Crossway has just published the latest edition to the “Building Healthy Churches” series by 9 Marks, a book entitled, Biblical Theology: How the Church Faithfully Teaches the Gospel. Let me say up front that I like this series, and I like this book. Nick Roark and Robert Cline have done a great job. This book has much to commend it – which I will tell you about shortly. Also, because I was once told by a seminary professor that no review should be absent any criticism, I will mention one minor squabble that I have with the book. We’ll start with the squabble first.
My One Disagreement – The Definition
Biblical theology is notoriously difficult to define. In fact, for too many, it seems to be thrust into the now infamous category of Justice Potter Stewart: “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Nevertheless, some faithful practitioners and intrepid academics (like Roark and Cline) continue to put forward possible definitions.
These definitions usually fall into one of two camps: (1) biblical theology is something that readers do to the text or (2) biblical theology is something that readers discover within the text. I think that the best definitions are those in the second camp (e.g. James Hamilton’s definition in What Is Biblical Theology?), but Roark and Cline seem to lean towards the first. They write:
“Biblical theology is an approach to reading the whole story of the Bible while keeping our focus on the main point of Scripture, Jesus Christ” (23, italics added).”
“Biblical theology is a way of reading the Bible as one story by one divine author that culminates in who Jesus Christ is and what he has done, so that every part of Scripture is understood in relation to him” (26, italics added).
The early Christians “understood that it was their responsibility to search the Scriptures and develop a faithful framework for understanding how the Bible’s story centers and culminates on Jesus” (27-28, italics added).
This may be (and probably is) a small semantic squabble, but it is the only thing that I could find to disagree with in Roark and Cline’s book. So, I felt compelled to include it in this review. Now we may turn our attention to what I liked.
My Several Agreements – Accessible, Theological, Practical
Roark and Cline’s work is accessible. Somehow, the authors manage to condense their big subject into a short book that is simple to understand. It is a perfect introduction to the discipline of biblical theology, and an important reminder about the important role of biblical theology in the life of the local church.
While this book is simple, it is definitely not shallow. Biblical Theology is a rich theological exploration of Scripture that is beautifully written. It seems that on nearly every page, the authors restate their big idea that biblical theology makes much of King Jesus.
Even though Biblical Theology is deeply theological, it remains extremely applicable. Roark and Cline have designed their book to be a practical (and powerful) tool in the hands of pastors and teachers. Throughout the book, there are “Tips for Teaching” sections that contain sage advice about how to properly deal with a variety of biblical texts. There is also an appendix at the end that is filled with edifying biblical theological teaching about specific OT and NT passages.
Ultimately, I cannot recommend this book (or this series) highly enough. You should buy them. You should read them. You should discuss them. You should apply them. Enjoy!