Tag Archives: biblical theology

What Is Biblical Theology?

What is biblical theology?

I use the phrase biblical theology to refer to the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. So what is an “interpretive perspective”? It’s the framework of assumptions and presuppositions, associations and identifications, truths, and symbols that are taken for granted as an author or speaker describes the world and the events that take place in it.

9781433537714What do the biblical authors use this perspective to interpret?

First, the biblical authors have interpreted earlier Scripture, or in the case of the first author on record (Moses), accounts of God’s words and deeds that were passed down to him.

Second, they interpreted world history from creation to consummation.

And third, they interpreted the events and statements they describe—Moses didn’t recount everything Balaam said and did in the instances presented in Numbers 22-24. Moses selected what he wanted, arranged it with care, and presented the true story. The presentation of Balaam’s oracles Moses gives us in the book of Numbers is already an interpretation of them, and because I believe Moses was inspired by the Holy Spirit, I hold that his interpretation makes his account of the Balaam oracles more true, not less. The way Moses selected, arranged, and presented (i.e., interpreted) enables his audience to fit what Balaam said and did into the true story of the world Moses tells in the Pentateuch.

To summarize, by the phrase biblical theology I mean to refer to the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.

The last phrases of the previous sentence mention different kinds of literature. The Bible is a book, and the men who wrote the 66 books that make up the Bible were authors. That means we have to think about literature as we think about interpreting the Bible.

Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Interpretation

We should remember, too, that our struggle is not against flesh and blood. The study of biblical theology is like a quest to become someone who can pull down strongholds with weapons mighty to God. For the quest to succeed we must learn to destroy arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:3-5).

Our aim is to trace out the contours of the network of assumptions reflected in the writings of the biblical authors. If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about the big story of the world, the symbols they used to summarize and interpret that story, and the role the church plays in it, we will glimpse the world as they saw it. To glimpse the world as they saw it is to see the real world.

I hasten to add that the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical authors. That inspiration gave them a level of certainty about their interpretive conclusions that we cannot have about ours, because the Holy Spirit does not inspire us and guarantee our inerrancy. If he did, our books would be added to the canon of Scripture, which is not happening. Still, we’re called to follow the apostles as they followed Christ (cf. 1 Cor 11:1), and part of doing that means learning to interpret Scripture, redemptive history, and the events that happen to us the way the biblical authors did, even if absolute certainty eludes us.

Reading Scripture Like Jesus

The Bible teaches Christians how the Bible should be read. Studying biblical theology is the best way to learn from the Bible how to read the Bible as a Christian should. By the same token, studying the Bible is the best way to learn biblical theology.

How should a follower of Jesus read the Bible? The way Jesus did. Jesus of Nazareth did not write any of the books in the Bible, but he taught the writers of the New Testament how to interpret earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they were narrating and addressing. On the human level, Jesus learned the interpretive perspective he taught to his disciples from Moses and the Prophets.

So I’m arguing that the biblical authors operated from a shared interpretive perspective. They inhabited the same thought-world, breathed its air, and shared its assumptions. The world they lived in isn’t Darwin’s. In their world we might find things for which we have no analogy and of which we have no experience. There is no analogy for the God of the Bible. He stands alone. We will only experience him if he reveals himself. In the Bible he has done just that. How do we come to know him? From his revelation of himself, from learning to read the Bible from the Bible itself. To learn to read the Bible is to learn to understand this world from the perspective of the biblical authors, which is to learn a divinely inspired perspective.

Moses learned and developed the ability to see the world this way from the accounts of God’s words and deeds that he received, from his contemplation of what God had done in his own life, and from the inspiration of the Spirit of God. The biblical authors who followed Moses in the Old Testament, whether historians, prophets, psalmists, or sages, learned the interpretive perspective that Moses modeled for them and had it confirmed by other Scripture available to them. Jesus then learned to read the Bible, history, and life from Moses and the prophets, and he taught this perspective to his followers (Luke 24). What we find in the New Testament, then, is Christ-taught, Spirit-inspired biblical interpretation.

Interpreting the Bible Like Its Authors

The biblical authors model a perspective for interpreting the Bible, history, and current events. Should we adopt that perspective today? Absolutely. Why? I’m convinced that the biblical authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit, that God guided them to the truth by his Spirit, and that therefore they got it right. The fact that the Spirit is not ensuring the inerrancy of our conclusions does not mean we should adopt an un- or a-biblical perspective when reading the Bible, thinking about redemptive history, or trying to understand our own lives.

If biblical theology is a way to get into another world, the world inhabited by the biblical authors, I hope you cross the bridge into their thought-world and never come back. My hope is that you will breathe the air of the Bible’s world, recognize it as the real Narnia, and never want to leave.

