The Disciplines of Knowing: Theology (2)
The pursuit begins here.
And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. Luke 24.27
We begin to explore – really, just to fly over – the disciplines that make up the work of theology. Let’s remember that theology is that raft of disciplines by which we pursue God, that we may find Him, as He has promised, and increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Put more formally, theology is the disciplined pursuit of the knowledge of God and His glory, which we undertake through six disciplines, each of which offers a “window” on the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.
As with any bank of windows, the more of them we look through, the clearer will be our vision of whatever they open to us. The disciplines of theology are separate and unique. At the same time, because they focus on the same end – knowing God through Jesus Christ – and depend on the same divine illumination – that which the Spirit provides – a certain amount of overlap exists between these disciplines, so that we are never purely making use of one of them without some input from others.
The six disciplines – Biblical theology, creational theology, historical theology, systematic theology, practical theology, and spiritual theology – allow us to seek the Lord in every place where He is revealing Himself. They also furnish us with the outlook and mindset for seeking the Lord through a wide variety of other disciplines, including those which make up a traditional school curriculum. And they guide us into the wisdom of God through the daily application of what we are learning about Jesus.
The place to begin in using these disciplines effectively is where the light shines brightest and the vision is most explicitly clear. And that is in the discipline of Biblical theology.
Foundation and cornerstone
Biblical theology lays the foundation and sets the cornerstone for seeking the Lord by every other available means. Unless we are grounded in Scripture, and know how to look through the lens of God’s Word at all our experience and all other sources of the knowledge of Christ, we will always be susceptible to being blown off course in our pursuit of God and His glory, by the winds of self and worldly thinking.
The discipline of Biblical theology unlocks the narrative of Scripture, teaching us how to discern God’s overall purpose in having created all things, and guiding us by stages to the redemption and reconciliation He has provided in Jesus Christ. In Biblical theology we study the books and themes of Scripture, following a historical timeline by which God’s overarching plan and economy unfold. Three primary themes guide the revelation of every book and section of Scripture – God’s glory, God’s people, and God’s work of redemption – and these themes weave together to create a consistent and ever-clearer narrative of God and His work on our behalf.
To practice Biblical theology we must first commit to regular and faithful reading of all the Bible. Reading the Bible over and over again will help us improve our understanding of the overarching narrative and flow of Scripture, at the same time allowing us to increase in the knowledge of God with each successive pass through His Word.
We’ll want to learn the differences in the types of revelation God uses in Scripture – history, biography, poetry, prophecy, gospel, epistle, and apocalyptic, for example. When we’re working in the discipline of Biblical theology, we move back and forth with increasing ease and depth between all the different kinds and periods of divine revelation, following the development of primary themes, and noting the contribution of each section to the overarching narrative.
And, of course, at all times, we want to hear the voice of God in His Word, speaking directly to us about our need and calling, and guiding us by stages into ever-increasing knowledge of Christ and deeper intimacy with Him.
It can be helpful, in our study of Scripture, to have available to us works of Christian thinkers who have devoted themselves to the discipline of Biblical theology, to help us along the way and keep us from straying off the path God Himself indicates in His Word. Many excellent resources are available in the form of Bible dictionaries, commentaries, study guides, and writings specifically about the discipline of Biblical theology.
Biblical theology lays the foundation and sets the cornerstone, not only for all theological study, but for all study of any aspect of life. If we want to find Jesus in the things He has revealed, we must first learn to do so consistently and personally from His Word. The disciplines of Biblical theology can train and guide us in this effort, and thus prepare us for a life of seeking the Lord through other areas of reading and study.
Themes and structure
In His great high-priestly prayer of John 17, Jesus revealed the things that were most urgently on His heart, and which we can assume are the primary themes of all Scripture: the glory of God, the people God has chosen for Himself, and the work of Christ in redeeming and securing that people for God. Wherever we are reading or studying in Scripture, we are engaged with all three of these themes. As we work our way from Genesis to Revelation, we find our understanding of these themes – how they weave together into one powerful narrative of redemption – grows, is embellished and enlarged, and becomes increasingly personal as a source of great comfort, confidence, and joy.
In addition, we find a structure to Scripture that sees the revelation of God unfolding according to His covenant and toward His Kingdom. Each of these is present from the very beginning of Scripture; but each develops more fully as the narrative of Scripture unfolds. The covenant – with its promises, mandates, and sanctions – is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. And Jesus announces and “brings near” the promised Kingdom of God, that holy spiritual realm over which He reigns and which operates by the power of grace and the Spirit of God, according to the teaching of God’s Word.
We will benefit the most from our studies in Scripture if we will learn to take this Biblical theology approach – always seeking greater understanding of the primary themes of Scripture, making note of the glorious unfolding of its structure, and listening for the Spirit to bring us to Jesus, so that we may know, love, and serve Him day by day.
1. Why do we say that Biblical theology must be the foundation and cornerstone of all our seeking to increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?
2. Biblical theology provides a “lens” to help us make the best use of all other disciplines. Explain.
3. What can you do to begin making better use of the discipline of Biblical theology?
Next Steps – Preparation: As you read and study God’s Word, always ask what you are learning about its primary themes and commanding structures. Seek Jesus at every place in His Word, and always look to Him to guide you in applying Scripture to your life.
T. M. Moore
Our workbook, God’s Covenant, is designed to give you a concise overview and introduction to the work of Biblical theology. Here you will trace the themes and structure of Scripture, always looking to discover how Jesus is being revealed and what you can learn about Him. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.