There is only one outline of the Bible. That may seem like an extreme statement to some, but once you take a look at the way Christians outline the Bible you will see some remarkable similarities. There are three ways of outlining the Bible that I would like to take a look at, The Reformed outline, the Story outline, and the Dispensational outline.
The Reformed Outline
In His book There Really Is a Difference!: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology Dr. Renald Showers explains that the Reformers understood God's interaction with mankind as based upon one covenant with the elect, the covenant of Grace; which was based on the covenant of redemption that God made with Himself in eternity passed. The Reformed view then sees each covenant (except the covenant of works) as a progressive unfolding of the covenant of Grace. This is what they use to outline the Bible; the Covenant with Adam (sometimes called the covenant of works), the covenant with Noah, the Covenant with Abraham, the Covenant with Moses , the Covenant with David, and the New Covenant. John Calvin explains a little more in his Opera Selecta:
“The covenant made with all the patriarchs is so much like ours in substance and reality that the two are actually one and the same. Yet they differ in the mode of dispensation... What changes, therefore, in the transition from the Old Testament to the New Testament is not the covenant, but rather the form or administration of the covenant."
The Story Outline
This is an increasingly popular way to outline the Bible and is being toated by some to be a completely revolutionary way to see the Bible, but on a closer look there is no major difference between this outline of the Bible and all the others. Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen have explained this view in their book The True Story of The Whole World. With this new way to view the Bible you are finally able to "find your place in the biblical story." Which apparently has been lost because people have been focusing on systematic theology too much, I would argue that they haven't been focusing on any theology. But they make the good point of emphasizing biblical theology over systematic theology, so you get God's outline for theology instead of a man made one. They outline the Bible like a play:
Act 1, Creation
Act 2, the Fall
Act 3, the Redemption initiated
Scene 1 People chosen (Abraham and his descendants)
Scene 2 Land chosen for the people
Interlude, intertesatmental period
Act 4, The Redemption Accomplished by Jesus death and resurrection
Act 5, the mission of the church, spreading the good news
Scene 1 is from Jerusalem to Rome
Scene 2 is into all the world
Act 6, The king returns and the Redemption is completed
The Dispensational Ouline
There are several forms of this position, as there are with each of the positions I have looked at, but the classic dispensational view divides the Bible into seven major dispensations. A dispensation is a testing of mankind also referred to as an economy or a stewardship. These divisions do not mean that God is changing His way of salvation with each dispensation, which is salvation by grace through faith (Genesis 15:6) or His over arching purpose which is His own glory.
The Scofield Study Bible is among the most famous study Bible's, and it is represents classic dispensationalism. The Glory of The Ages by David Dunlap gives an interesting history and many biblical arguments for dispensationalism. The seven dispensations are, Innocents (Creation), Conscience (Fall), Human Government (Flood), Promise (Abraham), Law (Moses), Grace (The Lord Jesus' death and resurrection), Millennium (The Lord Jesus' second coming).
There are of course many theological implications of these different views, but what is obvious is that they all follow the same basic outline: Creation, Fall, Call of Abraham, Moses and the Law, Jesus Christ, first his redemption, then His coming again. Realizing these similarities should help Christians present a more united image of the church to the world. It can also help bolster our confidence in the Bible and the Holy Spirit's teaching of it to each believer. Knowing that the Bible has a clear outline is a reminder that what we get out of the Bible isn't governed by our culture or pre-understanding, but by our openness to what God has to say. "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13).