If this happens, you will have come to inhabit the Bible’s story. My prayer is that its symbols and patterns will shape the way you view the world, and that your understanding of the church’s place in story and symbol will make you know the riches of God’s inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18), the great power “he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (1:19), and the glory he displays in the church and in Christ Jesus forever (3:21).

In brief: I hope that you will adopt the perspective of the biblical authors, and that you will read the world from the Bible’s perspective rather than reading the Bible from the world’s.

Editors’ note: This is an excerpt taken from What is Biblical Theology? by James M. Hamilton Jr., © 2013. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187.

VeggieTales Creator Brings Gospel-Centered Biblical Theology to Kids

Remember Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber? The animated vegetable stars may have left the scene, but the guy who created them hasn’t. Phil Vischer, whose popular kids television series VeggieTales originally aired in 1993, has returned with a fresh project and a conspicuously different approach. What’s in the Bible? is a new DVD series designed to communicate the unfolding storyline of Scripture from a decidedly gospel-centered perspective.

Buck-Denver-AsksNews reporter Buck Denver leads the cast of puppet characters in this fun and engaging exploration currently spanning Genesis through the letters of Paul. In addition to gospel-shaped biblical theology, Vischer laces apologetics and hermeneutics throughout in a way that kids can understand. The result is a resource bound to help kids and adults alike better grasp the Bible’s epic story and prize its ultimate hero—Jesus Christ.

I talked with Vischer about VeggieTales moralism, how What’s in the Bible? is unique, his concerns about kids television, and more.


What realization did you have 10 years into VeggieTales, and how has that shaped your approach to What’s in the Bible?

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?

VeggieTales was (and is) a great format for retelling an individual Bible story or presenting a Christian value, but it wasn’t such a good format for explaining the entire arc of Scripture or unpacking tricky concepts like redemption or sanctification. I found myself with a blank piece of paper and all the time in the world. So I decided it was time to go beyond teaching biblical values to actually teaching the Bible.

There are numerous Christian resources for kids out there. What’s unique about this DVD series?

Christian kids resources tend to fall into two camps: children’s Bibles and entertainment products like VeggieTales. Both have value, but both also have limitations. Very few children’s Bibles cover more than 5 percent to 10 percent of the Bible, and tend to focus on scenes that lend themselves to cute illustrations. Concepts like sin, judgment, propitiation, atonement, and sanctification are really hard to draw. If it doesn’t look good on a wallpaper border for a nursery, it probably isn’t going to make the cut. As a result, most children’s Bibles present a highly truncated gospel.

On the other hand, entertainment products typically follow the VeggieTales model: tell a story that illustrates a value, then wrap it up with a Bible verse to show the biblical basis for that value. We certainly need to teach kids biblical values, but biblical values aren’t the gospel. Introducing a child to “kindness” isn’t equal to introducing him or her to Jesus.

What concerns you about the world that’s been created for children by “kids television”?

The recent expansion of kids TV (from individual shows to entire 24-hour networks) is both good and bad. Good, because the rise of kid-focused networks like Disney and Nickelodeon have pulled kids away from watching more adult-themed shows on the broadcast networks (which have, as a result, become much more adult-themed). In addition, Nickelodeon and Disney both strive to be “pro-social,” employing child development experts and promoting values like teamwork, tolerance, and environmental responsibility. This is all good. Our kids—especially the younger ones—are spending five to eight hours a day in these TV worlds of pro-social messaging.

The downside is that these worlds are godless. There is no religion in the world of Sesame Street. No matter how far she explores, Dora the Explorer will never bump into her Creator. So kids television inculcates our kids with a completely naturalistic view of the world. There is nothing “behind the curtain”—nature is all we’ve got. People behave kindly simply because they are kind people. It’s a worldview increasingly in tension with what Christian parents hope to instill in their kids, and one that has a dramatic effect on a child by the time he or she reaches high school. With the average 10-year-old boy in America consuming eight hours of media per day, the effect of these ever-present windows to a godless world cannot be ignored.

You’ve mentioned your desire to move beyond merely “teaching Bible stories” to actually “teaching the story of the Bible.” Why is this shift important, and how do you accomplish it in the series?

We are very intentionally walking kids through the entire Bible—mentioning every book and explaining how each book fits into the big story of “God and what he’s done for us.” We’re also very consciously not skipping the tricky parts. What’s with all the weird rules in Leviticus, and why don’t we follow them all today? Why was it “okay” for the Israelites to kill all those Canaanites? And what’s up with Song of Solomon?! These are issues few kids have ever heard raised in Sunday school, yet they’re some of the key issues that can knock your faith out from under you in high school or college.

