Drinking Deeply from the Fountain of Biblical Theology

biblical theology[I wrote the following article for the online journal Theology for Life, a publication of Servants of Grace. A PDF of the whole journal on Hermeneutics: The Art and Science of Biblical Interpretation can be found here].

When Jesus approached his two disciples departing Jerusalem on the day of his resurrection, he asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:17). Deftly, he quizzed them about the events of his own death, burial, and resurrection. To this inquiry, these disciples report the somber facts,

Jesus of Nazareth . . . was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . . our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (vv. 19–24)

What follows is one of the most exhilarating moments in all Scripture, where “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). For the two hours it took to walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Hebrew Scriptures foretold of his coming—only the disciples did not know it was Jesus speaking. Indeed, through this guided tour of the Bible, Jesus illumined their minds before opening their eyes to reveal his identity (“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him,” v. 31). Following this epiphany, the two disciples observe, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures?” (v. 32).

This, I contend, is biblical theology. Continue reading

*This is the Day* That the Lord Has Made: A Good Friday Reflection

cross2This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
– Psalm 118:24 –

Like many, I learned this verse not from reading it in the Bible but singing it in church.  Les Garrett’s chorus, “This is the Day,” is a popular praise song that sets this verse to music.  My wife and I have taught this song to our kids, and it is not unusual to find myself singing this little song.

However, as with every verse in the Bible, context determines meaning.  And left to itself, Psalm 118:24 and Les Garrett’s modern rendition can make it seem that we are giving thanks to God for the day in which we stand—‘this day”—and not the day that is actually foretold in Psalm 118.

When Psalm 118 is read in its entirety, however, it becomes apparent that the day mentioned in verse 24 is the Day of the Lord.  How do we know?

Well, two verses earlier stands another well-known verse, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22).  Picked up in the New Testament (Mark 12:10–11; 1 Pet 2:4–7), it refers to Jesus Christ and his death.  Thus, set in the historical context of the work of Christ, the “day that the Lord has made” is not just the day in which we stand—it is the day that God’s Son fell!

In Mark 14:26, the Bible says, “When they sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”  Previously, Mark records the Lord’s Supper where Jesus broke bread and drank wine, both representing the death he would die on the next day (14:22–25).  Thus, the hymn they sang is probably Psalm 118, the closing hymn of the Jewish Seder—the meal commemorating the Passover.

How marvelous it is to consider the placement of this verse in the events around Jesus’ death. As the disciples of Christ concluded their Passover meal, which Jesus transformed into his own Lord’s Supper, this song would be sung to prepare for “the day.” As Psalm 118:23 puts it: “This is the Lord’s doing, how marvelous it is in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For us, two thousand years removed, the context makes all the difference in how we join in the chorus praising God. Do we rejoice in our day, the one in which we stand?  Or do we rejoice in that day when Christ died so that we could stand?  Hedonists easily rejoice in the pleasures of a good day, and stoics can convince themselves in the midst of difficulty that something good will come in this day.

But only gospel-loving Christians have a secure reason for rejoicing in any day and everyday.  If the physical resurrection of Jesus did not happen, then Christians are to deluded and damned.  But because the eye witnesses account for Christ’s empty tomb, we call the Friday that Jesus died “good.”  We do not sing songs saying that every day is good; we rejoice everyday because God is good.

good dayIt needs to be said that the God of the Bible is not the God of Ned Flanders, who might pedantically praise Jesus for even the worst days. God does not call his followers to mindlessly call bad days “good,” to comfort themselves meaningless platitudes affixed to coffees cups, or  and to reinforce their joy by songs that grate against reality.

Rather, the message of the Bible, the message of Good Friday, and the message of Psalm 118:24 is this: We can rejoice in any day because the worst day in the history of the world—the day on which the Son of God died—became the best day in the history of the world. Because of this day and the ensuing resurrection of Christ we can rejoice in any day.

As we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us sing with all our might that “This is the Day that the Lord has made,” but remember what day we are singing about.  The reason why we rejoice in this today is because of that day when the sky grew black, the earth quaked, the temple veil tore, and the Son died.

This was the Day of the Lord, when Christ Jesus laid down his life, so that sinners could be reconciled to their Maker.  This is the good news, and this is the reason why we rejoice and sing!

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

 

 

 

On Pentecost and Its Centrifugal Effects: Acts 2, 8, 10, 19 and 1 Corinthians 12:12–13

spirit2On the Jewish Calendar, Pentecost was 50 days after Passover. According to Leviticus 23, Pentecost was a Feast Day—the Feast of Weeks to be exact. It was a day when Israel worshiped God by bringing a new grain offering to the temple. But today, this Jewish Feast is best known for what happened fifty days after Christ’s resurrection.

In Acts 2, Jews from all over the world were celebrating Pentecost. And it was on this day that God poured out his Spirit. Why some confusion, and accusations of drunkenness, occurred on that day, more confusion has come since. Therefore, we need to see what Pentecost is and how Luke presents its centrifugal effect throughout the book of Acts.

Pentecost Proper

Importantly, Pentecost was the day Jesus began to build his new covenant temple. This was the day when the church was born. And this was the day when the apostles were filled with the Spirit, empowering them to go into the world and proclaim the gospel—the means by which the church would be founded.

In Acts, Pentecost is accompanied by powerful signs and wonders. Fire from heaven touches earth; tongues of fire are located above the heads of the people. Just like the pillar of fire stood above the tabernacle, and just like Solomon’s temple was filled with the Holy Spirit, so now Christ’s Spiritual temple (i.e., his covenant people) is indwelt with the Holy Spirit. And as the book of Acts displays, the Spirit they received is also shared with Gentiles as the Gospel goes forward.

At Pentecost, we also hear reports of tongues being spoken. Most wonderfully, these tongues are not inarticulate utterances, or some heavenly prayer language. They are real languages, proclaiming the wondrous works of God. Acts 2:9–-10 list more than a dozen nations from around the Mediterranean. And v. 11 says: “Both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

On Pentecost, therefore, the Gospel is proclaimed in other languages. Just as at Babel (in Genesis 11) God gave the people new languages to divide the nations. Now God is giving new languages to preach the gospel to the nations. Whereas the first ‘gift’ of tongues was a curse, now this gift of tongues is a true nation-uniting blessing. Pentecost, therefore, is the foundation of the universal church and the beginning of the Spirit-empowered mission to unite all nations through the preaching of the gospel.

Still, we might ask the question: What about the baptism promised by Christ, what we might call Spirit baptism? Does it always look like Pentecost, or might Pentecost be a one-time event? Continue reading

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

cropped-biblevizarc7mediumorig.jpg[This morning I teach the men of our church about three horizons in biblical interpretation. Here are the notes. What follows is a portion of content.]

Three Horizons in Biblical Interpretation

In Preaching and Biblical Theology, Edmund Clowney identified three horizons that the faithful interpreter must engage three horizons to rightly understand biblical truth. These three horizons relate to the biblical text, the biblical covenants (or epochs), and the biblical Christ (i.e., the canonical testimony about God in Christ).

Expounding on these three horizons, Richard Lints has written in his illuminating book, The Fabric of Theology,

The biblical text has three interpretive horizons: the immediate context of the book (or passage), the context of the period of revelation in which the book (or passage) falls, and the context of the entirety of revelation.

It is signally important that we take each horizon seriously if we want to understand the biblical material properly. While no horizon takes precedence over the others, each must nonetheless be regulated by the other two. The meaning of any given passage will depend to a great extent on its place in its own particular epoch and its place in the entirety of redemptive revelation. The theological interpreter of Scripture must allow the three horizons to dialogue with one another continually, helping to explain and clarify the meaning of the others.

It is when we keep all three horizons in dialogue that Scripture begins to inform us about what questions it considers important and the framework necessary to find answers to those questions.[1]

In other words, only by attending to the three horizons can we understand how to read Scripture on its own terms. Likewise, because our goal is to know God, not just Moses or Matthew, it is imperative we read theo-logically, i.e., seeking to know the word (Logos) of God (Theos).

Knowing God is our goal and it requires careful attention to grammar, history, and the covenantal canon. Only as we learn how to read these three horizons together will we be able see how the leaves and the trees (words and sentences) begin to form a well-ordered forest (the whole biblical canon), a forest that has come to us through many seasons of growth, decay, and rebirth (i.e., the progression of covenant that have led to Christ).

In the next three sessions, we will spend time on each horizon. But let me give some biblical bases for each of them.  Continue reading

Our Long-Awaited Hope: Seeing God’s *Son* Through the Scriptures

hope

From where does hope come? And why does it take so long to get here? 

In our microwave age of instant information and Siri solutions, we don’t wait well. Yet, Christianity is a religion of patient endurance, long-suffering, and waiting—pure and simple waiting. Throughout the Old Testament, the people of God are told to wait. After the Exodus, Israel is forced to wait forty years because of their sinful unbelief, and at the other end of the Old Testament, Israel is left waiting for their messiah to bring a new exodus. Just the same in the New Testament, Hebrews 6:12 instructs, be “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”

We should probably take it as axiomatic, then, that God wants his people to wait. Anyone who has ever prayed knows that the waiting is where God does his working. Saints are not matured in a day; they are formed in periods of years, decades, and generations. Hence, in this season of Christmas when we reenact Israel’s waiting of the Christ’s birth, we do well to think about the way that God promised his Son, so that in our waiting, hope would flourish.

From Genesis 3:15 to Jesus (to Revelation 12 too), the promise of a child-savior runs through the Bible. During Advent, we remember most explicitly the details related to the Angelic host, the Magi, and the Bethlehem Star, but God’s inspired apostles also send us back into the Old Testament to remember all that led up to Christ’s birth. Thus, in keeping with the pattern of waiting and watching in Scripture, it is worth observing just how and how often and how long God prepared the way for Jesus to come through a myriad of promises and prototypes leading up to the birth of Immanuel, God with us. (Fittingly, what follows is not short. But how could it be? The arrival of Christ’s birth took millennia.)

What follows is a thread of verses that trace how God prepared the way for Jesus. It begins with God’s promise of son in Genesis 3:15 and continues to see how this theme is expanded and developed through the history of Israel. It’s not a short journey, but neither was the voyage the Magi took to worship Jesus (approx. 500 miles in around two months time). In this age of fast-paced consumerism, may God give us grace to look long and longingly at the Messiah whose arrival took millennia to achieve, and may God produce fresh hope in us for the second advent of God’s Son. Continue reading

The Law and the Gospel: What God Has Joined Together, Let No Man Separate

john

In an effort to emphasize grace, many gospel preachers have fallen into the trap of denying the law. Formally, this is called antinomianism, a condition that has often plagued Reformed preachers of grace. While popularly, antinomianism often arises as preachers or believers eschew the shackles of legalism, it is more fundamentally a case where grace itself is misunderstood.

Recently, in reading Sinclair Ferguson’s historical, theological, and pastoral book, The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters, I have been reminded of the importance of making this point. Antinomianism is not so much the opposite of legalism (nor the reverse). Rather, legalism and antinomianism are both fundamental misunderstandings the gospel, the way the law leads to the gospel (see Romans 3:21; 1 Timothy 1:8–11), and the way in which the gospel fulfills the need created by the law—namely, a righteousness that comes by faith (not works of the law), but which also esteems the law as it is written on the heart of those who believe the gospel.

I hope you can see that the relationship between law and gospel is more complex than simple supersession or discontinuity. In what follows, I will draw from The Whole Christ to help show how law leads to gospel and gospel pardons from legal guilt and empowers to obey the law. Continue reading

Get a Rhythm with Christ and his People: Communion, Culture, and Co-Mission (pt. 2) (1 Corinthians 10:14–22)

sermon photoLast week we saw the covenantal nature of communion and how the Lord’s Table not only creates a thick relationship with Christ but also with one another. This week’s sermon furthered that discussion looking at ways we must resist the pulls of demonic-inspired idols. In an applicational message on 1 Corinthians 10:14–22, I argued

  1. Communion creates culture—for good or bad; therefore,
  2. Gospel culture reinforces communion with Christ; and
  3. Godless culture resists communion with Christ; so
  4. We resist the table of demons by taking our gospel culture public.

From these four points, we considered further how to recognize and resist modern temples, false gospels, and demonic idols. Specifically, we looked at the way iPhones function as modern-day temples with gospel promises, inviting us to make them our functional idols.

Sermon audio can be found here and sermon notes here. Discussion questions and further resources can be found below. Continue reading

Books on Biblical Theology: A Brief Annotated Bibliography

biblical theologyYesterday evening I taught on ‘Seeing Christ in All the Scripture‘ in our Sunday evening service. As we emphasize the discipline of biblical theology this summer at our church, I put together a handout showing how the New Testament teaches us to read the Old Testament and how the Old Testament demonstrates a series of pattern which culminate in Christ. You can see the front of that handout here. Below is the back side, which lists and introduces books on biblical theology for children, beginners, and beyond.

Children

  1. The Big Picture Story Bible by David Helm – Perfect for ages 3–103, David Helm traces the idea of God’s People in God’s Place under God’s Rule. He teaches young children how to read the Bible with Christ at the center.
  2. Jesus Story Book Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones – Suitable for ages 5–105, Martyn Lloyd-Jones daughter goes into greater depths than Helm. She too shows how the types, shadows, and patterns in the Old Testament find their fulfillment in Christ. At points, her story Bible is quite funny as it considers the stories of Scripture.
  3. The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski – Ideal for ages 7–107, Machowski’s book takes the story of Christ even further. It includes a couple questions about the story on each page, as well.

Together, each of these illustrated children’s Bibles contain slightly more content as they teach young ones (and older ones) how Christ is the pinnacle and linchpin of the whole Bible.

Beginner

  1. According to Plan: An Introduction to Biblical Theology by Graeme Goldsworthy – In my estimation, this is the introduction to biblical theology. It gives a short ‘how-to’ and a readable overview of the whole Bible through the gospel of the kingdom. He has also written a more comprehensive biblical thelogy: Christ-centered Biblical Theology that gives even more explanation of his method and approach.
  2. God’s Big Picture by Vaughn Roberts – A short, eight-fold explanation of redemptive history centered on the kingdom of God.
  3. Reading the Bible Through the Jesus Lens by Michael William – It gives a short, Christ-centered interpretation of every book in the Bible. Any teacher doing a BT overview should have this book.
  4. The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Storyline by Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen – Speaks of the Bible as a five act drama, where the analogy of drama is effectively used to explain redemptive history.
  5. The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund Clowney – Any student of Biblical Theology should know Clowney, and this worship-inducing book is the best introduction. Preachers should also commit to reading his short book Preaching and Biblical Theology.

Intermediate

  1. The Goldsworthy Trilogy by Graeme Goldsworthy – Three-Books-in-One: Goldsworthy applies his ‘gospel-centered’ approach to the whole Bible, Wisdom literature, and the book of Revelation. For those tired of reading Revelation in light of shifting current events, Goldsworthy shows how Revelation is a book about Jesus.
  2. Dominion and Dynasty: A Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible by Stephen Dempster – Picking up the royal themes of people and place, Dempster beautifully shows the unity of the Old Testament.
  3. Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology by Thomas Schreiner – This abbreviation of his outstanding New Testament Theology gives a rich overview of NT Theology. He also has a large, but very readable Biblical Theology, The King in his Beauty.
  4. From Eden to the New Jerusalem by T. D. Alexander – Tracing six crucial themes (e.g., temple, sacrifice, sovereignty, etc.), this book shows how to move from Genesis to Revelation.
  5. New Dictionary of Biblical Theology – Although large, this is the one-stop shop for biblical theology. In three sections, a bevy of evangelical scholars (1) give instruction on how to approach biblical theology, (2) introduce every book of the Bible, and (3) summarize many important Biblical Theological themes. Every serious Bible teacher should have this reference work.

Advanced

  1. Biblical Theology by Geerhardus Vos – The classic work on Biblical Theology. This book is hard-going at times, because it contains a great deal of interaction with higher-criticism (the academic viewpoint that takes the Bible as as compilation of man-made books, not a unified revelation, inspired by God). However, if you can wade through the chaff, you’ll benefit immensely from this Princeton Giant—not to mention, you will gain an appreciation for what it took for the modern genesis of evangelical biblical theology to emerge.
  2. God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants by Stephen Wellum and Peter Gentry – Contrasting Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism, these two Baptist scholars argue for a series of covenants (progressive covenantalism) as the “backbone” of the Bible. This book abbreviates and gives some response to objection to their earlier book, Kingdom through Covenant.
  3. Progressive Dispensationalism by Craig Blaising and Darrell Bock – A well-researched and irenic book which updates older models of Dispensationalism. Dispensationalist and non-dispensationalists alike would benefit from this well-argued book.
  4. The Temple and the Church’s Mission by G.K. Beale – Long, but worth the read. If you ever want to see how exegesis flows into Biblical Theology for the sake of the church, this is your book. At the same time, this book makes a whole-Bible argument for why Christians should not expect a future reconstruction of the temple.
  5. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment by Jim Hamilton – Hamilton shows how salvation and judgment redound the praise of God in every book of the Bible. Hamilton’s forte is showing the literary structure of each book and how each book contributes to theme of God’s glory.

There are countless other books that could be added to this list, and thankfully more continue to be published each year. If there are others that should be mentioned, feel free to suggest them in the comments. For now, I will commend these books to you, with one additional series: New Studies in Biblical Theology. Recognizable by its silver covers, this series edited by D.A. Carson holds nearly 40 individual studies on Biblical Theology from a wide array of evangelical scholars. These studies are fantastic for tracing themes throughout both testaments. (And to make these books even more accessible for pastors and teachers, Andy Naselli has served the church well by writing up a Scripture index for these volumes).

In sum, few areas of study have been more encouraging to my soul than biblical theology. Gaining an understanding of the Bible as a whole is something Jesus taught his disciples (Luke 24:27, 44–49) and it is something we should give great attention.

May the Spirit of truth illumine our eyes to behold Christ in all of Scripture, and may these resources serve in that study.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Looking at the Old Testament on Good Friday

 

isaacAlthough the centerpiece of the Bible—Christ’s cross—is revealed in the New Testament, we cannot understand its meaning without the Old Testament. Indeed, Paul says Christ’s death and resurrection happened “according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4), which means according to the Old Testament Scriptures. Similarly, Peter says the prophets were led by the Spirit of Christ to “predict the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.” He writes more fully,

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.  It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10–12)

Peter says something even more radical about the cross of Christ a few verses later:

With the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you. (v. 20)

The cross wasn’t the tragic conclusion of a series of unexpected events. It was God’s predestined plan to put Jesus to death. Continue reading

The Cross of Christ Shapes Every Area of Life

obc-1 corinthiansYesterday, I preached on “The Wisdom of the Cross” from 1 Corinthians 1:18–25. While most of the message concentrated on the doctrinal message of the cross and its radical contrast to way the world approaches life (i.e., man’s wisdom), I closed the sermon with a handful of quick applications, listed below.

For the church, the cross must be our shared story that shapes our communion.

For individuals, the cross must be the wisdom that shapes every area of our lives.

  • In your hour of decision, let the self-sacrifice of Christ crucify your false desires; let the promise of resurrection embolden you to take God-honoring risks. (Luke 9:23–27)
  • In your hour of temptation, remember you are already dead to sin; sin no longer has dominion over you. (Romans 6)
  • In your hour of faith, praise Christ for purchasing your belief and obedience. (Ezekiel 36:26–27; Ephesians 2:8–9)
  • In your hour of failure, look again to the cross for your pardon and acceptance. (1 John 1:9–2:2)
  • In your hour of prayer, come boldly before God because of Christ’s blood. (Hebrews 4:14–16)

As we go into the week, may we give praise to God for Christ’s work on the cross. And may we continue to center our lives on Christ and his cross. As Paul teaches he is not an additive to our already full lives; he is the wisdom of God to bring our lives in conformity to God’s will.

May Jesus receive all praise and glory, as we live with ever-deepening dependence on the wisdom and power of the cross.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds