Dr. Chris Bruno has served at Northland International University, Cedarville University, and Trinity Christian School in Kailua, HI. Before that, he was pastor of discipleship and training at Harbor Church in Honolulu, HI. He has written and co-written five books. He has also written various articles, reviews, and papers for groups such as the Evangelical Theological Society, Society of Biblical Literature, and Institute for Biblical Research.
The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses does exactly what its title suggests: it lays out the story of God’s Word by examining sixteen select Scripture passages. Each passage highlights a concept, theme, or person vital to understanding the main story of the Bible. Bruno focuses on these sixteen concepts, themes, and people: creation, human beings, the fall, redemption promised, Abraham, Judah the king, the Passover lamb, King David, the suffering servant, resurrection promised, new creation, fulfillment, the cross, resurrection, justification, and glory.
Beginning with creation and ending with the glories of heaven, Bruno sets out to help his readers understand the big story of Scripture. Bruno connects the dots between his sixteen selected verses so that his readers understand the ultimate story of the Bible, namely, God’s promise to solve the problem of sin.
Perhaps the best way to understand Bruno’s view of the whole story of Scripture is to use his own summary. According the Bruno, here is the whole story of the Bible:
God created a kingdom, and he is the King, but he made human beings to represent him in that kingdom. Adam and Eve rejected this call, which led to sin and death. But God promised to defeat the serpent through the seed of the woman, who is also the seed of Abraham. Through Abraham’s family, and specifically through Judah’s royal seed, David, the covenant blessings would come to the world. Because all people were guilty and deserved death, the sacrifices of the Mosaic law revealed more clearly their need for a substitute – the suffering servant. Through the servant and the work of the Spirit, God would establish a new covenant and give lasting life to his people in the new heavens and new earth.
Jesus is the One through whom all of these promises find fulfillment, first in his sacrificial death as a necessary and just payment for sin and then in his victorious resurrection and reign as King. This great story will find its culmination when the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, and nation gather in the new creation to live with God forever (127).
That summary of Scripture’s story isn’t bad. However, Bruno tends to focus more on the story of Scripture rather than the message of Scripture. In other words, he explains the development of messianic promises throughout the ages while spending little time on the meaning and significance of those promises. The end result is that Bruno’s readers have a good grasp on the transmission of the gospel promises throughout the ages while having a weak grasp on what those concepts mean for them. Bruno’s readers could trace the promises of the Savior throughout history while not understanding that those promises are for them – thus missing the important message of Scripture: Christ for us! In fairness, the last third of Bruno’s book does better at explaining the message of Scripture and the life-changing meaning it has on his readers.
There are several positives to The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses. First, it is a very readable book. A person who has never cracked open a Bible will appreciate Bruno’s relatable, accessible ways of explaining scriptural concepts. Second, despite the brevity of the book (only 127 pages not including indices), Bruno sprinkles in plenty of nuggets of wisdom. For example, he states, “If God gave us everything we asked for, we would be miserable” (63) – an interesting insight, to be sure. Third, Bruno helps his readers understand what he calls “patterns of redemption” so they can understand the necessity of the redemption story. These patterns of redemption include thoughts such as God’s faithfulness despite our unfaithfulness (aka, sin and grace), the need for a substitute, and the necessity of bloodshed for forgiveness. Fourth, Bruno is accurate where it counts the most: justification by grace alone.
Along with the strengths of The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses come weaknesses. Bruno purposefully writes with brevity, but that brevity leads to incomplete explanations of key concepts. For instance, his treatment of the Lord’s Supper is only one paragraph long (104). In fairness, Bruno admits in the preface that this book will not go in depth into many concepts, but he gives rather short shrift to important topics such as the means of grace. Second, Bruno takes a long time to share the actual redemptive work of Christ. While his goal is to help readers see the “forest” of Scripture and not get lost in the “trees,” the “tree” of Jesus seems appropriate to focus on throughout such a book. Third, Bruno assumes some prior biblical knowledge in his readers. His focus on concepts like covenants, seed, and God’s sovereignty will be unfamiliar to some, and the short length of this book means that Bruno has to avoid long, in-depth discussions of such concepts. Bruno also uses very brief summaries of large chunks of biblical history, and readers unfamiliar with Abraham, David, and other famous characters in Scripture could struggle to fully grasp what’s happening. Finally, Bruno doesn’t focus on sin and grace as much as a confessional Lutheran would like to see. Dedicating so little time to sin and grace in a book about the story of the Bible seems to miss the main message of the Bible.
Despite some weaknesses, The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses can be useful to pastors. It would be a good starting point for someone who is a Bible novice. Bruno’s incomplete explanations (due to the short length of the book) will lead to many questions, and pastors would be ready to answer such questions and explain sin and grace more fully. This book would also be useful for a study club or book club. Readers in these situations should be encouraged to read more carefully and look for the occasional Calvinist theology as it pops up. Readers could also imagine how they would improve on Bruno’s work of summarizing the story of the Bible in sixteen verses. “Which verses would you pick to summarize all of Scripture?” is one question that could take several meetings to discuss!
All in all, I recommend The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses. While it has its weaknesses, Bruno accomplishes what he sets out to do. He explains the story of the Bible by highlighting several key passages. In the process, he whets his readers’ appetites for more detail and more answers as they search the Scriptures. The Whole Story of the Bible in 16 Verses thus aids its readers as they grow in grace and knowledge.