Learn to Read Both Across and Along Your Bible

Learn to Read Both Across and Along Your Bible

Collin Hansen interviews Julius Kim


The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy. 

Collin Hansen: For a ministry called The Gospel Coalition, you’d rightly conclude that we care about the gospel more than anything else. But can you define the gospel? Even among people who agree on just about every theological point, you’ll get pretty different answers if still generally covering the same ground. Well, here’s how the Gospel Coalition’s theological vision for ministry defines the gospel. “The gospel is the declaration that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has come to reconcile individuals by his grace and renew the whole world by and for His glory.”

Well, I think that’s pretty good because it brings together two dimensions of the gospel, the individual aspect of union with Christ, as well as the cosmic scope of renewal. These two dimensions are explained in section two of our theological vision for ministry on the hermeneutical issue. To learn more about how we should read the Bible, I’m joining the Gospel Coalition podcast by TGC council member Julius Kim. He is dean of students and professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary in California and associate pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church. He is also the author of Preaching The Whole Counsel of God. I’m going to ask Julius about these two ways to read the Bible, how we should present the gospel and more. Julius, thank you for joining me on The Gospel Coalition Podcast.

Julius Kim: Thank you for having me.

Hansen: Well, to start off Julius, what does it mean to read along the whole Bible?

Kim: That’s a good question. To read along the Bible is one way of talking about recognizing and seeing the Bible having one main story. Now, most of us who read the Bible know that there’s a lot of different people, even actually different languages the way it was originally written in Hebrew, Greek, even some Aramaic over a span of a long time. So you’ve got a lot of people, a lot of times, a lot of countries. And even though you have all these disparate stories and poems and history, etc., if you actually look at the Bible, if you read the Bible along the whole Bible, you actually start to see that there’s a unifying plot that actually ties everything together. Not surprisingly, that plot centers around God himself as our Gospel Coalition a definition of the gospel says it’s really the story of God wanting to reconcile individuals by his grace ultimately tied in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And so reading along, using that word, reading along the Bible is to recognize and to see this unifying plot that ties everything together. It’s really God’s story or history of God redeeming us from the sinful mass of humanity, a people, a community, a family for himself. And as such, when you see it in this big way, you start to see God as the primary kind of character really starting from creation, moving into the fall, into the redemption of that sinful mankind to the consummation of all things, even the whole world, not just humanity, ultimately for his own glory. And so I think it’s a very important interpretive way of seeing the whole Bible. I think this is what it means to read along the whole Bible.

Hansen: So that’s along the whole Bible. The other way our theological vision for ministry talks about reading the Bible is to read across the Bible. What does that mean?

Kim: Yeah. I think by using the word across, they’re trying to try to see the difference between seeing the whole, the major themes that cover the whole Bible versus the major kind of truths or doctrines that come out of the Bible in various theological categories. So basically, you have to learn about truths. If the story is about God saving a people for Himself, then who is this God? What is sin? Who is Christ? What is the work of the cross? What is atonement? All of these truths or doctrines will come out as you read across the whole Bible. So you learn about God, not only in Genesis 1, but even in Revelation 22 and everything in between. And so by looking at various texts of the scriptures, you start to learn more truths or doctrines about God or these different theological categories.

And so to kind of compare and contrast the two, reading along the Bible is what my colleague Michael Horton calls the drama of the Bible. It’s the story of the Bible. It’s reading the Bible as history, more specifically the history of redemption, whereas reading across the Bible is not drama but doctrine. It’s reading the Bible topically or theologically through systematic categories. And so I think both ways are very important interpretive tools to help us read the Bible for all its worth.

Hansen: So is that just another way of describing it then? Basically some of the differences between biblical and systematic theology?

Kim: Yeah, I do. I think those are categories that have been used before to describe different ways of reading and interpreting the Bible. Some people think, well, biblical theology, of course, all the theology do is biblical, right? Because it comes out of the Bible, which is true, but there’s actually a more specific definition to biblical theology in contrast to systematic theology. Biblical theology, which is really introduced perhaps primarily by scholars, by Geerhardus Vos and others. They said, you know, biblical theology is a type of exegetical theology that is theology that comes out of scripture that deals with the, we would call the process of God’s self-revelation in the Bible.

