Would you classify much of the Bible teaching at your church as little more than “poor lay preaching?” If you were honest, how would you describe the teachers under whom your people sit week after week? Is their material full of biblical content, but dry, disjointed, and unconnected to real life? Or, is their teaching illustrative and witty but touching upon the Scripture only long enough to glean only the smallest seeds of truth? Perhaps you are a pastor or lay-teacher who feels like you fit into one of these two categories. Whatever the case, whether you are a pastor hoping to cultivate a strong teaching ministry in your church, or a lay-teacher struggling to communicate the truths of God’s word in a way that is both useful to students and faithful to the text, Wilhoit and Ryken’s Effective Bible Teaching has much to offer you. Continue reading “Effective Bible Teaching by James C. Wilhoit and Leland Ryken”
What is biblical theology? Prior to coming to seminary, the phrase ‘biblical theology’ was unfamiliar to me–unfamiliar, not in the sense that I had never heard the phrase before, but because I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. “Of course we want our theology to be biblical,” I thought, “That seems like an obvious point to make.” I was unaware that biblical theology was a specific branch of study, akin to systematic theology or disciplines like Old Testament and New Testament studies. For a season it was frustrating to constantly hear the refrain, “We need biblical theology,” and not really understand what people were talking about. Perhaps, you have had a similar experience. If so, I hope these few quotes from Graham Goldsworthy and Edmund Clowney will help you better understand what biblical theology is and why we should view it as a valuable discipline. The following quotes, however, will provide you with a general idea of what biblical theology entails, but they only scratch the surface. The books from where these quotes are taken would be a good place to start your investigation into this important discipline.
What is biblical theology?
Biblical theology is a means of looking at one particular event in relation to the total picture. This total picture includes us where we are now, between the ascension of Jesus and his return at the end of the age. Biblical theology enables us to see ourselves in relation to the far off events in the Bible narratives. To uncover our relationship to a particular event is to uncover meaning for us.–Graham Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 21
Biblical theology is a way of understanding the Bible as a whole, so that we can see the plan of salvation as it unfolds step by step. It is concerned with God’s message to us in the form that it actually takes in Scripture.–Graham Goldsworthy, According to Plan, 29
Biblical theology is a formal way of determining and describing the theological plan and significance of the whole Bible.–Graham Goldsworthy, Gospel Centered Hermeneutics, 259
…Vos defines biblical theology as ‘that branch of exegetical theology which deals with the process of self-revelation of God deposited in the Bible.–Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, 15
How should we do biblical theology?
“As to the method, I prefer a biblical theological investigation of any theme or subject to begin with the gospel, because it is through Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life, that we are put in touch with truth and ultimate reality.”–Graham Goldsworthy, Gospel Centered Hermeneutics, 68
First, diligent Bible reading is essential. No scholarly technique can be substituted for knowledge of the Bible. The NT writers commonly assume in their readers a knowledge of the OT beyond that possessed by many of today’s ministers. The points of connection that illuminate the structure of biblical theology may be brought to light by light by the exhaustive research of the scholar, but they are often evident on the surface to the Christian knows his Bible.–Edmund Clowney, Preaching and Biblical Theology, 112-113
Last semester I had the pleasure of reading Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics for–believe it or not–my hermeneutics class. The title accurately explains the content of the book: our interpretation of the Bible must begin and end with Christ and his gospel. We must learn to see that everything in Scripture–everything–points to Christ. And this is not merely an abstract, theological construction or some sentimental jargon; the precedent to read the Scripture this way has been given to us by Christ himself in Luke 24:25-27, 44:55:
And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself….44Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Throughout the book I found several quotes that I thought would be beneficial for us to consider as we take up our hermeneutical task in light of this glorious truth. I have provided them under topical headings for clarity’s sake. Not all the quotes relate specifically to reading Scripture in light of Christ; some are just general principles that I think are important and hope are helpful.
Hermeneutical Perfectionism: Hermeneutical perfectionism is something that is tempting to all of us who believe that truth is knowable. Those who adopt a thought-out and definite position on any matter will have the conviction that they are right. No one holds to a position that they believe is wrong. But thinking that we are right about key issues does not mean that we think we have all the answers in interpreting the Bible, or that our position is infallible. It should not mean that we think we have arrived at the ultimate truth about all matters biblical. In fact, the hermeneutical spiral is a recognition that we must constantly submit our thinking and doing in light of Scripture. The Reformers understood this when they acknowledged that the Reformed church is always reforming (167).
Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Here we have two related problems affecting evangelical hermeneutics. The one is eisegesis, reading into the text an assumed meaning rather than trying to ascertain how the word is used in the biblical text. The other is allowing the importance of emotions, and an idea of Christian experience, to dull the objectivity of the word. It is in fact a form of reader-response hermeneutics in which the reader, often under the guise of being led by the Spirit, determines the meaning of the text. Gospel-centered hermeneutics sees Christ as the determiner of meaning (175-176).
The Importance of an Objective Gospel: When the legitimate subjective dimension of our salvation begins to eclipse the historically and spiritually prior objective dimension, we are in trouble (176).
Beware of Reactionism: When evangelicals become reactionary, they can often flee unwittingly into the arms of another enemy waiting in the wings (180).
Respect for the History of Interpretation (quoting Anthony Thiselton): Although the Reformers believed that the Scriptures stood, as it were, on their own feet rather than being dependent for their use and understanding on the magisterium of the church of the day, Luther and Calvin deeply respected the early patristic traditions (195).
Interpretation of History: History cannot be understood without God’s word to interpret it (222).
Spiritual Growth: We grow in our Christian lives by being conformed more and more to the image of Jesus, not to the image of Abraham or Moses. These latter, and all the other heroes of the bible, only have exemplary meaning for use because of their respective relationships to Christ (252).
Biblical Theology: Biblical Theology is a formal way of determining and describing the theological plan and significance of the whole Bible (259).
Theological Starting Point: …from an evangelical point of view, we start with the self-authenticating Christ as he is revealed in the self-authenticating Scriptures (259).
Biblical Theology and Preaching: It is to be regretted that biblical theology is so little acknowleded in standard texts on hermeneutics. Yet for preachers and teachers it is probably the most significant part fo the practical hermeneutic task after textual exegesis (262).
Application of Scripture: The kind of piety that primarily focuses on questions concerned with what the text says about us and our Christian living lacks Christological depth. This premature desire for immediate guidance ignores the relationship of the text to Christ. If there is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (I Tim. 2:5), then to seek understanding of either God or man without recourse to the mediator is a procedure that is Christologically flawed. If we are truly to understand what a text says about ourselves, we must follow the biblical path that leads first to Christ for he defines who and what we are in him (263).
Biblical Words (quoting Leland Ryken) It is better to teach each new generation the meaning of the Bible’s technical terms than to eliminate them and produce a generation [of people who] are biblically and theologically illiterate from having suffered long-term exposure to inaccurate and imprecise versions of the Bible.
God’s Humble Hermeneutic: The incarnational presence of God was initially to the humble and ‘ordinary’ folk. God made himself known through Jesus to the non-erudite. God’s hermeneutic was the humble son of Mary and Joseph. Hermeneutical theories that forget that simple fact are in danger of isolating the word of God in the heady, and often unsavoury, ivory towers of those who, like the Athenians, love to spend their time ‘in nothing except hearing something new’ (Acts 17:21) (301).
Needless to say, these quotes do not exhaust Goldworthy’s book. Nevertheless, I hope that these few excerpts are helpful to you as you think about the great privilege of interpreting the Word of God. May the Lord bless our efforts!