vaughan’s emphasis on heaven not being our final destination is badly needed in modern evangelicalism. This is something that has definitely received more attention lately, but we need to hear it from people who aren’t associated with the New Perspective, just because those people are often dismissed entirely despite the many excellent points they make. Our final destination—the end goal of the gospel—is a restored kingdom on a restored earth. I actually wish Vaughan had placed far more emphasis on this, because it is a point of remarkable confusion even among otherwise well-educated Christians. Without clarity on what the gospel is ultimately going to achieve, how can we possibly expect clarity on anything else?

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