Category Archives: Biblical Theology

The Present and Future of Biblical Theology – Andreas Kostenberger

In the most recent issue of Themelios, Andreas Kostenberger has written an article surveying the present and future of biblical theology. Be sure to check it out here. While I may not agree with every nuance of Kostenberger’s assessment, his survey of the various approaches and the challenges facing biblical theology is a helpful compass to current evangelical scholarly discussions of biblical theology.

How the Old Testament relates to the New Testament – An Analogy

Understanding the relationship between the Old Testament and the New Testament is one of the most challenging (but important!) questions a Christian can wrestle with. One of the key texts in thinking about this question is 1 Peter 1:10-12

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, 11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. 12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

This passage makes it clear that the message of the of the prophets in the Old Testament is the same as the gospel message proclaimed in the New Testament. In a sermon I preached on this passage, here is an analogy I used to try to illustrate this:

When I was kid there was an old 12” black and white TV that I used to occasionally watch football games on when my dad was watching something else. The reception wasn’t very good and the picture was kind of grainy. But you could still make out the players and follow the game at a basic level. Today in my basement I have a 42” high definition flat screen TV. The difference is stunning—the colors are bright and crisp, you can see so much more of the field, and at times it feels like you are actually there at the game. But if you were to watch the game on the 12” black and white TV while I watched it on the 42” HDTV, we are still watching the same game. We would both be able to tell you who played, what the score was, and what the key plays were. The same is true with respect to the gospel. When we read the Old Testament it is like seeing the gospel in black and white—you can see the basic message, who the key player is and what the key plays are. But when we read the New Testament it is like seeing the gospel in full high definition color—in addition to the basic message, the key player and the key plays you can also see the amazing details that help compose that picture. You can see the fuller scope of the message as well as its background.

No analogy is perfect, but I believe this analogy helps explain how the OT relates to the NT.

The Gospel according to the Minor Prophets Week 6 – Nahum

This past Sunday was week 6 in my class on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets. We worked our way through Nahum, one of the least-known Minor Prophets. Little is known about Nahum of Elkosh; scholars are even unsure where Elkosh was! His name means “comfort/compassion” which highlights the central message of his prophecy: to comfort Judah with the news of Assyria’s impending destruction. The book was written sometime between the destruction of Thebes in 664 BC (mentioned in 3:8 as something that has already happened) and the destruction of Nineveh in 612 BC (announced in advance by Nahum).

There are several key biblical-theological themes in Nahum: God’s jealous love for his people, God’s wrath towards his enemies, and God’s power and sovereignty of God are among the most prominent.

How can we as God’s people today benefit from Nahum? What is it that God has to say to us today through this Minor Prophet?

I believe the starting point is determining the theological big idea, which I would summarize as follows: God will judge the wicked and restore His people to freedom through His ultimate Warrior-King, Jesus Christ.

Some people think of God as meek grandfather or perhaps even a Santa Claus like figure who simply winks at sin and gives people what they want. To such people Nahum reminds us that God is a jealous God who will pour out his just wrath on his enemies. But God’s people must never think that they are somehow better than those who stand under God’s wrath, because we only avoid that wrath by the mercy of God. And our experience of mercy required God pouring out the wrath that we deserve for our sin onto his Son, Jesus Christ. God commissions us to call all people to flee the wrath to come and seek refuge in Christ. For there is coming a day when Christ will return and execute the righteous wrath and judgment of God on all his enemies (Rev 19:11-21).

Want to hear more? You can check out the audio and the handout below:

Week 6 – Nahum (AUDIO)

Week 6 – Nahum (Handout)

Review of She Must & Shall Go Free – Ciampa (JETS 55 [2012]: 199-202)

Part of life in the academy is having your work reviewed by other scholars. Since I have mentioned other reviews (see here) of my dissertation She Must and Shall Go Free: Paul’s Isaianic Gospel in Galatians, I wanted to draw attention to a recent review by Roy Ciampa, who is a NT professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and a widely respected scholar in the field of the use of the OT in the NT. He also has written an excellent monograph on the use of Scripture in Galatians 1-2. The review was published in the March 2012 issue of the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (pp. 199-202). Unfortunately it is only available online to members of the Evangelical Theological Society, so I will have to summarize its contents (I’ll skip the part where he simply summarizes the contents).

