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.
See previous post:
Recap / review
Yesterday we talked about why redemptive history and Biblical theology matter. In other words, we talked about its significance and relevance.
However, a caveat is needed. As noted yesterday, we do this not because somehow we are responsible for determining what in scripture is worthy of our attention. In other words, we are not making note of this study’s relevance in order to somehow justify the importance of this Biblical material. Scripture—and specifically for our purposes, its Biblical theology and account of redemptive history—is important regardless of whether we sense its important.
The goal of scripture (and, by extension, Christianity) is not to meet “felt needs;” but to address needs that ought to be felt. We are not the determiner of what in scripture is worth attending to. We may have our felt needs. And these may be fine—sure. But we must recognize that God knows what we need more than we do.
So, when something is in scripture, even when we do not immediately perceive its relevance, we trust God’s judgment for including it in scripture and eagerly study it as the gracious self-revelation of God that it is.
At the same time, if we just studied things in a “heady,” academic way, without drawing the real connections of these things to our lives as daily followers of Christ, we will have done something terrible. We will have actually messed with, even distorted, what the Bible and theology are for—living the Christian life on mission to advance the Gospel. And, so, it is good and needful for us to attend to what theology—and, in particular, redemptive history and Biblical theology—is for, why it matters.
These things will be helpful to keep in mind throughout the following weeks as we get into the trenches of this material.
We noted at least seven reasons why redemptive history and Biblical theology matter.
(1) To become better readers of scripture
Redemptive history and Biblical theology further equip us to read and understand the particular parts of scripture in light of the whole of scripture—the ultimate context of all its parts. As we noted, the Bible is not an anthology of unconnected—or even loosely connected—stories and events. All of these parts of scripture fit into an all-encompasing story that we call redemptive history. Redemptive history and Biblical theology help us to read the Bible in light of this.
Furthermore, Biblical theology helps us understand the various Biblical themes, concepts, and categories in light of how they are used throughout scripture, how they connect to other parts of scripture, how they hold scripture together, and how they relate to Christ and the Gospel.
In short, redemptive history and Biblical theology help us to read the Bible as it is meant to be read (which we see from the fact that scripture reads itself this way — see e.g., Neh 9:7-37; Ezekiel 20; Mt 19:3-8; Acts 7:2-50; 13:16-4; and Gal 3:16-17).
(2) To sort out certain theological questions
Redemptive history and Biblical theology help us sort out questions related to matters of discontinuity (difference, break, change, alteration) and continuity (similarity, continuation, carry-over). Examples of these such issues include, but are not limited to, the role of the law and the Christian, the work of the Spirit in the New Testament (NT) compared to the Old Testament (OT), how Christians should view the modern nation of Israel, infant baptism vs. believer’s baptism, etc.
These issues will not be an emphasis in this series. But, nonetheless, the point here is that the content of this series—redemptive history and Biblical theology—will equip us to better answer these questions.
(3) To read the Old Testament (OT) in light of Christ
Biblical theology and redemptive history help us to read the Biblical text, particularly the Old Testament, in light of its function in God’s saving purposes as they are worked out across history and centered in Christ—anticipating him in various ways. Reading scripture this way, in turn, helps us avoid poor readings of scripture, such as simply trying to emulate or avoid the behavior of various Old Testament characters we encounter (=moralism). This sort of reading fails to do justice to the actual point of these passages in light of how they lead us to Christ and unfold more and more of God’s broad saving purposes.
(4) To know how we relate to the Old Testament and the Old Testament people of Israel
On the heels of point #3 is this next point. Knowing how the OT relates to God’s saving purposes in Christ helps us know how the OT relates to us, since, of course, we have a whole lot to do with Christ and the salvation he accomplishes if we are believers.
Many of us have probably had this thought at some point when reading the OT: “What does all of this stuff with Israel have to do with me?” Biblical theology and redemptive history help us understand that the OT is not ultimately about Israel. The OT is ultimately about Christ; and I have a whole lot to do with Christ if I am a believer.
Furthermore, as a member of the church, I am part of that community that is a continuation of OT Israel (see Rom 11; Eph 2:11-22). Therefore, the OT people of God is my people. Consequently, their story is my story. In short, the OT is actually Christian scripture, not Jewish scripture we awkwardly read as Christians.
(5) To gain a more complete understanding of the Gospel
In one sense, we can talk about the Gospel in terms of abstract facts that we need to know in order to be saved (e.g., think of the common and helpful way of presenting the Gospel in terms of the categories “God, Man, Christ, Response” — these can be understood apart from the Bible’s storyline). But, really, the Gospel’s “natural habitat,” so to say, is redemptive history, not abstract principles. The Gospel is the climax of a story beginning in the Old Testament. And, just like we don’t understand what’s going on with Frodo the Hobbit in that last scene on Mt. Doom in The Lord of the Rings unless we know the backstory, so we don’t fully understand the Gospel (i.e., we may know it truly and be saved; but there may be so much more about it that we have yet to learn) unless we know the Gospel as the climax of the OT story, e.g., as the climax of Israel’s story, her struggle with sin, and God’s saving promises to her.
The Gospel is like a diamond with various facets. You can look at it from different perspectives and appreciate its various dimensions. In other words, it’s not “flat.” So, for example, although forgiveness of sins is a prominent feature of the Gospel, the Gospel achieves and entails more than our forgiveness.
In Biblical theology, what we are in effect doing is studying various themes that find their fulfillment in the Gospel. On the flip side, since these themes are fulfilled in the Gospel, these various themes actually unpack and reveal more of the Gospel to us (cf. more diamond facets), facets with which we might be less familiar or which we do not emphasize as much (e.g., themes of land, God’s presence, Christ’s rule, resurrection life, etc.).
(6) For the formation of a Christian worldview
Worldview is the way we view reality, the way things really are. And this way we view reality (worldview) affects our beliefs and actions.
We noted that worldviews often times are what we might call stories. Worldviews often have “storied” dimensions to them. Redemptive history and Biblical theology are important because they inform and form our worldview so that we live according to the actual story of this world in contrast to the many competing storied worldviews out there.
“We need to keep the biblical storyline in mind … because the narrative of the Bible is the narrative of the world. … The storyline of the Bible is important because it helps us think as Christians formed by the great Story that tells the truth about our world. … If we are to live as Christians in a fallen world, we must be shaped by the grand narrative of the Scriptures, the worldview we find in the Bible.”
(7) For the formation of Christian living
Finally, a redemptive-historical, Biblical-theologically informed worldview has practical consequences. Understanding the great redemptive storyline of scripture and its key themes helps us enter into that story in the way we think, believe, feel, and live our lives.
We looked at the following three texts in which the Bible itself connects Biblical theology to very practical matters of living — 1 Jn 3:2-3; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; and Rom 11:17-21.
Further study — Recommended resources
Again, I would recommend, if you have not done so, reading Neh 9:7-37; Ezekiel 20; Acts 7:2-50; and Acts 13:16-41. These texts are in a sense accounts of redemptive history. Reading and studying these texts would help you to become further acquainted with this Biblical account of God’s saving purposes worked out across Biblical history (=“redemptive history”).
Furthermore, one would do well to reexamine 1 Jn 3:2-3; 2 Cor 6:14-7:1; and Rom 11:17-21 and note how the Bible itself teases out the very practical implications of Biblical theology.
Finally, the White Horse Inn, an excellent podcast that you can access for free online, just recently began a series working through the history of redemption You can access those podcasts here (“Creation, Fall, and Redemption Part 1” is the first in this new series)
Next week we will be looking at some foundational principles, basic frameworks, and key interpretive principles for doing Biblical theology and understanding redemptive history.