Finding Yourself in the Story: The Importance of Biblical Theology
Almost a decade ago, Lost, the TV series on ABC hit America like a storm. I never caught on because I didn’t have television, and Netflix was still a dream in Marc Randolph’s mind; eventually, I stopped by a friend’s house who was deeply entrenched in one of the episodes, but by this time, it was several seasons in. I tried to catch on. I saw that everyone else in the living room was deeply entranced by the show. But sitting on that sofa, I just wasn’t interested, much less fascinated, with Lost. You know why?
I had no idea what was going on.
Lost hit the airwaves during a time of massive change in the way television presented its content. No longer were shows sectioned off into bite-sized, thirty-minute sitcoms (situation comedies), but they were now linked by a metanarrative that stretched for seasons–even the entire series. Lost was one of the originals. You had to start watching it from the beginning; if you stepped in on an episode halfway through the season, you would be, well…lost.
That moment helped me make another connection: people will get lost in the details unless they understand the unifying narrative. It’s that storyline that helps make sense of all the little vignettes. This forced me into a further realization about the Scriptures.
It’s hard to read the Bible when you don’t know what’s going on.
What happens during your daily devotions, when, after waking up uncomfortably early, you roll out of bed, half-awake, and open your Bible to the book of Obadiah? Or Leviticus? Or Chronicles? Perhaps you read along, assuring yourself that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable” (2 Tim 3:16); but soon enough, you turn to the easier, more self-explanatory Proverbs, or perhaps you just reach for the John Eldridge paperback. I have had these moments too. I have sometimes felt that sinking feeling that I did not understand certain books of the Bible enough. We certainly know that all the Scriptures are important, but sometimes it may feel as if there were a deficiency in our understanding of certain parts, like some of God’s Word is out of our reach. For many people, this happens with the Old Testament. We love reading the simple story of the Gospels, or the propositional statements of Paul, because it feels as if they apply directly to our lives; but how in the world are we supposed to handle the book of Amos? It seems archaic, contextualized, and far removed, a very discouraging thought when we realize that two thirds of our Bible is Old Testament.
My hope is to draw you back to the Scriptures with joyful anticipation; but first, allow me to explain why they often don’t make sense to you.
You jumped into part of an episode of the Bible and got lost.
For example, the Bible may initially appear as if curated from disconnected books, but these books work to form a cosmic story only when considered together. As T. Desmond Alexander describes, “There is not a book within the whole collection that can be interpreted satisfactorily in isolation from the rest. Each book contributes something special to the meta-story and, in turn, the meta-story offers a framework within which each book may be best interpreted” (From Eden. 10).
This means, it can get very confusing when you just pop in to taste-test single verses without the rich context of Scripture surrounding them. It’s appropriate to digest single verses at once, but only if you understand the framework in which they belong. Studying this grand tapestry is an area of theology called Biblical Theology. And this is where the Bible gets very exciting! But don’t confuse Biblical theology with the way it sounds. Whenever we use the term biblical we generally refer to something “orthodox” or “correct”—it may sound like Biblical Theology is speaking about orthodox theology. But we are speaking of something entirely different (although it assumes orthodox theology!).
What is Biblical Theology?
Geerhardus Vos, the acclaimed theologian on this area of study, defines Biblical Theology as “the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historical continuity” (Idea of Biblical Theology, 15).
Thomas Schreiner defines Biblical Theology as focusing on “the historical timeline of biblical revelation and the distinct contribution of each author. There are different facets, of course, but the focus is on the timeline as a whole and the unfolding of God’s plan” (www.sbts.edu)
James Hamilton describes his own book on Biblical Theology as an attempt to highlight a “central theme” by describing “individual books in canonical context with sensitivity to the unfolding metanarrative” (God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 44).
I know some of these definitions are dense, but hopefully my italicizing highlighted a key point which will emerge in my definition:
Biblical theology involves reading the Bible as the unfolding revelation of God in history.
- James Abbreviated: An Introduction (doctrineontap.com) <– follow me in my journey of reading single verses in light of the whole book.
- The Better We See The Big Picture, The Better We See Jesus: and interview with Thomas Schreiner (http://www.sbts.edu)
- The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments (zwingliusredivivus.wordpress.com)
- What is Biblical Theology? – My Take on the Issue…. (markfrancois.wordpress.com)
- A Primer on Biblical Theology by Richard Gaffin (1689reformedbaptist.wordpress.com)