So it’s a way of looking at the Bible. Biblical theology is a way of looking at the Bible. You know, along whole Bible as God has revealed himself over time is if you look at the Bible, God didn’t tell us everything about himself in just Genesis. But then over the history of Genesis, the patriarchs, Israel leading up to the New Testament to Christ and the beginnings of the church, God revealed Himself in various ways. Same thing with Christ and who Christ is and what he’s done. Over the span of history, God has revealed Himself. And so one way of looking at the Bible or reading along the Bible, this is called biblical theology, is this, it’s looking at the process of the history of redemption that’s in the Bible, whereas systematic theology, what we study here in the seminaries and stuff like that, is looking at these discrete topics that come out of the scriptures, like topics and suits such as God, man, sin, Christ, faith, the church, etc. And so that’s another way of saying, a good way of reading the Bible I think what we try to endorse here at the Gospel Coalition is by reading the Bible, biblical theologically as well as swift systematic theology.

Hansen: A lot of us have been trained in evangelism through a basic gospel presentation, whether it’s the four spiritual laws, I think most prominently for many people, but a presentation that focuses on God, sin, Christ, faith. I’m wondering, do you think our gospel presentations should also include the categories of creation, fall, redemption, consummation?

Kim: Absolutely. I think it’s unfortunate because I think a lot of people think evangelism or sharing the gospel needs to just focus on that particular type of God, sin, Christ faith, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Obviously, we need to talk about who God is, what sin is, who Christ is, the nature of faith and repentance, etc. But I think as we’re seeing more and more, especially in this generation, it’s frankly is not unlike what Paul encountered in Acts 17 in Athens where you have really biblically illiterate people. And so if you start talking to people about God and sin, they’re like, I have no category for that. I have no idea what that means. Whereas if you start telling them a story, let’s say using the kind of creation fall, redemption, consummation kind of rubric or framework, you start at creation say, you know what, let me tell you a story, a story about a creator God who created the world good. And the pinnacle of its creation was man and man was created for His glory to rule under his care, etc., etc. And then you begin to have some categories so that God makes sense, and then when you start telling the story kind of completing the story of how sin entered into the garden and God’s remedy for that sin in Christ, then the actual thing kind of coheres together.

I think Don Carson calls this worldview evangelism. It provides those discrete systematic categories of God, sin and faith into a broader context or can we use this word meta-narrative, what bigger story, a bigger story in which those categories make sense. So I think especially today in our modern, postmodern world, post-postmodern world, I’m not even sure where we are anymore, Collin. But in this postmodern world where less people are biblically literate, I think we need to provide them with a broader story in which the categories of God, sin, Christ and faith makes sense. So I do think our gospel presentation should be a both and both approaches, not an either or.

Hansen: So another one of the contrasts and comparisons in this hermeneutical section of our theological vision for ministry talk about the difference between presenting Christianity as a way of life versus a blood-bought status in Christ. Let’s continue in what we’re talking about here by explaining those distinctions.

Kim: Yeah. If I’m not mistaken, I think the difference between the way of life versus blood-bought status is basically trying to articulate what can go wrong if you overemphasize one way of reading the Bible versus the other. For example, if you overemphasize reading the Bible kind of through biblical theological lenses as opposed to systematic lenses, there can be the potential of overemphasizing let’s say the corporate aspect of what God has done for us. And so this kind of corporate aspect begins to kind of erode the emphasis on the individual’s kind of personal response of faith and repentance to Christ’s work.

And so let me just talk with about the way of life or presenting Christianity as a way of life. I think here, the emphasis here tends to be for those who look at Christianity as a way of life is just Christ’s work is seen as the ultimate example of self-sacrifice. And as a result, we as good followers of Jesus need to follow in that example of self-sacrifice. And so we emphasize things like creating peace and Shalom in the world in which we live following after the footsteps of Christ. And so Christianity then is no longer this dynamic personal conversion out of death to life because of Christ’s work on the cross, but it just becomes a way for us to present the goodness of God that occurred to us that now we need to share with others.

On the other hand, there’s another potential problems if you overemphasize the individualistic response over and against the corporate response, what happens then is you have this, the problems of individualizing your religion and you lose some of the corporate, the important corporate aspects of the church, a bunch of justice and mercy, etc. Even really lacking appreciation for things like common grace in our world, what’s a Christian approach to art, to business, to music, etc? So as you can imagine, both of these differences while they have their strengths, have potential weaknesses as well.

Hansen: And I think another thing our theological vision for ministry does is it locates some of those problems within history to identify what is The Gospel Coalition trying to do? How are we trying to distinguish this particular kind of gospel-centered ministry that we’re advocating? And I think another way of thinking about this basically would be that some forms of Protestant liberalism overemphasize the way of life, some forms of Protestant fundamentalism overemphasize the individual element there. And, you know, our stream is a little bit closer on that fundamentalist side of things. It’s not like we’re trying to find a via media between liberalism and fundamentalism, though that is something of what evangelicalism is. We’re trying to recapture the proper biblical emphasis that continues with both of these different ways of reading scripture that these are not just these sort of theological or historical camps. These are complimentary ways that God reveals himself and engages with us and in the world around us. One of those ways, this section also talks about the work of God is to say that every stage of history and every part of the canon climaxes in Jesus Christ. Just explain Julius what that means.

Kim: Yeah, it’s a large topic. And if I can make a plug for my book, maybe you try to read my book for this, but.

Hansen: I have read it. Recommend it to others.

Kim: Thank you. Thank you. But maybe the simplest way is how did Jesus and the apostles themselves, you know, look at scripture? What’s very interesting as you look at some very key passages, some seminal passages like Luke 24, here’s the resurrected Jesus that appears to these very discouraged disciples on the road to Emmaus from Jerusalem to Emmaus. And he begins to explain to them, as it says from all the scriptures, the things concerning himself. And there’s this unique way or this unique formula that’s used there, the law, the prophets and the writings from all of that, which is one way of saying the whole Bible or that time would have been the Hebrew Bible or the old Testament.

So Jesus is explaining all about himself, his person, who he is, what he came to do, and he’s actually putting meaning to his life, death and resurrection by using the old Testament. Wow. That’s interesting. So that means that the entire Old Testament somehow comes together in the person of Christ. And, of course, we can say that about the new Testament, everything that flows from Christ, the gospels and Acts to the Pauline literature. And as, as the rest of new Testament flows out of Jesus. So I think The Gospel Coalition is trying to recognize what Jesus himself and the early apostles recognize that the entire canon of scripture, all the scriptures ultimately point to Christ as the primary agent of salvation and the gospel, this declaration of God coming to reconcile individuals. How does God reconcile individuals? By his grace, only through the person and work of Christ.

And so I think that’s another kind of real important hermeneutical or interpretive way of looking at the scriptures. That is we have to do justice to God’s own intention in his book, his story, that climax is in the person and work of Jesus. So even amongst all of this diversity that we find in the Bible, and there’s a lot of diversity there, there’s poetry, there’s apocalyptic literature, there’s history, there’s all of that. Even with the diversity of languages and time and place, etc., there’s actually a wonderful unity and that unity is found ultimately in the person and work of Jesus. And so yeah. So that’s, I think one way of talking about this idea of that every stage of the history of the Bible, every part of the Bible really ultimately climaxes in Jesus Christ.

Hansen: So Julius, I had been working, out of college, in Christian ministry just for four years before these statements were written in 2007 and have been working for The Gospel Coalition for most of that time since then. And so these statements have been very important to me and they’ve been shaping me. These statements were just came out actually written and adopted at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School by our counsel right before I’d enrolled at Trinity and studied with our President Don Carson and really learned a lot of this. So in some sense, I see myself as a product, as a beneficiary of this work and writings such as yours. But help us to understand, like to me, in one sense, this just seems obvious. I don’t know how else I’m supposed to read the Bible because I’ve been shaped by this. What is this been trying to correct? What were other ways of talking about scripture other than saying that it all climaxes in Jesus Christ.

Kim: Yeah. I think over the history of exegesis or the way of interpreting the Bible, I think many well-intentioned people have tried to figure out how to read the Bible, to quote this other book, how to read the Bible for all it’s worth. And I think one of the primary ways, at least within kind of our evangelical history here in America, one of the ways we’ve read the Bible is, is you know, the best way to read the Bible as to read it as literally as possible. You know, just go verse by verse, word by word, and try to pull out of it as much as we can.

Now, I think the impulse is good. The impulse ultimately extends from an intention or motivation to try to be as accurate to the intention that God had. Unfortunately, what it doesn’t do is take into account the ways in which these authors wrote. They wrote in particular styles of literature, they wrote with particular occasions in mind to particular people in mind. And all of that needs to be taken into consideration when you read the Bible rather than just a word by word, verse by verse type of way.

And so for example, it’s not unlike if I were to write a diary of my life and I would write it with a particular intention in mind, and I might even, as an author of my diary or my autobiography, have a particular goal in mind, a purpose in mind, let’s say to ultimately give honor to my parents who raised me a particular way that led me to be the kind of man that I am today. However, if you miss that intention of mine to honor my parents, if you start reading my autobiography in a way that doesn’t take into account my own goal of honoring my parents who raised me and taught me this way, you could potentially misunderstand my words, misunderstand my sentences, my paragraphs, and ultimately totally misunderstand the entire autobiography.

In a similar way, if it’s true that God himself wrote the entire Bible with a particular goal in mind, which was to glorify himself through the person and work of Jesus, we have to read every word, sentence, paragraph, book, letter, etc with that context in mind, while at the same time doing justice to those words, those sentences, those paragraphs. Historically, people have tried to do their best to interpret as accurately as possible, but their definition of accuracy, forgot to take into account some of these broader contextual purposes of the author, not only a human author but even the divine author. And so this kind of verse by verse exposition for example, sometimes has led to some misinterpretations I think.

Hansen: That’s a very effective way of thinking about it. You can tell you have used that illustration before because that really lands. I wonder though, how did working into that illustration of intent, what do you do about the biblical authors who would not have understood or known that intent that was nevertheless super intended by the spirit to point to those things that they did not yet know?

Kim: Absolutely. That’s a difficult one. And at certain level, some of this is encased in the idea of mystery, right? And when we start talking about the role of the Holy Spirit kind of breathing into these authors in such a way that while these authors were able to write, they’re not robots, they’re able to write in their own language, their own style, their own motives, somehow mysteriously, the Holy Spirit is aiding them to write sacred scripture. We know that from passages like 2 Timothy 3. And so if that’s the case, somehow we have to reckon in our own minds that even though they may not have fully grasped every jot and tittle of God’s intention, somehow there’s this unique, mysterious balance of God allowing them to use their own gifts and skills and abilities to write what they wanna write and yet God in a supernatural way working alongside them with them, however we wanna describe that mystery, to fully have the Bible as it is today. And at the end of the day, it’s a mystery. But I think that’s one way of trying to grapple with that the work of the spirit in the lives of these men.

Hansen: Let’s workshop in our last couple of questions to help the people who are preaching and leading and teaching in our churches specifically of how to represent these different perspectives on how to read and understand the scriptures. So very commonly, you have this serial exposition that has characterized Protestantism going all the way back to its origins. Would you recommend that preacher sometimes take breaks from the verse by verse exposition and occasionally preach, say themes of the Bible, topics of the Bible, such as covenant, kingship and a temple? Or would you maybe say, no, you can do that, but do it within the context of the verse by verse exposition where it’ll give you occasions to be able to expose that?

Kim: Yeah, I think that’s a good question. Let me back up a little bit and talk about this kind of verse by verse exposition. I think many of us I think have grown up in churches where are our pastors, again, in a genuine good desire to be accurate to God’s word, decided to do verse by verse exposition. Meaning they’ll read a verse, explain the verse, draw out of it as much as they can, many truths as they can. What does this verse about, what are the doctrines that come out of it and how do I apply it into my life? Okay. Now let’s move to the next verse. The problem is, and in some literature that works really well, you know, literature that was meant to be interpreted verse by verse like Pauline literature, Pauline’s exposition in teaching in his letters. That makes a lot of sense. But what do you do in like poetry where there’s seemingly repetition or what are you doing story where the story actually needs to develop through its plot? It’s very difficult to do verse by verse and narrative and poetry.

Hansen: Ecclesiastes and Job become pretty difficult, by that definition.

Kim: Very difficult. And so this is where I know a lot of verse by verse expositors frankly, they don’t preach a lot of the Old Testament.