We’re combining a basic overview of the entire Bible with some key apologetic concepts to give kids (and their parents) a sort of “Christianity 101″ preparation for a life as a Jesus follower. To be honest, I believe we often underestimate what kids are capable of learning, and overestimate what grownups in our churches are capable of (or interested in) learning. The two groups, I believe, are much closer together than many pastors would prefer to acknowledge. What’s in the Bible? is a 13-hour miniseries—an “Introduction to the Christian Faith” for the entire family.

What resources have influenced your convictions beneath and vision for this series?

Throughout the project, my single biggest resource has actually been The ESV Study Bible. When I first started thumbing through that work I thought if I could just find a way to “inject” this body of knowledge into every Christian, the church would be revolutionized overnight. What’s in the Bible? is really my attempt to do just that.

John Schwarz’s wonderfully concise A Handbook of the Christian Faith has also been helpful. In addition, I have greatly appreciated and been guided by the writings of N. T. Wright, the sermons of Tim Keller, the books and teaching of my good friend Skye Jethani, as well as several faculty from nearby Wheaton College—Old Testament scholar John Walton in particular.

What’s in the Bible? currently consists of 12 DVDs (each featuring two 25-minute episodes) spanning Genesis through the letters of Paul. Are more installments in the series forthcoming?

Number 13 is in production, and it completes the series! Attempting to explain Revelation to children is a highly questionable way to end any major project, but God seems to have put it there for a reason, so explain it I will. And with that we’ll have 65 songs and 13 hours of video that can take a single child or an entire church body through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. There’s more I’d love to teach like this—church history, science and the Bible—but first, I think I need to take a short nap!

You Asked: What’s New About the New Covenant?

Editors’ Note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to ask@thegospelcoalition.org along with your full name, city, and state. We’ll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition’s Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

Rick G. from Lempster, New Hampshire, asks:

Since Abraham and the old prophets are saved by grace through faith as we are, why is this then called a new covenant in Christ when it was visible and proclaimed in the Old Testament? What makes it new?

We posed this question to Oren Martin, professor of theology at Northland International University. He is contributing “The Land Promise in God’s Redemptive Plan” to the forthcoming book Progressive Covenantalism, edited by Stephen J. Wellum (B&H Academic).


This question is very important, for it gets to the heart of God’s gracious plan to make a people for himself. This plan begins with Adam and ends with the people of the last Adam from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev 5:9). Perhaps a good way to begin, then, is to place it within the overarching storyline of Scripture.

Scripture begins with creation and ends with the description of a more glorious creation. Between these two accounts lies the history of redemption. God’s plan for his people begins with Adam and Eve (Gen 1-2). The creation account reveals the “pattern of the kingdom”: God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule (for more along these lines, see Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan). For Adam and Eve to enjoy God and his blessing, they must take God at his word (Gen 1:28-30; 2:16-17). However, they despised God’s word and instead believed the serpent’s, which led to their expulsion from God’s blessed presence (Gen 3). As a result, sin and death entered creation and separated man from God. But his plan did not end, for God made a forward-looking promise that would, in time, undo the effects of sin by the serpent-crushing offspring of the woman (Gen 3:15). The rest of the story, then, focuses on how God’s kingdom will progressively be reestablished.

A crucial means God uses to accomplish his redemptive ends is the covenant. A cursory overview will establish this point. Judgment and death reign after the fall of mankind into sin, and the initial sign of God’s reversing the curse is his covenant with Noah (Gen 6:18; 9:9-17). Noah is God’s representative commissioned to rule the earth, be fruitful and multiply, and bring God’s blessing to the world (Gen 9:1-17). In other words, Noah is another Adam-like figure. But just as Adam failed, so also does Noah (Gen 9:18-29). So sin and death continue to reign and, as a result, God judges the nations in the Tower of Babel (Gen 11). Yet God keeps his promise by calling out another man—Abram—to fulfill his purposes.

Abraham and God’s covenant with him provide the way in which God’s creation promises and blessing will be fulfilled. Through Abraham and his offspring, Israel, God will bring about universal and international blessing. But how, ultimately, will this blessing come? The answer is through a promised son (Gen 15:4-5; cf. Gal 3). And as Genesis 15 makes clear, God will make good on his promise. God alone graciously pledges to Abraham by passing between the pieces that he will fulfill his covenant promise (Gen 15:17; cf. Jer 34:18). Abraham received God’s promise by faith and it was counted to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6). This interaction is foundational for the NT authors’—and the Protestant church’s—doctrine of justification by faith alone (Rom 4; Gal 3; James 2).

What’s New?

Though glorious and gracious (see Rom 4; cf. Psa 32:1-2), the blessing of justification is not the end of the story. Rather, it was the beginning. In other words, with Abraham God sets out in programmatic form his plan to make a people for himself. In fact, God says, “I will be their God” (Gen 17:8; cf. Rev 21:3).

