1700. What should God do with us? We cannot bear good days, nor endure bad ones! When he gives us riches, we are proud, when he gives us poverty, we despair. Would it not be better to lead us to the dance with the shovels right away [that is, dead and buried]? We are a sorry lot. We had better believe that our God will be merciful; otherwise it’s all over for us (p. 107)
Given that this blog is “a forum for all things pertaining to biblical theology” it is only fitting that this week’s Noteworthy Book is What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns by James Hamilton. He is an associate professor of Biblical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and in my estimation one of the sharpest young biblical theologians in the evangelical world today. And in the interest of full disclosure, Jim is a friend.
In this short book, Hamilton defines biblical theology as:
the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding or earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses. (p. 16)
Thus, when studying the Bible
our aim is to trace out the contours of the network of assumptions reflected in the writings of the biblical authors. If we can see what the biblical authors assumed about story, symbol, and church, we will glimpse the world as they saw it. To catch a glimpse of the world as they saw it is to see the real world. (p. 19)
These three (story, symbol, church) form the basic structure of the rest of the book. Each of these sections contains several short chapters covering key subjects such as the plot of the Bible, imagery, typology, patterns, and the church’s setting in the story.
The greatest strengths of this book are its size and readability. Hamilton writes for those who are new to the area of biblical theology, making this an ideal book to give anyone in the church who wants to read and understand the Bible. Students in Bible colleges and seminaries will also find this book useful as an entry point into the field of biblical theology, though they will need other texts to orient them to the range of approaches to biblical theology as an academic discipline.
Those who want to see Jim’s attempt at writing a whole-Bible biblical theology are encouraged to see his excellent book God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. He maintains an excellent blog, and you can listen to his sermons here.
3588. In earlier times there were many pilgrimages to holy places, such as Rome, Jerusalem and Compostela, to atone for sins. But we can undertake a true pilgrimage, in faith–namely when we diligently read the Psalms, Prophets, Gospels, etc. That way we would not be strolling through holy cities, but through our thoughts and hearts, and visit the real praiseworthy land and paradise of eternal life. (p. 346)
In a letter to his son Christopher, J. R. R. Tolkien attempts to explain why from his perspective so many sermons are so bad:
The answer to the mystery is prob[ably] not simple; but part of it is that ‘rhetoric’ (of which preaching is a dept.) is an art, which requires (a) some native talent and (b) learning and practice. The instrument used is v[ery] much more complex than a piano, yet most performers are in the position of a man who sits down to a piano and expects to move his audience without any knowledge of the notes at all. The art can be learned (granted some modicum of aptitude) and can then be effective, in a way, when wholly unconnected with sincerity, sanctity, etc. But preaching is complicated by the fact that we expect in it not only a performance, but truth and sincerity, and also at least no word, tone, or note that suggests the possession of vices (such as hypocrisy, vanity) or defects (such as folly, ignorance) in the preacher.
Good sermons require some art, some virtue, some knowledge. Real sermons require some special grace which does not transcend art but arrives at it by instinct or ‘inspiration’; indeed the Holy Spirit seems sometimes to speak through a human mouth providing art, virtue, and insight he does not himself possess: but the occasions are rare. In other times I don’t think an educated person is required to suppress the critical faculty, but it should be kept in order by a constant endeavour to apply the truth (if any), even in cliche form, to oneself exclusively! A difficult exercise… (The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, p. 75)
A difficult exercise indeed! No wonder the apostle Paul wrote “who is sufficient for these things ” (2 Cor 2:16). Yet he also wrote “it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:21).
234. A preacher is like a carpenter; his tools are God’s Word. Because the audience, upon whom he is to work, is diversified, he should not continuously teach in the same tone, rather, in respect of the differences in his congregation, comfort for a while, frighten, scold, offer reconciliation, and so on (p. 209)
One of the greatest privileges I have had in life is to do my Ph.D. work under the supervision of Doug Moo at Wheaton College. In light of his Galatians commentary now being published in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series, Justin Taylor recently conducted an interview with him. The interview covers a wide range of topics, including the remarkable story of his conversion and the beginning of his academic ministry, his process for writing commentaries, justification, and future writing projects.
You can find the interview here.
HT: Justin Taylor
2305. He who strives to be a true servant of religion in domestic matters, or affairs of the State, has the devil for his greatest enemy. And along with the devil most certainly evil thoughts. (p. 262)
Of the so-called five points of Calvinism (often represented with the acronym TULIP), the most frequently rejected one is “limited atonement.” More accurately referred to as “definite atonement” or “particular redemption” the idea is that:
In the death of Jesus Christ, the triune God intended to achieve the redemption of every person given to the Son by the Father in eternity past, and to apply the accomplishment of his sacrifice to each of them by the Spirit. The death of Christ was intended to win the salvation of God’s people alone. (p. 33)
The classic defense and explanation of this doctrine is the tome by the great Puritan John Owen entitled The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, originally written in 1648. In a 1959 reprint of this classic, J.I. Packer wrote a lengthy introduction that came to be a classic in its own right.
Despite the value of these two pieces, a robust explanation and defense of definite atonement was still needed. That has now been remedied with the release of From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. Edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, this book is now the go-to resource for definite atonement. Over 20 different scholars and pastors contributed to the volume, including Henri Blocher, Sinclair Ferguson, Alec Motyer, John Piper, Tom Schreiner, and Carl Trueman. They even let me contribute a chapter (“For the Glory of the Father and the Salvation of His People: Definite Atonement in the Synoptics and Johannine Literature”).
Crossway has built a nice website for the book here that includes a list of contributors, a brief summary of each chapter, and endorsements from folks such as Lig Duncan, Doug Wilson, D.A. Carson, Michael Horton, David Wells, and John Frame. There is even a Twitter feed (@defatonement) and Facebook page dedicated to the book.
To whet your appetite, here is an introductory video:
May God use this book to deepen people’s love for the one who loved them and gave his life for them (Gal 2:20)!
In anticipation of a one-week biblical theology course that I am teaching with Jim Hamilton at Northland International University in January, we were asked why it is important to study the storyline of Scripture. You can see our responses below:
Jim and I are excited to be working together in this class, and would love for you to join us. The course applies to the degrees for Master of Arts, Master of Ministry, and Doctor of Ministry. The great thing is that Northland will scholarship the cost of tuition for any first time student. You can find more information on the course here.
3352a&b. To be a Christian is to have received the Gospel and believe in it. This belief brings the forgiveness of sins and God’s grace. It came alone from the Holy Spirit, which works through the Word, without our help or assistance. It is God’s work alone, and not with any power from us or our free will. It just endures and lets itself be prepared and shaped by the Holy Spirit, like clay or loam is made into a vessel by the potter. Such a person, who knows and believes in Christ, believes that through Him sins are forgiven, that eternal life and everlasting bliss come from pure grace and mercy, without being earned by us and without any good works or being deserving of it, this person will certainly be tortured and tormented by the world; but the Holy Spirit will stand by him, give him comfort and strengthen him, and give him a joyful heart so that he may disdain everything, for He will not abandon us. (p. 339)