Category Archives: biblical theology

Seeing the Real World – What Is Biblical Theology by Dr. James Hamilton, a Review and Recommendation

hambkJames M. Hamilton, Jr., What Is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 128pp.  Paperback & Kindle editions available.

This book helped me understand the Bible better, and this book makes me want to read the Bible more.  I will explain why.

Dr. Jim Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has a blessedly infectious love for the Word of God.  Thankfully, his answer to the question of his title, What Is Biblical Theologyis not that it is some dry, academic enterprise that you must trudge through if you want to understand the Bible.  Rather, his answer reveals a gateway to a breathtaking, overwhelmingly glorious new world, that is, in fact, the reality of which the Bible speaks.  Biblical theology is “the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing” throughout the various types of literature that make up the Bible.  Hamilton’s definition stands in stark contrast to approaches to biblical theology that purport to analyze each biblical author or book on its own terms to show an evolution of thought, including the discarding or twisting of previous ideas.  The author is obviously immersed in the Scriptures, making a plethora of connections between texts.  What Is Biblical Theology? unashamedly affirms, with Jesus and the apostles, the unity of the entire Bible and each part of it as a piece of a bigger storyline of God redeeming His people by salvation through judgment, to the praise of His glory.

Summary

Hamilton easily grabs attention with captivating storytelling.  He shows the relevance of biblical theology in pointing to reality that we miss because we’re not saturated with Bible truth.  He tells a moving personal experience of a man on his death bed, a man for whom the reality of the unseen world was alive and compelling.  Biblical theology will prepare us to die well.  How many other topics for books can you recommend for that purpose?

The book draws from the Bible to give a framework helpful to read the Bible in order to motivate readers to eagerly do just that.  Hamilton helps us think through our approach to reading the Bible with his impassioned coverage of the Bible’s big story, its symbolism and patterns, and the God’s purpose for the church.

The author describes the setting of the biblical story as a “cosmic temple,” where the world God created is “a place in which God is known, served, present, and worshiped.”  God’s enemy, Satan, and his “seed,” seek destruction of God’s temple, but only succeed in defiling it.  God promises restoration and gives Israel a picture of it through the tabernacle, and later, the temple.  The hope of restoration is encapsulated in the prophecy that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent, which is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and the Savior of all sinners who will turn to Him.  Through His death, He redeems, and, as a result, all things will one day be restored in the New Creation.

The book looks at the Bible’s symbolism, tracing the prolific usage of tree, flood, and temple imagery through the Bible.  These symbols remind us of things like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the catastrophic flood of God’s judgment, and the temple where God was to be approached, served, and worshiped.  They point forward to a tree where a Redeemer would die, a future worldwide judgment, and a time and place where the whole New Creation is God’s new temple.

Hamilton writes about typology in various people, events, and institutions in the Bible, but is careful to distance himself from the wild, unchecked allegorical interpretation often associated with that term.  Biblical typology has to be grounded in “historical correspondence and escalation.”  The Bible is historically accurate, and when it describes Noah and Moses and what they experienced, what the first Passover was like, and the regulations God established for the temple, it is telling the truth.  Yet in those people, events, and institutions, we can see patterns that God repeats in history, in a way that is both similar and escalated, in their fulfillment in Jesus.

For example, we see that

Moses led Israel out of slavery in Egypt; Jesus saved his people from their slavery to sin.  Moses led Israel into a shadow of the new Eden, the Land of Promise; Jesus will lead his people into the new and better Eden, the new heaven and earth.

The book culminates in an intense focus on the church and her relationship to Christ.  Those who have faith in Christ should see themselves as sheep of the Shepherd, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit.  We see, not only in Christ, but also in the church, a fulfillment of God’s great story.

Just as God put Adam in the garden to extend its borders so that Yahweh’s glory would cover the dry lands as the waters cover the sea, God put Israel in the land to take up that same task, giving them a preview of what it would look like when he filled tabernacle and temple with his glory.  Jesus sent his disciples on the same errand to all nations:  as disciples are made, the temple grows, the place of God’s presence expands, and God’s glory spreads over the dry land.  In the age to come, these realities will be fully realized.  The earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of God.

Why You Should Read This Book

1. It will give you a helpful framework to read the Bible, a framework derived and distilled from the Bible itself.

2. This book will remind you that we’re in a different story that the world is telling, and that we need to know and live by the truth.

3. It demonstrates that one can be blown away by the breathtaking vistas in the Bible and its overarching story and still trust it in the details.  While seeing a cosmic temple setting, Hamilton also dismisses evolution as a “creation myth” incompatible with the Bible and as part of the world’s story, in contrast to reality, which is what the Bible presents.  Hamilton sees no false dichotomy between seeing the Bible as beautiful and varied in its genres, and as trustworthy for all its assertions.

4. This book will show you who you are.  If you’re not in Christ, you’re on the losing side, and there is no hope.  But if you will trust in Christ, you will find acceptance, assurance, confidence, victory, and a transformed life that delights in God’s glory and God’s story.

5. The book is a good on-ramp into reading the Bible.  The most remarkable thing about this book is that it points away from itself.  Even though the author lists some recommended reading at the end, the focus of the book is on getting the reader to personally encounter and engage the text of Scripture.  You will be directed in mind and affections right into the Bible with Hamilton’s brevity (128 pages) as well as the excitement and urgency that permeate the book.  Hamilton writes, “The best way to learn biblical theology, the best way to get yourself out of the world’s way of thinking and into the Bible’s is to study the Bible itself.  Don’t make this harder than it needs to be.  Read the Bible.  A lot.”

