Whether you know it or not, you are a theologian!
Being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), you are irreversibly created to think thoughts about God. But whether or not you are a good ‘theologian’ is another story. While everyone thinks about God — even the atheist who denies his existence — the unanswered question is “Do you think true and right thoughts about the triune God who made you?”
Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:47 reminds us that the Word of God “is not merely a trifle, it is your life!” Accordingly, we who want to grow in our relationship with God, who want to be healthy church members are those who must grow in our knowledge and love for the “macro-story” of the Bible. In truth, our salvation and knowledge of God depend on it.
Studying the second mark of Thabiti Anyabwile’s book, What is a Healthy Church Member?, this weekend at Calvary Baptist Church (Seymour, IN), I suggested 5 ways to grow as “biblical theologians,” and I share them with you now:
(1) Find a Bible reading plan and set a course to read the Bible cover-to-cover. This exercise will familiarize yourself with God’s wise and gracious plan of salvation and insure that you see over the course of a year or two all that God has done in this age and in the age to come. There are many helpful reading plans that can set your pace, as well as, resources to shed light on the Bible as you read. D.A. Carson’s two books, For the Love of God: Volume 1 and For the Love of God: Volume 2 are excellent companions to your journey through the Bible. Likewise The ESV Study Bible is another excellent reference for reading the Bible.
(2) Read an introductory book on Biblical Theology. If you are new to the idea of biblical theology, Vaughan Robert’s book, God’s Big Picture is the best introductory work on the subject. An intermediate work that also has an informative section on how to interpret the Bible is Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan. For advanced “biblical theologians,” Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology is the standard.
Finally, whether you are a novice or an expert in biblical theology, let me encourage you to invest $35 in The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology – no single resource is better written to help you see the broad strokes of the biblical story. Its short treatments of every book of the Bible and hundreds of articles–again short–will illumine many key themes and ideas present in the Bible, but often missed on account of unfamiliarity. In the word of Nike, Just Do It!
If you have kids, God’s Big Picture Story Bible is just as critical. Rejecting the moralism that fills so many children’s story Bibles, God’s Big Picture Story Bible synthesizes the Bible into 40 managable chapters–short sentences and captivating pictures. It takes the biblical themes of God’s King, God’s People, and God’s Place and shows how they all relate to Jesus. It is excellent!
(3) Read the Bible with eyes open to the intra-textual connections between the OT – NT connections. Looking for ways that the OT promises, prepares, and pictures the coming of Christ is one of the most rewarding aspects of the Old Testament Scriptures. How else can we read the Old Testament, but as New Covenant Christians. See John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44-49; 1 Cor. 10:1-11; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Heb. 1:1-3; 1 Pet. 1:10-12; 2 Pet. 1:19-21 for examples of how the New Testament authors read the OT.
(4) In your Bible, write down personal cross-references when you make any inter-textual connection. For instance, when you see Isaiah 7:14 quoted in Matthew 1:23, or when you read the story of the serpent being lifted up in the desert in Numbers 21, scribble in the margin the John 3:14-16 connection. There is no better way to get around the Bible then to install a personal set of markers and street signs that will help you remember that you have been here before. Yes, this does presuppose that you are reading the Bible :-)
(5) Learn from the experts. Matthew, John, Paul, the author of Hebrews, Jude, indeed all the NT authors were Biblical Theologians par excellence. Fortunately for us, they have left us with plenty of samples of how to relate the Christ of the NT to the promises of the OT. For instance, notice the way Matthew begins his gospel applying the OT to Christ; read Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 where he traces biblical history from Abraham to Solomon; study Paul’s sermons in Acts 13 and 17 to see his reading of the OT (cf. Rom. 4; 9-11; Gal. 3-4); or examine the book of Hebrews and the way it presents Christ as superceding all of the OT offices, sacrifices, and promises.
Finally, if Biblical Theology is still a mystery, let me encourage you to simply keep reading. The Spirit of Christ will open your eyes to the truth of God’s word as you come to the Bible with humility and faith. As Paul told Timothy, “Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7).
God has not freed us from thinking, but he has promised to help. He has promised that his word will never return void (Isa 55:10-11), that the one who studies it will be refreshed and rewarded (Ps. 19:7-11), and that he given us his Holy Spirit who will lead us into all truth (1 John 2:27). Remember: the men who confounded the world with the wisdom of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ were ordinary, uneducated fishermen who had simply been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
May that be said of us too!
Soli Deo Gloria, dss