Focusing On The Objective
A while back on the blog I wrote an article about the biblical necessity for Christians to think deeply. That article focused on showing the importance of Christians using their noggins, however, today I want to actually look at the practical nuts and bolts of understanding how to dive into biblical theology. Now, that phrase “biblical theology” is important to understand as the starting place and we need to think about two different points. First, there is what I would expositional or exegetical theology. To be clear, all theology should be exegetical, meaning that all theology should be derived from the Scripture. However, by using this phrase I am getting at the idea of seeking to understand a certain section of Scripture focusing on it alone. You might take the book of Philippians working through each portion of that book multiple times before moving into a different area of the Bible in your personal study. The time you spend studying would probably consist of actions like outlining the book as a whole, marking specific verses, making note of changes in the flow of the book, and praying through the book as well. You would be purely locked in on that one objective of a thorough comprehension of the book of Philippians, which is one component of biblical theology.
Another area of biblical theology is understanding how the parts relate to the whole. How does the book of Philippians interact with the rest of the Scripture? That my friends is coming into our second aspect of biblical theology which is known as systematic theology. In this realm of study, you might take a specific doctrine tracing every single time it appears in the Old and New Testament in order to develop a robust comprehension. You could focus on what the Bible says about fatherhood and motherhood, then jet over to examine a doctrine of the atonement. All the while you are seeking to interpret each and every passage in context while compiling what the Bible says about these areas as a whole. That is the task of systematic theology which is built upon sound exegetical theology where everything is derived from the text. We must be thinking about both of these areas as we come to the Scripture seeking to study. Our minds must be darting back and forth seeking to see how a passage of Scripture fits within a certain context while tracing to find the doctrines it discusses across the entire Bible. Why is systematic theology important? Because Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture. In other words, when you are confused about a passage, you should allow the Word to give you the cool breeze of clarity by fleshing out what it says in its entirety.
Building A Robust Biblical Theology
So, now that we see these two clear areas of biblical theology, the question now becomes how do we engage in building a thoroughly developed understanding of the Word? First, you must become skilled in reading the Bible basically. This includes basic steps like tracing back citations when an author quotes from a different section of Scripture, noticing when words like “now,” “therefore,” “but,” “and,” or other transitional and connecting words are used in a text. Make note of when a biblical passage seems to be emphasizing something such as when Jesus uses the phrase “Truly, truly” to draw attention to what He is about to say. These basic steps seem simple, but a failure to follow them will produce serious failures in your theological beliefs.
Another important fundamental is to read passages in context and evaluate doctrines in light of all of Scripture. Your doctrine of predestination should be able to stand up accurately in John 3, John 6, Romans 8 and 9, as well as in passages like Ephesians 1 and the rest of Scripture. My point is that what you believe about a doctrinal issue like predestination should be derived from the text, and therefore be able to work consistently across the Bible. You can’t just read one section of Scripture when trying to develop a doctrinal understanding, we need the entire counsel of God’s Word. However, if your doctrinal understanding cannot stand the test of exegeting a particular text, then something is wrong with your doctrine or interpretation of that passage. When you are working through the Gospels, notice the specific context of the situations Jesus is addressing. If you are going through the epistles, make note of the context surrounding a phrase. If you’re trying to understand a doctrine, then look at how it is used in the scope of all of Scripture.
Thirdly, give yourself time for biblical theology to do its work. Doctrinal solidarity is not achieved by pulling up to a drive-thru window and placing a to-go order which will be ready in 30-seconds. Far too many of us are quick to draw conclusions on issues like the end times, spiritual gifts, and even on issues like biblical teaching on the family without actually taking the time to study. I’m not saying you have to give it 5-years or 5-months, but I am saying that you need to be patient in your study. Invest the time you need to understand the Word of God. Microwaveable understandings may warm up quickly, but they fade just as rapidly. However, the tastefulness of a meal slowly cooked is incredible to beat. Similarly, slowly chewing on the Word will build a doctrinal stability lasting for ages.
Understanding The Importance of Continued Growth
A final area I will hit on as it pertains to drinking from the deep well of biblical theology is to lock in on the objective of continual learning. The incredible aspect of Scripture is that none of us will master all of it in this lifetime. I remember one distinct occasion where I was preaching a book I had read at least 20-30 times, outlined, prepared sermons about, and done seminary work on, yet as I was preaching one evening I saw something in the text I had not seen before. It was not like I had to massively change my mind on the book, but I did add to my sermon on the fly once I saw this particular detail. Biblical study will continually be filled with the adventure of new lessons that need to be taught to us by God. He never changes, but our finite understanding should always be seeking to learn. None of us should ever have the expectation or attitude that we have somehow figured everything out about the Bible. We should stand with firm conviction on what it teaches while always seeking to know more of it.
Friend, I hope that you and I will both grow in our understanding of the Word of God. I pray that you have found this post helpful in some ways for assisting your study of the Scripture. A pressing need in our era, as in every era, is for Christians to think biblically about all of life for the glory of Christ. I sincerely hope that we will all be vigorous students of Scripture diligently seeking the pearls of wisdom found in the Word. Additionally, I hope we will all have the humility to understand that everything we know has been given to us as a gift of grace by God. Therefore, we should not only be constantly in awe of His grace seeking to know more of Him, but also deal with others who may be newer believers than ourselves in an attitude of respect and humility. All the while seeking to live increasingly according to the Word for the sake of Christ!
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