On Sunday, January 24th, 2016, I began a Core Seminar on Redemptive History & Biblical Theology at my church, Lake Drive Baptist Church. During the course of this series I’ll be sending out emails recapping lessons and directing recipients to resources for further study.
Rather than just share these recaps with my church family, I’ve decided to share them here on the blog for anyone else who might be interested. I will be posting them occasionally over the next couple of months on a weekly basis or so.
First, we talked about how the historical nature of Christianity distinguishes it from other religions. Many other religions are based on what we might call “timeless (better: non-historical) truths” (e.g., a way of reaching Nirvana [Buddhism] or a set of rules about how we might survive God’s judgment [Islam]). In contrast, Christianity stands and falls on historical realities. Salvation in Christianity is not merely about something that happens between me and God, but it is quite importantly about historical events, e.g., Christ’s death and resurrection. For instance, whereas Islam does not stand and fall on the figure of Muhammed (God could have delievered the Koran through anyone, so they believe), Christianity does in fact stand and fall on God acting in history, specifically in the person of Jesus. What makes Christianity so unique is that we actually see God acting in history, not only as creator of it, but also as the one directing it and continually intervening in it to bring about his saving purposes.
This brings us to the next thing we talked about — definitions. Our series is on redemptive history and Biblical theology. So, what do we mean by those terms?
We defined redemptive history this way: “The account of God’s saving purposes [hence ‘redemptive’] as he works them out across history [hence ‘history’].” Another way we can talk about this reality is “the all-encompassing” storyline of scripture. When we refer to redemptive history, we don’t mean merely a listing out of all the stories that make up Biblical history. We mean more than that. We are assuming that there is a sort of big-picture-story that ties them all together. This big-picture-story is redemptive history.
Secondly, we talked about Biblical theology.
In order to understand Biblical theology, we found it helpful to define “theology.” We defined theology this way—the study of God and the things he’s revealed to us.
Now, the term “Biblical theology” isn’t meant to be used in contrast to a sort of theology that isn’t based on the Bible (like an unbiblical theology). Rather, it is used to refer to a certain way of doing theology. In other words, the “Biblical” in “Biblical theology” isn’t meant to designate the subject matter of the theology (e.g., the Bible), but the method of studying and forming theological conclusions about the Bible.
So what is that method? Well, the term “Biblical theology” is used by people in a wide variety of ways. But for our purposes, we defined it this way: “a thematic analysis of redemptive history.” In this series, when we say we are going to investigate Biblical theology, what we mean is that we are going to study the key themes that make up that big-picture-story of the Bible (redemptive history). We are thinking of themes like God’s presence (think temple), sacrifice, king, promised land, etc.
One class member asked about how Biblical theology relates to systematic theology, another way or method of studying the Bible and forming theological conclusions. He helpfully led us to a discussion where we concluded that these two methods of doing theology (Biblical theology and systematic theology) are not at odds. But, rather, when done properly, they go together. And their differences should merely be a matter of emphasis, we might say.
For sake of clarity, we mentioned that systematic theology is that way of studying the Bible that emphasizes organizing (or systematizing [hence “systematic theology”]) what the Bible says about certain topics (e.g., God, Christ, sin, etc.). Biblical theology can differ from systematic theology in many ways depending on how we are using that term. But, so as avoid getting caught up in matters that are not terribly important for our purposes, let’s just remember that, with regards to how we are using the term, what makes Biblical theology unique is that it pays special attention to how key themes are (a) used throughout redemptive history (the all-encompassing story), (b) progress as that story goes along, and (c) ultimately tie the story together. So, for example, we might think of the theme of king which begins in the OT with Israel’s kings but ultimately leads us to king Jesus. Thus, we see that this theme of kingship (Biblical theology) makes up a dimension of God’s saving purposes worked across history (redemptive history).
Significance… (And more — next week)
Finally, we began to discuss why all of this matters. Why study redemptive history and Biblical theology? No need to review that here. We’ll pick that up next week!
After talking about the significance of this material, we’ll talk about some foundations. I’m pretty excited about getting into those things. I hope you are to. That’s when the fun really starts!
In case you’d like to do some further study, allow me to draw the following Biblical passages and resources to your attention:
Last week we began to talk about the fact that the Bible interprets itself in a way that takes into consideration what we have called “redemptive history.” We noted Mt 19:3-8 and Gal 3:17-18 as examples of this. In addition, it would be worth looking at passages like Neh 9:7-37; Ezekiel 20; Acts 7:2-50; and Acts 13:16-41 which in many ways lay out redemptive history and give further evidence that the Bible does in fact read itself this way, so to say. Redemptive history and Biblical theology matter, in other words, because this is how the Bible teaches us to read the Bible. These texts survey redemptive history and thus can also serve as a good introduction to the main events that make up the big-picture-story, as we’ve called it.
- In this podcast one of my former professors, D.A. Carson, talks about what Biblical theology is (he discusses the varying ways the term is used) and why it matters. The sort of Biblical theology we will be doing is the second one he talks about. (The first version he talks about is easier to distinguish from systematic theology — recall our discussion where we briefly contrasted Biblical and systematic theology.)
- See the following note on the difference between Biblical and systematic theology if you are interesting in understanding that better.
- Finally, you may have noticed that on Sunday I included a bibliography in your handout that listed four books on these matters. If you are interested in diving into this material further, these books would be worth purchasing and reading. They would complement our discussions on Sunday mornings rather well. None of these is overly technical; and so I assure you that no one should feel intimidated by them. They are very accessible.
- Roberts, Vaughan. God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible.
- Goldsworthy, Graeme. The Gospel and Kingdom.
- Goldsworthy, Graeme. According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible.
- James M. Hamilton Jr. What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns.
- Rosner, Brian S., T. Desmond Alexander, Graeme Goldsworthy, and D. A. Carson, eds. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology: Exploring the Unity & Diversity of Scripture.