What is Biblical Theology?

Such a question at first might seem obvious – theology derived from, or based on, the Bible. But unfortunately it’s not that simple, because the term “Biblical Theology” has come to take on a specialized meaning. Perhaps the best way to explain what is meant by biblical theology is to define it along with other “types” of theology:

Systematic Theology – the attempt to organize the teaching of the Bible under various headings such as theology proper (what the Bible teaches about God and his character), anthropology (what the Bible teaches about human beings), soteriology (what the Bible teaches about salvation), Christology (what the Bible teaches about Christ), etc. Examples of this approach would include: The Institutes by John Calvin; Systematic Theology (3 vols.) by Charles Hodge; Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem. In the past this was sometimes also referred to as Dogmatic Theology.

Historical Theology – the attempt to trace the development of specific doctrines (e.g., the Trinity) throughout the history of the church. Attention is paid to heretical views that forced the church to sharpen and refine her formulation of doctrine. An example of this approach would be Historical Theology (2 vols.) by William Cunningham.

Pastoral Theology – the attempt to relate Christian doctrine to specific life situations in the church (e.g., sickness, suffering, interaction with the culture). Attention is paid to how Christian doctrine is to be lived out within the church and the culture.

Biblical Theology – the attempt “to explore the unity of the Bible, delving into the contents of the books, showing the links between them, and pointing up the ongoing flow of the revelatory and redemptive process that reached its climax in Jesus Christ” (J.I. Packer, “Foreword” in The Unfolding Mystery by Edmund Clowney, p. 8). Attention is paid to the “storyline” of Scripture and prominent themes across the Bible usually with an attempt to relate them to gospel and/or Christ.

While I certainly believe all of these approaches are important, it is my conviction that biblical theology provides the basis for systematic, historical, and pastoral theology. So on this blog the focus will be on biblical theology, but given the interlocking nature of biblical theology with the other disciplines we will often delve into these other areas as well.

3 thoughts on “What is Biblical Theology?”

  1. What kind of basis? Logically, Systematic is prior given that the system was prior to creation. Biblical Theology did not exist until the revelatory acts. Systematic has always existed.

  2. It may not be fair to say that “Systematic is prior given that the system was prior to creation” since the word God was going to deliver was also already planned by God so it to then might be considered preexisting the written revelation, with respect to God.

    I do not necessarily see the two views, and others, as competing but as complementary. I do see the importance of looking at the entire story of God’s revelation before one begins to systematize and dissect the word. The point of seeing the importance of Biblical Theology is that if it is not done then what we may end up with is the possibility of a lot of disjointed understandings. However, when there is good footing in God’s revelation in it’s entirety then those individual, systematic, points fit together much better.

    My first real look at Biblical theology came from reading material by Graham Goldsworthy and it helped immensely:

    1) Preaching the Whole Bible As Christian Scripture: The Application of Biblical Theology to Expository Preaching

    2) According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible

  3. Fair enough. I agree that “the word God was going to deliver was also already planned by God so it to then might be considered preexisting the written revelation.” But even still, the written word is founded upon the system, it is, so to speak, a partial exposition of the system. What do you think?

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