Yesterday, I gave seven pastoral cautions for bringing biblical theology to the church. And as advertised, here is the rest of the story: seven pastoral practices for bringing biblical theology to church.
This is list primarily for pastors and the role their preaching can play in helping their congregation value a unified reading Scripture that leads to Christ—for this is what the best biblical theology does. However, these encouragements may also serve any member of the church, as healthy congregational have more than biblical pulpits. They must also have members who long for and pray for the Word of God to grow in their midst.
1. Preach both testaments, whether people are used to both testaments are not.
God did not give us a New Testament. He gave us a whole Bible, with books written over a period of more than 1,000 years. Therefore, we should aim to preach from both testaments. Practically, this might look like intentionally alternating between the testaments.
Whenever I finish preaching a book in the Old Testament, I typically go to the New Testament, or at least to a different genre in the same testament—and vice versa. (You can look at the side panel of this blog to see the order of the books/series I’ve preached). By preaching both testaments, pastors teach people to appreciate, read, and understand both.
Additionally, the context of your ministry may shape the speed at which you preach through books. In our hyper-transient area (outside Washington, D.C.), I would consider it a mismanagement of time to spend two years on one book. Instead, it is my aim to give both testaments and multiple genres from each testament to the many military families who will be in our church for no more than three years. In that time, they will hear preaching on a part of Gospel, an epistle, OT narrative, OT poetry, and maybe topical series — always exegetical.
2. Include biblical theology when you preach from both testaments.
When you preach, make sure your preaching shows people how the Bible is connected. This Sunday, I will preach from Psalm 96. And in my preaching I will show how this Psalm connects to 1 Chronicles 16, the surrounding context of Psalms 90–99, and the rest of the Bible, leading to Christ. In this sermon, the message of Psalm 96 is heard, but it is heard with the surround sound of the whole Bible.
Also, make sure you are preaching the best sermons you can, by the Spirit of Christ. If biblical theology is perceived as a turgid discipline that you love to study, but doesn’t help your people, it will be a great turn off. If, however, you can show how the wisdom, mercy, and majesty of God from all corners of the Bible leads to Christ, and through Christ to them, people will want to know more. As Paul said to Timothy, show progress in your preaching (1 Tim. 4:15). This will model how they too can and should grow in their reading of the Bible.
3. Read Scripture in the service, especially a text from the opposite testament.
We do this in our services and we usually pick a text that complements the sermon text. If almost all of my sermons, I mention the text “”we read earlier in service.” Instead of following a liturgical calendar, we set up our Scripture reading around the book we are studying and preaching. When we do and can show the internal connections of the Bible (e.g., how Acts 3:22–26 cites Deut. 18:15–18, etc.), it helps build confidence in the Bible’s unity. It also shows how we should make connections in Scripture.
Not every connection we make from Scripture is equally valid. So wise pastors should make it a regular habit to show how to make connections according to the terms that Scripture gives. As I recently put it in an article on typology, we must read the Bible according to the grain of Scripture. And in our services, we can do that by modeling the passages that connect to one another.
4. Encourage a reading program in your church and give resources that cultivate an appetite for biblical theology.
In our church, multiple elders and other teachers have gone through courses by Simeon Trust. As I mentioned yesterday, this ministry is the best I know for biblical interpretation and preaching. They approach Scripture well and even offer a course on biblical theology. If you are in a church with teachable teachers—which should be prerequisite for all teachers—utilizing this sort of resource could be most helpful.
At the same time, you could start your own reading and discussion class or informal get together. Until COVID, we had a bi-monthly Theology Thursday night for elders and other men. In these small group gatherings, we’ve discussed a handful of books on biblical theology.
I also did a hermeneutics class for our men’s breakfast. I taught biblical theology to our women over the course of 6 Saturday morning breakfast and Bible seminars. In short, my encouragement is to teach, teach, and teach some more. But don’t just teach in one format or one class. Make use of any and every venue you can. This will help cultivate an interest and understanding of biblical theology, such that members begin to have a shared vocabulary and perspective on how the whole Bible fits together.
5. Initiate conversation with other leaders and teachers.
Teaching to others should spill over into more informal settings—hallway conversations, fellowship meals, and text messages. Or to say it differently, when discussion about the Bible and biblical theology show up in these informal settings, you have evidence that people are beginning to get it and apply it to life.
To facilitate this you must begin with preaching and teaching, but you could also give out good books that people can and will read. You can invite members to join you in a conference on the subject. Or, you can make sure that when you are teaching, you are not teaching the material alone.
To provide an example. Last year I taught a Hebrews Bible study by myself. This year, I taught the same Bible study (on Romans) with three others. Still, instead of just distributing texts, we organized a weekly teacher training where we talked about the text for the next week. This gave plenty of chances to work through the text together and see how the Bible fits together. It’s when elders and teachers can go back and forth about the Bible that maturity really develops in handling the Word.
6. Let your passion for the Bible and biblical theology rub off.
Again, do not just teach what you know, but share your life and your passion with others. Share what you are reading, working on, and teaching with others. Receive feedback and correction and look for ways to grow together.
In my own life, I am constantly inviting guys into my teaching orbit. I want to foster a teaching fraternity among our elders and future elders. It’s a fail for me to be “the preacher.” I want our church to love the Word and I want to cultivate teachers who handle the word well.
Other than Sunday morning preaching, discipling future teachers of the Word should be a pastor’s chief priority. While this may show small dividends in the near term, if you are committed to seeing a generation grow in their comprehension of the Word, it will take training others to handle the word with care.
7. Keep going and keep growing.
As I said yesterday, don’t give up.
Keep praying and looking for ways to feed your flock with the Word of God. The goal cannot be training the church to be high octane theologians. That said, because disciple-making means “teaching them to obey” all that Christ taught (Matt. 28:19), it is right to help your people read the Bible and live their lives in light of the grand narrative of Scripture. This is exactly where biblical theology comes in, and for that reason, you should continue to labor to bring biblical theology to church.
In the end, these are just seven pastoral practices to help bring biblical theology to church. I am sure there are others that could be added. If you have anything to add, please leave a note in the comments.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
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