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Interviewed by Andy Naselli

Michael Lawrence (PhD, University of Cambridge) was a pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church from 2002 to 2010, and starting this very week, he serves as pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. He recently wrote this book:

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry (IX Marks; Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).

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1. Define biblical theology and systematic theology.

In the book, I use the term biblical theology to refer to both "theology that's biblical" (i.e., systematic theology) and "biblical theology" in its proper sense.

In the simplest terms, biblical theology puts the narrative of Scripture together as a single, coherent story that begins just before the beginning of time and ends just after the end of history. It looks at the big picture and asks how all the parts fit together to form the whole.

Systematic theology answers the question, "What does the whole of Scripture say about any given topic?" It's not trying to tell a story, but to summarize and apply Scripture's teaching to any and every area of life.

2. How would you summarize your book’s argument in one sentence?

With biblical theology, we have in Scripture everything we need for effective ministry in the church; without it, vast sections of Scripture are nothing more than moral tales at best and irrelevant history at worst.

3. How would you summarize your book’s argument in one paragraph?

I'm convinced that the Bible, taught faithfully and applied by the Holy Spirit, is sufficient for all of Christian life and ministry. Too often though, pastors and church leaders approach the OT as not much more than a collection of moral examples and the NT as the story of Jesus and how we get saved. But the Bible is so much more than life's little "answer book" and the world's first evangelistic tract. It's the story of everything; it’s the revelation of God's grand design to glorify himself through the history of salvation. This means Scripture isn't a story we turn to in order to answer our questions, but a story we're in that explains us to ourselves and teaches us the questions we should be asking and the answers we need. My design in this book is to give everyone the tools they need to do biblical theology well and to put that theology to work in ministry and life.

4. You write, “I think it’s fair to say that everything in the life and ministry of the local church is affected by a proper use of biblical theology” (p. 199). How?

Biblical theology places us inside the storyline of Scripture. So good biblical theology is almost always the difference between misapplying and faithfully applying Scripture. For example, should the unemployed, barren, or disabled in your church consider themselves cursed by God, while the rich, fruitful, and strong in your church consider themselves favored? Does God-honoring worship require the use of cymbals and tambourines? Should we baptize infants, and if so, whose? Should the church seek political power and a role in civil law-making? I could go on. The answers to all of these questions, and countless more, aren't found by simply collecting and comparing all the references in the Bible to childlessness, cymbals, or laws. They're found by understanding the whole storyline of Scripture and where the Christian and the local church fit into it.

5. If biblical theology is so useful for pastoring, teaching, and living a faithful Christian life, how useful is systematic theology in comparison?

Systematic theology is indispensable to faithful Christian living and ministry in the church. If biblical theology orients us to the Scriptures so that we know how to apply the different parts of Scripture to our lives, systematic theology is where we actually make the specific application.

So, for example, biblical theology teaches me that the old covenant promises of physical prosperity are fulfilled in Christ and point to a prosperity far greater than anything this world can ever offer. But it's systematic theology that summarizes God's attitude toward money and how I should steward it in this life. I need both theologies if I'm going to live faithfully and help others live faithfully in this world.

6. How does your book differ from New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (ed. T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner; Downers Grove: IVP, 2000) ?

To begin with, my book is shorter, cheaper, and not nearly as learned. The NDBT is a fantastic resource and worth the price for the introductory articles alone, especially Don Carson's article relating biblical and systematic theology to each other [updated format]. It's a reference book full of helpful definitions, explanations, and explorations of various themes inside biblical theology. My book is more of a "how-to" manual. It doesn't try to lay out an entire biblical theology, but rather give you the tools to do biblical theology yourself and then show you how to apply that theology in preaching, counseling, missions, and general ministry within the church.

7. What other writing projects are you currently working on?

I'm currently working on a little book on servanthood, specifically being a #2 in a world full of #1s. It really comes out of my experience of being Mark Dever's associate pastor for the last 8 ½ years, though I hope it will be encouraging to a wider audience than just associate pastors. I'm also beginning to scope out a book for 9Marks on the topic of conversion and the local church.

