Waiting for new study editions of the Bible to arrive, I received a review copy of the newly released book, What Is Biblical Theology? published by Crossway. Author James M. Hamilton, Jr. teaches on this topic at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but I encourage Christians from every church background to pick up this slender volume and read it straight through.
As our denominational preferences connect to one another in the Body of Christ, the stories in the Bible connect to one another, too, coming together in one body of stories about the same story – The Story – of God’s redemptive love.
Often, though, we view Bible stories from our own 21st century perspective, which means we might miss what the original writers intended to convey. Dr. Hamilton addresses this throughout the book, explaining, for example, in Part I, “If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about story, symbol, and church, we will glimpse the world as they saw it.”
That glimpse is what this book enables us to see. Divided into “Part I. The Bible’s Big Story,” “Part 2. The Bible’s Symbolic Universe,” and “Part 3. The Bible’s Love Story,” the book shows us how to “adopt the perspective of the biblical authors” so we can “read the world from the Bible’s perspective, rather than reading the Bible from the world’s.”
As part of the “Big Story,” the chapter entitled “The Narrative” discusses the setting, characterization, and plot found in any well-written story, which shows us, for example, that “the Bible’s plot can be summarized in four words: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration,” culminating in the return of Jesus. Meanwhile, an understanding of biblical conflicts, episodes, and themes helps us to recognize the overall plot of this ongoing story of our relationship with God.
In Part 2, we see how symbols, imagery, and patterns use the known to help us envision the unknown. From the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden to the tree in Revelation whose leaves will be for the healing of the nations, we get an image of the well-rooted, fruitful life God intends us to have. As Dr. Hamilton explains: “These symbols are given to us to shape our understanding of ourselves. They show us who we are. They give us our identity. They tell the story of our lives in the real world.”
In community and in our common union, that story continues in Part 3 where we see the identify, setting, plot tension, and resolution of the church, biblically and metaphorically drawn as the “Sheep of the Shepherd,” “Bride of Christ,” “Body of Christ,” “The Adopted Family of God,” and “The Temple of the Holy Spirit” – images that cause us to reflect on such questions as: “What part does the church play in the Bible story? Who is she? What is her setting? What creates the tension in her part of the plot as the wider narrative develops? How is that tension resolved?”
With the Bible as the primary resource for such crucial questions, Dr. Hamilton helps readers to see that “Biblical theology is not just an interesting topic. It informs who we are and how we live.”
©2013, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved.
What Is Biblical Theology? paperback
What Is Biblical Theology? e-book