I want to go back and revisit What Is Biblical Theology? sometime, but the reason I wish to do so is that it will help me return to the Bible with a fresh, big picture perspective that keeps the main themes of the forest of Scripture on my radar so I don’t get lost in the trees.  This book promotes a love for Bible reading and Bible study, and I highly recommend it.  Get it, and read the Bible with a new wonder, appreciation, and anticipation to understand the unfolding of God’s story for His beloved.

Crossway provided a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page program, in exchange for an honest review.

On a side note, if you are as intrigued as I was by the cover art for the book, see the author’s explanation here.

If you are interested in a fuller treatment of themes explored in this book, Hamilton’s full-length look at each book of the Bible will serve you well:  God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.

Genesis 1-11: Its Foundational Nature, Context, and Special Relevance for Israel

Genesis 1-11 is the introduction to the rest of the Bible.  In its original context, when it was first given in the Book of the Law, Genesis 1-11 introduced the nation Israel to their place in the world.

When Moses received the Law, he substantially had the materials we know as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  Advocates of the “documentary hypothesis of the Pentateuch” notwithstanding, Scripture, including the very words of Jesus, attributes authorship of the first five books of the Bible to Moses (Matt 8:4, 19:7-8; Mark 7:10, 12:26; Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:46-47, 7:19; Acts 6:14, 13:39, 15:5; 1 Cor 9:9; 2 Cor 3:15; Heb 10:28).

The exodus of Israel from Egypt marked a huge turning point in their history (chronicled in the book of Exodus).  They began as a people because of a miraculous fulfilled promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah.  They multiplied to become a large number of people.   God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and would bring them to the land he promised Abraham.

When God raised up Moses, his chosen prophet and leader, He gave Moses instructions to pass on to the nation.  They needed to know their history and background in order to prepare for the challenges of going in to a new land.  When one reads Genesis 1-11 with the knowledge of Moses’ authorship and the timing of Israel receiving the book, it helps one see some particular angles of relevance.

Israel was coming from Egypt and heading into Canaan.  Both places were inhabited by people with polytheistic religions with many immoral and wicked practices.  Genesis presents the creation of the world by ONE sovereign, almighty, all-wise God, who is before and who reigns over all of the things He created, and who sets the standards by which we live and the grounds on which we approach Him.

Genesis is an inspired history that, among other things:

  • presents one God, not many gods (chapter 1).
  • shows us the character of God.  He is active; omnipotent; wise; good; merciful; involved; authoritative; righteous; patient, and more.
  • presents man as the special creation of God, made in His image, to carry out His commands (1:26-28).
  • reveals God as the Creator and rightful Definer of the parameters of marriage and sexual activity (2:24-25).
  • gives man a pattern for a work week with a day of rest, recognized in the Ten Commandments (cf. chapter 1 with Exod 20:11).
  • shows the origin and effects of sin, which is disobedience to God that resulted in much human suffering and in death itself (chapter 3).
  • shows that failure to live in submission to God’s rule results in banishment (chapter 3).  It happened to Adam and Eve (placed in and then expelled from a garden they didn’t make) and it would happen to Israel if they did not keep God’s commands as they went to Canaan (Deut 28).
  • reveals the inability of man to cover his own sin and the need for a God who takes initiative, promises to defeat our enemy, promises a Savior, and who covers our sin through the death of an innocent victim (all in chapter 3, and ultimately fulfilled in Jesus).
  • shows God is pleased by faith in Him (Chapter 4).
  • shows the blessing of walking with God and calling on Him (Chapter 4-5).
  • demonstrates the propensity of mankind to forget the true God (Chapter 5).
  • reveals mankind is universally sinful and deserves universal judgment (the Flood, chapters 6-9).
  • shows Canaan was cursed (chapter 9).  Good for them to know that as they’re going into Canaan land to conquer!
  • shows nations and languages originated from God’s judgment on man’s pride at Babel (chapters 10-11).
  • shows that Abram (Abraham) had a definite historical connection that could be traced back to the first man, Adam. (Genealogies in chapter 5, 11).
  • demonstrates that Israel and all other nations and people came from the same human background, as far as Adam/Eve and Noah/his wife were concerned, but Noah’s descendants became the ancestors of more specific people groups.  Yet all these are made in God’s image.

These points were especially pertinent to the nation as they were about to conquer a culture that distorted and perverted many of these ideas.  The content of Genesis 1-11 (the history of the world up to the time of Abraham) calls into question those who claim Genesis was written far later than the days of Moses.  The truth of Genesis was truth the people needed to know and heed as they obeyed God’s commands and took the Promised Land.

This article was originally posted at Gazing at Glory.

Book Review: Why Genesis Matters

why-genesis-matters-external-cover.225x225-75Jason Lisle, Why Genesis Matters: Christian Doctrine and the Creation Account (Dallas, TX: The Institute for Creation Research, 2012), 54pp.; also available for Amazon Kindle

Reviewed by Doug Smith

Astrophysicist Jason Lisle (Ph.D, University of Colorado; Director of Research at the Institute for Creation Research) has written an extremely helpful work in Why Genesis Matters: Christian Doctrine and the Creation Account.  The book is a short, clear introduction to Genesis as the foundation for what Christ taught and what Christians should believe.

