Published on November 6th, 2013 | by Josiah Batten
What is Biblical Theology?
The term “biblical theology” creates a great deal of confusion among Evangelical Christians. After all, isn’t all theology biblical? Of course, the confusion comes from equivocation. Scholars and academics use the term to refer to the chronological examination of the major themes and teachings of the Bible. This is examining theology as it was revealed through redemptive history, beginning with those books of the Bible written first (Genesis and Job), and proceeding to those that follow.
When average Evangelicals use the term “biblical theology,” they actually mean “theology taught in the Bible.” By this definition, good systematic theology and biblical theology become synonymous. Systematic theology looks at the entire spectrum of biblical teaching in relation to a given topic (the nature of God, the person and work of Christ, etc.), and should consider the relation of one topic to another. In this sense, systematic theology is very biblical.
Some people wonder why we need different types of theology. After all, don’t systematic theology and biblical theology (in the scholarly sense) ultimately come to the same conclusions? Well, among conservative scholars, they often do. But different results is not the point. The point is different orientations, and how those orientations can inform us. Systematic theology is oriented, unsurprisingly, to systematizing. It organizes, classifies, and analyzes the major teachings of Scripture as if each is a distinct (but interrelated) subject. This orientation allows for a certain degree of neatness, and can bring great clarity to each individual topic.
In contrast, biblical theology is oriented toward Scripture as story. If God begins revelation somewhere, and He has an end in revelation, why does He reveal what He does when He does? What does this tell us about what He is up to in the world? Conservative biblical theology tends to be motivated by the assumption that Scripture, like systematic theology, has an integrative theme that runs throughout it. The Bible is not just a random collection of stories and anecdotes, but like a good movie, it has a plot and a theme and it is getting toward some end.
Because we believe in the authority and sufficiency of Scripture, whatever this end is should have significant bearing on our lives. If biblical theology reveals that God has some type of plan, and some type of means for fulfilling this plan, our response would have to be obedience and adherence to that plan.
I happen to believe that such a plan is evident in Scripture, and that this plan makes sense of each individual part of Scripture. In my future posts, I want to present a broad-overview of this plan and its implications for us as the people of God. And biblical theology will be our method.
Soli Deo Gloria,