Yesterday, I posted five ways of understanding “biblical theology” – a taxonomy developed by Darian Lockett and Edward (Mickey) Klink, who teach at Talbot School of Theology. Today, Darian and Mickey join me on the blog for a conversation about biblical theology.

Trevin Wax: Why is it important to be on the same page when we are speaking of “biblical theology?” What are the ways people understand this term?

Darian Lockett: Whether in preaching, commentary writing, or in theological reflection most would claim, at least implicitly, that their theology is “biblical.” On the surface this seems clear enough until one begins to detect rather divergent accounts of Biblical Theology.

  • Is BT merely what “people back then” believed about God, namely, a purely descriptive task?
  • Or, is BT comprised of drawing together key themes that run along Scripture’s length?
  • How dependent is BT upon the progressive acts of God throughout history?
  • Is BT shaped by the overarching narrative running from Genesis to Revelation, or is it formed around the canonical ordering of the books of the Bible?

It doesn’t take long to discover that when “biblical theology” is invoked, there are often a host of unarticulated assumptions operating in the background. This leads to conversations (or more often, arguments) where interlocutors claim to be discussing the same subject matter but end up talking past each other.

I don’t want the discussion of BT to get bogged down in endless discussion of method. However, clarifying the range of possibilities that qualify as doing BT is needed. Only then can a productive conversation regarding the Bible’s theology proceed.

Trevin Wax: What’s the risk of “talking past each other” in discussions on biblical theology? How does this hinder ministry outside of the ivory tower of academia and in the day-to-day practice of church leaders and church members?

Mickey Klink: The risk, Trevin, is the facilitation of chaos of the church’s reading of the Bible and its theology.

The academy has its own standardized schema (e.g., criticisms, schools of thought, etc) for reading and putting the Bible together. But what does the contemporary Evangelical church have? If they are honoring the contemporary practice they have “no schema (or creed) but the Bible!” In an Evangelical culture far removed from the Rule of Faith, let alone the Creeds and Confessions, the primary lens and tool for putting the Bible together is what we now call “Biblical Theology.”

For this reason Biblical Theology, and its definition and practice, is of vital importance to the church, that is, to the pastoral staff, the elders, the small group leaders, and even to the people in the pew, for it becomes (implicitly or explicitly) the “rule” or the “schema” that puts all the details together and supports the functional exhortation from the Scriptures regarding living life for God.

In this way our book is not just helping people talk to and evaluate one another, but also evaluate themselves. It is an attempt to be self-critical regarding our own methods and presuppositions toward the Bible and “its theology.”

Trevin Wax: But isn’t it true that most pastors have a couple of Systematic Theology textbooks on their shelf, and they find that sufficient? What’s the point of having a whole other discipline to keep up with?

Mickey Klink: I am not sure most evangelicals do much Systematic Theology. I think most “Evangelical” theology has a difficult time getting systematic. Sure, with Grudem, we can define BT historically and ST as more timeless and topically organized, but I am not sure that is fair to either side. That is why I think it is BT that forms the superstructure supporting most preaching and teaching in the church. Some may call it ST, but I think it is more accurately BT.

Darian Lockett: I don’t think it is an issue of pastors (or scholars) needing to keep up with another discipline. A Christian reading of Scripture seeks to understand the whole, not only to understand one individual passage, but to understand that passage in light of the whole for the purpose of knowing and doing God’s will. Thus a Christian reading of Scripture implicitly rests on some kind of BT.

As Mickey mentioned, to merely claim, “I’m just reading my Bible; I don’t have a particular theology” is to have a particular theology of how the Bible goes together. Thus, BT is not just an academic concern. It’s not just a discussion on methodology. The necessary discussion about “types” of BT is to clear the way for good reading of Scripture for the purpose of discerning the subject matter, namely Christ.

I’m not sure how a pastor would find a Systematic Theology textbook sufficient for reading the Bible theologically, or reading Scripture to discover its overall coherence. But I think that question leads us away from the main point. Central to the issue is to consider the relationship between BT, ST, and Scripture itself.

Trevin Wax: What were the difficulties you faced in trying to categorize the different perspectives on Biblical Theology? Some of these are similar but have different emphases. I can imagine it was a challenge to separate and label these views.

Darian Lockett: When providing a taxonomy for a particular area of inquiry, the challenge is to clearly describe categories or types so as to distinguish them in a meaningful way without artificially imposing divisions that aren’t really there. This was the conceptual struggle as we approached BT.

Our project works best with the two of us isolating the various types of BT rather than having editing a work where our “practitioners” would have written the chapters. This way we have provided a tighter continuum of BT which illustrates both the clear similarities and striking differences.

Mickey Klink: With Darian, I would say that greatest difficulty was trying to deduce what categories (e.g., canon) were foundational to the superstructures of the various types of BT. In a sense, we were interpreting interpreters and their method, removing the surface layers in order to expose and evaluate the engine driving the methodological vehicle.

Trevin Wax: What was the biggest thing that surprised you as you did this research?

Mickey Klink: Probably the most surprising for us would be that BT2 necessarily includes both DTS dispensationalists and WTS covenant theologians because of their foundational reliance on salvation history, a “special history” that has a theological life to it in a way that differentiates it from BT1.

We wonder if the most surprising for others, however, would be that we placed NT Wright, representative of BT3, as more theological than DA Carson, BT2. The evidence is the categorical differences between BT2 and BT3.

Trevin Wax: What do you hope your book will accomplish for evangelicals?

Darian Lockett: Two things come to mind. First, we hope the book fosters a conversation about the historical and theological underpinnings of BT. Though a theoretical conversation that might at first be most interesting within the academy, the hope is that such a discussion would actually be of use and encouragement to the church. We would be most excited if such a discussion would influence the church’s understanding of the gospel through BT’s influence in preaching.

A second hope is that the book would encourage evangelicals to think of BT in wider terms than at present. Most evangelicals would likely see themselves in what we have called BT2 (perhaps some in BT3 as well); however, the implicit conclusion of our book is that each of the five types (perhaps with the exception of BT1) have something to contribute to one’s understanding of BT. Thus, we hope the book could provide a way for a more eclectic BT practiced within evangelicalism.

Mickey Klink: I would add to Darian’s last comment that our book implicitly challenges evangelicalism, or those in BT2 (from dispensationalists to the more Reformed), to be more theological in their use and appropriation of Scripture. Such an encouragement is not to limit or silence history – hardly! Rather, it is to place history in its appropriate, theological context, and to see history as a central trait of a good reading of Scripture, but not necessarily a pure, unadulterated method that can stand on its own.

I have a feeling that a self-critical BT2, the type most akin to the tradition I was raised in, will be able to offer a more robust account of biblical history, if for no other reason because that history is rightly seen to be divine in origin and can now more easily be infused with meaning that extends beyond what is normally seen as “natural.”