Forced Through a Grid

“So, what are you studying?”

My father-in-law asks me this question after my first day of classes. While I am in Indiana taking a course toward my Master’s I stay at their home nearby.

“Well,” I begin, “the class is on Biblical Theology.”

Biblical Theology?” he asks. “As opposed to unbiblical theology?”

“You’d be surprised,” I reply.

I offer a brief definition of “biblical theology”:

“Biblical theology is principally concerned with the overall theological message of the whole Bible” (Brian S. Rosner, “Biblical Theology,” New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, n.p.).

The overall theological message of the whole Bible. In other words, “What does the Bible – all of it, Old Testament and New – say about God?”

Simple. Right?

Yet, as Rosner continues to point out, it is the discipline that most people who read the Bible – or who want to read the Bible – are concerned about:

“…all Christians have an intensely personal interest, or more accurately stake, in the subject of biblical theology, i.e. what the Bible teaches about God and his dealings with the human race. And biblical theology of one sort or another, whether acknowledged as such or not, is usually what is going on when the Bible is preached effectively, studied rigorously or read intently by Christian believers.” (ibid.)

Simple, yet important.

Its importance is reflected in that so many disciplines of theology are dependent upon biblical theology. Historical theology is the study of the development of various biblical theologies. Systematic is the synthesis and distillation of some topics of biblical theology into categories (e.g. God, Man, Sin, Jesus, etc.). Philosophical theology is the use of categories of philosophy in an attempt to answer theological questions. Apologetics is the rational defense (or explanation) of one’s beliefs. Natural theology attempts to discuss God by resorting to reason alone without a ‘revelation’ from scripture, etc. There is also a Practical Theology which asks what is to be done based on what one believes about God.

Unfortunately, a great number of people tend to move forward into these other forms of theology with a worldview that is not solidly grounded in a biblical theology. Worse yet, these theologies become a grid through which we see (or don’t see!) the text.

This reminds me of a game we play during our family game night. One of the essential parts to one of our boardgames is a card with a red, transparent plastic sheet. Some of the game cards have secret answers printed in black. However, these answers were completely covered with a other letters and numbers in red ink that made the answer illegible. However, when you put over the red-plastic card over the answer card the red printing disappears leaving only the answer in black. Magic!

Our theologies sometimes operate like that card. It creates a lens that only lets some of what is printed be read. We are sometimes predisposed to see in the text only what we want to see. Some very important verses and passages disappear.

In today’s lectures, my professor warned of letting our other “theologies” get in the way of doing biblical theology:

“If you don’t know biblical theology you cannot properly interact with other theological disciplines. Biblical theology does not allow you to put a grid over the biblical text and force the text through that grid. You read and study scripture and let it generate the categories.” (emphasis his)

In future posts, we will look a little more about how to do biblical theology.


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