As the name of this website indicates, I have a significant interest in biblical theology. In particular, I am interested in the academic discipline of biblical theology and the various ways that it is understood and practiced. Despite its prominence, biblical theology is understood and practiced in a variety of different ways, some of which are contradictory or at least in tension with each other.
Into this fog of confusion step Edward W. Klink III and Darian R. Lockett with their recent book Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice. In the introductory chapter they identify five “problems” that must be addressed in biblical theology:
- Old Testament connection to the New Testament: suggested ways include propheyc and fulfillment, christological readings, thematic connections, salvation history, and canonical context.
- Historical diversity versus theological diversity: does on see more continuity or discontinuity and how does that shape our understanding of the Bible?
- Scope and sources of biblical theology: is biblical theology limited to the original author and audience or include the contemporary audience? Does the canon serve as a boundary or should information from other sources be consulted and included (and if so to what degree)?
- Subject matter of biblical theology: about what or whom does the Bible speak? are there any limits? If so, what?
- Biblical theology as a churchly or academic discipline: if biblical theology merely descriptive or is it in any way prescriptive?
Based on their assessment of work done in the area of biblical theology, Klink and Lockett suggest a spectrum balanced on one end by history and on the other end theology. Along this spectrum they identify five difference “types” of biblical theology:
- Biblical theology as historical description: BT is a completely descriptive project and uses biblical history as its sole mediating concept. Thus the focus is on the biblical authors with no interest in meaning or significance for today [Example: James Barr]
- Biblical theology as history of redemption: While similar to the previous category, the difference is that the controlling category is redemptive history. The Bible reveals a progressive chronological unfolding of redemption. Use is made of major themes and overarching structural ideas developed along this redemptive historical timeline. The goal of such an approach is to benefit the church. This approach is strongly exegetically rooted with an eye to the whole testimony of Scripture. [Example: D.A. Carson]
- Biblical theology as worldview story: The primary category for this approach is narrative as both a literary and philosophical perspective. The emphasis falls on the overall storyline of Scripture with an attempt to balance literary, historical, and theological concerns. [Example: N.T. Wright]
- Biblical theology as canonical approach: Canon is viewed as both a historical and theological category. The emphasis is on the historical meaning of the text combined with the contemporary meaning of Scripture. [Example: Brevard Childs]
- Biblical theology as theological construction: This approach is rooted in the theological confession of the church and is often connected with the so-called “theological intepretation of Scripture” movement. It often attempts to position itself outside of the compartmentalized academic disciplines of biblical studies, systematic theology, etc. [Example: Francis Watson]
The authors make it clear that these are not mutually exclusive categories, and that many practice different forms of biblical theology. But these categories are devised to give some semblance of order to the often confusing expression biblical theology. There are two chapters devoted to each type of biblical theology. The first provides a detailed explanation and description, while the second provides identifies a practitioner of that approach and surveys their work. The concluding chapter provides a summary, including a very helpful chart that encapsulates how each type of biblical theology understands the five “problems” identified in the introduction.
Klink and Lockett are to be commended for their fine work. This is not to say their categories are perfect (they themselves admit they are not), nor will all embrace these distinctions. But they have significantly furthered the conversation, and those of us who teach biblical theology are indebted for this helpful introduction to the discipline and the various ways it is approached.