Hansen: Oh yeah, no, that’s absolutely, they just skip it, just skip it.

Kim: They skip it all together. And I think that’s a shame because God gives us the whole 66 books of the Old Testament, which is rich. I love preaching from the Old Testament because it’s so rich. And this is where, again, you need a more, how should I say, fully orbed understanding of not only interpretation of those texts, but then a method of preaching that does justice to those texts. So while verse by verse exposition is one model, a homiletic model, not a hermeneutic model that is a way of preaching versus of way of interpreting. Verse by verse preaching is one way, but I don’t think it’s the only way. So I do think before we even talk about preaching themes versus texts, while I do think that’s an important question to answer, I think we just need to answer that the potential problem of verse by verse exposition and rethinking that altogether.

Now, having said that, should we also preach themes as well as texts? Absolutely. Here’s where a reading along the Bible versus reading across the Bible can be very helpful because if you look at scripture, you see these wonderful themes that emerge not just in a New Testament. For example, let’s say mission, let’s say the worship, the idea of missions or evangelism, etc. I think for a lot of well-intentioned preachers, they’ll immediately go to places like Matthew 28 to Pauline literature, very clear, explicit passages or texts that talk about mission, and then do a verse by verse or a word by word exposition and then encourage everybody to do missions. I think that’s fine insofar as that’s what you have, but I do think, wouldn’t it be wonderful if you start talking about missions, a kind of biblical theology of missions and start from like Genesis 1 that even at the very beginning of creation, God has an intention to save not only humanity, but also all of creation, to bring glory to Himself through creation.

Take a look at, for example, of the table of nations in Genesis 10, if you start looking at missions to be a biblical theological lens, and then you see this, “What? God has an intention to save sinful humans from all the nations, not just from Israel, not just from Abraham’s family in Genesis 12?” What? Then you start seeing different aspects and different, you know, the light of the gospel starts to shine on various parts of scripture like, “Wow, I didn’t know that this kind of beauty existed through all the scriptures.” And so if you do something like missions from the whole Old Testament Jonah, other passages. It’s like, “Wow, there’s a lot I could learn about God’s intention for missions and evangelism from all of the Bible and not just from these discreet texts.”

And so all that to say, should preachers sometimes take break from a verse by verse and preach themes? Absolutely. But having said that, one needs to be careful that if you are gonna preach thematically, still do it with faithful expository interpretation and models. You need to preach the text, the intention of the text to its original audience as well as bringing out these wonderful themes that also come out of the Bible, like mission, covenant, kingship, worship, etc.

Hansen: My last question, Julius, I’m gonna cheat and I’m gonna answer it myself before I even ask it to you. So it’s kinda strange. But this is one reason why I strongly recommend the M’Cheyne reading plan to people. And, in fact, that’s why we’re building around it for The Gospel Coalition’s Read the Bible in 2020 initiative we’re going to be encouraging people to do this individually and in their churches and together with people across churches. We’re gonna be using Don Carson’s For the Love of God devotional to be able to walk people through that as well. We’re doing an audio version of that. But in those years before I enrolled at Trinity and studied with Dr. Carson, I went through his two devotionals and went through the M’Cheyne plans and that is what really helped me to begin to see all these connections.

And I remember talking with somebody I’m close to and I was asking him about his Bible reading and you mentioned a few things. And I asked, “Well, have you been reading the Old Testament?” And he said, “No.” And, and I followed up and said, “Why?'” And he had been in church for a number of different years and he said, “Well, because it’s the Old Testament.” Like I don’t understand, but it is amazing. One of the biggest eye opening experiences I see for people is when they begin to read these passages of scripture in juxtaposition with one another and all of a sudden, the thematic connections begin to pop, especially in that reading along the Bible methodology.

So to go to my question now, for preachers especially maybe within a reformed background, have been strong in systematic theology especially or rooted in a verse by verse exposition, which is really about a lot of a word studies and what is the exact meaning of this. And remember some of those inductive Bible study methods and things like that. How would you recommend that they go about growing in their ability to teach not only cross, but also along the Bible?

Kim: Yeah, that’s really good. Yeah. Tongue in cheek, I would say first come study at Westminster Seminary, California. I really do think that that’s one helpful way. But I know for many preachers and pastors, that’s impossible to do. So the best way I’ve say is just be in converse… Maybe I don’t use this word loosely, be in conversation with other authors, pastors and preachers who are actually doing this in their own ministry. What I mean by be in conversation is read them, listen to them, watch them, try it for yourself. And then so in that where you’re gonna actually grow, not only in your understanding of this method of reading, interpreting, and then ultimately preaching and teaching this way, but you’re just gonna mature and really be a benefit to your people.

So get good commentaries, go to good conferences, check out the things that we’re doing at The Gospel Coalition. Because I think this is really, our heartbeat is not only reading across but reading along the Bible and to balance that so that we can get a consistent and coherent understanding of God’s intention in the gospel. Ultimately, we’re just trying to be more gospel-centered and how do we get more gospel-centered by reading more gospel-centered authors, listening to more gospel centered preachers and pastors. So that’s what I mean by being in conversation. Because as you listen and read, hopefully you’re dialoguing with them, you’re interacting with them in your mind and your heart and even in your own life and ministry and that over time, not only are you just, are you learning it, but hopefully you’re catching it too. You’re gonna catch our bug. You can get that virus out, the gospel virus and that’s what we want, right? But we want that virus to spread, the good virus. And hopefully, people will be able to see really that not only the truth of the gospel, but the beauty of it as well.

Hansen: That’s exactly what I was thinking Julius. It’s when you begin to listen to those sermons, you’re reading, doing something like the M’Cheyne plan. You’re going to the conferences, you’re picking up books, like your Preaching The Whole Counsel of God. What I think happens is you develop instincts and reflexes. It’s not that you just live in the commentaries, it’s now when you’re reading through Isaiah, you begin to see what’s going on beyond just Isaiah 52 and 53. You begin to see what’s happening in Isaiah 60. You begin to see what’s happening more in Isaiah 6 and 9. I mean, all of a sudden you’re developing these instincts and reflexes and you automatically just begin to do that. And it’s going to the point Julius, where I don’t know if this is acceptable to say, but I almost prefer to teach out of the Old Testament because it’s just naturally the inner canonical connections are exactly what I think really fire me up to be able to teach. And that’s kind of one of my natural go-to processes. And then that’s happened over time of being able to, you know, being able to learn from others to do it well and it is just amazing when all of a sudden all 66 books are open to you.

Kim: Exactly. Exactly.

Hansen:  And that you can preach and teach.

Kim: That’s interesting you say that because the same thing I think has happened. I’ve actually seen that in my own family. You know, I have a daughter now who is a sophomore who’s about to enter her sophomore year in college at a big public university, very well known for its leftist ways. And, you know, one of the first things we told her when she went to school, it was like, you have to find a good church, but we’re not gonna tell you which one to go to. Because you’ve been raised, hopefully in a home where you’ve been taught well and also in a church that has taught you well. So then she started visiting all these churches around her college and immediately as I started talking with her, she’s saying things like, “Dad, there’s something off about that sermon.” Like, “Huh? What was that?” “You know, he taught us it’s really good to engage in evangelism and to share the faith with people, but he really didn’t ground it in anything else, but our guilt.” “Huh? What do you mean?” “It’s like basically, his point was, can you imagine all the people in heaven that you will be able to see because of your evangelistic efforts who’s not gonna be there because you didn’t do it? So now go, go and evangelize.” I’m like, “Wow, what’d you think of that?” “Didn’t wanna say anything because that’s not the way you know our pastor at home would do it.” I said, “Oh, really? How would he do it?”

“Well, first, he would preach a text. He’d read from the Bible, number one, and then if it comes naturally out of the Bible, if that was the intention of that Bible text, he would then say, ‘See what Christ has done for us. God sent us His son as His first missionary in a sense. Jesus was the first apostle to come. He sent this missionary to come and share the faith with us, and he loved us so much and even died on the cross for that.’ Now out of love and gratitude and joy, this is why we share the gospel with others. We evangelize and do missions out of a heart of gratitude and love for the grace that we’ve already received.” And I said, ”Ha, honey, that’s great.”

And so of course, as soon as I got off the phone, I’m crying. I’m weeping because I’m so grateful. Because you know, at the end of the day it’s not, I didn’t necessarily give her step one, this is how you read the Bible. Step two, it’s just over time she caught it, if that makes sense. She caught the bug and now it, her instinct and her reflexes to use your words are such that when she hears a sermon that justice quite, there’s a little off, she’s immediately able to pick it out. So just really thankful for that. And I think as more and more people engage themselves in this type of reading and listening and watching and picking up the resources of places like TGC, I think they’ll eventually catch it as well.

Hansen: And my guest talking hermeneutics on The Gospel Coalition Podcast has been Julius Kim, dean of students and professor of practical theology at Westminster seminary, California. Pick up his book, Preaching the Whole Counsel of God and dig deeper with The Gospel Coalition’s Theological Vision for Ministry. Julius, thank you for joining me.

Kim: Thank you for having me.

For a ministry called The Gospel Coalition, you’d rightly conclude that we care about the gospel more than anything else. But can you define the gospel? Even among people who agree on just about every theological point, you’ll get pretty different answers, if generally covering the same ground.

Here’s how TGC’s Theological Vision for Ministry defines the gospel: “The gospel is the declaration that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has come to reconcile individuals by his grace and renew the whole world by and for his glory.”

I think that’s good because it brings together two dimensions of the gospel: the individual aspect of union with Christ, as well as the cosmic scope of renewal. These two dimensions are explained in section two of our Theological Vision for Ministry, on the hermeneutical issue:

How Should We Read the Bible? (The Hermeneutical Issue)

1. Reading “along” the whole Bible. To read along the whole Bible is to discern the single basic plot–line of the Bible as God’s story of redemption (e.g., Luke 24:44) as well as the themes of the Bible (e.g., covenant, kingship, temple) that run through every stage of history and every part of the canon, climaxing in Jesus Christ. In this perspective, the gospel appears as creation, fall, redemption, restoration. It brings out the purpose of salvation, namely, a renewed creation. As we confess in CS–(1), [God] providentially brings about his eternal good purposes to redeem a people for himself and restore his fallen creation, to the praise of his glorious grace.

2. Reading “across” the whole Bible. To read across the whole Bible is to collect its declarations, summons, promises, and truth–claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arrive at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily (e.g., Luke 24:46–47). In this perspective, the gospel appears as God, sin, Christ, faith. It brings out the means of salvation, namely the substitutionary work of Christ and our responsibility to embrace it by faith. As we confess in CS–(7), Jesus Christ acted as our representative and substitute, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

3. How this reading of the Bible shapes us

1. Many today (but not all) who major in the first of these two ways of reading the Bible—that is, reading along the whole Bible—dwell on the more corporate aspects of sin and salvation. The cross is seen mainly as an example of sacrificial service and a defeat of worldly powers rather than substitution and propitiation for our sins. Ironically, this approach can be very legalistic. Instead of calling people to individual conversion through a message of grace, people are called to join the Christian community and kingdom program of what God is doing to liberate the world. The emphasis is on Christianity as a way of life to the loss of a blood–bought status in Christ received through personal faith. In this imbalance there is little emphasis on vigorous evangelism and apologetics, on expository preaching, and on the marks and importance of conversion/the new birth.

2. On the other hand, the older evangelicalism (though not all of it) tended to read across the Bible. As a result it was more individualistic, centering almost completely on personal conversion and safe passage to heaven. Also, its preaching, though expository, was sometimes moralistic and did not emphasize how all biblical themes climax in Christ and his work. In this imbalance there is little or no emphasis on the importance of the work of justice and mercy for the poor and the oppressed, and on cultural production that glorifies God in the arts, business, etc.

3. We do not believe that in best practice these two ways of reading the Bible are at all contradictory, even though today, many pit them against each other. We believe that on the contrary the two, at their best, are integral for grasping the meaning of the biblical gospel. The gospel is the declaration that through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has come to reconcile individuals by his grace and renew the whole world by and for his glory.

To learn more about how we should read the Bible, I’m joined on The Gospel Coalition Podcast by TGC Council member Julius Kim. He is dean of students and professor of practical theology at Westminster Seminary California and associate pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church. He is also the author of Preaching the Whole Counsel of God. I asked Kim about these two ways to read the Bible, how we should present the gospel, and more.

Listen to this episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast and check out other episodes in the series Why We Need Theological Vision.