September 5, 2010

Biblical Theology Resources for Pastors

Many pastors may be curious about this fairly new thing they've heard of known as 'biblical theology.'  What is it all about?  Well, the answer will vary depending on whether you are in an academic setting or a church setting.  But the main thing you should know is this: biblical theology aims to read the Bible as a whole.  The discipline looks for the overarching narrative of scripture, especially as it points to Christ. 

This is a significant move from what many pastors have been taught in seminary.  For a long time, seminary students have not been taught to read the Old Testament as Christian scripture.  That is, we have not necessarily been taught to consider how the Old Testament points to Christ.  Fortunately, a good bit of work is being done in this area, and much of it is quite accessible.  Let me recommend two books for getting started.  If these whet your appetite, their bibliographies will point you to more resources. 

God's Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts is a good place to start.  It is not laden with technical terms and provides a very accessible introduction to biblical theology.  Roberts organizes the book around the concept of the kingdom, which he takes to be "God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing" (21).  The theme of the kingdom is traced from Genesis to Revelation to show how it develops through scripture.  If you're new to biblical theology, start with this book.  It will give you a good picture of what you're going for.

If the Roberts book is a good example of biblical theology, then Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry is a good introduction to methodological issues relating to biblical theology.  This book by Michael Lawrence will introduce you to the tools that you will need on your belt in order to actually do biblical theology in ministry in general and in sermons in particular.  The particular strength of this book is how much Lawrence applies biblical theology to practical ministry situations.  From missions to counseling, biblical theology is, according to Lawrence, the pastor's most important tool.

These two resources will give you a good introduction to the importance of biblical theology for ministry.  Together they will provide content and method for this all-important discipline.  Enjoy!

6 comments:

ἐκκλησία said...

You wrote “For a long time, seminary students have not been taught to read the Old Testament as Christian scripture”. This suggests another line of reasoning we shouldn't ignore. Follow this line of reasoning for a second Matt.

What does it mean; to read the Old Testament as Christian scripture, and why should we do this? What will we see reflected in the Old Testament that we don't already see as Christian scripture? That's like saying, what will we see in a broken mirror we don't already see in a perfect one? This is backwards.

Some ambiguity can be removed by adopting a slightly modified terminology. Tertullian preferred the word “testamentum” as a latin representation of the greek word διαθήκη diathēkē (G1242). However, we don't have to accept this English translation of a Latin translation of the Greek. Instead lets choose a more direct English translation that perfectly reflects the Greek.

Lets replace “testament” with “covenant”. Your comment would now read as follows “For a long time, seminary students have not been taught to read the old covenant as Christian scripture”. Assuming by “Christian” you mean “new covenant”, we could also say “For a long time, seminary students have not been taught to read the old covenant as new covenant scripture”. We could likely go further saying “Seminary students have NEVER been taught to read the old covenant as new covenant scripture”; which is true.

But, if the old covenant is a shadow of the new covenant, shouldn’t both fundamentally reflect one unchanging eternal image, even if the old covenant's refection is less perfect? Yet your comment suggests we look for the unblemished image in the blemished one.

Now consider a broken mirror beside a perfect mirror; is it possible to see something in a broken mirror that cannot be seen in the perfect one? Both reflect the same eternal purpose. Shouldn't it also be impossible to see something in the old covenant that cannot also be seen in the new? Therefore it is also true to say that “Seminary students have NEVER been taught to see in new covenant scripture, a perfected old covenant”. Actually, ecclesiastical orthodoxy says that, but it's really only paying lip-service since it continues to treat the two as separate, each unique with their own theology. This suggests that if we see something in the old covenant we had better look for it in the new covenant to see it more perfectly AND WE HAD BETTER FIND IT.

In fact, there ARE many things in the old covenant, we don't see in the new covenant. Christian orthodoxy proposes theology that ignores the elements it feels uncomfortable with, yet ARE clearly illustrated in the old covenant. Some images in the imperfect mirror do not appear to be reflected in the perfect one, which makes you wonder how Biblically faithful ecclesiastical orthodoxy is (assuming it is merely a shadow of true Biblical orthodoxy).

Therefore, rather than saying something like “Seminary students have NEVER been taught to read the old covenant as new covenant scripture” we should instead ponder why “Seminary students are not being taught to seek evidence in new covenant scripture that the old covenant is now perfect and still in effect (since God's word stands forever and it is possible for an imperfect thing to give way to its perfect counterpart)”.

Having two mirrors, one broken, one not, ultimately means there is really only one reality, one eternal purpose, one common theology, and only one covenant albeit in two stages of completion; that is why we have only one Bible. We pray to have our eyes opened, and our ears unstopped, but is anyone really ready for that, given that it likely threatens the orthodoxy we've built up and treasure?

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks for your thoughtful coment. I think you have read more into my statement than I originally intended. I wasn't really looking to make an argument about the relationship of the covenants. My sentence about seminary students was intended to mean something like, "students are not generally taught to look for how the pre-Christ scriptures point to Christ." Standard procedure is usually to read the pre-Christ scriptures without considering how they point forward to Jesus. That's all I was really getting at. I don't think your rewording of the sentence is faithful to what I originally meant.

ἐκκλησία said...

Matt your point was clear, and correct, that generally students are not taught to look for how the pre-Christ scriptures point to Christ.

To which was added the comment that generally Christian orthodoxy makes no effort to see the same vision in the new covenant (perfect mirror) that it sees in the old (broken mirror), which raises questions about the orthodoxy itself.

If you are going to note the trend that generally students are not taught to look in the 'broken mirror' for what is reflected in the perfect one, it is likewise fair to point out that in fact students are also not taught to look in the perfect mirror for what is reflected in the broken one, since whatever appears there must absolutely appear in both. The converse is not necessarily true, since the perfect mirror is a 'better' revelation than the broken mirror and thus will reflect more.

If there is fault here, it is orthodoxy itself and not your observation.

Matt O'Reilly said...

Thanks for clarifying.

ἐκκλησία said...

Matt, what do you say to the assertion that orthodoxy ignores the old covenant to answer its theological questions? (Which is the same as saying it ignores that which is reflected in the broken mirror?)

Matt O'Reilly said...

Well, we're getting a quite a bit beyond the scope of the original post, which was to point pastors to some helpful resources on biblical theology, but I'm not sure I agree with the assertion that orthodoxy ignores teh old covenant. It depends on what you mean by "orthodoxy". I generally understand orthodoxy to refer to the historic creedal statements which provide a helpful summary of biblical revelation. Those creedal statements affirm that the words spoken through the prophets point forward to the revelation of God in Christ and the Spirit (e.g. Nicene Creed). Irenaeus' Apostolic Preaching also relies heavily on the old covenant as pointing forward to and being realized in the new.

If by orthodoxy you are referring to current popular evangelical American Christianity, then I agree that little emphasis is placed on reading the new as the fulfillment of the old.