I’ve been wrestling with the concept of biblical theology for the past couple of months. Truth is, I was wholly unfamiliar with the term until this past summer. I had the opportunity to be a part of Koinonia’s Blog Tour of A Theology of Luke and Acts, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This prompted me to do some further investigation, and I stumbled upon Andreas Kostenberger’s A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters. At first, I thought the term was perhaps descriptive of something within systematic theology. Of course, I turned out to be quite wrong. There is an interesting discussion going on surround biblical theology and systematic theology, so this is my little foray into the arena.
First, I want to summarize the two items as simply as I know how. Biblical Theology (BT) is a method of understanding Scripture that relies on the text themselves, either from an historical perspective of a theological one. There is a range of nuance between the two (and enough disagreements to match), but that’s the basic idea (a decent article can be found here, although it doesn’t deal with all the areas of BT). Whereas Systematic Theology (ST) uses logic and reason to develop doctrines taught in the Scriptures (sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly). There is a whole host of different approaches to ST theology out there, and I doubt I have the mental fortitude to really take on such a subject (but here’s another short article worth reading).
There is an excellent primer on the subject of BT by Edward Klink and Darian Lockett. Understanding Biblical Theology is an indispensable resource regarding this matter.
What is interesting to me is the divide that seems apparent here. There is Biblical Theology and Systematic Theology, and never the two shall meet. Well, not really, because many scholars argue a good BT will lead to solid ST (in fact, D.A. Carson has a whole formula for it). I want to muse a bit about this separation. It had never dawned on me, until very recently, that one could really do ST without engaging in exegesis of the text and/or historical study but people do in fact do so frequently. For instance, Matthew 22:15-22 is a nice story in and of itself, full of theological riches to be mined. Someone with no seminary training, but armed with the Holy Spirit, can easily draw solid biblical principles out of the text. However, they would be limited in their scope of study. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is true. Knowing about the culture of Rome and Judea at the time can offer more insights, and thorough word studies can shed even more light upon the murky subject of taxpaying and empires. None of these approaches would be wrong alone, but adding them together does (I believe) make for a robust knowledge of God and His Word.
So where does BT fit into all this? Well, if Klink and Lockett’s scale is right, then Biblical Theology can in fact be the way of making sure these often separate methods are used in conjunction with one another.
While I tend to land pretty squarely within the History of Redemption method of BT, I am more and more convinced that N.T. Wright’s Worldview-Story might be a better option. In a nutshell, this methodology says knowing the worldview of the Biblical authors is paramount. As someone who started college studying literary theory, I totally get this. But I never thought of applying to the Bible. If there is anything that the current trend in apologetics has shown us it is this: the worldview of the individual matters. Why wouldn’t that be the case of the inspired authors as well? This isn’t to say that their worldview changed God’s message, but rather this method says that in spite of their worldview (or perhaps because of their worldview), God still spoke through them. It’s a fascinating discussion, and one I’m looking forward to engaging with further.