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What is Biblical Theology? By James Hamilton
September 30, 2014
Most people dont like arguments. This is because some avoid conflict, others dont want to seem negative, and many more feel when arguments arise that their words are grossly misrepresented. What they have said seems to get twisted by the person they are arguing with than truly representing the meaning they truly intended. This twisting of words and intentions is what author James Hamilton is concerned about in the book What is Biblical Theology? Rather than reading scripture from the worldview of the biblical authors, people today read the Bible from the current cultures point of view. No one would want their words to be misrepresented by anyone, yet this is precisely how some interpret the Bible. As a result, Hamilton has written this concise book in an attempt to instruct principles to get the most from the Bibles original meaning. This process is called biblical theology.
Hamilton defines biblical theology as, an attempt to get out of this world and into another. The point is to understand the biblical authors original intent than to interpret the Bible with todays standards of understanding. Many people may see the conflict in this process as cumbersome. But, by embracing this tension between todays culture and that of the biblical authors, one finds the true meaning of scripture. Simply, the unified story of the Bible is seen that links each scripture passage together. A story that uses symbols, imagery, types, and patterns to beautifully display Gods plot of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. This theme can be seen from Genesis to Revelation. It shows God, who is the central character over humanity, has provided a means to redeem the world and its people to be included in His grand design. For Hamilton, this redemption is biblical theology, which he attempts to teach in this short book.
Though this book is a bit technical, the Gospel is apart of biblical theology since all of scripture is pointing towards Gods final redemption. For this to happen it must go through the Cross of Christ, which is central to the Gospel. As a result, the reader learns about the Gospel. They will also walk away with a richer appreciation for the Gospel on every page of the Bible no matter their background.
Lay people new to the concept of biblical theology will find this book a decent read to the subject area. By taking the time to read through Hamiltons instructions concerning biblical theology they will be better equipped to see scriptures overall plot. Sadly, the overall challenge of this book is that Hamilton is far too technical. As a result, the average reader may struggle with part 2 of the book and never finish the text.
In contrast, anyone deeply familiar with theology may find this book too basic. As a result, those deeply interested in theology may find this book difficult to read because of the basic details Hamilton provides. Should they want to dig deeper into the area of biblical theology, Hamiltons larger book, Gods Glory in Salvation Through Judgment is more enjoyable. This 640-page tome focuses on the application of biblical theology than What is Biblical Theology?, which is more instructional.
In closing, What is Biblical Theology? is recommended, but with hesitation. Hamilton does a decent job of summarizing the concept in this short book. This is because there is something extremely dry about the contents, especially part 2 when readers should pay the most attention. Despite these challenges, there are benefits to reading parts of this book. As Hamilton alludes to in the epilogue, biblical theology should cause a greater desire to read more of the Bible in one sitting. By doing so, one can then make the attempt to get out of this world and into another. Then one can avoid twisting scriptures meaning to see the greatest twist in Gods plot, which is His desire to redeem people and creation through Jesus Christ.
(I received this book through the Crossway Review program Beyond the Page in exchange for an honest review of the book.)
James Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, concludes his primer on biblical theology with these insightful words: "Make no mistake about it: people all around us are living their lives in light of a larger story." (Loc. 1061-2). Whether the story is evolutionary science or a particular political ideology, some sort of story shapes the life of every person on the planet. What is Biblical Theology? is about a storyâ€”the true story of God's redemptive acts in history and the word in which he makes that story known. Hamilton wants his readers to know the story of the Bible, not merely for information, but for transformation. To this end, he introduces readers to the concept of biblical theology and gives us the best story in which we are to shape our lives.
What is Biblical Theology? is simply the best introductory text to this topic. While others such as Klink and Lockett provide readers with an excellent scholarly survey of the topic including various authors and modern approaches, Hamilton's is the most accessible for the widest possible audience. In that manner, he fills the gap by connecting his scholarly work directly to the hearts of the reader. This does not mean, however, that he skips over the big concepts of biblical theology. From describing the basics of the Bible's big story (Part 1), to the more detailed language of symbols and typology (Part 2), to connecting the story of the Bible to the church and individual believers (Part 3), Hamilton engages readers with the basic concepts which make up the big picture of the biblical narrative. Hamilton guides us and helps us to connect the dots of Scripture, perhaps in ways we had never seen before. And the magic of his writing is that he so excellently summarizes material in a way that makes one say, "I get it."
