Monday, December 9, 2013

"What is Biblical Theology?" by James Hamilton: A Review

In the mystery of his wisdom, God chooses mostly weak and insignificant people as his own. He wants no humans boasting (1 Cor. 1:29), and he wants us relying on him, not ourselves (2 Cor. 1:9). When God sets out to make a great nation of one man's descendants, he starts with a man whose wife is barren. When he wants to choose a king, he picks a young boy whose own father didn't think he would be kind, and so when the prophet comes to anoint one of his sons, Jesus doesn't summon David until Samuel has passed over David's older brothers (1 Sam. 16:10-11). When God wants to save the world, he sends his Son to become a baby, born to a peasant girl in questionable circumstances, and he sends him not to a great world capital but to a small town n Galilee. It's almost as though God repeatedly gives a head start to the opponent who will never outrun him.

Satan always seems to have the upper hand. The seed of the serpent are always impressive by worldly standards, and they don't shrink from draconian tactics: Cain kills Abel; wicked Israelites reject Moses; Saul persecutes David; the Jewish leadership crucifies Jesus; and the world has treated Christians the way it responded to Jesus.

But God raises the dead, and if something is impossible with man, all things are possible with God. So in the face of what appears to be the triumph of the wicked, all the weakness and folly of love and humility and joy and hope show the power and wisdom of the true and living God, against whom no foe can prevail.

This happens over and over again, as can be seen when we look at the plot's episodes. (35-36)

Every pastor should be a biblical theologian. It is important for the preacher to be able to articulate the context and meaning of an author's writings, book, theology, and how it all fits within the biblical storyline. I have been blessed in recent years by studying the metanarrative of Scripture and perhaps no better concise resource has helped me see the how the Bible all fits together than Dr. James Hamilton's short book What is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns.

Though there has been an increase in biblical theology books, this work of Hamilton is perhaps the best place for those new to biblical theology and the biblical storyline to begin. The book is broken down into three helpful parts. The first looks at the story of Scripture - Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation. The second part highlights the many symbols, types, motifs, and images prevalent throughout the Bible that connect the story of Scripture. Hamilton shows how many of these symbols and images all point us to Christ. For example on the image of a tree, he writes;
We Christians have good news; the shoot from the stump of Jesse is bearing fruit. The root out of dry ground bore our sins, and he perfectly fulfilled the Torah. His leaf will not wither and his fruit will not fail (cf. Isaiah 11, 53; Psalm 1). We can trust Jesus. (69)
One connection that is helpful for me, and something I have been thinking about a lot recently, regards the image of the temple. Hamilton shows how the Temple image runs through the whole of Scripture - from Creation to Recreation. The world, he writes, is a cosmic temple (72) and leads to a new creation where the redeemed will forever stand in his presence - in his Temple.

The final section regards the church. Again, Hamilton highlights how the storyline of Scripture fits together. Though each chapter is brief, Hamilton offers a great introduction to what the church has to do with everything. This would be a great place for one to begin in formulating a biblical ecclesiology.

Overall, I strongly encourage every pastor to invest in a book like this. Hamilton's work here is the best I have come across and will make me want to invest in some of his longer biblical theology books. Believers wanting to have a greater understanding of Scripture will benefit greatly from this book. It is short (I read it in one setting) and is fairly easy to follow even for those new to some of the concepts.

This book was provided for the purpose of this review by its publisher, Crossway Books.
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