Writer, teacher, and speaker Nancy Guthrie will serve as the conference speaker at “Amazing Grace 360,” the Women in the Church International Conference sponsored by Christian Education and Publications (CEP), October 7-9 in Atlanta, Ga. Here, Guthrie speaks with byFaith about her latest book, The Promised One, from which she will be teaching at the conference.
Your new book is a 10-week Bible study called The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis. What is it about?
This is the first book in what will eventually be a five-book series of Christ-centered studies of the Old Testament published by Crossway. Of course we have to start at the beginning, in Genesis. The next release will be The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books, which will come out next February. While I know many pastors are becoming more focused on preaching Christ from all the Scriptures, my passion is for women’s Bible studies in our churches to have more of a sense of the big story of the Bible with Christ at the center. My aim has been to create resources that provide sound biblical theology and gospel-saturated application presented in a personal and passionate way.
What would you say to someone who says, “I’ve studied Genesis before. I don’t need that again”?
I would say that the Bible is living and active and it always has something new to say to us because we read it in context of our current struggles and questions. But more significantly I would ask, since we know that the whole Bible—Old and New Testaments—is really about Jesus, what did you learn about who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish in your previous study of Genesis?
The truth is, most of us have never studied Genesis expecting to see anything about Jesus. We’ve taught and been taught Genesis and most of the Old Testament as a collection of stories about people who provide us with examples to follow. But as we read the Old Testament we don’t want to merely make observations about the behavior of the godly and godless and then try harder to be like the godly and less like the godless. The Old Testament is an uncompleted story, a promise waiting for its fulfillment. And Jesus is that fulfillment. So once we know where the story was leading all along—to Christ—it makes sense to go back and read it again in that light, through those glasses.
How does Genesis teach us about Jesus?
Jesus said to the Jewish religious leaders at one point: “You search the scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the scriptures point to me!” (John 5:39). And of course the Scriptures He was talking about are the books of the Old Testament. Later, when He walked with two of His followers on the road to Emmaus we read that, “Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets explaining from all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). To explain to these followers who He was and why He had to die and rise again, Jesus began in Genesis probably saying something like, “This is who I am … this is why I came … this is the curse I came to bear … this is the mercy I came to show … I am the blessing God promised … I am the sacrifice God provided.”
Can you give us an example of what you mean?
When we hear Jesus say that the Scriptures “point to me,” we realize that the Bible is not primarily about what God wants us to do, but about who God wants us to see. And it is Jesus we see as we study Genesis together. As we gaze into the wonder of creation we see Jesus as the agent of creation and the light that was in the world before there was a sun or moon. As we agonize with Adam and Eve over the curse that comes after the Fall, we see Jesus as the promised offspring who will crush the head of the serpent. In the terror of the flood, we see Jesus as the ark of safety in whom we are saved in the storm of God’s judgment. When we walk up the mountain with Abraham and Isaac, we see that they point us toward God’s provision of a once-for-all sacrifice—His beloved Son. As we look with Joseph into the faces of the brothers who sought to kill him, we see a foreshadowing of the One who could have said to those who nailed Him to the cross, “It wasn’t you who sent me here, but God.”
Why is it important for us to study the Old Testament this way?
For many reasons! For one, this is the way Jesus taught His disciples to read and understand the Old Testament. When we read the gospels and listen to the sermons in the book of Acts and work our way through the epistles, we see that Jesus taught them well. The help us to see that without Jesus, the Old Testament is an uncompleted story, and without the Old Testament we simply can’t make sense of the ministry of Jesus.
Another reason would be that without a greater understanding of the bigger picture of the biblical story, we can’t make sense of so many of the smaller parts that we read. But as we grow in our understanding of God’s intention for His glory to be manifest over the whole earth, and as we develop a firmer grasp on the way in which He is working out His plan for the redemption of all things, we are better able to figure out many of the parts of the Bible that perplex us.
You mentioned God’s plan for the redemption of all things, and this gets to the theme of Amazing Grace 360, the PCA National Women’s Conference in October in Atlanta. What can the women expect that weekend from your teaching?
Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that grace was God’s plan B when His plan A for humanity didn’t work. But, as Paul wrote to Timothy, “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time” (2 Timothy 1:9). So over the weekend we are going to trace God’s grace that made us and is re-making us, His seeking grace that came looking for Adam and Eve when they sinned and seeks after us in our sinfulness, His saving grace that bought us back and made us His own, and His glorifying grace that will bring us home into His very presence.
We’ll discover that it is not our failure that defines us, but God’s grace. It is not our goodness or lack of it that determines our destiny, but God’s grace shown to us in Christ Jesus.
A number of your previous books have dealt with grief and loss, coming out of the experience of the death of two of your children. Does that experience play a part in what you’ve written in The Promised One and what you’ll teach at Amazing Grace 360?
The book and my messages won’t center around it, but I suppose my experience of loss shapes everything I do and teach. When you’ve experienced firsthand the effects of the curse of death that came because of Adam and Eve’s sin, your longing grows for that curse to be gone for good. It makes you hate sin and the power sin has to hurt us in this broken world. And when we go to Genesis, looking to find Christ there, we see that not only is the grace that will come through Christ promised in the midst of the curse, but also that He will be the One who will take this curse upon Himself at the cross. The thorns that began to grow from the ground as a result of the curse were thrust upon His head. Because of what He accomplished on the cross, we can look forward to the new heaven and new earth in which there will be “no more curse.” I, for one, have a longing for that day like never before because of the losses in my life.
Joni Eareckson Tada says that most of us are content to swim in the shallow end of the theological pool when things are good, but suffering and sorrow push us into the deep end of the pool, and that has certainly been my experience. We have questions that need answers, and it is to the Scriptures that I have turned to find those answers. My experience has caused me to dig deep into God’s Word to figure out more about who God is and what He’s doing in the world and therefore in my life. And the truth is, the deeper I go, the more amazed I am at the goodness and glory of His plans, and the more confident I am that He can be trusted.
For more information or to register for the Amazing Grace 360 Conference, visit www.amazinggrace360.com. An early bird registration discount is offered through May 31.