SUMMARY

Lisle begins by showing how marriage, the sanctity of human life, clothing, laws, a seven-day week, and the Gospel itself is founded in Genesis.  To remove the historical foundation of these practices and doctrines is devastating.  For example, if Genesis is not historically true, why should we be bound by what God decreed concerning who can marry?

In his chapter entitled, “Commonsense Bible Interpretation,” Lisle discusses some of the various literary genres included in Scripture, including poetry, parables, and history, and shows how Jesus and the apostles interpreted Genesis as what it plainly appears to be:  history, not non-historical poetry.

The author goes on to support his view that the Bible teaches a recent creation of the earth, examining the day-age position (which allows for long periods of time rather than something analogous to a normal 24-hour day) and refuting it by looking at the context of the word “day” in Genesis 1 and the way God bases our work week on the days of creation in Exodus 20:11.

Lisle affirms that it is faith in Christ that is necessary for salvation, not a specific belief concerning the timing of creation.  Nonetheless, one’s view of creation will affect how one views and communicates the authority of the Bible.  Rejecting a historical view of Genesis undermines doctrines such as the origin of sin and its consequences of death, disease, and suffering.  If these doctrines are attacked, so is the need for one to rescue us from our fallen condition.

As the book closes, we are warned not to neglect the root problem of all the sinful issues in our society.  Our culture lacks the foundation of truth that the nation of Israel had.  When the apostles preached to the Jews, they assume that their hearers shared a solid foundation on creation.  When Paul went to the Greeks, he found that was not true.  And it is not true for us today.  It is not enough to simply combat the “bad things” in the world, nor is it enough to tell people of their need of Jesus.  We must also teach the truth of creation, the truth of Genesis, the foundation of the Bible, which gives us a basis for the gospel of Christ, which changes lives.

EVALUATION

Dr. Lisle writes in a clear, concise, straightforward style.  As a scientist and student of the Word, he brings his knowledge of both to the table in a balanced format that presents the Word of God as the ultimate authority and absolute truth.  This book is easy to complete in about two hours, but deserves return visits for pondering its arguments and implications.

The arguments in the book are clear and make sense.  I do not know how one can walk away from the case Lisle makes and say that evolution or long ages of time are consistent beliefs with what the Bible clearly teaches.  For example:

The Bible teaches that death was the result of Adam’s sin.  Sin entered the world through Adam, and death entered through that sin (Romans 5:12; 1 Corinthians 15:21).  This fact is foundational to the gospel.  Because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) , it was necessary for Christ to die on the cross to pay for our sins.  But if the world already had death in it, then how can death be the wages of sin?  Would it make sense to say “by man came death” (1 Corinthians 15:21) if death were already in the world millions of years before man?  How could death be the penalty for sin if it preceded sin by millions of years?  And if death is not the penalty for sin, then how could we make sense of the gospel? (page 42)

This book is suitable for middle schoolers (maybe a bit of a challenge, but worthwhile for a diligent student) and up and is useful for personal study, or teaching a class in Sunday school or a Christian school.  (We are currently using it with a CAPS class on Genesis, in conjunction with studying Genesis chapters 1-11.)  It would be a great resource for someone studying in a Christian college, especially if the Bible department at their school teaches that Genesis 1-11 is not literal history, that Adam and Eve were not historical persons, no literal fall, no global flood, etc. (I faced a situation like this and resources like this are just what the doctor ordered).

I highly recommend Why Genesis Matters.  You can get the Kindle version here for $2.99.

You can watch the author deliver a 40 minute message on the topic of his book here:

and here’s a longer presentation with some live Q & A:

Resources for Preaching Isaiah 53

If there is any one passage in the Old Testament which seems to
the Christian heart to be a prophecy of the redeeming work of Christ, it is that matchless fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.  We read it today, often even in preference to New Testament passages, as setting forth the atonement which our Lord made for the sins of others upon the cross.  Never, says the simple Christian, was there a prophecy made more gloriously plain.”

– J. Gresham Machen (quoted in E. J. Young, Isaiah Fifty-Three: a Devotional and Expository Study)

I am presently in the middle of a series, preaching through Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – the fourth of four “Servant Songs/Psalms” in Isaiah, this being the one about Jesus the Messiah as the suffering Servant.  This is a glorious passage, well worth our time to study and share.  The heart of the gospel is revealed here, even in the Old Testament, as we read the passage in the context of God’s plan of redemption, unfolded in the Bible.  [UPDATE: I finished preaching this series today — although I certainly did not exhaust the passage; I hope to return to it someday.  Click here if you would like to view sermon notes and listen to or download audio mp3 files from the series.]

Due to the limited nature of my present study, I have not attempted to access very many works concerning that text.  However, I would like to compile a list of helpful resources for the benefit of others and possibly for my own benefit (I would love to study and preach this passage again sometime!).  Below are some resources I have found useful in this study.  If you have studied this passage and found useful helps, please share them by leaving a comment.

These resources are in alphabetical order by author/speaker:

  • Mark Dever, Sermon: “Crushed for Our Iniquities” (this link takes you to a page where you can download the free mp3 audio file) – click here to view or download Dever’s sermon manuscript (complete with his handwritten modifications)
  • Peter Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12)” – scholarly article by noted Old Testament & Hebrew scholar
  • Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey & Andrew Sach. Pierced for Our Transgressions: Rediscovering the Glory of Penal Substitution. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007) Pages 52-67 contain an excellent discussion of this passage, and extremely helpful book on the subject of substitutionary atonement.  Highly recommended.
  • F. Duane Lindsey, The Servant Songs: a Study in Isaiah (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985) (compilation of articles originally published in theological journal Bibliotheca Sacra – you can access much of this content by searching at http://faculty.gordon.edu/search/search.cfm) Click here to access the relevant material on Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in a pdf file or click here to view it as a webpage.
  • John MacArthur, The Murder of Jesus (Nashville: Word, 2000) – while not properly a commentary on Isaiah 53 (it covers materials from the gospels), it provides good illustrations of the extremities of pain suffered by Jesus (that Isaiah prophesied about), as well explanations of the kangaroo court that fulfilled the text
  • Arthur B. Walton, Portraits of Christ in Isaiah (Schaumburg, Illinois: Regular Baptist Press, 1995) – Adult Student Book – a remarkably meaty Sunday school curriculum with some great illustrations and explanation of the text
  • Edward J. Young, The Book of Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1992) (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is covered in volume 2 of this 3 volume set) Very helpful commentary on Isaiah.  If one was only going to consult one of his works on this passage, the next recommendation would suffice.  But I hope to preach from other portions of Isaiah (maybe the whole book someday) and definitely plan to consult this commentary.  (Some audio of class lecture here.)
  • Edward J. Young, Isaiah Fifty-Three: a Devotional and Expository Study (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952).  A superb and helpful book.  (I found a pdf posted online, but not sure it’s there legally.  I have a hardcover copy.)

Any resources you have used and would recommend?

Preaching in the Advent Season

When it comes to Christmas, some preachers are faced with one or more dilemmas:

  • Should I temporarily step away from the book I am preaching through to preach a special Christmas message or series of messages throughout December?
  • What texts and topics shall I cover?
  • How can I present the old, old story without coming across in a stale way? How do I stay fresh with texts and topics I feel I have exhausted?

Some preachers will not deviate from their normal preaching, but will continue through the book or series they are working through.  Some of these will probably recognize the season somewhere in the service.  Others will continue their normal preaching rotation, but may use the Christmas story as an illustration of the text.  If they are preaching on humility, they may point to how Christ’s first coming provides a perfect example of humility.

Others, however, will devote entire messages to the themes of Christmas.  If this is your preference, here are some ideas that may help you present fresh, helpful, Biblical messages for the Advent season, whether you are a pastor or are filling in this month.

Expository Series

  • Preaching through a portion of a book – the most obvious idea here would be to preach through Matthew 1 & 2 or Luke 1 & 2.  One year, I had the opportunity to fill in at a church in December and preached consecutive messages from Matthew 1:1-17, 1:18-25, 2:1-18, and finished with 28:18-20 (connecting the coming of the King to His marching orders in the Great Commission).
  • Preaching through selected passages – one could take a theme and preach expository messages from key passages related to it, for example: “Christmas prophecies made and fulfilled” or “Christmas with the patriarchs & prophets.”
  • Preaching stand-alone messages – one could select various passages to preach messages that are not part of a series, except that they share the Christmas theme (such as Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 7:14, Isaiah 9:1-9, Micah 5:2, Matthew 1-2, Luke 1-2, John 1:14, Galatians 4:4-7, Philippians 2:5-11, Hebrews 1, etc.).

Topical Series

  • Biographical studies – perhaps “the characters of Christmas”; could focus on the significance of the individual in the larger story and lessons we can learn (positive & negative) from individuals such as:  Mary, Joseph, shepherds, magi, scribes, King Herod, Elizabeth, Zacharias, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the angel Gabriel, Caesar Augustus (well, maybe not a whole message on him, since he is just mentioned in passing… but there could be some great contrasts between him and the true Ruler), God the Father, God the Holy Spirit and of course, Jesus.
  • Geographical theme – trace the events from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth to Calvary or something similar.
  • Christmas carols – take the song title as the sermon title, give the background to the song in the introduction and the preach on the main text or truth the song declares (make sure it does teach truth — see the next suggestion).
  • Christmas: fact or fiction? or “the myths of Christmas” – could debunk common errors (Really a “silent” night?  Is it true that “little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes?”  Did the shepherds look up and see a star?  Did the wise men visit Jesus immediately after the shepherds?) and focus on giving an accurate account, encouraging the people that it is necessary to know what God’s Word actually says for ourselves.
  • The scandal of Christmas – man finds fiancée pregnant before marriage! king born in a cow trough!  etc. — there is plenty of shocking material in the Christmas story that points to the glory of God in using the lowly and unexpected to bring His plan to pass.
  • The wonder of Christmas – could deal with all the wondering and marveling that the people in the narratives do (Luke 2:18, 33) and how we ought to be far more amazed at what God has done than we are.
  • The necessity of Christmas – we don’t need a lot of the stuff we have or get, but we desperately needed for Jesus to come; one could preach a series on our accountability to God our Creator, the punishment our sin deserved, how Christ was qualified to be our sacrifice, and what He accomplished in His life and death

