Biblical Theology for the ‘Non-theologian’

bibleWhat is biblical theology?

There are many answers to that question, and just as many approaches to “doing biblical theology.” Recently, friends at the 9Marks e-Journal put out a helpful resource on the subject as it relates to the church: “Biblical Theology: Guardian and Guide for the Church.” And if you keep up on the web, you may come across anything from a blog series on a biblical theology of dessert to a list of resources for understanding the framework of the Bible.

Yet, is there anything out there that simply defines biblical theology for someone whose never heard of it before? What follows is something I wrote up for our church. It expresses my own appreciation for biblical theology and how this discipline can serve non-theologians who may have never heard the term. 

(Disclaimer: “non-theologian” is a misnomer; everyone made in the image of God (that’s everyone) is by nature theological and hence a ‘theologian’ in their own right).

Defining Biblical Theology

Biblical theology can be defined in one of two ways. It can be theology that finds its source in the Bible (as opposed to ‘unbiblical theology’). Or, it can be theology developed over the whole Bible (as opposed to systematic theology, which is organized by topics; or, historical theology, which arises from various people and places in church history).

It is the latter, as a discipline of interpretation, that I want to discuss. Why? Because few things have helped me know or love God more than a clear understanding of a whole-Bible theology, and few things are more important for growing Christians to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. Continue reading

Noonday Light: Biblical Theology

biblical theology

In the years before seminary, when God was awakening a hunger in my heart for the bible and theology, I was introduced to the subject of ‘biblical theology.’ Now that makes sense right? Biblical theology is the mashup of ‘bible’ and ‘theology.’ Only it is more specific than that.

As my doctoral supervisor, Stephen Wellum, recently defined it: Biblical theology is the “hermeneutical discipline,” that

Seeks to unpack God’s unfolding redemptive plan, doing justice to the diversity of it, while always remembering that despite the diversity it is one plan which reaches its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Biblical theology is concerned to discover how the parts of Scripture fit in terms of the whole, according to God’s intention and purposes, not our own imaginative constructions. Biblical theology is utterly essential to rightly interpreting and ‘putting together’ the whole counsel of God and thus learning to ‘think God’s thoughts after him.’

In truth, everyone has a biblical theology. But not everyone has a good biblical theology. Since living the Christian life depends wholly on knowing God, his gospel, and how God’s word relates to our lives today, biblical theology is crucial matter of consideration for pastors and those in the pew. In other words, its not an optional class some Christians might enjoy. It is central to our Christian walk.

In that vein, for those who are interested in learning how to think God’s thoughts after him according to the way that God has revealed himself over time in the Scriptures, let me suggest a few quick resources.

What the Big Idea Story? Why Biblical Theology Should Matter to Every Bible-Believing Christian. Credo Magazine has come out with their latest edition on the subject of biblical theology. It’s an up-to-date introduction on the subject. (Credo Magazine)

Biblical Theology by Gerard Von Groningen. Covenant Seminary (St. Louis, MO) offers a whole seminary class on biblical theology taught by the insightful OT scholar Gerard Von Groningen. You have to sign up for the class, but the cost is free. (Covenant Seminary)

What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Stories, Symbols, and Patterns. Jim Hamilton has come out with a short introduction to the subject that helps students consider the literary structures and symbols of the Bible. These things are essential for any good biblical theology.

What’s in the Bible? Phil Vischer, the creator of Veggies Tales, has come up with a new and improved series that teaches biblical theology to young children. You can read about it here or watch a preview below. (The Gospel Coalition)

Via Emmaus. It is my meager attempt to provide on this blog a collection of biblical, theological, and biblical-theological fodder for your edification, so that you might read the Bible better.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

From Eden to Zion: A Temple Story

What is the best way to describe the Bible?

Is it a collection of verses that supply promises and warnings for the Christian life?  Is it a collection of books that each point to Jesus Christ?  Or is it an epic story of Paradise Created, Paradise Lost, Paradise Promised, and Paradise Made New in Christ?

Perhaps, the best answer is all the above.  While each of these three answers are correct, I think the last is the most difficult to see in Scripture.  In the last month, we have given attention on Sunday mornings to the tabernacle in Exodus and how it fits into God’s plan of redemption.  Because of that, I want to give you a biblical roadmap that traces God’s “tabernacles,” I think by seeing this line of dwelling places, it will give you greater ground for hope in God.  Let’s see. Continue reading

For Your Edification (10.25.13): Veggie Tales, Women Teaching Women, Halloween Evangelism, and more

For your edification, take time to see how the creator of Veggie Tales has become more biblical, how women are needed as teachers in the church, and how you can use Halloween as means of evangelism.

From Larry and Bob to Moses and the Prophets. When I first became a Christian, I loved Veggie Tales. As embarrassing as it is to say, at age 17, when I came to Christ, Larry the Cucumber and Bob the Tomato helped inform my young faith. Fast forward a decade and Biblical Theology had replaced cartoon Christianity in my life. So long Veggie Tales.

Surprisingly, the creator of Veggie Tales himself had a similar ‘conversion.’ And now Phil Vischer, the brilliant creator of the original series, has moved from veggie-mation to biblical theology, as well. Listen to Matt Smethurst’s conversation with him and you will hear Vischer say things like this:

I launched Bob and Larry back in 1993, and personally oversaw each video release and product until 2003, when a lawsuit forced the company into bankruptcy and out of my hands. God turned what seemed like a tremendous loss into a huge blessing, as I was given time and space to get off the VeggieTales “treadmill” and just focus on him. As my relationship with God grew deeper and my love of the Bible increased, a profound thought hit me: Had I just spent 10 years trying to get kids to behave “Christianly” without actually teaching them Christianity?

 You can read the whole thing here: Veggie Tales Creator Brings Gospel-Centered, Biblical Theology to Kids. What a joy it is to see Vischer’s moralistic talking vegetables overtaken by the story of the Bible itself.

Women Teaching Women. Jen Wilkin makes a compelling case addressed to pastors for enlisting and encouraging women to teach other women in the church. In the model of Titus 2, Jen gives four reasons why pastors needs women teachers, and three ways women teachers need thoughtful pastors. Here’s her outline.

  1. She is an example you cannot be.
  2. She brings a perspective you cannot bring.
  3. She holds an authority you cannot hold.
  4. She sees needs you do not see (and that your wife probably doesn’t see, either).
  1. She needs you to affirm her.
  2. She needs you to sharpen her.
  3. She needs you to cover her.

Now, pastors, lets pray for God to raise up godly women to teach in our churches.

Halloween Is An Easy Way to Witness. While many Christians pull back on this dark holiday, it actually is a great way to make connections with unchurched neighbors. This Halloween our church will be hosting a Trunk or Treat event, but for Christians ‘trick or treating’ can be great evangelistic event.  Consider these five tips from Brian McCormack and the Verge Network

  1. Check Your Conscience
  2. When People Knock, Answer.
  3. Visit Every House On Your Block.
  4. Be Creative.
  5. Pray A Lot.

Read the rest here.

Reading a Genealogy. Adam Embry, pastor and author of a few books on practical theology (Help! I Can’t Get Motivated and An Honest and Well-Experienced Heart : The Piety of John Flavel ), has a helpful piece on how to read a geneaology. If Genesis 5, Matthew 1, or 1 Chronicles 1-9 stumps you, take a look at reflections.

 

A Few Thoughts on Typology

The subject of typology has been an interesting subject over the last few years. It is a place where theologians and biblical exegetes take turns cranking the hermeneutical spiral to figure out just how the Old and New Testaments work together. This subject matter—typology—was a key part of my dissertation, and it is something I think about often (read: every time I read the OT).

So, when I see friends like Jim Hamilton, Patrick Schreiner, and Matt Emerson squaring off to discuss some of the finely tuned nuances of Biblical Theology, TIS (Theological Interpretation of Scripture), and typology, I am keenly interested. Here are their posts. The comment sections are worthwhile, too.

Typology, Biblical Theology, and the Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Jim Hamilton)

Typology and Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Patrick Schreiner)

Typology, TIS, and Biblical Theology (Matt Emerson)

Authorial Intent and Biblical Theology: A Rejoined to Patrick Schreiner (Jim Hamilton)

Maybe at some point I will pick up the conversation on the blog here. At present I am working on finishing up a journal article that has been ruminating for about five years. Hopefully, it will be published sooner than later.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

 

‘I Will Give You as a Covenant’ (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8): The Suffering Servant as Covenant Mediator

As I worked on my dissertation, one of the things that struck me was the importance of the covenant mediator for any covenant. Structurally, every covenant needs a mediator; and with regard to effectiveness, every covenant depends on the personal integrity of the covenant mediator (alternately called a federal head). Continue reading

Immanuel (Matthew 1:18-25)

Matthew 1-2 is a rich passage for discerning who Jesus is and how the apostles understood Jesus to be the Christ.  As to the former, Matthew introduces his Jewish audience to Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us” (1:18-25), the King of the Jews (2:1-10), the Son of God (2:13-15), the covenant Lord (2:16-18), and the Suffering Servant (2:19-23).  As to the latter, Matthew employs a variety of quotations, allusions, and metaphors to paint the picture of Jesus fulfilling the messianic prophecies of old.

In this post we will focus on the first aspect of Jesus’ identity—he is the fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14, the Immanuel. Continue reading

The Light of the World (Genesis 1:3)

Genesis 1:3“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”

God created physical light. The Bible also says that God is light in a moral and spiritual sense (1 John 1:5). By God’s design, the physical aspects of creation can serve as vehicles for developing themes about God and his salvation. Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12). (History of Salvation in the Old Testament: Preparing the Way for Christ,” in ESV Study Bible’s, p. 2635)

Let There Be Light

The first thing created in the Bible is “light.” In this God not only communicated his essence to creation; he also ensured that all things would be made under the rule of his light. As it will be in the new creation—a world illumined by the light of the Lamb (Rev 21:23)—so it was in the beginning.

God spoke light into existence and made the physical universe to display his radiant glory. Indeed, as the Bible tells, God’s glory shines in the heavens (Ps 19:1) and is reflected by men and women made in his image (Ps 8). With the Fall, sin dimmed and deranged that reflection—almost to the point of total darkness sometimes—but the light of God remains.

Truly, all creation was made by the Lord of light (John 1:3), and nothing exists that did not come from his light. The Lord of light is the Author of Life (Acts 3:15) and in his light we see light (Ps 36:9). In this way, the world was fashioned in the light; nothing that was made was made from darkness, by darkness, or contained darkness. As Genesis 1:31 states, all of it was “exceedingly good.” Continue reading

The Genealogy of Jesus Christ: A Stumbling Block or Stepping Stone (Matthew 1:1-17)

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he says that the cross of Christ is a stumbling block for Jews (1:23).  Due to the Law’s instruction, it is clear that law-abiding Jews would take offense at anyone hung on tree.  As Moses announced in Deuteronomy 21:23, such a man was accursed by God.  Understandably, the call to believe in and worship a man nailed to a tree would have been hard to accept.

Two thousand years removed from Golgotha, the cross has become a symbol of peace and hope.  In the West, Christians have grown up seeing crosses on church steeples and tee shirts.  More than a few devotees to Christ adorn them around their neck or ink them on their skin. The cross is no longer a stumbling block.

What is a stumbling block today is the Bible itself.  In almost a complete reversal, the word of God, which would have posed no cultural problem for the Jews of Jesus’ day, causes many professing Christians to wince and excuse its contents.

For many, the world of the Bible is foreign.  Its words, warfare, and worship are hard to understand.  Add to this the self-deprecating truths of total depravity and unconditional election, and you have a Bible that is not just unfamiliar, but even offensive.   Yet, it is not only doctrine that trips up Bible readers; it is also genre selection. Continue reading

The Exodus-to-Temple Pattern

Jeffrey J. Niehaus argues convincingly in his Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology that a regular and repeating pattern of salvation occurs in the Ancient Near East (ANE).  He writes, “The basic structure of the idea is this:”

A god works through a man (a royal or prophetic figure, often styled a shepherd) to wage war against the god’s enemies and thereby advance his kingdom.  The royal or prophetic protagonist is in a covenant with the god, as are the god’s people.  The god establishes a temple among his people, either before or after the warfare, because he wants to dwell among them.  This can mean the founding (or choice) of a city, as well as a temple location.  The ultimate purpose is to bring into the god’s kingdom those who are not part of it (Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008], 30).

Developing this basic schema, Niehaus demonstrates how the Old Testament and New Testament recapitulate this eschatological temple-building motif.   This pattern can be witnessed in the life of Moses, when YHWH calls the reluctant shepherd to defeat Pharaoh and liberate Israel, with the ultimate goal of tabernacle worship with God’s covenant people.  Moreover, in the life of David, YHWH summons a shepherd to crush the head of the enemy, to free the people of Israel, and to establish his covenant people in the land—a land where YHWH has set his name.  The culminating act of temple-building in 1 Kings is the high point of the OT, and sets the stage for a greater Spirit-anointed, Divine warrior/savior, who will construct the final dwelling place for God in the NT.

The same kind of pattern can be found in a variety of New Testament passages. Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7, Paul’s preaching in Acts 13, 17, and passages like Ephesians 2:11-22, and the whole book of Revelation show the exodus-to-temple pattern outlined by Niehaus.  In fact, in regards to the work of Christ, Niehaus writes,

God wages war through his Son and prophet, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, against the powers of darkness.  He liberates people from those powers and establishes them as his people by a new covenant.  He establishes a temple presence, not only among them but in them (the church and individually its members) (ibid., 31).

They look forward to a heavenly city (Gal. 4:26; Heb. 11:10; Rev. 21:2).  Theologically, it is important to remember that these people were God’s enemies…until he waged warfare, set them free from their vassaldom to sin, and established his covenant with them, making them his own vassals…Christ is also Creator or Co-creator.  He creates a “new heaven and a new earth,” with a temple presence that recalls Eden with its river and tree of life” (ibid, 31-32).

Reading the Bible along these lines, it is becomes apparent that the God of the Bible works in a regular and repeating way throughout redemptive history, and that the NT writers were conscious of these biblical-theological structures and interweaved them into the very fabric of their thinking, preaching, and writing.

For a short list of resources that observe this phenomenon, see See David Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002); Rikki Watts, Isaiah’s New Exodus in Mark (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1997);  the articles found in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theologyed. T. Desmond Alexander and Simon J. Gathercole (Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster, 2004).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss