Biblical Theology for the ‘Non-theologian’

bibleWhat is biblical theology?

There are many answers to that question, and just as many approaches to “doing biblical theology.” Recently, friends at the 9Marks e-Journal put out a helpful resource on the subject as it relates to the church: “Biblical Theology: Guardian and Guide for the Church.” And if you keep up on the web, you may come across anything from a blog series on a biblical theology of dessert to a list of resources for understanding the framework of the Bible.

Yet, is there anything out there that simply defines biblical theology for someone whose never heard of it before? What follows is something I wrote up for our church. It expresses my own appreciation for biblical theology and how this discipline can serve non-theologians who may have never heard the term. 

(Disclaimer: “non-theologian” is a misnomer; everyone made in the image of God (that’s everyone) is by nature theological and hence a ‘theologian’ in their own right).

Defining Biblical Theology

Biblical theology can be defined in one of two ways. It can be theology that finds its source in the Bible (as opposed to ‘unbiblical theology’). Or, it can be theology developed over the whole Bible (as opposed to systematic theology, which is organized by topics; or, historical theology, which arises from various people and places in church history).

It is the latter, as a discipline of interpretation, that I want to discuss. Why? Because few things have helped me know or love God more than a clear understanding of a whole-Bible theology, and few things are more important for growing Christians to walk in a manner worthy of the gospel. Continue reading

The Baptismal Waters are Against You :: Jesus is For You

In baptism, water is NOT for you, it is against you

In the serenity of a quiet chapel, the baptismal pool looks like a cleansing pond for the religious seeker.  However, such a sanguine sentiment is deceiving, because as the Bible paints the scenery, baptismal waters run blood red.  Unsure?  Compare the historical account of the Red Sea (esp. Exod 14:30-31) with Paul’s description, the baptism of Moses (1 Cor 10:2). 

In other words, the imagery of baptism is not simply a cleansing ablution for sins, it is a violent picture of death and resurrection.  Thus, in baptism, water is not the instrument of salvation and cleansing, it is the instrument of judgment.  Water is not what saves us.  Instead, Jesus saves us from water.  Baptism is the testimony to God for what he has already effected in our lives.  As 1 Peter 3: 20 says, it is ‘an appeal to God for a good conscience.’ 

Now, with that said, it must be admitted that baptism has been portrayed in divergent ways and is explained alternatively by many different traditions, but it seems that to understand baptism rightly, we must start with the first baptism—Noah’s ‘baptism’ (Gen 6-9), for our baptism ‘corresponds’ to his (1 Pet 3:20).  Moving from Genesis 6 onward, there is a common stream.  From Noah until now, God’s people have been brought safely through water. 

Noah and his family are the prototypical example, where Noah is a type of the greater savior, Jesus Christ, and his family picture all those who find safe passage through the judgment waters.  Likewise, Moses was put into an ark, sent adrift in the bloody waters of the Nile which devoured many of his kinsman, and yet rescued from the waters when an Egyptian princess took pity on him (Exod 2).  Later Moses led Israel through the Red Sea, waters that destroyed Pharaoh’s army and yet saved the people of YHWH.  

The story of God parting the waters of judgment for his people is reduplicated as Joshua leads Israel into the promised land (Josh 3-4), while the Psalms recount the way God hears his people in the flood. Psalm 69:1-3 begins:

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. 
I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.
I am weary with my crying out; my throat is parched.
My eyes grow dim with waiting for my God.

Psalm 93:3-4 echoes:

The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice;
the floods lift up their roaring.
Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea,
the Lord on high is mighty!

 Against the backdrop of the ancient Near East where water was perceived as chaotic, unsettled, and evil, the home of the Leviathan and the sea monsters, God’s word shows that YHWH sits above the floods and promises to bring his people through the pernicious waves.  In fact, as the Bible moves from Exodus to Exile, Isaiah recounts the way in which YHWH leads his people through the waters:

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
(43:1-3)

Still in the OT, Jonah is saved from the suffocating waters through his personal demise and resurrection, namely by being swallowed by a great fish and being spit out on dry ground again (1:17-2:10).  Though it is easy to make Jonah’s demise dependent on the fish, it is really the waters that threaten his life (2:1-9).  The fish is God’s means of protection for Jonah and the people of Nineveh.  From the belly of the fish, Jonah prayed to the Lord of salvation (2:9) to save him from the waters of destruction (2:3, 5). 

And finally, in the NT, Jesus’ death and resurrection are explained by Jonah’s watery ordeal (Matt 12:38-41).  Jesus himself undergoes a baptism in the wilderness to identify himself with his people (Matt 3:13-17), and describes his own death as a baptism he must undergo (Mark 10:38; Luke 12:50).  Finally, the command to make disciples and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is a command for disciples to identify themselves with Jesus as the one who can make safe passage for them through the waters of baptism.

So, in looking across the pages of the Bible, we learn that the waters of baptism do not save us, rather God the Father through his Son Jesus Christ save us from the waters that threaten to suffocate us.  In this way, Peter can write, “Eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 3:20-21). 

Therefore, baptism is defined not by postapostolic practices, liturgical traditions, or misgivings about the meaning of baptism—though I do think it means, immerse—baptism is instead the singular experience of all people saved by God.  It is our ‘one baptism’ (Eph 4:5).  And it shows us that in baptism, the waters of God’s judgment rage against us, just like they did in the Flood, but that like Noah, we have a captain of our salvation who through blood, not water, made a way for us to find safe passage through judgment (cf Heb 10:19-25).

In the end, God’s word tells us that at the end of the age, the sea will give up there dead and that the sea will be no more, meaning that the chaotic, life-taking waters of this age will be no more.  Only the waters of life will flow.  This is our future hope, one that we anticipate with eagerness.  

Today, however, the waters still churn and swallow up all those who clutch there own sinking boats.   Life jackets and insurance packages won’t stand against the the tide of God’s coming judgment.  Material things cannot keep us afloat; and faulty works-based religion won’t keep us safe.   But there is a way.  Jesus Christ, like Noah, has made an ark–not out of wood, but out of his one flesh– to save all those who look to him.  And all those who look to him and make appeal to him for a good conscience will find salvation and safe passage through the water and the fire of God’s judgment. The water of baptism is not for us, but that’s okay, the Living Water is, if you will come to him.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Growing Disciple: The Eighth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

The essence of being a Christian is to be a disciple. 

“Disciple” and “discipleship” are not words that get much “air time” today, and when they are used in secular parlance, it often conjures up thoughts of cults or sects.  However, in the pages of the New Testament, God’s Word speaks of discipleship with great frequency (over 260 times).  So what does it mean to be a disciple? 

The best way to answer that is to simply look at the lives of Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other apostles–because these men exemplify discipleship.  They were those who left their fishing nets, tax collecting booths, and families to follow Christ; they worshipped Jesus, learned from Jesus, proclaimed the gospel of Jesus’ kingdom, and went to their own bloody deaths for his sake.  As disciples, however, they did not simply imitate Jesus, they also trusted in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection for eternal life and justification on the last day.  In short, as disciples, the followers of Christ found every area of their life transformed by the one whose name and cross they now identified.  And so do Christ’s disciples today.

In What is a Healthy Church Member?, Thabiti Anyabwile marks growing discipleship” as the eighth characteristic of a healthy church member.  From our study at Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, Indiana, here are five points of application for growing as a disciple:

1. Baptism & Church Membership.  The first thing Jesus said after giving his Great Commission to “Make Disciples” was to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Therefore, if you have made Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior–that is that he has made you a new creation in Christ.  The first thing you should do is to be baptized by a local church who believes the gospel and teaches the Word of God.  Concurrent with this baptism should be your request for church membership.  Hopefully, your church has an informative/instructive process where new members are instructed in the history, doctrine, and practices of the church.  This would be a first step as a growing disciple.  For an excellent and brief treatment of this subject, with a funny cover, see Bill James revision of  Erroll Hulse’s Baptist and Church Membership.

2. Abide in the Word of God.  Next, as a growing disciple, it is imperative that you grow.  The second thing Jesus said to his would-be disciple(maker)s is to “teach them to obey all that I have instructed you.”  In other words, in the Christian life, knowing the Bible matters.  In fact, Spiritual growth DOES NOT HAPPEN WITHOUT IT.  Consider John 15:7-8, “If you abide in me, and my word abides in you, ask for whatever you want, and it will be given unto you.  By this is my Father glorified, and so you prove to be my disciples.”  The core of discipleship is an abiding relationship with Jesus founded on and mediated by the Word of God.  Moreover, discipleship is proven by this.  So the second step in growing as a strong disciple is to abide in the Word of God.

3. Pursue Older Discipleship.  Since discipleship is not an individual effort, it is important to learn from older, wiser, more mature believers in Christ.  Titus 2 frames this well.  It begins, “Teach what accords with sound doctrine…” and then instead of moving into a systematic theology, a lecture on doctrine, it focuses on relationships.  It says for older men to train younger men and older women to instruct younger women.  This is not an accident or a backup plan.  This is the very wisdom of God.  As Paul tells the Corinthians, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (11:1).  This is not an optional component of the Christian life.  Too many believers remain immature because they have never had anyone model for them a godly example.  If you don’t have anyone like this in your life, pray that God would bring someone into your life.  At the same time, ask God to shape you to be faithful, available, and teachable, so that such a disciplers’ example might not be lost on you.

4. Pursue Younger Discipleship.  Whether you have had a mentor/discipler in your life or not, if you have walked with Christ in obedience to his Word for any amount of time, you should begin looking for ways to share that with others.  Again let me challenge you– “The Christian life is not an isolated/individualized/introverted event.”  It is a lifetime of abiding in God’s word and being sharpened by others who are seeking Christ with you–ahead of you and behind you.  If you have the opportunity to share your life with a younger believer and to help show them how to walk more closely with our Savior, why wouldn’t you do it?  Honestly, is there anything better?  Doing life together should be the motto of the Christian life and is required for growth as a healthy disciple.  For an excellent resource on discipleship, see Robert Coleman’s The Master Plan of Evangelism and Michael Card’s The Walk.

5. Make Disciples.  Finally, the Great Commission impels us to go outside the church and to call others to Christ, to literally take the Word of God seriously and to make disciples.  God calls us to do something that in truth, we cannot do.  He is asking us to see to it that converts/new creations/kingdom citizens are made.  We cannot do that!  But his Word and His Spirit can, and as we carry forth the message of the gospel, he promises to bear fruit and draw many into the kingdom.  Thus if we are to truly know Christ, to walk with him, and to grow up in him, sharing the gospel and living to make-disciples must be a regular part of our lives.

None of these things are novel, but all of them are easily overlooked and undercooked.  May we strive to pick up our respective crosses and to press on towards Christ-like conformity as Baptized, Word-saturated, Maturing Disciples of Christ who love to share the gospel with others.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss