For most people, “biblical theology” simply means theology in line with the Bible, or theology that is true. For theologians and historians, however, “biblical theology” refers to something more specific: the study of the theology contained in the Bible, how the Bible fits together to tell one overarching story, and how the Bible reveals God and His actions in history.
Edward Klink and Darian Lockett have observed the differences in how scholars define “biblical theology.” Not only what biblical theology is, but also how one goes about studying it.
In Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice, Klink and Lockett offer five views for understanding biblical theology, and they mark these views on a spectrum. Their analysis provides an invaluable resource for pastors and scholars, as the attention given to biblical theology continues to grow.
Here’s a brief summary of the way they plot these definitions on a spectrum.
1. Biblical Theology as Historical Description
- The task of BT1 is to affirm the exegetical or descriptive nature of biblical theology and deny the theological or normative nature of biblical theology. BT1 seeks a theology of the Bible in tis own terms and based on its own context(s). Rather than being tossed around by contemporary faith-related commitments that make normative judgments for the present day, BT1 remains committed to an authority of the Bible that seeks first and foremost its own message.”
- Scholars: James Barr, Krister Stendahl
2. Biblical Theology as History of Redemption
- The task of BT2 is to discern the historical progression of God’s work of redemption through an inductive analysis of key themes developing through both discrete corpora and the whole of Scripture. Major themes such as covenant or kingdom constitute the theological connecting fibers between the Old and New Testaments, and these themes necessarily run along a historical trajectory, given fundamental structure to the theology of the Bible.
- Scholars: D. A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy, Roy Zuck, Geerhardus Vos
3. Biblical Theology as Worldview-Story
- Using the category of narrative to broker a balance between history and theology, the task of BT3 directs readers to understand the individual episodes or passages of Scripture in light of its overarching story line. Instead of progressing from the smallest bits and pieces of the narrative to the larger whole, BT3 starts with the larger narrative portions of the text through which individual units are read.
- Scholars: N. T. Wright, Richard Hays, Richard Bauckham, John Goldingay
4. Biblical Theology as Canonical Approach
- The task of BT4 is to affirm the exegetical form and function of the canon for biblical theology, embracing both the descriptive (historical) and prescriptive (theological) nature of Scripture and its confessional community.
- Scholars: Brevard S. Childs, James Sanders,
5. Biblical Theology as Theological Construction
- The task of BT5 is to affirm the integrated nature of biblical theology as a theological, hermeneutical, and exegetical discipline with overriding theological concerns, incorporating biblical scholarship into the larger enterprise of Christian theology.
- Scholars: Francis Watson, Daniel Treier, Stephen Fowl