Theology isn’t always Biblical?

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.


Scattered Shots

There’s been a lot of things rolling around in the ol’ noggin here lately. Stuff about Genesis, like this discussion here. Or the huge blindspots I feel exist in the potiical climate this year, like these things for example. But ultimately, what really got me thinking was a discussion my wife and I had.

I’m working through this book, so that I can have an intelligent discussion about it with a recent high school graduate. And it made a point that my wife and I thought worth contemplating: is the Cross the foundation for our faith?

It’s a trick question mind you, because the Cross is only one part of the foundation of our faith. After all, the Cross without the Empty Tomb is still death. But we discussed it for some time and I pondered whether or not I would seem odd for such a thought amongst my friends and co-workers.

And all of this reminded me of a video I saw recently. It’s worth two minutes of your time:

I totally get what Chan is saying, or at least I think I do. Gathering together matters, not only because it keeps us on mission, but quite frankly it keeps us from heresy too. Christ is clear, “For when two or three gather together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” However, just because something is good, doesn’t mean it is the point.

There are so many days as of late where I wish I could throw everything to the wind and love mercy, doing justice in the process, all while walking humbly before my God. And I am convinced that along the way I would encounter, just like Elijah of old, all the others who have heard the Lord’s calling to the hard things and stepped up.

I want to be on the front lines of IJM or Living Water. I want to get my hands dirty, and rub shoulders with the people God loves, and who love Him, through the process.

But right now, the hard things boil down to being a light where I’m at; to being a good husband, and a gracious dad. Sometimes, I need to be reminded of that. Still, I look for those souls who enkindle the same spark in me that I hope I spark in others: seek God, and obey Him.

Who keeps a dead horse?

I know we shouldn’t beat a dead horse, but what do we do when something is still very much alive and bears repeating? Is that the equivalent of beating a living horse? I hope not. That would make me feel awful.

Regardless, I want to bring up something I’ve mentioned before: God’s kingdom. Working at a inter-denominational Christian school, I hear all kinds of ideas. And being in my position, as a Church History and American Literature teacher, I try not to force my own ideas on the students. Sometimes, its unavoidable (and I realize a million other teachers just went, “shame on you!”). But it’s true. No one is a blank slate, but some people are definitely like silly putty. They take a shallow impression of whatever someone gives them (thoughts, words, talents, etc.) and it only sticks until the next thing.

With all that being said, I avoid talking about God’s kingdom, as I understand it. Which is hard when studying the first four centuries of Christianity since they were so resurrection minded. But still, somehow I made it through without trying to create mini-Hadleys. I imagine that was by the grace of God, since I’ve never been known to hold my tongue on something I feel strongly about.

I bring it up because, in some ways, I feel like my students are the less for it. If only they could see God’s kingdom the way I have come to see it. After all, I had to have someone show me another way of looking at it. Don’t they need the same thing?

N.T. Wright explains it like this:

The widespread assumption today that ‘the kingdom of God’ denotes another realm altogether, for instance that of the ‘heaven’ to which God’s people might hope to go after their death, was not on the first-century agenda. When Jesus spoke about God’s kingdom, and taught his followers to pray that it would arrive ‘on earth as in heaven’, he was right in the middle of first-century Jewish theocratic aspirations.

I’ll write some other time on why I think we need to get back to a true theocracy. But for now, I want to think about the heart of this idea: what Jesus taught.

If Jesus taught His people to be something different, shouldn’t we do the same? If God called His people to be the kind of folk who care about justice, mercy and humility, shouldn’t we be that way?

I know lots of people who do in fact sound like this. Some of them are Democrats, and some are Republicans. Some are Federalists, and some are Socialists. But somehow, they all serve Jesus. My students miss this often. They can’t see how someone who doesn’t value their politics can still be a Christian. And not too long ago, I thought the same way.

More and more I am convinced that it is not so much our ideologies that stand in the way, but rather our refusal to consider what God’s purposes might be. What if you don’t go to heaven? Would that cause you to abandon Jesus? What if you die, and then you just “sleep” until Jesus comes back? Are you going to stop living for Him if you don’t get your pie in the sky?

This is what I want my students to think about: do I live a certain way because I think a certain thing? And I think it’s a question we should all ask ourselves.

So I might be repetitive. But I never beat a dead horse. In reality, I’m always trying to point people to a risen Jesus.

What is the goal?

I’m taking this discipleship class through Liberty University, and so far greatly disliking it. That comes as a surprise to me because I desire to know more about being a disciple of Jesus and how to teach others to be His disciples as well. Every time I think about Jesus’ new command, that we “love one another,” I am moved more to know this Ruler of God’s Kingdom. Surely, in Him is life.

Part of my discontent is a disagreement of purpose. It can summarized in simple terms: there are those who think disciples are a select few of Jesus’ followers, and I am not one of them. I can’t really distinguish discipleship from knowing Jesus, which in mind means all Christians are called to discipleship. Not just the ones who have time. Not just the ones who are eager. Everyone. I think the Great Commission is clear about that (and there are other places that I think support this, but for brevity sake I’ll just say I write about this more here).