Personally speaking, What is Biblical Theology? has helped me immensely in understanding the message of Scripture and how to study the Bible. In seminary during my master's work, I took numerous classes on bible exposition, discussing the basics of every single book of the Bible. I ultimately walked away with a jumble of biblical pieces, unsure how they all fit together. Even though my professors presented a way in which to put the pieces together, I left scratching my head as if forced to read instructions in German for assembling a Japanese car. Hamilton has rescued me from that confusion and helped to plant my feet a firmer ground, a foundation supported by the fundamentals of biblical theology helping me make sense of the biblical narrative. I can only imagine that Hamilton will continue to help other readers do the same.
With this in mind, there are short spurts where Hamilton may confuse some readers. His discussion on typology (regarding historical correspondence and escalation) could lose some readers in the process. Occasionally (particularly in part 2), Hamilton seems to writes more with his professorial pen than his pastoral one. While there are technical aspects which need to be explained in order to grasp the basics of biblical theology, at times I felt that Hamilton lost a little momentum. Whatever he might have lost, however, he regained in part 3, driving home the spiritual vitality available to those who read the Bible based on his prescription. With gusto Hamilton exclaims, "Biblical theology is not just an interesting topic. It informs who we are and how we live. It's a way of getting out of a false world into the real one, a transporter enabling us to inhabit the story of the Scriptures." (Loc. 913-914)."
So who needs to read this book? Well, every believer who's interested in understanding the grand narrative of God's word. In fact, even interested non-believers would benefit from reading this book in order to grasp the basic story of the Bible. More specifically, I feel as if all pastors who preach on a weekly basis would benefit immensely from reading this book. If a biblical theological lens is not already shaping your preaching, let these concepts reshape and mold your preaching to fit the God-designed narrative of Scripture. It also makes for an excellent introductory text for hermeneutics courses in a Christian college or seminary. As for me, it has rescued me from a disjointed hermeneutic and allowed me to marvel afresh at the power of God's word. What is Biblical Theology? promotes a certain story, a story filled with mystery and awe as well as an identity. It's a story about coming home, finding a place and being caught up in what God has done, is doing and will do. What is Biblical Theology? gives us a lens to understand Scripture and a prescription for ongoing study of God's word. I for one will return to this text repeatedly with an open Bible and a prayerful heart.
I consider myself an outdoorsman. I love to hunt and fish. I don't get to do those things as much as I'd like to, but when I can get out I thoroughly enjoy myself. I'm thankful my father introduced me to fishing and hunting because I wasn't born with a love for those pursuits. I had to be introduced to them. I had to be mentored and pointed in the right direction. I needed someone, in this case my dad, to give me a little push in the right direction. Hunting in particular is a sport that is difficult to begin on your own. You need have someone to guide your steps and teach you the ropes. I'm thankful my dad played the role of mentor in this aspect of my life.
I think biblical theology is a bit like hunting in this regard; it is a little intimidating and difficult to get into that type of reading. The books are often big...really big even. And the term itself seems beyond what the average reader desires or is capable of handling. For us non-scholar types, the pursuit of biblical theology is like hunting in that we would be well served to have a mentor to get us started and teach us the ropes, someone to guide us and get us started in the right direction.
Jim Hamilton, through his book What Is Biblical Theology?, acts as the mentor we need to begin this literary pursuit. Hamilton advises us and instructs us in a preparatory manner for delving into the very edifying and enjoyable world of biblical theology. And once you begin down this path, you just might find reading and studying biblical theology is something that you love to do. The few books on biblical theology that I have read have been God exalting and personally enriching. Hamilton uses What Is Biblical Theology? to point us in the right direction and encourage us to press into this captivating curriculum called biblical theology.
Hamilton begins the book, which for the intimidated is a mere 120 pages, with two introductory chapters which motivate us to investigate biblical theology and educate us on exactly what it is. Biblical theology is the "interpretive perspective of the biblical authors" (15) and its aim is to "understand and embrace"(12) their perspective. Starting in these chapters and continuing throughout the book, Hamilton's passion for this discipline is evident and infectious. From here the book is divided into three parts: "the first sets out the Bible's big story, the second looks at the way the biblical authors use symbols ... and the third considers the part the church plays in that story" (22).
Part 1 of What is Biblical Theology? is comprised of three chapters. The first considers what we in the English teaching profession call the elements of fiction. But in this case we could call them the elements of non-fiction narrative. These aspects include settings, character, and plot. Hamilton informs us that the big story of the Bible provides us with the true perspective on life; "We make sense of our days in light of this overarching narrative" (32).
The second chapter of Part 1 takes one of the aspects-plot-and focuses its attention on its details. Hamilton includes conflict, episodes, and theme under the heading of plot. The author demonstrates how plot episodes, which revolve around creation's conflict with God, recur throughout the biblical narrative. These recurring plot episodes, which include ideas like exile and exodus, "function like schematics or templates" which are "used to communicate the meaning of who Jesus was and what he accomplished" (39). Thus, the importance of biblical theology should be apparent; it helps us understand Jesus!
The final chapter of Part 1 investigates the promises throughout the big story of a coming redeemer. These â€˜gold coins' represent clues to a mystery: the mystery of God's great work to save His people through His Son. What seems obvious to us now was not so to those who were anticipating a Messiah. But as we read the Bible, Hamilton explains, we can retrospectively see how God announced this coming mystery-Messiah through the prophets and Old Testament writing. Part 2 deals with elements a little more figurative.
The Bible's Symbolic Universe is the title Hamilton gives to Part 2. The chapters in this section cover symbols, imagery, typology, and patterns in the Scriptures. Hamilton concisely explains how these elements work and what they do. He offers intriguing examples which beckon the reader to look and understand these concepts as they come to us in the Bible. I found these succinct chapters whetted my appetite for more; more study, more investigation, more understanding and more of the Bible. In the author's words, "These images, types, and patterns are often laid on top of each other, and this layering both interprets and communicates. This use of symbolism and imagery adds texture to the story the Bible tells, reinforcing it and making it concrete" (65).
The final section of this book, Part 3, discusses the church and her grand role in this story of stories. Hamilton's passion permeates the whole book but particularly rises in these chapters. He writes, "The true story of the world and the church's place in it is a stupendous tale. Best of all, it's true (98)." Biblical theology's importance increases as we understand that the "Bible's story and symbolism teach the church to understand who she is, what she faces, and how she should live as she longs for the coming of her King and Lord" (113). Biblical theology helps us grasp the glorious truths of the gospel, the magnificence of our Messiah, and the riveting role of the church in this drama. Do you really need any more encouragement to look into biblical theology? I think not.
Hamilton's enthusiasm and zeal for this topic is infectious. I found myself getting excited as I read through this relatively brief introduction to biblical theology. I have found Hamilton's contagious passion for this subject, and similar ones for that matter, to be an endearing quality of his writing which encourages me in my pursuit of understanding and appreciating my God. I think, in this book, he will have this impact on you. In particular, if you need a mentor and coach and motivator to help you to become a disciple in the sometimes intimidating discipline of biblical theology, I do not think you will find a better guide than Hamilton and his guidebook What Is Biblical Theology? is a good place to start.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of review.
James M. Hamilton is the associate professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. He's the author of several books including his new one; What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism and Patterns.
And you'd think a book with such a long title might be long and unapproachable, but truthfully Mr. Hamilton writes a wonderful starter on such a grand topic. Each chapter guides the reader through the over-arching theme of scripture which is a pursuant creator who tirelessly reaches down to creation to protect, love and bestow His grace.
Mr. Hamilton does a great job breaking the walls down between New and Old Testament or even chapter and verse to pull the curtain back on reading the Bible as a single work. Often times I felt that I was in a Church service with Mr. Hamilton, or even in one of his classes and I could just picture him speaking.
Again, this is not a text book - it reads like a conversation - it reads like Mr Hamilton is with you, guiding you through the pages of the Bible and he's telling his own story along the way.
I acquired this book, hoping that it would be a good reference in our Church library and I am pleased that it is exactly what I was hoping for. This would make a wonderful introduction to the scriptures for a new believer, or even make great source material for a sermon series on the word of God.
Thank you to Crossway books for this advanced copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.
What is Biblical Theology? serves as a great introduction for those interested in the topic of biblical theology, but it also has so much more to offer. Ultimately, Hamilton here wants to create better readers of the Bible. This is no small ambition but neither is it an obscure or unimportant one. All Christians should know their Bibles better because life is in His Word. As such, What is Biblical Theology? is a book for every Christian and one that I would wholeheartedly recommend. Get this book!