Crucial for the Health of the Church
Biblical theology is crucial for the health of the church because the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). Additionally, this Word upon which the church is built is both living and life-giving (Ps. 119:25, 50; 2 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 4:12).
It is the record, the deposit, the testimony of God’s good news in Jesus Christ. It is a legal, objective, public document that describes and explains the covenantal relationship by which God has condescended and united himself to his people through Jesus Christ, our eternal high priest.
What Does Biblical Theology Do?
Simply put, the discipline of biblical theology works to make sense of God’s Word for God’s people. It does this by asking two basic questions:
- What is the Bible about?
- How does the Bible work?
Simply put, the discipline of biblical theology works to make sense of God’s Word for God’s people.
To answer these questions, we study the biblical text and, by way of submission to that text, allow it to establish its own theological categories and promote its own theological message.
Biblical theology also bridges the gap between exegesis (our study of texts) and systematic theology (our formulation of doctrine from the text). It provides context for exegesis, teeth for systematic theology, and depth for practical theology and Christian living.
While the answers to the two questions above are debated, Luke offers some help in Acts 28. At the end of this chapter, Luke summarizes Paul’s two-year curriculum in the following manner:
From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. (Acts 28:23; see also 28:30-31)
If we pay attention, we will come to understand that Luke, through Paul, has provided us with the answers to these two fundamental questions.
What Is the Bible About?
First, what is the Bible about? It is about Jesus and the kingdom of God. Jesus functions as the theological center of biblical theology. He is the sum and substance of the biblical message. He is the goal, the point, and the significance of every text. He is God’s gospel and, as the theological center, provides unity and meaning for all of the diversity found in the biblical record, from levitical underwear in Exodus 39 to the new heavens and earth in Revelation 21-22.
The kingdom of God functions as the thematic framework for biblical theology. This is the theme within which all others themes exist and are united. It is the realm of the prophet, priest, and king; the place of wisdom and the scribe; the world of the apostles, and now elders and deacons in the church. Every biblical theme is a kingdom of God theme. If Jesus is the theological bull’s eye on the biblical target, then the kingdom of God travels on the path of redemptive history to arrive at that target. If Jesus as the theological center gives meaning to the biblical message, then the kingdom of God as the thematic framework provides the context for that message.
How Does the Bible Work?
Now that we understand that the Bible is about Jesus and his kingdom, how then does the Bible work? It works in the categories of the Law and the Prophets or, in its full form, the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (or Writings; see Luke 24:44).
Here, Luke is referring to the arrangement of the Old Testament in its original, three-fold division. These divisions are covenantal in nature, and they ultimately apply to both the Old and New Testaments as the covenantal structure of the Christian Bible.
In the Law, we have the covenant itself, filled with the life and teachings of the covenant mediators—Moses in the Old Testament and Jesus in the New Testament. In the Prophets, we have the history of the covenant and the prophetic interpretation of that history (covenant history). Finally, in the writings, we have those practical books that teach us how to think and live in light of the covenant (covenant life).
Much more work needs to be done trying to understand how the Bible works. This important question is often neglected in church life, and it has yet to receive adequate attention from biblical theologians. This chart helps to capture the unity and design of the Christian Bible from a covenantal, biblical theological perspective.
Thinking and Living Biblically
With the discipline of biblical theology, we come to understand that the Bible has a theological center, a thematic framework, and a covenantal structure.
When asked about the Bible’s content, we can answer with confidence: Jesus and the kingdom of God.
When asked about the nature of the Bible, or how it works, our answer is simple: covenant.
This three-fold perspective for biblical theology provides unity and comprehends diversity. It sets us on the road to good, robust biblical thinking and living.
That’s why biblical theology is crucial for the health of the church.