This disagreement leads into the next one: the ultimate goal of life. How do we define the goal of life? I think most Christians define it in one of two ways:

Method A (Conservative Theology)

1. The goal is the final bliss of heaven, away from this life of space, time, and matter.
2. This goal is achieved for us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, which we cling to by faith.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the disembodied, “eternal” state through the practice of a detached spirituality and the avoidance of “worldly” contamination.

If you read that and say, “that’s not how I think at all,” then you probably fall into the second one:

Method B (Liberal Theology)

1. The goal is to establish God’s kingdom on earth by our own hard work.
2. This goal is demonstrated by Jesus in his public career, starting off the process and showing us how to do it.
3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating the final kingdom-on-earth by working and campaigning for justice, peace, and the alleviation of poverty and distress.

Whether you actively think about these kinds of things, the chances are that one of the two methods of discerning the goal of human life influences how you live day in and day out. Examine how you interact with people, how you use your money, what you think when you see corruption and brokenness in real life. Somewhere in that, what you believe is betrayed in your response.

Both of these ideas have good points, but neither of them are complete. People smarter than I have written about this in great detail (and even provided the presented format above). What I am becoming more and more convinced of is that there is another method of how to live.

What if the goal of this life was to be something greater? Not something heroic, but rather something subservient? What if we could see in the Bible a description of what our role was always supposed to be? And what if that role was made possible again through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? I think, if this other method were true, then how we live is vitally important. And our responsibility to other Christians is not to provide fire insurance or propose an easier path, but rather to teach Christ’s commands, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pick our crosses daily and follow Him.

This isn’t something new. And many churches around this world would say they partake in this very thing.

To this, I have two questions:

1. If this is how churches really act in this present age, what will Jesus say about the manner in which we sow the seeds of His Gospel? Will we be the good and faithful servants? Or will our weaknesses and self-seeking purposes be exposed?

And, 2. what would the world look like if every Christian was truly a disciple of Jesus Christ? Such a world would be a wondrous place indeed.

Lord, I am not of strong character. And yet, You have promised me a hope that does not disappoint, a character that is more like Yours. Mold me into the image of God that I was always intended to be. Season my words with grace, that those words may be holy and belong to You. Teach me your ways, that I may forgive as You have forgiven me, that I may sacrifice as You sacrificed for me, and that I may love as You have loved me. Your mind is far above, and Your heart knows no limits. Bring Your justice to this world, Lord, be it through us, or be it not. And in all things, may we give You glory. Amen.

Evolving Faith

Earlier, I was ranting about my general disagreement with the perspective held by most Christians that salvation is summed up in terms of going to heaven or hell.

“So what do you think salvation is about?”

Well, more than heaven and hell.

In truth, the position that the whole point of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection was about saving my eternal soul from an everlasting time experiencing pain and torment has never seemed complete to me. I’ve never understood how a person could read John’s Gospel and come away thinking that Jesus was only about heaven. Eternal life is knowing Jesus. He came to give life more abundantly. These things aren’t some future promise about eternity. They’re for the here and now. I’m learning that the rest of the New Testament speaks in the same way, but more on that later.

My problem always was that I didn’t know what it meant. What is life more abundant? What does it mean to know Jesus? How do these things effect us now?

In my frustration, I kind of abandoned the argument, and decided to let things be. If I didn’t have an alternative, I didn’t see any point in saying anything. I mean, going to heaven is important. And bringing the Gospel to people is crucial. So why object?

Object isn’t the right word anymore, though. Now, what I do is beg for completion of the message. I ask that Christians think about what the Bible teaches.

I’m glad I gave up trying to argue with evangelism. I was wrong in that idea. Since I felt the “heaven vs. hell” doctrine was incomplete, I was trying to throw out the whole thing (although I didn’t realize that until later). I’m glad that I didn’t think that Jesus’ work stopped in heaven, but instead I still seek to fully understand what it means to have life more abundantly.

Because I’m not alone in thinking there is something more to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And others have done a good job of explaining what that means (I was pointed to this work by a pastor whom I respect greatly).

The essence of salvation is this: God did not save you to take you out of this world. His purpose is redeeming His good creation (which has been corrupted by sin), and He saved you so that you can be a participant in that. Yes, you will go to heaven when you die. But Jesus is coming back. And He is going to bring you back with Him. Thus, when His reign is visibly established on this earth (His reign has already begun, but few believe that), all that Christians did to reflect God’s kingdom in this life will be a part of God’s New Heaven and Earth (which will be one place, rather than two). This is why Paul encourages the Corinthian church:

…be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.

He isn’t encouraging these Christians to be good so that they will go to heaven. He is reminding them that their work here matters, because the God of heaven rescued them from sin and death, giving them new life through His Son, Jesus Christ.

We’re called to that life now.

Maybe you disagree with this. Perhaps you think I’m abandoning conservatism, supporting liberal ideas, or whatever. The truth is, I just think what we do matters. Politics. The environment. Education. Feeding the hungry. Helping the poor. We act like these things are divorced from Christian life because they’re tied to government or liberal organizations or whoever else we don’t like. And the excuse for much of that separation is because preachers tell their flock that what matters most is going to heaven. But true religion isn’t spending eternity in heaven with the angels. Its something we do here. Now. This very moment.

So I ask, what has your salvation done? Has the Grace of God in your life helped this world? Or has it simply given you a ticket to the afterlife?