Biblical Theology is all the rage these days. A quick Amazon search will turn up all kinds of books on biblical theology, many of them written in just the last few years. But if you skim through those books, you’ll quickly notice something rather interesting: no one really seems to know what “biblical theology” means.
Biblical theology is one of those phrases with an obvious surface meaning (who wouldn’t want their theology to be biblical?) that grows hazy the minute you begin to ask some of the difficult questions:
- What is “theology”?
- What does it mean to be “biblical”?
- Whose theology are we after (e.g. the Bible, the biblical authors, the religious communities of the biblical authors)?
- Given the different perspectives in the Bible, can we really talk about just one biblical theology or are there many biblical theologies?
And we could keep going. With just a few questions, we begin to see why it can be so frustrating to figure out what people mean when they talk about biblical theology. It’s because biblical theology is a label that covers a multitude of differences.
Some Christians downplay the Gospels. We don’t do it on purpose, of course. After all, those are the books about Jesus, so they must be important. But we still have a tendency to prefer the letters to the Gospels. Stories are interesting, but they’re also a bit messy and complicated. So it seems easier, faster, and clearer to skip past the stories and just hear Paul tell us what we’re supposed to believe.
In Reading the Gospels Wisely, Jonathan Pennington offers nine excellent reasons that we should not do this. Beyond some nifty stories and fascinating parables, the Gospels have a lot to offer. And we’re missing out on a lot as Christians when we don’t allow us ourselves to soak in these life-changing narratives.
Do you know how to separate good test-takers from bad ones? The bad ones think “all of the above” is their friend, giving them an out when they don’t know the right answer. Good test-takers know better. ”All of the above” is usually a trap.
You see, evil professors know that multiple choice questions can actually be very difficult to answer. Worded properly, the answers all sound pretty good. So the ill-prepared student has a hard time figuring out which one is correct And then the professor slips in “all of the above.” If all the answers sound good, that must be the right choice. It covers all the bases! When in doubt, cover as much territory as possible.
The problem with “all of the above” is that there only needs to be one little mistake in any of the options for your choice to be wrong. A and C could be perfectly true, but if B is a little off, then “all of the above” is flat out wrong. It’s just there to suck you in with it’s seductive promise of all-encompassing thoroughness.
It’s a boy! I could be wrong, but I imagine that’s the first the the doctor said to my parents when I was born. And I’m sure my parents didn’t find this at all unusual – especially since I am, in fact, a boy. But if you think about it for a moment, why is this always the first thing we think about when a new baby is born? Surely, my sexual genitalia were not my most notable features. The doctor could have made equally objective observations about the size of my head or the tone of my skin. Why does gender get so much attention?
And the same is true for non-doctors. Tell someone you’re pregnant, and just count the seconds until they ask if it’s going to be a boy or a girl. Look at the baby shower presents and notice how the anticipated gender shaped everyone’s purchases. Dress your new baby in green and watch all the frustrated people try to figure out which gender category to put it in. Before we have even opened our eyes to see the strange new world that lies beyond the safety of our mothers’ wombs, our sexuality has already started to shape who we are and how we relate to the people around us.
As Robert Jewett said,
Sexuality permeates one’s individual being to its very depth; it conditions every facet of one’s life as a person….Our self-knowledge is indissolubly bound up not simply with our human being but with our sexual being.
So, as we continue our discussion of the image of God, it should come as no surprise that some have considered the possibility that sexuality lies at the heart of the image of God just as the image of God lies at the heart of what it means to be human. But they mean more than just the fact that we were born with certain biological features. For these thinkers, sexuality is really about being in relationship. “Male” and “female” are essentially relational terms–i.e. you can’t really have one without the other. So, by creating humans as gendered creatures, God established us as those who identity is always constituted in relationship to someone else. And it is through these relationships that we we reflect God’s being in the world. The imago is relational.
Our last Forced Choice was a landslide. Apparently there’s not a lot of debate around here that philosophy is good for theology (85%). I really thought more people would be hesitant with that one, but I’m glad to see I was wrong.
This week’s choice will jump right into the middle of the debate surrounding the historicity of Adam and Eve. This has gotten a lot of attention lately with prominent books from Peter Enns (The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t Say about Human Origins) and John Collins (Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?: Who Were They and Why You Should Care), among others. If you’re interested, Brian LePort has been doing an series on both of these books (you can read the latest post here), and he also posted an excellent summary of views on the historicity of Adam and Eve.
But we’re not here to discuss the relative merits of the various positions. We’re just here to vote. So what do you think? Were Adam and Eve the historic individuals from whom all other humans descended?
But, since I think a simple yes/no vote is likely to mimic our earlier vote on evolution, I’d like to complicate things just a bit by offering some options about how long ago Adam and Eve were created (i.e. less/more than 10,000 years ago) and whether they were the ones from whom all other humans descended. The latter option covers the possibility that humans evolved like other creatures, and that at some point God selected two of them for special relationship with himself.
So, with that clarification in mind, use the poll in the sidebar to vote and let us know what you think.
In the preface to his Explanatory Notes upon the Old Testament, John Wesley laid out his principles for how to read scripture in such a way that you come “to understand the things of God” and to love him wholly and truly. His principles are well worth reflecting on today.
If you desire to read the scripture in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be advisable,
1. To set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose?
2. At each time if you have leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament: if you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one?
The Christian Church today often has an inferiority complex. A few generations ago the pastor of a church was the most educated and respected leader in the community. There was a day when, because of this cultural situation, the Church exercised the predominant influence in the structure of Western community life. That day has long passed. We have often felt that the world has thrust the Church into a corner and passed us by. The Church does not count in the world at large. Continue Reading…
Victor P. Hamilton, Exodus. An Exegetical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.
Victor Hamilton is well known for his 2-part commentary on Genesis in the New International Commentary of the Old Testament series, his Handbook on the Pentateuch, and his Handbook on the Historical Books. He taught for 35 years at Ashbury University, and now in his retirement has been appointed as “Scholar in residence” at the aforementioned school. He has taken advantage of his retirement to devote himself full-time to research and writing, and this commentary is the first fruit of that labor.
Matt Mikalatos is starting a new series on “translating” the gospels for people who have them so many times that they need some help hearing them again for the first time.
It looks like it will be a fabulous series. So follow along and offer your thoughts/comments.
Here’s how he starts off the series.
I grew up in church, and frankly, I love it. I know that’s not cool right now, and I don’t care. Don’t worry, it will come back into style.
One side effect of growing up in Christian culture can be a certain contemptuous familiarity with the Bible. I remember impatiently tapping my feet when we trotted out the Christmas story, begging for it to end so we could tear into the presents. I remember playing “Bible Trivial Pursuit” in sixth grade and thinking to myself, “I know everything there is to know about the Bible, except how to pronounce some of the names.” I knew all the answers because they had been provided for me, like an answer key at the back of the book (or, more likely, in the margins and footnotes). There weren’t questions I needed to wrestle with or even consider.
Over time, the weight of all those flannelgraphs and picture Bibles and trivia games and cinematic portrayals and the occasional agenda-driven Bible study flattened Jesus out. It washed the color from the stories. Knowing all the answers made the Gospels little more than thinly disguised theological textbooks, where I knew what would happen next and why and what that meant. Two-dimensional characters packed the Bible so tightly that I couldn’t avoid them: the bumbling disciples, the evil Pharisees, the serene Christ.