Thanks, Michael, for serving the readers of Justin Taylor’s blog with this interview! A word of encouragement: A “ministry trajectory” group of younger guys at my church has been studying your book together, and our lead pastor, Andrew Franseen, recently told me, “It is proving a very useful resource, both for preparing more biblically faithful sermons, but also in answering with biblical faithfulness the difficult and subtle ministerial challenges. This last part is what makes Dr. Lawrence’s book really stand out.” He also thinks you should write a sequel: Biblical Theology in the Life of the Christian: A Guide for Christian Living.

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Michael’s book ends with an annotated bibliography that recommends books corresponding to each chapter (pp. 219-20). Here’s what he recommends:

Introduction. The Text to Be Examined

  • Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.
  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. The Goldsworthy Trilogy. Exeter: Paternoster, 2000.
  • Roberts, Vaughan. God's Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP, 2002.
  • Dempster, Stephen G. Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible. New Studies in Biblical Theology 15. Downers Grove: IVP, 2003.

Chapter 1. Exegetical Tools: Grammatical-Historical Method

  • Beynon, Nigel, and Andrew Sach. Dig Deeper: Tools for Understanding God's Word. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
  • Carson, D. A. Exegetical Fallacies. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996.
  • Fee, Gordon D., and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003.

Chapter 2. Biblical Theology Tools 1: Covenants, Epochs, and Canon

  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible. Downers Grove: IVP, 1991.
  • Robertson, O. Palmer. The Christ of the Covenants. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980.

Chapter 3. Biblical Theology Tools 2: Prophecy, Typology, and Continuity

  • Baker, David L. Two Testaments, One Bible: The Theological Relationship between the Old and New Testaments. 3rd ed. Downers Grove: IVP, 2010.
  • Clowney, Edmund P. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1988.

Chapter 4. Biblical and Systematic Theology: Do We Really Need Both?

  • Lints, Richard. The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
  • Wells, David F. The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Chapter 5. Systematic Theology Tools: How and Why to Think Theologically

  • Frame, John M. Salvation Belongs to the Lord: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2006.
  • Lints, Richard. The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.

Chapters 6-10. The Story of Creation, Fall, Love, Sacrifice, and Promise

  • Beale, G. K. The Temple and the Church's Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God. New Studies in Biblical Theology 17. Downers Grove: IVP, 2004.
  • Hamilton, James M., Jr. God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2010.
  • Roberts, Vaughan. Life's Big Questions: Six Major Themes Traced through the Bible. Leicester: IVP, 2004.

Chapter 11. Preaching and Teaching (Case Studies)

  • Clowney, Edmund P. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1988.
  • Goldsworthy, Graeme. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Chapter 12. Biblical Theology and the Local Church

  • Powlison, David. Seeing with New Eyes: Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture. Resources for Changing Lives. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 2003.
  • Bavinck, J. H. An Introduction to the Science of Missions. Translated by David H. Freeman. Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1960.

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Comments:


8 thoughts on “Interview with Michael Lawrence on Biblical Theology and the Church”

  1. Bruce Russell says:

    The “end of history” … when things REALLY get started!

  2. Steve says:

    The 9Marks interview is excellent. Highly recommended for those who want clarfication between ST and BT.

  3. Brad says:

    I still don’t understand why theologians feel the need to separate biblical and systematic theology. Why not advocate that we should approach the Bible as a grand story while recognizing that it answers the deepest questions of life and about who God is along way?

    1. Brad: It’s a reasonable question, one that I try to answer in the chapters on systematic theology Your summary is good, but the tools and methods of each discipline are different. I think we need both BT & ST, and we need them to talk to each other more than they have in the past.

      1. Bruce Russell says:

        Michael:

        Is this Biblical or Systematic: Jesus Christ was visible in the Old Testament, yet encrypted into its types and shadows. The Gospel unveils Jesus as he was encrypted in the Old Testament. The Epistles of the New Testament explain this unveiling.

        Bruce

        1. For the most part I’d say that paragraph is using the terminology and perspective of Biblical Theology. It’s describing the pattern and development of the revelation of Jesus Christ, and how the parts fit together across the flow of the canon.

  4. Bruce Russell says:

    Brad: I think for many people Systematic Theology provides answers too quickly…before people have a chance to absorb the impact of the Grand Biblical story.

  5. Lisa S. says:

    Loved this book. Helped me so much. Highly recommend it!

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Andy Naselli (PhD in Theology, Bob Jones University; PhD in New Testament exegesis and theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College and Seminary, research manager for D. A. Carson, and administrator of Themelios. His family belongs to Bethlehem Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter.