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Posts Tagged ‘Graeme Goldsworthy’

God Unchanging

It’s biblical theology appreciation week!  That is, for me, at least.  What exactly is biblical theology, though?  To most Christians, it sounds redundant.  The discipline of biblical theology (as opposed to, for example, systematic theology) is actually tricky to define, but I found three good definitions here.  One of the main thrusts I find in any definition, is that biblical theology strives to connect the dots, as it were, and stress the Bible as a whole.  It highlights the big picture in various texts, and the unity of God’s revelation to humankind.  It uncovers the threads that run from Genesis to Revelation, and is perhaps (n.b., speculation!) the closest thing to the “lecture” Jesus gives on the road to Emmaus (see Lk. 24:27).

Two recent events have given me occasion to appreciate anew the discipline of biblical theology.  First, a recent lecture at our church’s training school by the excellent Garrett Smith stressed what he called a “holistic” approach to reading Scripture.  That is, observe similarities and make connections between texts to note how God works through history.  For example, seemingly random (weird?) feasts or genealogies often have much deeper meaning than meets the eye.  There are connections all over Scripture that shed light on God’s character, and how He relates to humankind.  This is essentially biblical theology.

Second, I recently read a transcript of a lecture given by Graeme Goldsworthy at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I first came to know of Goldsworthy through his great book, According to Plan: The Unfolding Revelation of God in the Bible.  Says Goldsworthy in his lecture,

Individual texts…are essentially books about God and his word-interpreted deeds.  It is this recognition that God is the central character of the Bible that makes biblical theology possible.

I love this quote, because it hits one of the more common interpretive fallacies I find in the church today (myself included).  The Bible is, first and foremost, about God.  It is His revelation of Himself to us.  It is not our set of “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”  To approach Scripture with a narrow focus on what a text says about us, or what we should do, or what it means to us, is a dangerous endeavor if that’s all we seek.  A much better interpretive question would be, “What does this say about God?”  We do well to answer this question before moving elsewhere.  (N.b., “moving elsewhere” is fine, but we should start with what the text says about God; after, of course, we’ve done our exegesis!)

Why is “what does this say about God” a better question?  Simply put, it’s better because while our culture changes, God does not change.  I don’t have to balk at the prohibitions against tattoos in Leviticus 19 and write off the Bible as irrelevant because the culture into which those laws were given is different from ours.  But the One who gave them, God, is the same; by extension, the  principle that underlies the prohibition (which I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader), is the same.  Our very study of the Bible is predicated on the fact that God does not change.  If He did, why would we read ancient texts about God and assume that they were valid today?  If the god of the Old Testament is different from the one in the New Testament, why not think that he’s different in “our testament”?  Why should we think that we can have a relationship with Jesus as did the writers of the New Testament?  Because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  So also for the Holy Spirit (another exercise for the reader).

I believe that biblical theology highlights the unchanging nature of God to the student, which in turn leads to greater appreciation and understanding of the Scriptures.  Leviticus isn’t so boring after all, once you can see it in terms of the whole.   I do not, of course, in any way disparage systematic or historical theology; they are all very helpful disciplines in the theological project, for sure, and contribute in their own way.  Nor would I claim that one flavor of theology is better than another.  But for this week at least, I’m thankful for the contribution of biblical theology to Christian thought, and would encourage readers to explore “big picture” ideas as you read the Bible.  You will be blessed.

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