February 18, 2010

Biblical Theology and the Local Church

I'm reading Graeme Goldsworthy's Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans 2000), which is worth quoting at length.  He writes:
"Jesus didn't invent biblical theology.  He showed himself to be real subject of the biblical theology that had been developing ever since human beings first received revelation from God.  He thus established biblical theology as the key to understanding the Scriptures, for he is the salvation-historical event that gives significance to all others.  While the Old Testament is everywhere eloquent in describing the sovereignty of God in history to work out his purposes, Jesus declares that he is the goal of that sovereign working of God."

"In light of this it is nothing short of astonishing, in fact appalling, that evangelical biblical theology is so little appreciated by evangelical preachers.  The front line of adult Christian education in churches ought to be a comprehensive course in biblical theology.  This is not likely to happen while our theological seminaries do not make Biblical Theology a key required course in any diploma or degree curriculum.  The idea that evangelical pastors can be sent to have ministerial oversight of the congregations without first having a solid grounding in biblical theology is one of the scandals of our time.  Show me a church without a good appreciation of the Old Testament and biblical theology and I'll show you a church with a weak understanding of the gospel" (52, emphasis added).
At least two items are worth brief comment:

1. I agree that it is vitally important to have a strong biblical theology at the heart of local church ministry.  I also agree with Goldsworthy's implication that most churches do not generally have a strong biblical theology at the heart of their ministry.  Gaining ground in this area will be difficult and will require both pastors and congregations to be patiently willing to work hard and study the scriptures to gain a greater understanding of God's work in salvation-history, which, of course, is worthy of diligent study.  Like all hard work, this will not come easily.  But it must come.

2. I also agree that seminaries ought to have required courses in biblical theology.  This would likely entail doing away with some of the so-called "practical" courses that students are presently required to take in order for seminaries to maintain the approval of the Association of Theological Schools.  This also raises the further question as to whether seminaries ought to be responsible for the theological education of the clergy.  In the New Testament, ministerial training took place within the context of local ministry.  This takes us back to the first point, though.  If local pastors and local churches had a stronger empasis on biblical theology, they would be better equipped to provide pastoral training and education.

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