However, one problem still remained and needed to be overcome. As time went on and history repeatedly demonstrated, sin plagued God’s people and separated them from him. They were physically circumcised as a sign of belonging to God, but they needed circumcision of the heart (Deut 30:6). Whether it was Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, David, or Solomon, one thing was for sure: sin needed to be dealt with once for all, for the blood of bulls and goats could not permanently bring the forgiveness of sin (Heb 10:4). Furthermore, God’s commands only exacerbated the problem, for through the law came the knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20). But thanks be to God who used the guardianship of the law until Christ came, so that we all might be justified by faith—both Jew and Gentile (Gal 3:23-29)—and receive God’s covenant blessings. The new covenant in Christ’s blood brings these blessings (Luke 22:20).

So what is new about the new covenant? To be sure, there is similarity with the previous covenants: it involves God’s people (Jer 31:31), emphasizes obedience to God’s law (Jer 31:33), focuses on offspring (Jer 31:36)—particularly on a royal seed (Jer 33:15-26; Ezek 37:24-25; Isa 55:3)—and, in the end, it will fulfill the repeated covenant refrain: “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jer 31:33).

Despite its similarities, however, it is not like the previous (Mosaic) covenant (Jer 31:32). First, the NC will not be broken (Jer 31:32). Israel’s history is one of repeated covenant breaking, but in the NC God ensures that it will not. In fact, look at the first-person pronouns in verse 33 that emphasize God’s effectual work. In the NC Christ kept the law for those who are united to him by faith, and God counts his obedience to us. Furthermore, members of the NC are being guarded now by God’s power for their future salvation. Second, the NC will bring transformation of the heart and the permanent indwelling of the Spirit so that obedience will flow from the inside out (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:26). Rather than writing the law on stones and scrolls and exhorting the people to internalize it, God will write it on their hearts. Third, every member of the NC will be regenerate—for they shall all know the Lord (Jer 31:33-34; cf. Isa 54:13). Whereas various members under the previous covenants were taught by God and urged to know him, it was not universally the case. The NC includes only those who are taught by God and know him (John 6:45; 1 Thess 4:9; 1 John 2:20, 27). Finally, all of these new covenant blessings will come because God will provide full and final forgiveness of sin (Jer 31:34; Ezek 36:29, 33). Through the inauguration of the NC, then, God will fulfill his promises and secure his redemptive purposes for his people.

The new covenant makes clear, then, that God will finish what he started. In fact, the ultimate fulfillment of the divine promises will come through a suffering servant, an “ideal Israel.” Isaiah 42:6-7 says that the Lord will give his servant as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. Indeed, the servant will be a covenant—the means through which people will come into a covenant relationship with the Lord. This fulfillment would come through a covenant enacted on better promises because of the obedient Son who would fulfill it (Heb 8-10).

Some Implications

So what do we learn from Abraham and the new covenant? At least three things.

First, we are confronted with the necessity of faith. If we want to be made right with God, we must trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of our sins. Abraham is the progenitor of all who believe. Paul writes, “Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” (Rom 4:4-5). But how does faith come? Faith comes as a gift of God’s grace through the proclamation and reception of the word of Christ (Rom 3:24-25; 10:17). May God strengthen us, then, to be faithful in proclaiming this gloriously good news to all who need to hear and be set free by it.

Second, we learn that since all members of the NC are regenerate, then pastors and churches, to the best of their ability (though admittedly imperfectly), should diligently work to ensure through their church membership process that only those who give a credible profession of faith should become covenant members (yes, I am a baptist).

Finally, we learn that all of God’s promises, including those made to Abraham, find their yes in Christ. Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, so those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance (Heb 9:15). Indeed, all of God’s promises find their terminus in the resurrected Christ who brings to fulfillment God’s redemptive plan, which will end in nothing less than a new creation for all of his justified people—both Jew and Gentile—in Christ.

Paul and the Law: The Latest Book in Carson’s NSBT Series

This is the latest volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, edited by D. A. Carson:

Brian S. Rosner. Paul and the Law: Keeping the Commandments of God. New Studies in Biblical Theology 31. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013. 249 pp.

Here’s how Carson introduces the book in the series preface:

Anyone who follows long-standing debates over Paul and the law, over the use of the Old Testament in the New (especially in Paul), over the cogency or otherwise of various theological systems (e.g. Lutheranism, various forms of covenant theology, dispensationalism), over the origins of the common tripartite classification of biblical law (moral, civil and ceremonial), knows that Paul’s understanding of the law lurks behind many other theological debates. Add to the topics already mentioned the relationships between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles, the unity of the new humanity in Christ, Paul’s apparent flexibility when he evangelizes Jews in Jerusalem and Corinthians in Achaia, and, in historical theology, the validity or otherwise of the ‘third use’ of the law, not to mention the sheer avalanche of books and articles on these and related topics, and one readily perceives why a book on Paul and the law is likely to be of perennial interest.

So what is the distinctive contribution of the volume you are holding in your hand? Brian Rosner’s strength lies in showing with patience and clarity how the apostle Paul articulates an array of complementary but quite different stances towards the law. That these diverse stances can be integrated he does not deny, but his focus is on letting the crucial passages in Paul speak for themselves. Whether one is persuaded by each exegesis is not as important as listening attentively to the diversity of emphases within Paul’s own writings, before attempting the grand synthesis. This is a book to read slowly and appreciatively, a book to ponder.

This is the fifth volume in the series that includes this note in the front matter:

An index of Scripture references for all the volumes may be found at http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/resources/nsbt.

In the master spreadsheet, I’ve combined the Scripture indexes for all the NSBT volumes and placed an asterisk by each page number where there is a discussion rather than merely a reference or brief comment. Download it here.

The King in His Beauty: Tom Schreiner on His New Biblical Theology

In the closing chapter of the Bible, faith vanishes into sight and the “age of the ear” yields to the “age of the eye” as God’s people see his face (Rev. 22:4). Isaiah’s ancient promise—”Your eyes will behold the king in his beauty” (Isa. 33:17)—becomes concrete, glorious, endless reality.

Thomas Schreiner, who has already written a Pauline theology and a New Testament theology, has now gifted the church with a whole-Bible theology titled The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (Baker Academic). With scholarly care and pastoral clarity, Schreiner traces the storyline of Scripture through all 66 books, demonstrating that the goal of God’s kingdom is to see the king in his beauty and be enraptured in his glory.

I corresponded with Schreiner, professor of New Testament interpretation at Southern Seminary and pastor of preaching at Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, about the scriptural significance of “place,” how grasping the “already but not yet” can help you slay sin, and more.


In terms of structure, why did you opt for a book-by-book rather than a thematic approach? What are the benefits and drawbacks of going book by book?

I opted for the latter because I wanted to focus, as much as possible, on the specific content of each of the books in the Bible. A thematic approach helps us see more clearly the overarching storyline and unity of the Scriptures. On the other hand, though, a thematic approach may squeeze out or domesticate themes or emphases that don’t accord with the chosen theme. I don’t believe there is “one right way” to write a biblical theology, for the Scriptures are investigated with profit and delight from a number of different angles. So thematic and book-by-book approaches are both useful. I pursued the latter approach in an effort to attend to the warp and woof of the Scriptures while remaining constrained by the content of each book.

In the book you emphasize three interrelated themes: (1) God as Lord; (2) human beings as God’s image bearers; and (3) the place in which God’s rule is exercised. Could you elaborate on the meaning and significance of this third idea of “place”?

God didn’t create us as ethereal beings to float in some kind of spiritual netherworld. He created us as flesh-and-blood creatures to live in the world he formed and to rule that world for him. Adam and Eve as God’s vice-regents, dependent on him, were to rule the garden for his glory. They failed, of course, and the story of God reclaiming the world began (Gen. 3:15).

The story begins with baby steps and progresses at an incredibly slow pace. When God calls Abraham, he promises him universal blessing but begins by pledging the land of Canaan. But Abraham and his immediate heirs never possess the land. They live as exiles and sojourners in it (Heb. 11:13). Hundreds of years pass before Joshua conquers Canaan and the promise of the land is realized. Finally, Israel is poised to extend God’s kingdom to the world. I don’t have time to tell the whole story here, but Israel fails miserably and ends up going into exile. The promise is going backward!

Hundreds of years pass before Jesus comes, proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus now reigns at the right hand of God in heaven and ultimately the entire universe will be under his reign. We’ve seen in the last 2,000 years as well that God’s purposes ripen slowly. His timetable isn’t ours. We’re called to be patient and to trust him.

What contribution are you trying to make to biblical theology and hermeneutics with this work?

I’m not attempting to break any new ground in this book or to propound any new scholarly theory. My hope is that the book would help those who read and teach the Scriptures to gain a better understanding of the whole counsel of God.

Can you explain the basic hermeneutical approach used in this book?

I attend to the storyline of the Bible as it unfolds, trying to listen to the voice of each author. What contribution to the story is made by Leviticus, Lamentations, and Luke? But at the same time I read the story canonically. In other words, I consider the voice of the divine author as well.

Let me give a specific example. We read the Song of Solomon in its historical context, as it it unfolds the delights and joys of marital love between a man and a woman. At the same time, however, there’s canonical warrant to read the book in terms of Christ’s relationship to the church. I’m not advocating an allegorical reading of the Song of Solomon, but I am suggesting the historical context isn’t the only level at which we should read the book.

To give another example, we read what Ezekiel says about the temple (Ezek. 40-48) both in its historical context and also in light of what John tells us about the heavenly temple in Revelation (Rev. 21-22).

Why is understanding the tension of the “already but not yet” so crucial to rightly understanding the Bible? How might grasping this practically help a Christian struggling with sin?

If we don’t understand the already but not yet, then we simply won’t and can’t understand the Scriptures. For example, when the kingdom comes in Jesus’ ministry, the dead are raised, demons are cast out, and the sick are healed. Satan’s kingdom is overthrown! The Gospel writers clarify that victory over sin and Satan are due to Christ’s death and resurrection.

But what does this mean for us today if the kingdom has come? After all, sickness is rampant, death seems to reign over all, and Satan is alive and well. The answer is the already but not yet. The kingdom has arrived in Jesus and, among other things, the gift of the Spirit demonstrates that the kingdom has come. And yet there’s an eschatological proviso. Christ is risen, but we await the day of our resurrection—the final day when disease, demons, and death are no more.

How does this perspective relate to our continuing struggle with sin? The already/not yet teaches us that we won’t obtain complete and final victory over sin during this life. Perfection won’t be ours until the day of resurrection, and so we’re called during this present evil age to wage war against sin, realizing at the same time we won’t be entirely free from it. The “already” warns us against passivity: we have the gift of the Spirit and therefore must walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, march in step with the Spirit, sow to the Spirit, and be filled with the Spirit. The “not yet” reminds us we are not all that we want to or will be.

Revival in Germany Needs Biblical Theology

Imagine, if you can, a training center for young doctors whose curriculum focused entirely on studying individual parts of the human body. One day students might investigate the elbow, which would arrive hermetically sealed and sterile. Next, attention would shift to the kidney or the eyeball and so on. Over time, each part of the body would become the subject of extensive analysis, being dissected and re-dissected into ever smaller units, which would themselves then become the focus of further scholarly inquiry. Yet at no point would students ever investigate the interaction between these parts and their relationship to the body as a whole. Indeed, though the existence of the body was widely recognized as “fact,” the very idea of such an enquiry into its combined function was deemed “unscientific” by the authorities and ruled out as a suitable topic for research.

What would be the consequences of such an approach to medical education? To begin, while students might graduate with extensive knowledge about all manner of things, they would understand next to nothing about the parts they had been examining. For how can you explain what a nose is and does without reference to the face on which it sits, the central nervous system, and the brain? Worse still, they would be hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with a person as a whole. Their training would give them no way of distinguishing between a complete collection of diverse human “material”—each piece carefully dissected, labeled, and sealed in individual plastic bags—and their own living, breathing daughter. Without some understanding of the bigger picture, of how the parts fit together within the whole, their knowledge would ultimately amount to almost nothing.

The scenario is of course ludicrous in the extreme. No one in his or her right mind would ever dream of studying human biology in this way. And yet such an approach more or less describes how the Bible is being studied far too often.

Unity of Message

Biblical theology has long been championed by Sydney Anglicans in Australia and has also found wide acceptance in North America. But mainland Europe (and Germany in particular) has widely lost sight of the unity and the one central message of the Bible.

Having rejected the notion of a single divine author, many scholars, teachers, and preachers have lost sight of the theological and conceptual unity within the 66 books of the Scriptures, emphasizing instead their diversity and examining ever-smaller portions of text without regard for their wider literary context.

The consequences have been disastrous. Few today think of the Bible as a book so much as a loose collection of literary fragments that reflect multiple viewpoints and agendas without a coherent center. Even within so-called evangelical theological colleges, there seems to be little comprehension of how the whole Bible can be read as one unified book, leaving many contemporary church leaders with little clarity about what their message is or should be. As a result the evangel (gospel), which stands at the center of the Scriptures, is no longer preached in many Protestant German churches.

All of which serves to underscore Germany’s desperate need for biblical theology. In distinction to systematic theology, which represents a thematic approach, biblical theology seeks to discover the unity of the Bible amid its diversity. Taking its cue from Luke 24:27, 44-45, biblical theology seeks to understand Jesus’ claim that in some sense the Old Testament is about him and in particular his sufferings, death, and resurrection. As such, it is concerned with God’s great message of salvation in the form it actually takes in the Bible. In other words, biblical theology attempts to tell the story of God’s interaction with his world, of what he “has done and will do to bring this world to judgment and his people to salvation.”


In order to equip and strengthen church leaders in German-speaking Europe to understand and preach the life-giving gospel faithfully from all of Scripture, the German-language Gospel Coalition—Evangelium21—is putting on its third major conference. From April 4 to 6, Vaughan Roberts and Michael Lawrence will be the main speakers at the Evangelium21 conference in Hamburg, Germany. Our theme will be biblical theology.

Vaughan Roberts is rector of the Anglican St. Ebbe’s Church in Oxford, UK, and president of the Proclamation Trust, which offers conferences and resources for preachers and training up the next generation of Bible teachers. His book God’s Big Picture is a helpful introduction to biblical theology.

Michael Lawrence has been the senior pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon, since 2010 and previously served as associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. His book Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church is another helpful resource for those who seek to gain a better understanding of biblical theology. The two main speakers will be joined by some German speakers from the Evangelium21 network. You can get more information on the conference in this English brochure.

Evangelium21 has a mission to revive and strengthen churches and intends to create a network to bring like-minded people together and recommend helpful contacts and resources for one another. To this end, Evangelium21 has begun to translate and produce gospel-centered materials that emphasize the centrality of the gospel, not only for church life, but also for life in general.

Please pray that God would bear much fruit from the conferences and would use the efforts of Evangelium21 and similar national gospel networks to bring revival and fan the Reformation flame in Europe!

The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah

This is the latest volume in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series, edited by D. A. Carson:

Andrew G. SheadA Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah. New Studies in Biblical Theology 29. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012. 321 pp.

Here’s how Carson introduces the book in the series preface:

It is extraordinarily rare for a reading of a biblical book to be simultaneously creative and convincing, but Dr Andrew Shead has managed it in this work on Jeremiah. It is even more extraordinary for a book that exemplifies careful exegesis and the best of one kind of biblical theology to speak authoritatively to the discipline of systematic theology, but Dr Shead’s work manages that, too. Characterized by tight and disciplined writing and careful thought, this volume deserves careful study. You will never again read Jeremiah exactly the same way you have read it in the past. No less important, as you work carefully through the pages of this volume you will see, in Jeremiah’s doctrine of the word of God, a convincing anticipation of one who is called the Word of God—but without the artificial links that frequently characterize attempts to read Old Testament books Christologically. This is an important and stimulating book.

This is the fourth volume in the series that includes this note in the front matter:

An index of Scripture references for all the volumes may be found at http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/resources/nsbt.

In the master spreadsheet, I’ve combined the Scripture indexes for all the NSBT volumes and placed an asterisk by each page number where there is a discussion rather than merely a reference or brief comment. Download it here.

‘Kingdom through Covenant’ Authors Respond to Bock, Moo, Horton

It is both gratifying and humbling to have our work reviewed by such scholars as Darrell Bock, Michael Horton, and Douglas Moo. We thank them for their comments and time.

Key to every worldview is a larger story, and all who proclaim a Christian worldview must consider how accurately the storyline of their worldview corresponds to the storyline of the Bible. Although all Christians agree on basics, we disagree in details over how the Bible is “put together.” Central to Kingdom through Covenant (KTC) is the construction of a metanarrative that we believe corresponds to Scripture better than that propounded by either covenant theology (CT) or dispensational theology (DT). We also sought to establish a methodology to determine which metanarrative is truer to Scripture. Moo rightly notes that our book attempts “to erect the scaffolding needed to guide the reader through the story­line of the Bible” but possibly misunderstands us when he thinks we claim that “covenant” is the struc­turing element of the biblical storyline. More accurately, we claim that the progression of the covenants is the backbone of the biblical storyline and that apart from understanding how the covenants unfold and relate to each other, we will not fully grasp the “whole counsel of God.”

As humans, our minds work by using analysis and synthesis in tandem. The same is true in biblical exegesis and theological construction. We create understandings of the whole by dissecting and studying its parts, and conversely we understand the parts in the light of the whole. As we go back and forth between analysis and synthesis, we refine our understandings of both the parts and the whole.

Interestingly enough, our reviewers, particularly Bock and Horton, have proven the thesis of our work. We contend that both DT and CT, in their distinctive points, do not do adequate justice to the progression and interrelationships of the biblical covenants as they find their fulfillment in Christ. Both appeal to aspects of the Abrahamic covenant—specifically the land promise for DT and the genealogical principle and the nature of the covenant communities for CT—and argue that these points remain the same across the biblical covenants, including the new covenant. Yet we contend that this is not correct. We seek to demonstrate that, as one works through the covenants, from creation to Christ, the distinctive points of CT and DT are not as their advocates claim. Not surprisingly, Bock and Horton disagree with us, but they do so by assuming the validity of their respective systems and then rejecting our proposal without addressing the evidence we present. We illustrate this point with each reviewer in turn. Continue reading

Fertile Soil in the Global South

A few weeks ago, we announced the launch of TGC International Outreach. If you missed the news, you can read Don Carson’s announcement, and also learn about our vision for Theological Famine Relief.

This week we are initiating a new feature called Priority Projects. Several times per month we will bring to your attention a current project aimed at resourcing the global church. We will invite you to become educated on the needs, as well as to prayerfully consider partnering to reach our funding goal.

To kick it off this week we are highlighting a Portuguese relief project in partnership with Editora FIEL. It’s been a great privilege for me to work with our friends at FIEL for many years, including two trips to Brazil. God is moving mightily within the church there. Most of us probably think of Brazil as a missions-receiving nation, and this would be true. Increasingly, however, it is becoming a missions-sending country to the glory of God.

Portuguese is a particularly strategic language, more broadly used than you might expect. It is spoken on three continents in Brazil, Mozambique, Angola, Portugal, Guinea-Bissau, East Timor, Cape Verde, as well as Sao Tome & Principe. The potential kingdom effect of distributing 5,000 copies of Carson’s The God Who Is There in Portuguese is huge.

About the church in Brazil, my friend Rick Denham from FIEL writes:

Today much has been said and written about the growth of the church in the Global South. In countries like Brazil, there seems to be a new church opening on every block. While we are very happy to see this, upon a more thorough analysis, we see much of this growth as the fruit of pragmatism and fragmentation among the historical churches.

The Brazilian soil was found to be very fertile for the prosperity gospel, which so enchanted the North American church in the 70s and 80s. Their success is probably due to what a Brazilian theologian called “the catholic soul of the evangelicals of Brazil,” where instead of selling indulgences they are selling prosperity and the promise of a bright future with new cars and good jobs. The result, more often than not, is that these churches are ”a mile wide, and a foot deep.” Most pastors have little if any theological training, and their zeal to build large congregations and ministries exceeds any interest in the authentic gospel.

The good news is that God’s remnant is and has always been present in this country. More recently, the growth of the new Calvinism has been very influential in Brazil. Fueled by the internet, books, conferences, and social media, a new generation of pastors and leaders are now clinging to the old Reformed faith. We are seeing great opportunities to give to these men tools that will foster their knowledge of sound doctrine.

We need books to place in the hands of these pastors and leaders to provide them with understanding of the revelation of Scripture. Books like Carson’s The God Who Is There provide a clear explanation of Gods redemptive plan for mankind as developed through the entirety of Scripture. These books help the reader not to rush to conclusions based on one passage, but instead, rely on the Bible as a whole. Partner with  us in placing this much-needed book in the hands of pastors and leaders in the Portuguese-speaking world.

Also, please don’t miss this video which will give you the perspective of pastors from these regions of the world.

Theological Famine Relief for Portuguese-speaking Peoples from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Audio and Video for D. A. Carson’s The God Who Is There

On February 20-21 and 27-28, 2009, Don Carson presented a 14-part seminar entitled “The God Who Is There” at Bethlehem Baptist Church’s North Campus in Minneapolis. This series will serve the church well because it simultaneously evangelizes non-Christians and edifies Christians by explaining the Bible’s storyline in a non-reductionistic way.

The series is geared toward “seekers” and articulates Christianity in a way that causes hearers either to reject or embrace the gospel. It’s one thing to know the Bible’s storyline, but it’s another to know one’s role in God’s ongoing story of redemption. “The God Who Is There” engages people at the worldview-level.

And now MP3s (full) and video (10-minute previews) are available for Carson’s 14-part series:

  1. The God Who Made Everything | MP3 | Video Preview
  2. The God Who Does Not Wipe Out Rebels | MP3 | Video Preview
  3. The God Who Writes His Own Agreements | MP3 | Video Preview
  4. The God Who Legislates | MP3 | Video Preview
  5. The God Who Reigns | MP3 | Video Preview
  6. The God Who Is Unfathomably Wise | MP3 | Video Preview
  7. The God Who Becomes a Human Being | MP3 | Video Preview
  8. The God Who Grants New Birth | MP3 | Video Preview
  9. The God Who Loves | MP3 | Video Preview
  10. The God Who Dies—and Lives Again | MP3 | Video Preview
  11. The God Who Declares the Guilty Just | MP3 | Video Preview
  12. The God Who Gathers and Transforms His People | MP3 | Video Preview
  13. The God Who Is Very Angry | MP3 | Video Preview
  14. The God Who Triumphs | MP3 | Video Preview

These talks correspond to the following book and leader’s guide:

D. A. Carson. The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.

D. A. Carson. The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story: Leader’s Guide. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010.

The DVDs are currently in production, but ten-minute video previews to each of the fourteen sessions are available on Vimeo. Here’s the opening session: