Image

“To do biblical theology is to think about the whole story of the Bible. We want to understand the organic development of the Bible’s teaching so that we are interpreting particular parts of the story in light of the whole.” – James Hamilton, What Is Biblical Theology, (p.12)

These two sentences sum up the whole concept of what biblical theology is. James Hamilton, in What Is Biblical Theology, does an extraordinary job introducing biblical theology to the reader in such a little space (128 pages; 104 if you count just the ones devoted to actual writing). This is one of those books, and biblical theology one of those truths, that I really wish I would have been exposed to at a much earlier age. If I only knew then what I know now, as the saying goes. How much deeper my understanding of God’s Word might be today had I been taught this way back when! No matter. I am thankful now for His grace in exposing me to it at this point in my walk as a Christian by people like Hamilton.

The first thing I want to say about Hamilton’s book on biblical theology is just how readable it is for the “average” Christian. Yes, he has his PhD. from and is associate professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but don’t let that scare you away. Hamilton writes with such brevity and clarity that I would recommend this book to Christians of all ages and stages of spiritual maturity. I find that many writers use a hundred words to say what should only have taken fifty. Hamilton, on the other hand, can say something that normally takes fifty and say it in twenty-five. And what’s amazing is that, even in doing so, he doesn’t lose any depth in what he is trying to convey to the reader. This book is readable, and you won’t get lost in a theological jungle along the way. In short, get this book!

Hamilton’s thoughts flow smoothly and progressively through the book. He begins by defining what he means by the term ‘biblical theology’. He then proceeds, with three main sections, to cover the Bible’s “Big Story” (story), the Bible’s “Symbolic Universe” (symbol), and finally the Bible’s “Love Story” (church). Hamilton says that, “If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about story, symbol, and church, we will glimpse the world as they saw it. To catch a glimpse of the world as they saw it is to see the real world” (p.19).

In Part 1, “The Bible’s Big Story”, Hamilton covers three themes: 1. The Narrative – creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, 2. Plot: Conflict, Episodes, and Theme – salvation through judgment, and 3. The Mystery – how all these “gold coins” we find in Scripture all relate to one another.

In Part 2, “The Bible’s Symbolic Universe”, Hamilton covers what to me was the most beneficial part of the book. Four areas are covered: 1. What Do Symbols Do? – summarize big ideas in pictures, 2. Imagery – real-world illustrations of abstract concepts, 3. Typology – literary foreshadowing, “drawing attention to people, events, and institutions where the divine author has caused actual resemblance” (p.78), and 4. Patterns – repetition creating impressions which “causes people to notice it and expect more of it” (p.87). Hamilton rightly says, “If we don’t understand a book’s symbolism, we won’t understand its author’s message” (p62). He also points out that, “we must understand the symbols that biblical authors use as they tell the story. If we do not understand the symbols, we will fail to understand key parts of the story” (p.63).

Finally, in Part 3, “The Bible’s Love Story”, Hamilton covers how biblical theology relates to the bride of Christ, the church. He says, “the Bible’s story and symbolism teach us as the church to understand who we are, what we face, and how we should live as we wait for the coming of our King and Lord” (p.97). What could be more important as the church than to understand who we actually are, what we face, and how we should live? This is the primary reason we need to understand what biblical theology is and how it defines who we are as the people of God in Christ.

Hamilton has done an outstanding job introducing biblical theology to those of us who grew up in the church looking at the Old Testament as nothing more than a good source for moral stories, but disconnected and foreign to the church. What Is Biblical Theology clearly displays the truth that a proper understanding of the Bible as a whole will be invaluable to us in understanding who we really are as the Bride of Christ, and how God has a people, one people, from Genesis to Revelation.

I have a waded in without a flotation device. We’ll see if I make it back.

Yes, I was asked to write a guest post on Julie Anne’s blog known as Spiritual Sounding Board. The topic relates to submission to church authority and how we make judgments on people before we really know or understand who they are. Julie is a survivor of past spiritual abuse, and dedicates her blog to pretty much all things church authority related. I am thankful to her for allowing me to publish an article on her site.

Check my post and the resulting comments HERE.

For some reason, Jason Hilliard over at Redeemed Sinner asked me to write a guest blog article for his site. The subject is, you guessed it, legalism, discipline and grace. Here’s an excerpt from that article. Go check it out.

You see, we talk about the grace and mercy of the gospel a lot as Christians when it comes to salvation, but how much do we apply that to the rest of our lives? We have been shown much mercy and patience and longsuffering by our Creator. How much do we, in turn, exhibit grace and mercy and longsuffering to others? Because of the gospel, we have not received what we deserved. But how willing are we to impart undeserved favor and mercy to others?

I received an advance proof copy of a soon-to-be-released book from Crossway titled Die Young – Burying Yourself In Christ. It is written by Michael and Hayley DiMarco, a husband and wife team out of Nashville, TN. They are self-described as focusing on “producing books that combine hard-hitting biblical truth with cutting-edge design.” This particular title will be produced as an enhanced e-book, and there will also be online chapter videos that will coincide with the book. Die Young makes some very good points, to be sure, but I just got the feel that it wasn’t completely thought through from beginning to end. That may be due to the fact that my copy is not a final version of the book, so don’t let that influence whether or not you decide to read it. Like I said, it makes some really good points, and some no-so-good points. And some of it is just plain confusing.

The title of the book  – Die Young – seems to be somewhat off-target with the content of the book. I understand the authors are trying to make a play on words with “Die” and “Burying Yourself”, but I spent most of the book trying to figure out what the “young” part had to do with the dying part. Unless I missed it somewhere, that is really never explained. It’s a bit confusing, because the DiMarcos define dying young as living “for Christ and nothing else, to be set free from the bondage of sin and self, and to live a new kind of life.” OK, I get that, but I don’t get where the idea of being young comes into play, especially since in the prologue we read, “no matter how old you are, you can die young”.  So, if dying young has nothing to do with age, what does it have to do with? Like I said, it just seems a bit confusing. I understand their talk of living for Christ and being set free from sin and self. I just don’t get where the young part fits into that if it has nothing to do with age. Perhaps a better idea would simply be to call it “Die to Self – Burying Your Life In Christ”. Since the book is about dying to self, why not just call it that? But hey, I’m just an amateur at this anyway, so what do I know?

Make no mistake, this book makes some great statements and grounds itself in some solid doctrine. Consider these examples:

“A life that refuses to die to self is a life that refuses the very words of God.”

“If God isn’t changing you, then he hasn’t saved you.”

“This movement from death to life isn’t one of human strength or ingenuity but of cross and blood, of Father and Son, of power and might.”

“When you can become content with less you will find more time for what really matters.”

“God’s grace takes away the guilt of man in exchange for the innocence of Christ.”

In attempting to explain this paradox that dying to self is actually living, the DiMarcos use a number of seemingly self-contradictory statements for each new chapter and each new main point. Down is the new up. Less is the new more. Weak is the new strong. Red is the new white. And so forth. There are some good points made in each of these chapters, such as this gem in Chapter 1, Death is the New Life:

“You were made as an image bearer of God. But sin distorts that image, like a twisted funhouse mirror. Sanctification is the process that removes that distortion so that you better reflect the image of Christ; and it requires little of you really – little more than the death of self we are talking about – because as you quit relying on yourself for life, you quit relying on yourself to take part in your own salvation. Your demise frees you from the job of savior in your own life and puts it squarely on Christ’s shoulders on the cross.”

While there are some great points made in this book, there are also some confusing statements as well. I think the authors have tried to take these plays on words – like “down is the new up” and “red is the new white” a little too far at times. Consider these statements which were hard for me to decipher:

“When we let down do its work up will be the result.”

“But this is upside down thinking that results in your up becoming your down.”

“So let’s take a look at some of the more that less can become when it’s less of you and more of him.”

“If your heart has a hard time believing justification by the blood, then consider killing the part of you that would argue against God’s gracious and necessary gift.”

Statements like these are peppered throughout the book and, in my opinion, only serve to confuse the reader who has to stop and replay the words over and over to try and figure out exactly what it is the authors are trying to say. Maybe I’m too much of a simpleton, but perhaps the best thing would be to just say what it is you want to say in simple terms, rather than using a play on words.

In the end, the main theme of the book comes through. And I enjoyed the opportunity to read it. The biblical idea of dying to self is one that is vital to the believer. And this book serves to help the reader in focusing on what that means in the day-to-day life of the Christian. I gladly recommend it to you.

From Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus:

Where we fail and become covenant-breakers, deserving the curse of the covenant, Jesus, our champion, succeeds in his role as the New Adam, the supreme covenant-keeper.

We are not merely redeemed by the death of Christ; we are also redeemed by the life of Christ. his death on the cross reveals the nadir of his humiliation as he bears the curse for us. But that is only part of his redemptive achievement. It is not enough for us merely to have our sins atoned for. To receive the blessing of the covenant we must possess real righteousness. We need what we cannot supply for ourselves. This merit of righteousness is earned for us by Jesus’ life of perfect obedience.

From Crossway’s Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus:

From the Bible story we know very little about the wise men…We are not told they were kings, or even when they arrived in Bethlehem. It is likely, actually, in view of their long journey and of Herod’s command that all children under two years of age be killed, that they arrived when the infant Jesus had already become a young child.

The fact that so little information is given about the wise men clearly shows that Matthew’s interest was not focused upon the wise men themselves. Rather, he was interested in the fact that Gentiles came to worship the Jewish Messiah, and in the gifts they bore. A literary critic would draw special attention to the gifts, for they occur at the end of the story after the child has been found and thus occupy a place of prominence.

It is easy to see why gold is an appropriate gift for Jesus Christ. Gold is the metal of kings. When gold was presented to Jesus, it acknowledged his right to rule…

It is also easy to see why incense was a significant gift. Incense was used in the temple worship…In presenting this gift the wise men pointed to Christ as our great High Priest, the one whose whole life was acceptable and well pleasing to his Father…

Just as gold speaks of Christ’s kingship and incense speaks of his perfection of his life, so does myrrh speak of his death. Myrrh was used in embalming. By any human measure it would be odd, if not offensive, to present to the infant Christ a spice used for embalming. But it was not offensive in this case, not was it odd. It was a gift of faith…

If you have come believing in all that the myrrh, incense, and gold signify, you have embarked on a path of great spiritual joy and blessing. For those are the gifts of faith. Tey are the only things we can offer to the one who by grace has given all things to us.

From Crossway’s Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus:

And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
(Luke 2:16-18 ESV)

After the angels had appeared to them, the shepherds of Bethlehem ran down the hill to see the baby they been told about. They came “with haste”…The utterly supernatural took place in the framework of their natural habitat, and their reaction was simple and human: “We’ve heard about this thing; let’s go see it.”.

Let us imagine that we are with the shepherds on those hills in Palestine. We have seen and heard the angels, and we have begun to run to Bethlehem. We come bursting into the presence of Mary, Joseph, and the baby, and immediately we wonder: what are we looking at?

First of all, we are looking at a true baby. He is not an idea or a religious experience. He is a newborn infant who makes noises and cries when he gets hungry. What we are looking at is real, simple, definite, complete. We are looking at a true baby.

There is no reason to think that the baby shows any special manifestations. An artist such as Rembrandt can paint him with emanating from the body, and if we understand the light as symbolic, it is safe enough. But if we think of it as more than that, it is harmful. There is no halo about the baby’s head. Certainly there is no halo around Mary’s head…

As we ourselves have run down the hill with the shepherds, looked at the baby, and heard the shepherd’s testimony, have we believed? If we have, that is a happy thing indeed, for it means we are now Christians.