Baptist Theological Method

Over the last day or so I’ve read Richard Barcellos’ The Lord’s Supper as a Means of Grace: More Than a Memory (Fearn: Mentor, 2013). I highly recommend this short but pastoral, exegetically based, and historically informed study of the church’s communion practice from a Baptist perspective. Although I could highlight a number of quotes from the book on everything from prayer to the Holy Spirit to Baptist history, one of my favorite sections is a very brief note on theological method Barcellos makes at the beginning of his final chapter. He writes,

The Reformed confessional and catechetical formulation of the doctrine of the Lord’s Supper as a means of grace is not based on one biblical text or a few isolated proof texts. It is based upon a complex of texts, exegetical work on those texts, the doctrines derived from those biblical texts and others in concert with a redemptive-historical, whole-Bible awareness and in conversation with the history of the Christian tradition.

In place of “the Reformed confessional…as a means of grace,” we could substitute the simple phrase “Christian doctrine.” Doctrinal formulation is not a matter of proof-texting (although certainly we should allow for doctrinal formulation on the basis of only one text), but rather, as David Yeago puts it, using conceptual terms to render accurate judgments about the patterns of language found in Scripture.

Intertextuality in Revelation

Today on Twitter (and by today I mean 2 minutes ago) I mentioned that I think there is much work to be done on intertextuality between Revelation and the rest of the New Testament. Because of John’s obvious reliance on the Old Testament, there have been an increasing number of articles and books published on intertextuality between Revelation and the OT. For instance, G. K. Beale in his commentary, as well as in his earlier John’s Use of the Old Testament in Revelation (which has been assimilated into the much larger commentary), notes all kinds of fascinating intertextual connections, but they are largely confined to Revelation’s use of the OT. So far there has been surprisingly little published on how Revelation alludes to other NT books.

Alistair Roberts pointed me to the John-Revelation project, which is a fascinating and compelling textual comparison of the two books, and he also mentioned Peter Leithart’s forthcoming commentary on Revelation as a possible source for this kind of work. In my book I point to a number of textual parallels between Revelation and Hebrews-Jude, and early in the twentieth century R. H. Charles in his ICC volume noted the distinctive connections between John’s Apocalypse and the Gospel of Matthew. But, given Revelation’s status as the canon closer and its relatively late date in comparison with the rest of the NT, we shouldn’t be shocked if there are a plethora of connections between it and the Gospels and Letters. I for one believe this is an area where NT scholars can find hundreds of treasures in a relatively unexplored field.

Typology, TIS, and Biblical Theology

On Saturday Jim Hamilton contrasted the Theological Interpretation of Scripture movement’s and biblical theology’s understanding of typology. The gist of Hamilton’s argument is that TIS focuses on the divine author’s intent in understanding typological patterns and readings, whereas BT (or Hamilton’s approach to it, anyway) focuses on the human author’s intent.

Patrick Schreiner responded this morning with a post of his own, pointing out three ways in which he believes the divine author’s perspective is emphasized over the human author – the NT use of the OT, paratexts, and the idea of biblical authors “speaking better than they knew.”

I’ll throw my hat in the ring here, but before I do I’ll say that I appreciate both of these men’s spirit and writing. They both do a great service to the church in their thinking, and I’d imagine they are a blessing to their local churches as well. I’ve benefited greatly from both of their writings, whether it’s Patrick’s blog or Jim’s books.

For me, though, I wonder if both of these posts are articulating a false dichotomy between the human author’s and divine author’s intent. While Hamilton wants to emphasize the human author, Schreiner wants to emphasize the divine, at least in some places. And yet, don’t the two work together? As Tyler Wittman put it in a comment on Hamilton’s post,

I think since Holy Scripture is at once something written 100% by God and 100% by human authors, we simply have to deal with the text as it stands. Asking whether or not the human author intended this or that type may be the wrong question of Scripture, as if understanding the literal sense must be either/or.

The problem is that such a question seems to presuppose a competitive relationship between the divine and human authors.

This is, for me, exactly right. On the one hand with Hamilton I want to say yes, we need to understand the human author. But on the other hand I want to say with Schreiner that yes, we need to understand the divine author. And in contrast (I think) to both, I’d say that the two must be understood together. It is not as if I am seeking one author’s intent to the exclusion or downplaying of the other in the text; rather, it is in the text that we see both authors’ intent at the same time. Further, intent is a primarily textual phenomenon; it originates with the author but is known predominately through the text. To distinguish between what the divine author was thinking and what the human author understood seems to me to be impossible.

I’d also say, contra Patrick, that the NT uses the OT far better and far more faithfully to the human authors’ intents than I think we sometimes give credit. Intertextuality, sometimes quite complicated intertextuality, helps explain many of the passages Patrick cites, as well as others. G. K. Beale and John Sailhamer have dealt extensively with Matthew 2 and Hosea 11, and I have attempted to provide a thorough textual explanation for Paul’s use of the Sarah and Hagar story. The other examples he mentioned can be solved, in my opinion, through discussion of context (e.g. Rachel and Ramah – the Jeremiah passage is in the middle of ch. 31, about the new covenant).

So with Hamilton, I want to affirm the human author’s typological abilities. But with Schreiner I want to affirm the importance of considering the divine author’s intent. Contra to both, though, I want to affirm that these two work in concert, not in contrast or even in focusing on one and downplaying the other.

Scripture and Science

The relationship between science and Scripture is a hot topic today. I am of the opinion that, too often, Scripture is asked to accommodate to the positivist rationalistic assumptions and conclusions of modern scientific inquiry. Here are Vos’ insightful words on the subject:

“At present many writers take exception to [death entering the world through Adam's sin], largely on scientific grounds. With these as such we have here nothing to do. But, as is frequently the case, strenuous attempts are made to give such a turn to the Biblical phrases as to render them compatible with what science is believed to require, and not only this, some proceed tot he assertion that the Scriptural statements compel acceptance of the findings of science.

Attempts of this kind make for poor and forced exegesis. Scripture has a right to be exegetes independently from within; and only after its natural meaning has thus been ascertained, can we properly raise the question of agreement or disagreement between Scripture and science.”

Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2012), 36-37.

 

Francis Watson on the Biblical Story

. . . a book that begins with the assertion that ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ establishes, through the comprehensiveness of its scope, the expectation that the narrative will lead eventually to an equally comprehensive goal – as indeed it does, in the creation of new heavens and a new earth at the close of the book of Revelation. The universal horizons of this narrative do not permit the extraction of ‘the story of Jesus’ to serve as the legitimation-myth of a small community in its self-imposed exile from the world. Over against the apolitical parochialism of some postmodern narrative theology, the story of Jesus must instead be interpreted as the midpoint of time, deriving from the universal horizon of the creation of the world and of humankind in the likeness of God, and pointing towards the universal horizon of an eschaton in which the human and non-human creation together reach their appointed goal.

Francis Watson, Text, Church and World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 153.

Storied Typology

Over at Euangelion, Joel Willitts has written a couple of posts on doing Biblical Theology. I think Joel’s intuitions are correct that a typological approach tends to exalt “fulfilment” to the neglect of the “type.” Willitts wants to show the meaning and the significance of the “new” is profoundly shaped by understanding the “old.” He writes:

The new event is in the shape of the archetype and thereby embodying its importance. The idea is that the new event’s significance is dependent on the significance of the old event. The new event is “another manifestation of the basic archetype”. The new derives significance in relation to the old.

Be sure to read his whole post here.

Book Notice: The King in His Beauty

Image via Amazon.com

Image via Amazon.com

I could not be more excited about this book. Schreiner is an excellent biblical theologian, and *finally* we are seeing a bit more production in the area of whole Bible biblical theologies. I also am excited to see his organization of the book around God, his people, and the land.

The volume is slated for publication in June 2013 by Baker Academic.

Goldsworthy on Biblical Theology

For my Biblical Interpretation class at CBU I am requiring Robert Plummer’s 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible and Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan. Although the latter book is technically (and subtitled) “an introduction to biblical theology,” I am requiring it because, as Goldsworthy notes, “biblical theology is essential for hermeneutics” (25). In chapter one, Goldsworthy gives the following reasons why this is the case:

  • “Biblical theology gives us the means of dealing with problematic passages in the Bible by relating them to the one message of the Bible” (21).
  • “Biblical theology enables us to relate any Bible story to the whole message of the Bible, and therefore to ourselves” (22).
  • “Biblical theology shows the relationship of all the parts of the Old Testament to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and, therefore, to the Christian” (23).
  • “Biblical theology enables us to map out the unity of the Bible by looking at its message as a whole” (24).
  • “Biblical theology provides the basis for the interpretation of any part of the Bible as God’s word to us” (25).

What you might notice from this list is that the first four points essentially say that biblical theology enables us to read the Bible as a whole and not just individual parts. This is vital to the task of interpretation, as each passage, chapter, section, and book of the Bible cannot be understood without placing it in the larger context of the biblical canon. This helps interpreters deal with two major roadblocks, namely problematic passages (#1 above) and the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament (#3). It also allows us to read the Bible as a unified story (#2) about Jesus Christ (#3b), which is then the proper way to understand application (#5). Biblical theology, in other words, gives us the context for interpretation (the whole Bible and its story), the object of interpretation (Jesus Christ), and the goal of interpretation (transformation into Christ’s image. Biblical theology could not be more important to the task of interpretation.

Intersections Between Biblical and Systematic Theology

My field is technically biblical theology, but I’ve found that the most helpful scholars are well-rounded and able to connect the disciplines. Additionally, in my PhD studies I came to the rather outlandish idea (*sarcasm*) that biblical studies, biblical theology, systematic theology (including historical and philosophical sub-disciplines), practical theology, and homiletics ought to form an interconnected whole. This of course is not an idea original to me, but SEBTS helped me to understand it and practice it. Recently I’ve been thinking specifically about the intersection between biblical and systematic theology. I wonder if specific biblical theological themes, such as the Temple, can help us not only connect BT and ST but also categories within ST?

For instance, as the Temple is the place where God meets man, so it is also may be a place where Christology meets eschatology.

Within the doctrine of Christology, one of the most important Old Testament identity markers for the person of Christ is that of Temple. Jesus’ identification of himself with the Temple of God helps theologians to develop a robust Christological identity that includes Christ’s rule over all things, his priestly office of reconciliation, his function as the restored image of God, and his communication of the real presence of God with humankind.

Not only does this help theologians identify and characterize the person of Christ, though, but it also aids them in connecting Christology with eschatology. The doctrine of eschatology is rooted in God’s promises to Israel in the Old Testament, and they can be summed up in the expectation that Yahweh will return to rule over his enemies, reconcile Israel to himself, restore Israel to be the image bearers of God, and dwell with them through his real presence.

These expectations are all realized in Jesus’ identification of himself as the Temple, and thus the Christological identity of Jesus as Temple functions also to define the eschatological reality of the inaugurated last days.

Doctrine of Revelation and the Hebrew Bible

Revelation can broadly be described as God’s self-disclosure to humanity. Brevard Childs states that the goal of God’s self-disclosure is so that all may see and know him.[1] Thus, God’s revelation proceeds from his activity and to understand his actions is to know God.[2] In the Hebrew Bible, God’s revelation comes in different variety of media: fire, thunder, a whisper, a donkey but these often are related to and initiated through his spoken word, in turn bringing upon some type of action.[3] Two examples that I think this can be seen is through creation and covenant.

In the creation story, God’s word is portrayed as the actor. The Psalmist states that it was by God’s word that creation came forth (Psalm 33:6, 9). In God’s self-disclosure to humanity in Genesis 2:17, God commands Adam to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This command has an implicit promise that if Adam and Eve refrained from eating of the tree they would continue to live in the blessings of the garden and an explicit promise that if they did eat they would die. For Adam and Eve, because of their disobedience, God’s word of judgment becomes actualized. Their knowledge of God and his action of one who blesses and provides in the garden now include a God who judges and is more concealed outside the garden.

Another significant high point in the Hebrew Bible is the Abrahamic covenant. In Genesis 12:1-3 God establishes a relationship with Abram through the utterance of a promise—heir, land, nation, and international blessing.[4] God commits himself to Abram and to Abram’s family. God reveals himself to be loyal and will bless his family. God’s act in revealing himself again begins by establishing a particular relationship through his word. Likewise, it seems that God’s disclosure is initiated freely by himself, but is actualised by Abram believing by faith.

It seems that from the perspective of these examples of the Hebrew Bible that God’s self disclosure has a tight relationship to the obedience and faith of his people. I think this brings an interesting perspective to Christian theology which rightly understands God’s initiative in revelation, but what role does the idea of understanding, listening, and obedience play in this self-disclosure?


[1] Brevard S Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989), 43-44.

[2] Childs, Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, 45.

[3] Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009), 21.

[4] Paul R House, Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 75.

Further Reading

Barr, James. The Concept of Biblical Theology, 468-96

Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament, 333-358

Balentine, S. The Hidden God 

Childs, Brevard. Old Testament Theology in a Canonical Context, 20-59.

Ward, Timothy. Words of Life: Scripture as Living Active Word of God.

Ward, Timothy. Word and Supplement Speech Acts, Biblical Texts, and the Sufficiency of Scripture.