Ciampa begins with the positives. He commends my work in the relevant secondary literature and the effort to “turn over every rock and look behind every tree in order to bring to our attention both potential instances of Isaianic influence and possible ties between such instances within Galatians” (199-200).  While noting that other scholars have noticed some of these instances, he notes that a number are new and provide insights that others have missed. He especially appreciated my treatment of Galatians 4:21-5:1 and the role of Isa 54:1 in that section, even though he disagrees with the extent of the influence I propose. And he agrees with my conclusion that this section is not a digression but rather the climax of Paul’s exegetical argument.

The problem for Ciampa arises when he comes to my central thesis that Paul’s argument in Galatians as whole has been shaped by Isaiah 40-66. He writes: “While I am impressed with the boldness of the thesis and the work carried out to defend it, I find myself largely unconvinced, but still grateful for insights gleaned along the way” (200).  He claims that I do not pay enough attention to other sources of influence for Paul’s thought in Galatians (though he notes that such attention would require a much longer and more complicated study!). While acknowledging that Isaiah was an important influence, Ciampa contends that Paul draws his gospel “from a much wider swath of material” (200). He then provides examples of where other such sources do not appear to have been read through Isaianic lenses.

I am grateful that Ciampa devoted careful attention to my monograph. In many respects this is the highest compliment that a scholar can receive–to have his work taken seriously.  He has been more than fair in his assessment of my work. While nothing he has said has changed my mind, his review has certainly given me food for thought as I revisit Galatians down the road in a future commentary.

On a personal note, Ciampa has gone out of his way to be kind, encouraging, and gracious in our various personal interactions. He has been an excellent model to me of how to engage in gracious critical interaction with those whom he disagrees.

The Gospel according to the Minor Prophets Week 4 – Hosea

This past Sunday was week 4 in my class on the Gospel according to the Minor Prophets. We worked our way through Hosea, one of the best known Minor Prophets. He ministered during the reign of four kings of Judah (Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, & Hezekiah). One northern king is also mentioned: Jeroboam II. This results in a ministry that could have ranged from  753-687 B.C. (66 years). While probably not that long, Hosea ministered during the last half of the 8th century, a time when Assyria wiped out the Israel and seriously threatened Judah. He watched in horror as both the northern and southern kingdoms engaged in idolatry with Baal and other gods. Central to his message was the imagery of Yahweh as the husband of his people, which led to Yahweh calling Hosea to take a wife of whoredom to visualize Israel and Judah’s unfaithfulness. Thus Hosea writes to indict God’s people for their spiritual adultery and call them to return to Yahweh their true husband.

The central biblical-theological themes in Hosea is the depiction of God’s relationship with his people as a marriage. This is a theme that runs throughout the Bible, with the clearest expression coming in Ephesians 5:22-33 and climaxing in the Wedding Supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:6-9).

How can we as God’s people today benefit from Hosea? What is it that God has to say to us today through this Minor Prophet?

I believe the starting point is determining the theological big idea, which I would summarize as follows: God’s people must turn from their idolatrous pursuit of lovers who will not satisfy and return to the Lord, their true husband and redeemer.

The prophetic books are particularly pointed in their ability to expose the idols in our own hearts. We all have a tendency to pursue other things more than Christ that we think will satisfy us more than Christ. For some of us it might be your career. Or maybe its your hobbies. Or sex. Or money. Or your comfort. Or your children. Or perhaps its even your marriage, which leads me to my next application point.

The God-ordained purpose of marriage is to reflect God’s relationship to his people. Its not our comfort. It not companionship. Its not procreation. Its not personal fulfillment. Don’t misunderstand me; God often gives these precious gifts in marriage. But they are not the purpose of marriage. Unfortunately those things are often presented as the ultimate goal of marriage, even within the church. But that is not biblical! How might a marriage look different if it took seriously this God-ordained purpose? I’d encourage you to talk this over with your spouse.

Finally, I want to conclude by focusing on the precious promise of Hosea 1:10-11. Both Peter (1 Pet 2:9-10) and Paul (Rom 9:25-26) apply that language to us the church. We were once not a people, but now we are the people of God; we previously had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy at the cross. What a God we have who would send his own son to experience his justice so that we might experience his mercy, and may we long for the day when we will sit at the marriage supper of the Lamb with our Redeemer-Husband, Jesus Christ.

Want to hear more? You can check out the audio and the handout below:

Week 4 – Hosea (Audio – NOTE: forgive my voice; I’m fighting off a sinus infection)

Week 4 – Hosea (Handout)

Noteworthy Book: Kingdom through Covenant by Peter Gentry & Stephen Wellum

The debate between dispensationalists and covenant theologians has raged for decades and shows no signs of abating. In the midst of that debate some have tried to carve out a middle path between the two. Unfortunately, there has rarely been an attempt to produce a major volume articulating such a middle road.

Into that gap step Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. Both teach at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Gentry teaches Old Testament while Wellum teaches Systematic Theology. Together they have written Kingdom through Covenant: A Biblical Understanding of the Covenants. In it they argue for a position they label “progressive covenantalism” as a middle road between dispensationalism and covenant theology.

I am only half way through the book right now, but The Gospel Coalition has published three reviews from three different theological perspectives:

Dispensational: Darrell Bock

Historic PreMillennial: Doug Moo

Covenant Theology: Michael Horton

They have also now posted a response to these reviews by Peter Gentry:

Response: Peter Gentry

Regardless of where you land on the theological spectrum, this book is a major contribution to the conversation and deserves a careful read.

Fridays in Philippians

As some of you may know, I am currently working on a commentary on Philippians in the Mentor Series published by Christian Focus Publishers. I have been working on this project on and off for about 4 years and hope to send it off to the publisher within the next year. To hopefully whet your appetite for the commentary, I am starting a new feature called Fridays in Philippians. Each Friday I’ll share some brief thoughts from either a particular verse, a key theme, or perhaps even the historical/cultural background.

But today I want to start by explaining what I hope to accomplish in writing a commentary. The starting point for me is to determine the author’s intended meaning. I want to understand as best I can what Paul communicated to the Philippians. To do that requires studying the words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, and arguments within four different levels of context: literary, historical/cultural, canonical, and redemptive-historical. Let me explain what I mean by the last two.

By canonical context I mean taking into account what other biblical books have to say. Priority must be given to Paul’s other letters, since they help us understand what and how Paul thinks. But we must not neglect what the rest of Scripture says since God is the author of all 66 books.

By redemptive-historical context I mean taking into account where a passage of Scripture falls within the overall storyline of the Bible. Paul writes as an apostle of the risen Jesus who eagerly awaits the return of Christ and the consummation of all things. He also writes at a time when not all of the New Testament books had been written.

Once I have determined the author’s intended meaning, my goal is to determine how the text applies to God’s people today. While strictly speaking Paul did not write this text to me (I’m not a Philippian!), the text is written for me as a member of God’s people. What Paul says to the Corinthians about the Old Testament is true for us as new covenant believers: “Now these things [i.e. Israel’s failures in the wiulderness] happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11). Similarly, Paul writes to the Romans “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom 15:4).

Thus my approach begins with the historical-grammatical method, but it does not end there. I am convinced that once the historical-grammatical foundation is laid, the interpreter must then apply all the available tools of biblical theology (typology, tracing themes, exploring OT backgrounds, etc.) to achieve a fuller understanding of the text. Of course, many others before me have studied Philippians so I seek to draw upon the insights of others who have gone before me (a combination of historical theology and Wirkungsgeschichte [the study of the effect the text has had on readers throughout the ages]]). The process is not complete until the text has been integrated into the larger categories of what Scripture teaches elsewhere on the same subject (systematic theology) and suggestions are made for how the text applies to the lives of believers today (pastoral theology).

Of course, while in theory the process just described is linear, in reality it is more of a spiral. My preexisting understanding of biblical theology, historical theology, Wirkungsgeschichte, and systematic theology not only inform each other but also my exegesis. When there is dissonance between them the choice must be made as to whether I have misunderstood the text or my biblical, systematic, or pastoral theology needs to be modified.

Of course, whether I succeed or not is up for others to decide. But my prayer is that by clearly explaining what the text means and how it applies to our lives as God’s people, Christ will be exalted, God’s people will be transformed, and the gospel will advance. Would you join me in praying that God would be pleased to do this through this commentary?

The God Who is There (D.A. Carson)

This year saw the publication of D.A. Carson, God Who Is There, The: Finding Your Place in God’s Story. It is an overview of the biblical storyline in 14 chapters, and even has an optional leaders guide for use in a small group or Sunday school setting. The book itself is based on a series of 14 “lectures” that Carson gave at Bethlehem Baptist. Now the Gospel Coalition website has made both the audio and video available for free. This series is designed for anyone who wants a better knowledge of how the Bible hangs together, whether its someone who knows little or nothing about the Bible to someone who has been nurtured in the church for years. I highly recommend it as a resource.

“A Salvation Long Ago Foretold” – 1 Peter 1:10-12

This past Sunday I had the privilege of preaching at Christ’s Covenant Church in our continuing series on “Living in a Place that’s not our Home” from 1 Peter. My text was 1 Peter 1:10-12, and the title of the sermon is “A Salvation Long Ago Foretold.” You can find the audio here. At that same link you will find some resources I have provided that may be of assistance in reading the Bible in a gospel-centered, Christ-focused way.

A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by John A. D’Elia

This past weekend I finished reading A Place at the Table: George Eldon Ladd and the Rehabilitation of Evangelical Scholarship in America by John D’Elia. For those who do not know him, George Eldon Ladd was one of the most significant evangelical scholars of the 20th century. In this biography, D’Elia sketches the life of this fascinating man in a readable and engaging manner. It was hard to put the book down, and at a mere 182 pages of text (plus another 50 pages of endnotes) it is a fast read.

Central to the book is Ladd efforts to gain a “place at the table” for evangelical biblical scholarship at a time (1940s-1960s) when very few in the academy paid any attention to it. Ladd recognized that this was in part due to a failure by evangelicals to actually engage liberal scholarship rather than dismiss it outright. As a result Ladd was among a small group of evangelicals who pursued doctoral work in elite level Ph.D. programs such as Harvard as a means of establishing scholarly credentials that would enable them later to produce scholarship from an evangelical perspective that could gain a hearing in the broader academy. The fact that many evangelicals today have a seat at the table in the larger academy is due at least in part to Ladd.

Ladd’s efforts to produce evangelical scholarship that would be received within the larger academy culminated in 1964 with the publication of Jesus and the Kingdom: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (later renamed The Presence of the Future). Ladd hoped the book would a definitive study of the Kingdom of God in the New Testament, and the fact it was published by Harper and Row gave it a hearing in the broader academy. Ladd thought he had accomplished his goal of gaining a place at the table.

All of that changed when he read NT scholar Norman Perrin’s review, which thoroughly trashed the book. Although Ladd’s work was well-received by others, the prominence of Perrin within the academy meant that his review was devastating. Ladd was crushed, and as a result he spiraled downward into a depression that he never fully recovered from. The rest of his life he considered himself a failure, despite continuing to publish and teach for another ten years or so.

Before reading this book, I knew almost nothing about Ladd other than his groundbreaking work on the Kingdom of God. His New Testament Theology book remains a classic contribution to the field even 35 years later (a revised edition was produced in 1993 with some additional essays; I still use the text in my own NT Theology course). As I read the book, however, I was saddened to learn of the mess that was Ladd’s personal life. D’Elia does a nice job of describing Ladd’s upbringing and the effect it would have on him for the rest of his life (though I think this is overplayed at times). In his quest to gain a hearing for evangelical scholarship, he largely sacrificed his family, resulting in very strained relationships with his wife and two children. Because he set his hope on academic recognition, Ladd fell apart when he failed to received what he believed he deserved. He increasingly turned to alcohol and strongly considered divorcing his wife. The irony is that although Ladd considered himself a failure, he left behind a legacy of students who did go on to successful academic careers and gained a place at the table within the broader academy. Ladd simply did not live long enough to see this, dying in 1982.

Reading this book was a healthy reminder to me not to set my hope on academic achievement or recognition within the broader academy. I am grateful for my wife and kids who help keep me grounded and are a great source of joy in my life. I also am grateful for my local church an how it allows me to contribute to the growth of fellow believers in the gospel and how it applies to all of life.