A Doubter's Guide to the Bible

John Dickson is a senior research fellow of the Department of Ancient History at Macquarie University (Sydney) and the author of more than a dozen books, including Life of Jesus: Who He is and Why He Matters and The Christ Files: How Historians Know What They Know about Jesus. 

We recently interviewed Dickson about his latest titleA Doubter's Guide to the Bible. In his book, Dickson provides a framework for reading and understanding the Bible, while exploring prevalent themes and addressing tough questions. 

How do you describe the overarching theme of the Bible?

Just about every culture we know anything significant about has made three questions a core part of its philosophical curiosity. How do we connect with our Source? How do we get along with one another? How will the pain of material existence be resolved? It seems that these are universal questions, and I try to show throughout the book that the Bible offers a deliberate and comprehensive set of answers. From Genesis 1–2 to Revelation 21–22—the bookends of the Bible—Christian Scripture says the Creator has disclosed how we can be reconciled to him, how human communities can flourish, and how creation itself will one day be restored. That is the story of the Bible.

How can Bible readers approach the Old and New Testament as telling the same story?

Genesis 1–2 and Revelation 21–22 emphasize the same thing: God longs to see all things in their proper relation. He wants us connected with him, each other, and creation itself. All of this comes by grace, which is present throughout the Old and New Testaments. People often set the Old in contrast to the New, almost as if the purpose of the new covenant was to rescue from the old, as if Jesus saved us from Moses. That is not how the Bible describes things. I would summarize the Old Testament as the story of how Israel proves that where God’s people fail, God’s promises and mercy will prevail. The New Testament shows us the same thing with great clarity, focused on Jesus as the answer to our sin and pledge of restoration.

What Bible highlights do you explore?

I begin with creation to emphasize that God made this world good. That’s the basis of the Christian worldview—not the sin of the world but its creative glory, a glory that will be recovered. We look at the fall, where I try to show that there is a liberating honesty about admitting who I am in all my frailty. I know I would hate to live by the modern illusion that I was a good person. How would I live with all the counter-evidence, daily? From there we look at Abraham, the exemplar of a recipient of pure grace through faith. The exodus and the law get a long treatment as historical pledges of the salvation and obedience to be revealed in Jesus Christ. I tackle the problem of violence in the book of Joshua before looking at the need for a King and the failure of the house of David to maintain God’s kingdom. After briefly looking at the Prophets we launch into the New Testament and the coming of Jesus to fulfill all things. The story of the church is explored from Acts and some of the letters. Finally, we end in Revelation, where we see God’s promise to restore all things. 

What do you hope readers will take away from your book—believers or skeptics?

I pray that believers would be encouraged to see the beautiful coherence of the Old and New Testaments and a little more confident to describe their biblical worldview with friends who don’t yet believe. In particular, I pray that skeptics will at least wish the Bible were true. If I have done my job right, the grand beauty of God’s story will shine through, and doubters will be drawn to explore the Bible further, hopefully in the context of a good Bible-teaching church. 

Check out many of Dickson's current titles available at Logos.com.