Biblical Theology

The Kingdom of God in the Beginning

These posts will deal with the revelation of God as a King establishing His Kingdom. In this post we will survey this claim tracking it through Genesis 1-11. You should read your bible before reading this and see if these things are so. The (much shorter) audio for this story can be found here (download or listen) starting around 1:02:50.

We know and we worship a very powerful God. He created the vastness of our universe and governs the infinitesimal parts (Hebrews 1:3). He is a King and his throne is in the heavens (Psalm 103:19). He made everything, and then hovered over its formlessness.

He spent the first seven days of Creation on the throne giving the edicts of a King to His creation. He has established right and rule over all of it. He assigned its functions and deemed their worth. He tested and judged it. He saw that it was good.

Yet in all of God’s creative power, He saw fit to create a being that would share in His likeness. A being that, like Him, would maintain some degree of rule and reign. A being that would also be an “us.” He made man in His image, in His image He made them. And He gave them dominion by the blessing of His word. And He showed them love by His blessing. And He established their steps in front of them. He loved them with an everlasting love. He walked with them.

He showed them that He is to be trusted, that His Word is true and powerful. That He is a King to be honored and revered. He was a King that was with them in the Garden, in His Temple.

He displayed His Kingship over man by giving them a word of warning. More like a command. Eat anything and do anything. Just don’t eat that. Trust Me.

His Word is truth. His Word is steadfast. His Word is right. His Word was challenged.

A snake. It was a snake that uttered the first lie. He first perverted God’s eternal Word, and then He craftily contradicted it. He appealed to that side of man that was hungry for more power, more control, more rule. That side of man that is suspicious of his King. That side that is prone to doubt, and prone to leave the God he loves. Then man fell in. And great was that fall.

The fall into the ocean of doubt left a mountainous wake. We no longer trust God. We don’t know Him. We don’t see Him. We hurt. We labor. We do it all in vain. We go back to the dust from which we were created. And yet we continue, by the sweat of our brow and by the pain of our love.

God could have destroyed them there. He has the power to un-make them. Instead, He made them a promise and some coats. They didn’t realize it, but this was designed to point to a better Man. A faithful Man in whom there is no deceit nor shadow of change. A Man tempted, but a Man who would prevail. A Man that would suffer bruises, but would not neglect to administer the final blow. A Man whose covering would truly shield us from our frigid shame. A Man who was there in the beginning. A Man who not only trusted the Word, but who is the Word.

And so they were exiled from the presence of God. They suffered the murder of their own son, not realizing that this, too, pointed to a better Son who also was going to be murdered. A Son that will one day put an end to all murder. A Prince of Peace, as it were.

And so evil continued. It went from nonexistent to the status quo in the matter of a generation. And it increased. It was pitiful. Sorrowful, even. So terrible that if you could have seen it, or if you could really see it today, you’d have wished there was nothing there. Nothing is at least better than this. The King took note, and then He acted.

Not a faithful subject among them. They had all neglected the King. Yet He liked one of them. And because He liked him, He spared him. A big boat would carry him to safety. Noah could even take his family, and a few thousand animals.

And God uncreated the world. Where once land had emerged, it was now covered again with water. And a dove hovered over the face of the deep. And then land emerged. The dove returned with a message of peace.

The earth was allowed to teem again. Noah was given rule over it. There was freshness in the air. A new thing had been done. A new promise had been made. The spectrum in the sky had been assigned its function. The Warrior King had set down His bow in a symbol of amnesty.

Still, in all its drama, the “recreation” was a disappointment. The boat couldn’t have been the King’s true vehicle of deliverance. Surely there must be a better and more sufficient device in which we can find refuge from His wrath. There must be something better emerging from the water than the same old land, any dove could find that. Show me the Dove who can locate where the truly new life is found. Show me the Dove who descended on Him (Matthew 3:16-17).

And because it was insufficient, the earth’s underkings quickly went back to what they did best. They sought power, fortune, fame, and status. Tall things have always been impressive, so they constructed a city and manufactured a tower. One tall enough to even withstand a flood of biblical proportions.

Yet the cities of man have never compared to the Garden of God. The kings of this world can only think of height when the Kingdom of God demands that we lay ourselves low. And so the true King confused them. He gave them over to themselves, that they might seek their own glory, confusing their own languages, starting their own wars, and creating their own misery. Zealously sitting upon their own thrones.

But in the multiplicity of voices, the King is making for Himself a beautiful song with a harmony of voices that will see, proclaim, and admire His greatness someday in the fullness of peace (Revelation 7:9-10).

And this will start with an old man and his barren wife.

Sipping from the Fire Hydrant

The Kingdom of God and a Biblical Theology
The leadership of the Crossing has labored for some time now to try and convince the body of the legitimacy and need of a good biblical theology. You may not realize this. They do it very shrewdly. Well, they used to anyway. Up until now, Aaron and Gary have preached (and preached well) using a biblical theology framework. They usually don’t mention biblical theology by name when they do it, but if you’ve ever wondered why Aaron and Gary (especially) tend to take us through the entire story of the bible in so many of their sermons, this is what they are doing. They’re teaching us to be whole bible Christians.

It makes sense; the whole bible was meant for Christians (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

I say that it used to be a shrewd approach because if you didn’t have a biblical theology framework, you might just think that our pastors were continually just trying to fill up time in their 45 minute sermons with lengthy explanations of the history behind almost anything. However, as of last Sunday, we introduced our first of five biblical theology seminars. It’s in the light now. I took the helm in order to teach through the basics of biblical theology by giving some of the technical terms as well as providing background information on the Old Testament and introducing the story of God and His Kingdom by doing a survey of Genesis 1-11 (which is in a different post).

We covered a lot of ground, perhaps too much. By the end I felt like a loosed fire hydrant bidding the neighborhood to take a quick sip before heading on with their day. In case you weren’t there, and you don’t want to listen to the audio here’s what you missed.

The Tools

Biblical theology is distinct from the other theologies (which we won’t go into here) because it handles the bible on its own terms. That is to say, the bible progresses throughout its own story line to reveal to us more and more of God’s character and plans for humanity.

Because of this, we need a handful of new terms to understand what in the world is going on.

Progressive revelation is a helpful term that identifies the aforementioned fact that the bible is (in large parts) a historical narrative that tells a story as it progresses throughout time. A lot is revealed about God in Genesis 1:1, but this is not the end of the story. It doesn’t end until the close of the age and the return of the King, so we must realize that there is more to be learned as we progress through the book, and that the latter revelation (NT, particularly) very helpfully interprets former revelation (OT, particularly).

Exegesis is a concept that is sensitive to the fact that there are some 3500 years between us and the writing of the earliest books of the bible (and a mere 1900 years from the end of the NT). Because the bible was written by men (inspired by the Spirit of God, 2 Peter 1:20-21) from a completely different era, it seeks to understand what the original author’s intent was. It requires discipline and thinking, but the bible (and the Holy Spirit of God, 1 Corinthians 2:13) are very helpful in informing us about these things. Exegesis bridges the gap between us and the original authors to get to the truth of what the author was trying to convey to his original audience. This helpfully informs how the various portions of Scripture are applied to us.

Exegesis is sensitive not only to the history of the bible, but also to its literature. Whether it’s narrative, poetic, prophetic, a parable, wisdom literature, an epistle, or apocalyptic, exegesis weighs the significance of the nuances between these types of literature and seeks a correct interpretation of them.

These tools will help us refine our hermeneutic. A hermeneutic can be thought of as the lens through which you view scripture. It is a starting point that ends up driving all subsequent interpretations of a text. Therefore, the more scripturally informed hermeneutic you have, the better you will be able to interpret the various texts of the bible.

A few important notes on this, when reading the bible, one must be humble enough to let the bible interpret itself at many points. The bible is a highly self-conscious book in the sense that the various authors oftentimes are familiar with the other texts contained within the bible. This is highly true of the New Testament, but true of much of the Old Testament as well. Therefore, we must allow the New Testament to be the glasses through which we read the Old Testament. The New Testament refines our Old Testament hermeneutic.

Dual authorship is the term that refers to the very nature of how we received the bible. The bible was indeed a book written by the finger of God. But as we noted earlier, it is also a book that finds its feet very much in the happenings of human history. This establishes for us the inexorable link between God’s word and His sovereignty over human history.

The concept of dual authorship can be found in 2 Peter 1:20-21 and just establishes the fact that though it is a book written by the hands of men, it was born out of the mind of God. The human authorship of the bible does not detract from the inerrancy and infallibility of God’s word, but neither does the divine nature of the revelation negate the fact that this book was written by real individuals with a real audience dealing with real problems confined to a specific time frame and location. Both of these truths inform our exegesis and establishes that though the bible was not written to us it was in fact written for us. Incidentally, the fully human and fully divine nature of the written word makes more sense when we consider the fully divine and fully human nature of the Word made flesh (John 1:14).

That is a drastically simplified view of the tools that are needed for proper biblical interpretation, but I hope it is helpful for the faithful bible reader. Much of it is actually quite self-evident, but oftentimes these principles go unapplied to the study of the bible. These ideas will be refined and built upon throughout the rest of the courses.

The Old Testament is Very Big and Very Old

In order to help participants in this class with how to view the Old Testament, I provided a few materials that give biblical timelines and helpful charts and spreadsheets for understanding the Old Testament’s breakdown. If you request in the comments, I’ll be happy to provide those texts for you. If you came to the seminars, I hope you have taped these charts to the inside of your bible. If you haven’t, then do it. Now.

All this was to say that if we can get the general ideas of what’s going on in the Old Testament, it will help immensely when we get down to the individual verses that can sometimes seem very strange and very far removed from ourselves.

It’s important to note here that the Old Testament is very important to us as Christians. The New Testament itself stands upon what was laid down by the prophets. Jesus commended it and fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17-20). I hope this becomes clearer and more potent as we continue, but our God has seen fit to give us a very large book, and so we ought to be familiar with all of it (Deuteronomy 8:3). Breaking up the magnitude of it in understandable sections is very helpful, and so I would encourage you to either seek out or think through ways you can do this.

In the Next Post

I urge you to read the story of God’s Kingdom from the beginning. For the purpose of keeping this post shorter, I’ve posted in separately. Read your bible before reading it and see if these things are true.

If you have any questions, please write them in the comments and we’ll discuss them. Next week we’ll talk about the various covenants of scripture that are monumentally important for understanding God’s unfolding plan.

Getting Started – A Brief Explanation of Biblical Theology

I want to try and set forth a brief case for why biblical theology is needed within a local church body and explain the principles that guide and shape it. Wish me luck, because there are a lot of things that could be said about either of these.
For starters, I think it’s worth mentioning that biblical theology is just a name that we have given to a certain way of understanding the bible. It is, however, how the bible has been properly understood and interpreted since the time of the New Testament authors (and Old Testament, for that matter).

In the next couple of weeks, I hope to establish that this is the right way of understanding the bible through these blog posts and in our Sunday seminars (which, in case you forgot, are starting this Sunday and will continue for five weeks).  My hope and prayer for this is that it will clarify and inform our personal reading of Scripture, which in turn will be fuel for heart-filled worship and benefit anyone involved in a local church.

Biblical theology steps back and views the forest for the trees. That’s not to say that it neglects the trees, though. Without the trees you have no forest. But if you have no idea that you’re in a forest in the first place, the trees look daunting, unfamiliar, and tough to climb. Biblical theology provides a map by which you can find your way through the forest, and in so doing, see the glory of each of the individual trees much more clearly.

This is accomplished by viewing Scripture in a particular way. Instead of seeing the bible as a collection of 66 books and poems and letters that are disjointed and unfamiliar to each other, biblical theology teaches us that the bible is really one book by one author telling one story.

What is the story? It is the story of a King and his Kingdom. It is a story about God and His people.  It is a story that begins in the beginning (Genesis 1:1) and ends when all things are made new (Revelation 21:5). And it is a story that traces God’s plans and intentions throughout all of this.

Put more succinctly, it is the story of God redeeming people from every tribe, language, people and nation (Revelation 5:9) through the blood of His eternal Son (John 1:2) to the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:5-6).

This story, in my opinion, unfolds beautifully throughout the bible, and I hope to be able to show that to you here and in the seminars.

A few things to note about the seminars:

Timing: We’ll be getting started between 12:30 and 1:00pm every Sunday for the next few Sundays. The reason I chose this time is because I hope it will serve to extend Sunday fellowship among the people of the Crossing as well as some friends from nearby churches. The first seminar will have lunch provided, but after that I invite you to bring your lunch to the seminar so you can eat and fellowship with people as we gather around God’s word.

You will need to come ready to think. God has given us minds that are best employed when they are in service to Him (Matthew 22:37). Be ready to learn a lot of new words. You’ll be hearing about things like exegesis, hermeneutics, systematics, progressive revelation, typology, covenantal arrangements, epochs, eras and many other things that may be unfamiliar to you now, but will quickly become part of your vocabulary.

Notes are not necessary, but helpful.

You don’t need to come to all of the seminars; they should stand alone well enough, but will be best when done all together.

You can go as far as you want with it. I’ll advise literature and provide optional assignments that I think will be highly beneficial.

My desire is not to preach, but to facilitate some informative conversations. So come ready to share what you think and any questions that may arise.

Lastly, by way of personal appeal, I have grown deeply in my appreciation for God’s Word since having been introduced to these concepts. I hope this course will benefit you all in same way by increasing your love and the ability to savor the grace of God. That’s why we’re doing this. That’s why we should do all things (Psalm 34:8).

Behold The Lamb of God

Without a doubt, my favorite “Christmas CD” is a non-traditional album from Andrew Peterson. Andrew’s genre is probably best described as folk. He is a great storyteller, and his Christmas album, “Behold the Lamb of God,” is sort of his magnum opus. Andrew describes the CD as “the true tall tale of the coming of Christ,” and this musical and worshipful presentation of the biblical story line—climaxing at the incarnation—was one of the first things God used to open my eyes to the reality that the Bible is one grand story, an epic with a massive plot about a glorious God and His mission to redeem the world. The song below, “So Long Moses,” (track 3) is my favorite song on the CD. It will take you on a journey with Israel from Moses to David and into the prophets, all the while building anticipation for the coming King. Listen to the whole album online and then buy the CD.

From Andrew’s website:

    Named one of the 10 best albums of the decade, Behold the Lamb of God is a collection of songs about Jesus. Since 2000, Andrew Peterson and his friends have performed Behold the Lamb around the country, telling again and again this “true myth”, as C.S. Lewis called it, this tale that’s bigger than life, but is—astonishingly—true. The tour has become a yearly tradition not just for Andrew and the other artists on the tour, but for families and churches who attend the concert each season. The live concert, like the album, is a community effort, featuring singer/songwriters Jill Phillips, Andy Gullahorn, Ben Shive, Andrew Osenga and more, and over the years has featured artists such as Alison Krauss, Derek Webb, Sandra McCracken, Buddy Miller, Phil Keaggy, Sixpence None the Richer, David Wilcox, Pierce Pettis, Mindy Smith, Ron Block, Brandon Heath, Bebo Norman, Stuart Duncan, Eric Peters, and Randall Goodgame—all in the name of proclaiming the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.

HT: JT

A Part of This Great Story

On Sunday we talked about Our Role in God’s Story, the Story about the redemption of God’s Kingdom. The following quote about God’s Kingdom Story was posted this morning on a blog called Of First Importance: Living Each Day in the Good of the Gospel.

    “The kingdom of God is the new and final age that began with the coming of Jesus. His kingdom is not part of the present age — an age where the flesh reigns; where people are divided, relationships are broken, and suspicion and competition dominate; where money, sex, and power are abused; where leaders are first and servants are last; where behavior is controlled by laws, and identity is defined by race, gender, or social standing; and where gifts and resources are used for the advancement of oneself.

    Rather, the kingdom of God is the new age. It is the age of the Spirit (Matt 12:28). It is the age of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). The kingdom of God is about the renewal, restoration, and reconciliation of all things, and God has made us a part of this great story of salvation.”

– Neil H. Williams, Gospel Transformation (Jenkintown, Pa.; World Harvest Mission, 2006), iii.

Every day Of First Importance posts a thoughtful quote intended to help its readers set their minds on what is of first importance: the Gospel. It’s a good place to visit regularly.