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Feb

09

2011

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church

Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, by Michael Lawrence is a book I picked up with two motives: (1) to understand what the 9Marks people meant by "Biblical Theology" as the second mark of a healthy church, (2) a growing interest in Biblical Theology (in the technical sense) and thus a corollary interest in how this discipline can practically applied to the life of the church.

(The first point is still a little unclear. They seem to go back and forth between "theology that is biblical", and "biblical theology.")

The Main Point

I think his main point boils down to this: The Bible is not just an answer book, it is also a story of what God has done and is doing, albeit a normative and authoritative one.  

This changes how we approach the Bible. The result of this is that get not not simply information from the Bible, but a perspective. We should not just look for the raw data after all the dust has settled (i.e. systematic theology), but should also be sensitive to how the story is told and developed (i.e. biblical theology). The bottom-line of theology is not all that matters.

Lawrence writes:

What the Bible does, really, is not just give us God’s viewpoint; it allows us to walk with God through the course of human history. That way we can come to believe and trust the words, the viewpoint, and the heart of this One who is leading history. (116)

That was probably my main takeaway from the book. 

Tools of the Trade

As far as contents of the book, it breaks up into three parts, the first part entailing the "tools of the trade". Here he introduces topics like the covenants, epochs (e.g. dispensations), prophecy, typology, etc. He explains what these are, and how these concepts help us understand the storyline of the Bible as a whole. He is trying to provide tools to draw the trajectory from the OT into the NT. 

This is a large driving point for biblical theology for Lawrence: to have a Christian understanding of the whole Bible, i.e. of the Old Testament and not just the New. He wants to see preachers linking up Old Testament passages to the big biblical picture rather than taking them in isolation. 

The tools of biblical theology give your whole Bible back to you--from Genesis to Revelation--as a powerful source for profoundly Christian preaching and teaching. (82; cf. also pg. 197)

Here is where I found the most substantial disagreement with Lawrence. Part of my disagreement is his emphasis on the revelatory nature of the events themselves, rather than the text in Scripture that explains them (e.g. page 27). Beyond that, his explanation of multiple fulfillments and typology left me neither convinced nor comfortable.

For example, he says, "Types literally stitch the Bible together as a single narrative." (76) I do not think this statement is true. (The irony is that types are not "literal" things, but are concerned with events!) I think the unity of God's plan from beginning to end--which we learn from texts, not from events which we think point forward to and find meaning in future events--stitches the Bible together into a single narrative. 

As a result of this, he suggests that to make proper personal application from the OT, we must first transition to the NT type, and make the application from there. Basically, this ends up saying we can only properly understand the OT through the eyes of the NT. This effectively strips the OT of any ability to say anything independently--which doesn't make sense since it came first! 

Five stories to tell + Case studies

Following are five chapters walking through the story of the Bible from beginning to end five times from five perspectives. This section helps you see where the rubber meets the road, how he draws out biblical-theological themes and then takes those and systematizes them. This section was encouraging as well as an effective way of applying his theory.

I thought sometimes, however, that the biblical-theological connections made were rather vague. There is no way to "prove" it, other than to say, "it's a type", or "it's a fulfillment." For example, connecting Babel to Pentecost (pg. 208). It is atextual and vague. What do you make of such a connection? This leaves me rather wary of this approach to theology with so much focus on types and multiple fulfullments.

Finally the last two chapters of case studies and getting more practical to different arenas of pastoral work where biblical theology applies were helpful and finished the book of well.

All in all, I would recommend the book for a helpful and insightful perspective on biblical theology as it relates to preaching and pastoral ministry, but don't expect to agree with everything. While I disagree with Lawrence on how to see the connection between the OT and the NT, I plan to use the tools he's given me to take my understanding of the Bible's storyline and apply it to preaching and to ministry, for which I am very grateful.

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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)

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