Theologian Michael Horton once wrote:
Nancy Guthrie is one of the best teachers of Scripture I’ve ever heard or read. Her style—even in writing—is conversational. It’s like you’re sharing a cup of coffee while tracing the central motifs of the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation.
Nancy is the author of a Bible study series on Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. Her most recent book, Better Than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything about Your Story, shows how biblical theology can shape our everyday life.
Now, she’s taking this teaching on the road through workshops in churches, criss-crossing the country for nine months in order to help women discover a love for biblical theology.
I recently caught up with her to ask her some questions about where, when, why, and how she is doing this.
What do we mean by “biblical theology”?
When people hear the term “biblical theology,” they often think we are talking about a theology that is biblical as opposed to unbiblical. But really we’re talking about a way of understanding and approaching the Bible that recognizes that even though the Bible is made up of various kinds of literature and was written down over centuries by 40 human authors, it is really telling one cohesive story about what God is doing in the world through Christ. We can trace the Bible’s story from Genesis to Revelation through the development of a number of central themes that communicate a coherent message about the person and work of Christ.
Perhaps another way to think about biblical theology is to think of it in contrast to its important companion, systematic theology. In systematic theology, we ask what the whole of the Bible has to say about a particular topic, such as sin, justification, the Holy Spirit, the nature of God, or humanity, and put it into a coherent summary. Biblical theology, then, is more about tracing particular themes that develop in the story of the Bible from creation to consummation, such as kingdom, sacrifice, feasting, or temple.
Why should we study biblical theology?
Because it is an essential but often neglected aspect of understanding the Bible. As someone who grew up in Sunday school, studied Bible in college, had a career in Christian publishing, and spent years in Bible Study Fellowship as an adult, when I began to hear preaching and teaching that was saturated in biblical theology, I realized I needed to go back to kindergarten in terms of understanding the Bible. I wanted to understand it in the way Jesus taught it to his disciples when “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
I find that people who discover biblical theology have a new excitement about the Scriptures. A number of years ago I was teaching a study of Genesis in my church when one of the discussion group leaders, a godly older woman, came and sat down beside me. “How come I’ve never been taught this before?” she said with tears in her eyes. She was beginning to recognize that, as many years as she had spent studying the Bible, she had never seen how the story of the Bible fits together in a way that is centered on the person and work of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. She was seeing and adoring Christ in new ways. Her tears were for all of the lost years of approaching the Bible in lesser ways.
What can biblical theology do for us? In other words, what’s the payoff? How will our lives be different for having biblical theology in it?
When we are familiar with the major themes that run throughout the whole of the Bible, and then see one of these themes arise in a text we’re studying, it gives us insight that guides us into the Holy Spirit-intended meaning of the text. It helps us to appropriately connect that text to the person and work of Christ so that we get to the gospel, rather than mere self-help or legalism.
Biblical theology helps us to discover what God intends for us to grasp as we read his Word so that we are less likely to impose our agenda on it. For example, as we trace the theme of the tabernacle and temple, we discover how important it is to God to dwell with his people. This prompts us to orient our anticipation of the future toward God dwelling with us, rather than simply longing for escape from this world. When we explore the theme of sacrifice, the principle of substitution is brought before us again and again. This underscores the nature of the atonement and guards us from diminishing or forsaking this core truth.
Biblical theology also helps to correct sentimental notions of the future God is preparing for us. For most of my life, my understanding of the trajectory of the Christian life was that we are urged to put our faith in Christ now so that he will accept us into heaven when we die. But when we more fully understand the story the Bible is telling, we begin to anticipate more fully the way God intends to bring the story to a consummation. It will not end with a conclusion, but rather, a new beginning in the new heaven and new earth.
So what has prompted you to launch this series of biblical theology workshops across the country for women? What do you hope to accomplish?
I think there are a lot of women in our churches who wish they had the “want to” to read and study their Bibles. But they’re often bored by their Bibles or intimidated by their Bibles. They sense there is more to what they are reading than they are grasping, but they’re not sure how to get at that deeper meaning. I think developing this basic skill of seeing the themes woven throughout scripture equips us to grasp this deeper meaning. My ultimate aim, however, is to help women see Christ through the various angles of biblical themes, so that they will love and admire him more. That is the effect that biblical theology has had on me.
Can you tell us where, when, and how these workshops will take place?
At this point we have 15 workshops scheduled around the country for fall 2019 and spring 2020. Over a Friday night and Saturday morning or an all-day Saturday workshop, we’ll review the key events of the Bible’s story and the major sections of the Bible. I’ll demonstrate telling the story of the Bible through the lens of a particular theme. We’ll work together on tracing a few themes through the various sections of the Bible. Then we’ll look at the opening of each of the Gospels and discover how a growing understanding of major themes adds to our understanding when we see those themes arise in smaller parts of the Bible.
|September 14, 2019||Houston, TX||Christ the King Presbyterian Church|
|September 20-21, 2019||Louisville, KY||Sojourn Church|
|September 27-28, 2019||Orlando, FL||Reformed Theological Seminary Orlando|
|October 5, 2019||Wake Forest, NC||Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary|
|October 12, 2019||New Orleans, LA||Lakeview Christian Center|
|November 2, 2019||Grand Rapids, MI||First Byron Christian Reformed Church|
|January 24-25, 2020||Atlanta, GA||Perimeter Church|
|February 1, 2020||Birmingham, AL||Briarwood Presbyterian Church|
|February 8, 2020||Jackson, MS||First Presbyterian Church|
|February 21-22, 2020||Greenville, SC||First Presbyterian Church|
|February 29, 2020||Kansas City, MO||Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary|
|March 6-7, 2020||Chattanooga, TN||First Presbyterian Church|
|March 28, 2020||Tulsa, OK||River Oaks Presbyterian Church|
|April 4, 2020||St. Louis, MO||Chesterfield Presbyterian Church|
|May 2, 2020||Denver, CO||Park Church Denver|
All of the churches and seminaries hosting a workshop have agreed to open it up to whoever would like to come. Some are more likely to fill the number of available seats with their own members than others, so I encourage women who are interested to register early. And I’m encouraging women who are not in a city where a workshop is being held to put together a group and make a girls’ trip out of coming to a workshop in another city.
Are you concerned that “biblical theology” might sound intimidating or academic to some?
Oh, I hope not! All of us who are seeking to understand God are theologians. And we can all become better theologians from wherever we are now. I’m gearing the material to reach the average woman in the church, seeking to make it clear and accessible for her, as well as stretching for those who are more adept with their Bibles. The sessions will be interactive, with hands-on small group work in the text, and I hope they will be a lot of fun too.
I did a trial run of the workshop last fall at Austin Stone Church in Austin, Texas. We had 450 women in the room, and it was so much fun to get to watch and listen to the buzz of those women working together in groups, poring over their Bibles. Honestly, the time together went so quickly, was so interactive, and so much fun. I sensed that the women left encouraged and excited about what they learned, and were anxious to put it into practice.
What would you say to pastors about the workshop?
I would say that as your women know their Bibles better, they’ll be more engaged with your sermons, better equipped for teaching others in your church, and more in love with Christ. So I hope pastors will send the registration link to women in their churches—especially those who are teaching in women’s Bible studies, working with youth, and teaching children—telling them that he would love to see them attend (and perhaps that the church is willing to help them financially to attend). I find that pastors rarely grasp how much a word of encouragement means to the women in their church who are seeking to grow in their Bible skills and understanding.