There are many ways to preach helpful, biblical messages for the Advent season.  And they can be intermingled as well (for example, preaching a biographical message each year and using the rest of the Sundays for an expository series).  But none of them will be as helpful and as biblical as they should be unless you also remember to do the following:

  • Connect passage to its context and main point, even if you’re focusing on a minor point.
  • Locate the Christmas story in the storyline of the Bible – particularly in how it is fulfilling God’s promises to bring salvation to sinful mankind.
  • Be sure to bring out who Jesus is, and the wonder of the incarnation – God taking on flesh, fully God and fully man (but perfect)it is also good to connect His humble birth, perfect life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, exalted title, and His future glorious return.
  • Explain why Jesus needed to come – although you could preach a whole message on this topic (one of the suggestions above), it needs to be present in some way any time we preach, if we are to be “gospel” preachers who preach the gospel.  And the whole reason Christmas should be so glorious is that it is an announcement of the gospel:   “good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10).

The Unashamed Workman blog also has some suggestions for dealing with the “Challenges of Christmas Preaching” here.

Two related articles:

“An Ambivalent Hallmark Calendar Guy” by Dr. Michael Lawrence

“100 Failed Human Predictions” by Dr. David Murray

Book Review – Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics

Goldsworthy, Graeme. Gospel-Centered Hermeneutics: Foundations and Principles of Evangelical Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007. Jacketed Hardcover, 341 pp.

(Review copy courtesy of InterVarsity Press.)

Table of Contents

Excerpts:

PDF Introduction: Can hermeneutics be saved? PDF 1. The necessity for hermeneutics

Graeme Goldsworthy (Th.M. & Ph.D., UTS Virginia) is a retired lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia. His other books include Prayer and the Knowledge of God (IVP, 2005), According to Plan (IVP, 1991; 2002), Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture (Eerdmans, 2000), Gospel & Kingdom, The Gospel in Revelation, and The Gospel and Wisdom. These last three titles have been reprinted as The Goldsworthy Trilogy (Paternoster, 2001)

Is there a key to interpreting the Bible? What should our basic presuppositions for hermeneutics be? What do we need to take into consideration when we approach the exegesis and interpretation of the Bible?

Description

Graeme Goldsworthy argues that the gospel is the hermeneutical key to the Scriptures and reality. In this book, he considers the basic foundations of proper biblical interpretation. His book is divided into three major sections. He lays some ground rules, shows faulty structures that deserve to be torn down, and suggests how we should rebuild in their place.

Section one, “Evangelical Prolegomena to Hermeneutics” (chapters 1-4), looks at the foundations of hermeneutics, particularly the basic presuppositions that support a proper approach. In this section, the author stresses the importance of the doctrines of grace alone, Christ alone, Scripture alone, faith alone, and the Trinity. He also deals with the effect of the fall upon the human mind and the significance of the role of the risen Christ as mediator.

The second section, “Challenges to Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 5-12), surveys the history of interpretation and the problems of faulty presuppositions and approaches. The author admits that he relied on secondary sources for this section, in order “to show some of the reactions and evaluations occurring in recent scholarly comment, particularly by evangelicals” so that we can “see how the various trends in hermeneutical theory have troubled and exercised the critical judgment of evangelicals” (p. 87). From allegorical interpretation in the early church to Enlightenment rationalism, postmodern “reader-response” approaches, and even evangelical pragmatism, the author relentlessly sifts through approaches that have eclipsed the gospel. He shows that liberals do not have a monopoly on the eclipse of the gospel, but many approaches adopted in conservative quarters have also obscured its clarity, including literalist and subjective approaches. He argues that a “proper grammatico-historical exegesis stems from the fact of the incarnation” (p. 99).

The final section, “Reconstructing Evangelical Hermeneutics” (chapters 13-19), gives Goldsworthy’s prescription for a hermeneutical approach that is faithful to the Bible and therefore centered upon the gospel. Goldsworthy advocates “typology as a method of relating the Testaments” that underlines “the perspective of both their unity and diversity” (p. 238) by asking every text “how it testifies to Jesus” (p. 252). An extensive chart demonstrates how a macrotypology of the Bible works (pp. 253-256). He deals with the literary, historical, and theological dimensions of gospel-centered interpretation and takes a look at the concept of contextualization, including considerations relevant for Bible translation. He includes practical suggestions for Bible study (such as reading plans, taking notes, and prayer) and lists resources for teaching sound hermeneutics to children.

Evaluation

I found this book to be stimulating and fascinating. At least three strong points distinguish this book. The book is stellar in focusing on Christ as the hermeneutic of Scripture and reality, whereas many standard (even “evangelical”) hermeneutics texts neglect the scriptural idea that Christ is the hermeneutical key (Luke 24:27, 44). It seems so obvious, but it has been so obviously forgotten: “the principles of hermeneutics are to be found within the Scriptures themselves” (p. 22). Goldsworthy also persuasively argues that our hermeneutical approach is part of our sanctification, the renewing of our minds, made possible by the gospel. The fall affected our minds and ability for correct interpretation, but Christ even died for this—to justify and sanctify us from our faulty hermeneutics. Finally, the author’s analysis of how the gospel has been eclipsed by flawed hermeneutical approaches is no pedantic exercise but a helpful warning of how quickly we can move from the approach to the Bible advocated by Christ Himself and that displays His gospel in all its clarity. Neither historical proximity to the time of the apostles nor an accumulation of centuries of knowledge are fail-safe measures to ensure proper interpretation; only a renewed mind submitted to the Scriptures will protect Bible-believing Christians from alien influences that undermine the gospel in their hermeneutics.

Goldsworthy addresses several practical concerns with helpful warnings. He warns that separating biblical theology from systematic theology puts one “on the road to liberalism” (p. 271). He warns that the more dynamic Bible translations tend to iron out its metaphors, obscuring the way the text was originally communicated (pp. 290, 293). He writes that “recourse to commentaries and other helps is best left until later rather than sooner in the process of dealing with a text” (p. 313).

Despite the strengths of the book, one should use this book with much discrimination.

First, this book is not a handbook on hermeneutics for the average person.

Its best use would be at the seminary and graduate level. Even then, it may not be a good choice for an introductory hermeneutics class. Its lengthy treatment of matters related to hermeneutical theory is helpful. The author gives some advice about putting theory to work, but the book lacks a comprehensive method for hermeneutics. I point this out, not to denigrate the book, but to help people like me who might assume by its title that it would contain a comprehensive method for its approach. I recommend reading it in thinking through hermeneutical theory, but if you must choose one book to help you interpret the Bible, this is not the one. To see a work designed more for the purpose of equipping one to practice the gospel-centered interpretation the author advocates, see his introduction to biblical theology titled According to Plan: the Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible (IVP, 2002) or the shorter summary by Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (IVP, 2002 — see my review here). (He does provide a brief overview the role of biblical theology in chapter 4 of this book.) The purpose of these works is to help one interpret the parts of the Bible in light of its big picture (something often neglected in hermeneutics texts), but are insufficient to equip one to deal with the various literary genres of Scripture.

Second, the reader should be aware of the author’s view on “literal” interpretation.

Goldsworthy classifies literalism as one of the culprits for the eclipse of the gospel in evangelicalism (p. 169ff.). While conceding that the incarnation required some literal fulfillment, he argues that the New Testament does not support a literal interpretation of Old Testament promises for the restoration of Israel, Jerusalem, and the temple (p. 170). He asserts that the “one great hermeneutic divide that separated Jesus from the unbelieving Jews concerned this very issue of prophetic fulfillment . . . That the Old Testament Scriptures are, as he says, about him (John 5:39-47; 8:39-47, 56-58) must seriously qualify literalism, since Jesus (as Jesus) is not literally in the Old Testament” and adds that “the hermeneutical principle of the Old Testament could only be understood Christologically” (p. 170). As convincing as his arguments appear, some may counter that New Testament events do not decisively rule out a future literal fulfillment, particularly since the prophets often saw events of Christ’s first and second coming together, like peaks of a mountain range that look side by side from afar.

Related to these views on literal interpretation is Goldsworthy’s amillennial eschatology. “Instead of the expected glorious reign of the Christ in a renewed Jerusalem, we learn that the scepter of the risen Christ is the preached word that will be the focus of the worldwide missionary endeavor of the church . . . Pentecost is the demonstration that the millennium has begun, Satan is bound, and Christ reigns through his gospel” (pp. 224-225, cf. p. 82).

Third, the author should probably give more caution in his advice about utilizing critical scholarship.

He suggests that Fundamentalism desires a return to pre-critical exegetical methods (p. 138, cf. pp. 181-182), although he may be painting with a bit of a broad brush, as some fundamentalist seminaries do engage critical works and even recommend critical commentaries as resources. While Goldsworthy recognizes the problem “of the extent to which we can plunder the Egyptians without returning to the leeks and the garlic” (p. 138), it seems that a further caveat should be given. There is a time and place to engage such scholarship, but it is probably best done—with much caution—by the trained scholar or pastor.

Conclusion

In this book, Goldsworthy addresses key issues in regard to hermeneutics. It is a challenging and worthwhile read for the serious student (although a subject index could have increased its usefulness), but may not be the best choice for a stand-alone guide to hermeneutics.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

This review is revised from its original appearance at www.sharperiron.org.

40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible – Mohler Interviews Plummer About His New Book

On June 24, Dr. Albert Mohler interviewed Dr. Rob Plummer about his new book, 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible. The interview discusses some of those questions, covering some great issues in hermeneutics.  I had the privilege and joy of taking Dr. Plummer’s class on Biblical Hermeneutics, and thoroughly profited from it.  The book, in many ways, distills much of his course.  This interview is well worth the time to listen.  Left click to stream, right click to download:  http://www.sbts.edu/media/audio/totl/2010/AMP_06_24_2010.mp3

Click here to preview or buy the book at Amazon:

Book Review – God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible

Vaughan Roberts, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 160pp. Paper.

One of the most helpful features of much modern technology is the “zoom” option. From cameras to word processors, the ability to see both small details and the big picture is helpful to understand more about what we are looking at. Vaughan Roberts’ book, God’s Big Picture: Tracing the Storyline of the Bible is one attempt to give students of God’s Word “an overview of the main storyline of the Bible” to provide a helpful framework to keep in mind when studying its parts (20). Roberts helps readers “zoom out” to see what the forest of biblical theology looks like so we can better understand the purpose of the individual trees in the Bible and thus “get [our] bearings when [we] land in any part of it” (20).

DESCRIPTION

Roberts aims “to help Christians find their way around the Bible and to see how it all holds together and points us to Jesus” (14). Some have called this book “Goldsworthy lite,” thinking of it as a simplified version of Graeme Goldsworthy’s approach to biblical theology. Roberts admits as much, saying, “Anyone who has read Gospel and Kingdom[by Goldsworthy] will see its influence in these pages” (10). Both writers see Scripture as a unified and interconnected work. Roberts explains:

The Old Testament on its own is an unfinished story; a promise without a fulfillment. We must read on to the New Testament if we want to know what it really means. And the New Testament constantly looks back to the promise it fulfills. (19-20)

God’s Big Picture sees the kingdom of God as the unifying theme that shows how the Bible fits together. This theme is not forced upon the Scripture but arises out it and it sufficiently encompasses the whole of Scripture in a way that allows “each part to make its own distinct contribution” (20-21). Furthermore, “God’s kingdom was the dominant theme in Jesus’ teaching” (21). The kingdom of God is understood to be presented throughout Scripture as “God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule and blessing” (21).

In eight chapters, the book traces the kingdom motif throughout the Bible.

“The Pattern of the Kingdom” introduces us to elements of this unifying them by looking at Genesis 1:1-2:25. “The Perished Kingdom” (Gen. 3) shows the results of man’s rejection of God’s kingdom. “The Promised Kingdom” (Gen. 17:1-8; Gal. 3:6-14) focuses on God’s promises of salvation. It particularly emphasizes God’s covenant with Abraham, which promised a people, a land, and blessing, and shows that, from the start, the kingdom of God was intended to include Gentiles as well as Jews. “The Partial Kingdom” (a lengthy chapter in comparison with the others) covers passages ranging from Genesis 12 to 2 Samuel 7:1-17 to trace the kingdom through the history of Israel and highlights the promise of a king. “The Prophesied Kingdom” focuses on the role of the prophets in announcing the coming fulfillment of the promises of the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God “sums up the prophetic hope” (108), according to Roberts. As the book turns to the New Testament in “The Present Kingdom,” the author states:

At first sight we may feel that a genealogy is an uninspiring way to start the New Testament, but, if we remember God’s promises, we will be on the edge of our seats as soon as we read the words: ‘A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham’ (Matthew 1:1). He is the one who fulfills the promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 and to David in 2 Samuel 7. The apostle Paul expresses it clearly: ‘no matter how many promises God has made, they are “yes” in Christ’ (2 Corinthians 1:20). (107)

The chapter shows how Jesus brings the kingdom of God. As for God’s people, Jesus did what Adam and Israel failed to do. Jesus is the place of God’s kingdom, fulfilling the purposes of the tabernacle and temple. God’s rule and blessing come about through the new covenant Jesus establishes and the blessing that flows from His kingship. These things came about through the “triumphant success” of the cross (114). There was no other way for Christ to bring God’s kingdom apart from His obedience to the Father and death as a substitute for sinners. His resurrection inaugurates a new age of God’s blessing.

Roberts’ bite-size overview of the Gospels culminates in his assertion that the kingdom has come, although it has not yet come in its fullness (119). He compares Jesus to a conductor who has returned to offer salvation to those who have refused to play God’s tune. While some submit to this redeemer, they will continue to play some wrong notes and produce discord, since there is still a future aspect to the kingdom (118-119).

In “The Proclaimed Kingdom,” the author says, “The promises of the kingdom will not be completely fulfilled until [Christ’s] second coming” (123). He gives 2 Timothy 3:1 and James 5:3 as reasons for viewing “the last days” as the time between the first and second comings of Jesus, meaning that, according to New Testament usage, we have been in the last days for the last two millennia. God has delayed Jesus’ return “so that more people will have a chance to hear the gospel and repent before it is too late” (125). Right now, God is working by His Spirit through the proclamation of the gospel to extend His kingdom. The Spirit is reversing the judgment of Babel (separation of nations along linguistic lines) and, in a way peculiar to this age, He indwells and empowers believers to bear witness to the truth before those who do not believe. The return of Jesus takes place after the gospel is preached to all nations.

The church is God’s people (131). God’s place is this holy people who trust Christ. God’s Spirit dwells in us individually and as a Christian community (131), and helps us to enjoy God’s rule and blessing by living according to His standards (132).

The present age leaves us longing for “The Perfected Kingdom.” In this chapter, Roberts surveys the book of Revelation to show what God has told us about the complete fulfillment all His promises, particularly as His people are with Him in the new creation, in the new temple, enjoying His rule and blessing forever.

EVALUATION

The book has several advantages. Its brevity and ease of reading make it accessible to a wide audience, even as young as high school. Most of the chapters are short and include questions for discussion and application, making it ideal for Sunday school, classroom use, or personal study. It contains many helpful charts. It whets the appetite for further Bible study and is useful even for students advanced in their hermeneutics that may be familiar with the minutiae of Scripture but have forgotten what the view of the whole thing looks like. It is common to hear that we should interpret a text in light of its immediate context, the book that it is in, and the whole Bible, but sometimes it is difficult to see how it fits in with the rest of the canon. Vaughan Roberts has given us a resource that helps in this area.

As useful as the book is, the reader should be aware of Robert’s views of the interpretation of the days in Genesis 1, the nation Israel, and eschatology. These particular concerns would keep me from recommending the book for private study to those without a good grounding in the Scriptures and Christian theology.

Roberts states the following about God’s creation of the world:

Whether he completed the job in six literal twenty-four hours days or over a longer period does not really matter (Christian opinions differ over how we should interpret Genesis 1). What is important is the fact that God is the creator of all things. (27)

However, such an issue may well matter a great deal, as one’s view of the days of Genesis could impact one’s view of the historicity of Adam and Eve, the origin of sin, and even the events of the gospel itself. Some spiritualize the days of Genesis into long ages simply to accommodate a supposed body of scientific evidence that would render the literal interpretation nonsensical. These interpreters may well be guilty of compromising the very foundations of the gospel (albeit unintentionally).

Dispensational readers may quickly notice that Roberts’ does not share their views on the nature of Israel and predictive prophecy. His amillennial eschatology surfaces frequently in the last half of the book (I write as a premillennialist).

Roberts plainly states, “The new Israel is the church” (131). As far as a future for Israel, he discourages readers from looking for fulfillment of the Old Testament promises “in the State of Israel” and says not “to expect a new temple to be build there” (108). He writes:

God made his promises to Israel in ways they could understand. He used categories they were familiar with, such as the nation, the temple and material prosperity in the land. But the fulfillment breaks the boundaries of those categories. To expect a literal fulfillment is to miss the point. (109)

It would have been helpful to see his analysis of Romans chapters 9-11 (especially chapter 11) in regard to these points.

Neither the 1,000 years of Christ’s reign nor the 144,000 should be understood in terms of literal numbers, according to Roberts (145, 148). The lake of fire is seen to represent eternal death; Roberts does not clearly indicate whether he thinks this means there is an eternal conscious torment of the damned or not (144).

He also makes his amillennial views clear when he speaks about other passages in Revelation in an endnote, writing:

Revelation 20:2-3 speaks of Satan being bound and then thrown into the Abyss at the start of the thousand-year period. There is good reason to believe that those events have taken place in the past. Revelation 12:10 makes it clear that Satan has already been hurled down from heaven. He was defeated by the death and resurrection of Christ and has been bound ever since. He is powerless to stop God calling his elect into his kingdom, but he has still not admitted defeat and continues to attack God’s people. Revelation 11:7 describes him coming up from the Abyss to attack the witnessing church. He could not have come up from the bottomless pit if he had not already been thrown down into it. I believe that occurred when Christ died and rose. That is when the millennium began. It will continue until just before the return of Christ.

These concerns should not result in a dismissal of Roberts’ book, but they need to be pointed out. Because of them, I think the book would be most useful in a classroom setting or a discipleship/mentoring relationship where a more competent teacher can help the student when these issues arise.

CONCLUSION

Vaughan Roberts’ small volume of biblical theology is useful to help us “zoom out” and see the big picture of the Bible. Despite the caveats given above, the book is still valuable to help us see what the Bible is all about so we can interpret its parts in light of it as a whole. God’s Big Picture is a great starting point for encouragement to be better students of God’s Word, clear proclaimers of His truth, more obedient children of God, and more faithful evangelists in spreading the good news of King Jesus.

Reviewed by Doug Smith

Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today?

“Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today?”

Dr. David Murray, professor of Old Testament and practical theology at Puritan Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan, addressed issues related to this question in a recent conference at Fraser Valley Bible Conference in British Columbia. You can access the media from the conference by clicking here (you can watch video and/or download or stream audio).

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the sessions, and was especially moved as Murray clearly demonstrated that the Old Testament is a manual for Christian living. I found his treatment of Hebrews 11 and 12 to demonstrate this point beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is not a manual in a moralistic sense of do this, do this, do this – rather, we live a particular way because we are looking to Jesus in faith.

In addition to these lectures, I have been thoroughly enjoying Dr. Murray’s blog, “Head Heart Hand” and his weekly 30 minute podcast with Tim Challies, Connected Kingdom. I have been refreshed with the Gospel and gained helpful insights through these resources, and commend them to you.

“Is the Old Testament Still Relevant Today?” In a word, YES, and I encourage you to check out Dr. Murray’s lectures to see how it points to Christ, shows us how to live, and shows us how to read the New Testament.

Beyond a VeggieTales Gospel: Preaching Christ from Every Text – Resources from Dr. Russell Moore

Did you know there are some churches where you may not hear the gospel?  No, I’m not talking about liberal churches, where fundamental doctrines such as the deity of Christ and substitutionary atonement and the resurrection are denied.  I’m talking about churches that claim to believe and uphold the gospel.  Many messages approach the Bible as little more than a self-help manual with “5 steps to…”

But the Bible is about far more than that.  It is about a cosmic struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  It is about a holy God to whom we must give account.  It is about the pervading sinfulness of man.  It is about blood and sacrifice.  It is about the redemption bought by the sinless Son of God, through His perfect life and His vicarious death on the cross.  It is about the risen and returning King to whom every knee will bow and every tongue will confess.  It is about the need of every soul to repent of sin and trust Christ.

And no matter which part of the Bible is being preached, there is a path to Christ from that text.  While we must be sure we do not misinterpret the text, there is some way in which it predicts, prefigures, or patterns some aspect of our need of salvation and what Christ has done, when seen within the larger context of the whole Bible.

I encourage you to avail yourself of this excellent material from Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, about preaching Christ from every text.  Let’s be sure that if someone doesn’t hear the gospel that it’s not because we are failing to preach it.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uwQi2Kea8A]