In case you missed it, my wife and I are transitioning to full-time missionary staff with Cru in 2017. Since last week, we’ve been in Daytona Beach at Cru’s new staff orientation.

Today, we interacted a bit with Keith Johnson, Cru’s director of theological development. Meeting him face-to-face for the first time reminded me when I first served with Cru as an intern (2007-08), Keith was one of a few men who helped me develop a Christ-centered approach to the Bible. I was tasked with writing a Bible study commentary for 1-2 Samuel. (To this day, I have no idea how or why they asked me.) I remember Keith saying that many of the old Cru studies were well-intended but moralistic in their exegetical conclusions and applications. Cru wanted to go in a gospel-centered direction. It was music to my ears.

At that time, my campus director and friend of Keith’s, Bill Kollar (now Cru High School’s Director of Leadership Development), played the primary role of helping me understand the big picture of the Bible and how to apply all Scripture to all of life in a Christ-centered and practical way. Thanks to Bill, I began to see the Bible as beautiful tapestry, a diverse yet unified document telling the story of God’s grace.

These men directed me to two precious resources that rooted me in understanding the Bible the way it was meant to be understood.

The first was Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell. Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not just a book for preachers! Several chapters will appeal to the average Bible student. Most helpfully, this book taught me to understand what Chapell calls the “Fallen Condition Focus,” that is, what any particular text says about our sinfulness or brokenness or suffering because of living in a fallen world. If you don’t see this, you won’t see the need for Christ.

Alongside was God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible by Vaughan Roberts. It’s by far the best introduction to biblical theology I’ve encountered. Roberts shows that whole Bible is about God’s redemption through Jesus. It’s still the book I recommend most to people who ask how to better understand how to study the Bible.

After these initial two books, several others helped bolster a Christ-centered approach to the Bible.

I accidentally discovered Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation by Graeme Goldsworthy in the “Related” link on Amazon when I bought God’s Big Picture. I tried to read it immediately and my brain imploded. So I put it down, lived some life, studied the Bible more, got married, and re-started it and finished. I’m forever grateful that Goldsworthy introduced me to macro-typologies like creation/new creation, kingdom, exodus, temple/sacrifice, and more.

I found Goldsworthy to be golden, and two more books, among others, proved that true. First was Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Another preaching book but (again) don’t be fooled. If you communicate the Bible in any way, you’d benefit. Goldsworthy goes genre-by-genre explaining what a Christian interpretation looks like. The truly stellar thing is that he gives several examples from each genre of how to actually to teach a particular passage.

Then I read According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. This book is a step beyond God’s Big Picture, providing a more thorough introduction to what biblical theology is and how it works. Goldsworthy also provides a helpful understanding of what Scripture is and how we meet God in its pages.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I did not mention The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Admit it. You didn’t expect a children’s book in this list. It’s the book my wife and I give away most, hoping people not only read it to their kids, but read it—and love it—for themselves. Lloyd-Jones poignantly shows how every story in Scripture is in some way pointing to the bigger story of what God is doing in Christ. By the way, there is a grown-up version now, so you don’t have to be self-conscious reading it at Starbucks.

Wondering where to start? Try this order:

  1. The Jesus Storybook Bible 
  2. God’s Big Picture
  3. According to Plan
  4. Preaching the Whole Bible 
  5. Christ-Centered Preaching (select chapters)
  6. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics (only when ready for brain implosion)

I pray your Christ-centered Bible study journey is as energizing, fun, and formative as mine was, is, and continues to be. Happy reading!

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One thought on “A Journey to Christ-Centered Bible Study

  1. James, I have read a number of these books as well and concur with your suggestions. They are edifying resources for the church and for Christians today. Thank you for your writing!

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