WHAT IS BIBLICAL THEOLOGY? – James M. Hamilton Jr. (2014)

Biblical Theology is “interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors 1433537710_bhave presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses.”  So says, James Hamilton in his latest work, What is Biblical Theology?

Hamilton is no stranger to the world of biblical theology.  In 2010, he wrote God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, a book that I devoured and greatly benefitted from.  In many ways, What is Biblical Theology? could serve as a sort of introduction to the earlier work as it summarizes the important discipline of Biblical Theology.

The sub-title accurately reflects the essential nature of the book: “A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns.”  One important question that Hamilton addresses is, “How is God going to bless Gentiles in Abraham’s seed?”  Ultimately we learn that “all families of the earth will be blessed in the seed of Abraham, Jesus the Messiah” (Gal. 3:14-16).  But Hamilton leaves no room for ambiguity here: “Gentile Christians enjoy all the blessings given to Israel in the Old Testament” (Eph. 1:3-14).

The emphasis on continuity is a breath of fresh air, especially to one like myself who was trained with the presuppositions of classical dispensationalism.  The remainder of the book explores these and related themes.  In the final sense, the author seeks to draw readers into the drama of the biblical plot line.  Of course, he should receive high marks for writing a book that mines out the deep truths of Scripture in clear and winsome ways.

Readers who are interested in other works of biblical theology should turn to The King in His Beauty by Tom Schreiner and Kingdom Through Covenant: A Biblical Understanding of the Covenants by Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum.

5 stars

 

GOD’S GLORY IN SALVATION THROUGH JUDGMENT – James Hamilton (2010)

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment by James Hamilton is a theological tour de force.  The author rightly maintains that many evangelicals have lost the “theological center.”  And where there is no center, everything collapses.

Hamilton seeks to remedy this loss of a theological center by making a bold claim, namely – that there is unity in the Bible’s diversity.  His thesis is set forth at the beginning of the book and is defended for nearly 600 pages: “The glory of God in salvation through judgment is the center of biblical theology.”

The author makes it clear from the outset that he is engaged in the needed work of biblical theology: “The purpose of biblical theology is to sharpen our understanding of the theology contained in the Bible itself through an inductive, salvation-historical examination of the Bible’s themes and the relationships between those themes in their canonical context and literary form.”  The book sets out to accomplish this very task.

Prior to defending his thesis, Hamilton defines his terms: “The glory of God is the weight of the majestic goodness of who God is, and the resulting name, or reputation, that he gains from his revelation of himself as Creator,  Sustainer,  Judge, and Redeemer, perfect in justice and mercy, loving-kindness and truth.”  As such, the glory of God in salvation through judgment is:

  • God’s way of showing his glory and defining his own name.
  • the goal of God in redemptive history.
  • the pattern of the Bible’s metanarrative – creation, sin, exile, restoration.
  • the pattern of each major redemptive event in the Bible – fall, flood, exodus, exile from the land, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the return of Christ.
  • the existential experience of individuals who are convinced of their sin, feel condemnation, trust God for mercy, and join him in seeking the glory of his great name.
  • the ground of the Bible’s ethical appeals – fear of judgment curbs behavior and keeps people on the path that leads to salvation.
  • the content of the praises of the redeemed.

With the foundation sufficiently in place, the author defends his thesis with a vengeance.  His typical pattern is to overview a book of the Bible and show how the theme of the book is consistent with his thesis.  Then, he painstakingly walks through each biblical book, linking the important themes that help shape his thesis.

I read God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment  from cover to cover and was greatly encouraged with Hamilton’s effort.  I intend to return to this book, each time I set out to preach or teach through a biblical book.

Hamilton concludes with a helpful application section:

“The center of biblical theology has application in the church, in Bible study, and in the prayer closet.  More significantly, it has application on the great day.  When God arises to judge the earth, he will display the glory of his justice and his mercy.  Those who have trusted in Jesus will be astonished at the mercy shown to them, and that mercy will be all the more precious in view of the everlasting display of justice God will visit on the objects of his wrath.”

5 stars

PROGRESSIVE DISPENSATIONALISM – Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock

Progressive Dispensationalism is designed as a handbook on the principles of interpretation and the structures of biblical exposition that define so-called progressive dispensationalism.  Part one distinguishes between the three phases of thought including classical, revised and progressive dispensationalism.

The authors contend that the modifications of progressive dispensationalism affect the way dispensationalists understand key biblical themes including the kingdom of God, the church in God’s redemptive program, the interrelationships of the biblical covenants, the historical and prophetic fulfillment of these covenants, and the role of Christ in their fulfillment.

The primary goal is to explain the progressive dispensationalism’s continuity with earlier dispensationalism and explain the differences in current thought.  The major distinction is found in the progressive accomplishment and revelation of a holistic and unified redemption (which stands in contrast to the central dualism of dispensationalism, namely that God is pursuing two different purposes: one related to heaven and one to earth, i.e. a heavenly humanity and an earthly humanity).

Part two discusses hermeneutics.  The authors note the differences between presuppositions and pre-understanding.  The former have no room for negotiations, while the later remain open to adjustment, refinement, or development by further interaction and reflection.

The authors conclude that a biblical approach to hermeneutics must be text based.  Students of the Word must let the text speak for itself.  Biblical interpreters must refuse to be influenced by faulty presuppositions. Further, the authors discuss the “historical-grammatical-literary-theological” method and stress the importance of letting each text speak on it’s own terms.

A few strengths are worth noting.  The authors are very objective and fair-minded in their approach.  Second, I find it encouraging to read seasoned scholars openly challenging the cherished classical dispensationalism of old.  One only hopes the old will turn into the obsolete!

THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM – George Eldon Ladd (1959)

The Gospel of the Kingdom is a solid biblical theology that stresses the importance of God’s kingdom.    The thesis is that the Gospel of God in the New Testament is the redemptive work of God active in history for the defeat of his enemies, bringing men the blessings of the divine reign.

Ladd presents the kingdom as a present spiritual reality and has popularized the “already-not yet” paradigm of the kingdom.  The kingdom is not only spiritual; it is also an inheritance which God will bestow on his people when he comes in glory.  Ladd notes that the kingdom is God’s sovereign reign, but God’s reign expresses itself in different stages throughout redemptive history.  In order to enter the kingdom one must submit himself in trust to God’s rule here and now.

The author explains the mystery of the kingdom.  The mystery is that the kingdom has come among men and yet men can still reject it.  The kingdom will not experience uniform success in this age.

Ladd makes it clear that righteousness is required for entrance into the future realm of God’s kingdom.  This very same righteousness  God imparts as he comes to rule within our lives.  When one submits himself to the reign of God, the miracle of  the new birth takes place within his heart.  The author continues to explain that the kingdom demands repentance which determines the quality of present life and future destiny.  The basic demand of the kingdom obedience. Ladd stresses that there is but one people of God (in contrast to classical dispensationalism).

The Gospel of the Kingdom has many strengths worth noting.  First, Dr. Ladd does a great job making sense of the different aspects of God’s kingdom, i.e. present versus future.  Second, he writes on a personal level and vividly conveys the hope of the kingdom to the new covenant believer.  The perspective in this book is quite illuminating.  Rather than getting weighted down by sophisticated theological arguments,  Ladd presents his case in a simple, yet profound manner.  Third, the author engages in a serious biblical theology.  No proof texting can be found here.  Forth, this book causes the reader to worship as he confronts the reality of the present and future reality of the kingdom of God.  Finally, the author does a formidable job at explaining the relationship between the church and Israel.  He remains committed to premillennialism, yet rejects the erroneous distinctions of classical dispensationalism.

4 stars