Reviews

“40 Questions about Biblical Theology” by DeRouchie, Martin, and Naselli–A Book Review

Perhaps the best one-stop shop for an introduction to biblical theology is 40 Questions about Biblical Theology by Jason DeRouchie, Oren Martin, and Andy Naselli. This monograph covers the definition, methodology, examples, and applications of biblical theology. It is thorough, concise, and even devotional. Anyone teaching a beginner’s course on BT or new to the discipline must have this book. I receive a free copy of this book from the publisher, Kregel Publications, in exchange for an honest review.

Synopsis:

Maybe not everyone realizes that scholars disagree on the what and how of biblical theology (BT). Edward Klink and Darian Lockett classify five kinds of BT in Understanding Biblical Theology: 1) historical description; 2) history of redemption; 3) worldview-story; 4) canonical approach; and 5) theological construction.[1] The authors of this monograph, however, disagree with those classifications and advocate for a biblical theology that blends history of redemption, worldview-story, and canonical approach. They divided this monograph into five key sections.

Part 1 is on defining BT. Naselli defines BT this way:

“Biblical Theology is a way of analyzing and synthesizing the Bible that makes organic, salvation-historical connections with the whole canon on its own terms, especially regarding how the Old and New Testament progress, integrate, and climax in Christ.

p. 20

The authors take several chapters demonstrating the definition above. They also include related discussions on Scripture’s storyline, the spectrum of Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology, typology, tracing promise-fulfillment, and intertextuality.

Part 2 is on the methodology of BT. Question 10 is significant: “What are different ways that evangelicals do Biblical Theology?” Other chapters in Part 2 include discussions on presuppositions, authorial intent, order of canon, theological systems (dispensationalism–covenant theology spectrum), and BT’s relationship with other theological disciplines, especially systematic theology.

Parts 3 and 4 provide illustrations on what it looks like to use BT in Bible study. Part 3 includes studies on biblical-theological themes such as covenants, people of God, law, Sabbath, Temple, the Land, etc. Part 4 presents studies on how later Scripture uses earlier Scripture (intertextuality). Finally, Part 5 lists several applications of BT, including teaching and preaching OT, applying OT promises, BT’s impact on the Christian life, teaching BT, and motivations for doing BT.

Book Highlights:

1. Succinct definition and methodology

Andreas Köstenberger recalls DA Carson observing that, “Everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes, and calls it Biblical Theology.”[2] This has been my own experience as I listen to BT lectures, read books on BT, and converse with people on BT. Even the authors of Understanding Biblical Theology confess that they have not even tried defining BT because of its difficulty.

“Defining biblical theology is notoriously difficult…. Though bearing the title Understanding Biblical Theology, this book is not an answer to the problem of defining “biblical theology.” Rather, it is an attempt to draw attention to some of the central issues attending the task of biblical theology along with a practical consideration of some of the more visible thinkers working in the area. We offer no new definition or methodological proposal for biblical theology because we envisioned our task as clarifying the morass of definitions and proposals plaguing both the academy and the church.”

Understanding Biblical Theology, p. 189

In some sense, 40 Questions about Biblical Theology is an answer to the desire for more dialogue on the definition and methodology of BT. The chapters on the definition and methodology of BT sharpened my thinking on BT (especially ch. 1 and ch. 10). Regarding definition, Naselli has narrowed down the key components of biblical theology to 1) the analysis and synthesis of the whole canon; 2) the organic (on its own terms) and salvation-historical connections; 3) the climax of Scripture pointing to Christ.

Regarding the methodology of BT, most of the works on BT advocate their own unique approach (either analyzing each book or narrating the Bible’s storyline). Some even argue that their approach is the only way to do BT. Others (like Understanding Biblical Theology) provide a variety of approaches, but present them as distinct methods.

Naselli, however, describes three approaches to biblical theology not as completely distinct approaches but as overlapping approaches that can even be combined. First, analyze the theological message of each book and/or section of the Bible. Then, trace central themes through the Bible. Finally, tell the whole storyline of the Bible (metanarrative). An invaluable resource in the chapter of methodology is the bibliography listed on the footnotes. Naselli leads the readers to excellent examples from the various BT approaches of other scholars.

2. Lots of Illustrations on tracing the theme and NT’s use of OT

In addition to defining BT and providing a step-by-step approach, this monograph also demonstrates how it’s done. Tracing the theme and studying how the NT uses the OT are the two important ways to demonstrate how the Bible is indeed one coherent and interconnected book. Chapters 20–30 are all about demonstrating how to do BT. These chapters put the theory of definition and method into practice. The themes discussed include the covenants, the Serpent, people of God, law, Sabbath, Temple, Mission, Land, and Resurrection. The footnote on chapter 11 also cites published works on other biblical theology themes, including atonement, circumcision, ethnicity, city of God, covenant, idolatry, image of God, incarnation, God’s glory in salvation through judgment, kingdom, land, law, marriage, mystery, possessions, prayer, repentance, shepherd, work, etc.

Case studies on how later Scripture uses earlier Scripture include the use of Exodus 15:2 in Isaiah 12:2; Hosea 11:1 in Matthew 2:15 (classic example); Isaiah 40:13 and Job 41:11 in Romans 11:34-35 (Naselli’s dissertation); and Leviticus 18:5 in Galatians 3:12. Chapter 35 also demonstrates the parallelism between the Bible’s bookends, Genesis 1–3 and Revelation 21–22.

Students of biblical theology will find these chapters helpful as they research other themes of Scripture using the biblical theological method. Pastors and preachers will also find this a valuable resource if they are preaching a passage that touches some of these themes.

In addition to the biblical teaching and the pedagogical demonstration found in these chapters, these illustrations are also spiritually edifying. As the authors trace these biblical-theological themes, they point their readers to Christ—his fulfillment of pictures, first coming, atoning work, return, and reign.

3. Commitment to Scriptures and to orthodox theology.

I appreciate the authors’ commitment to the inerrancy and authority of Scriptures. Historically, BT was a discipline used by non-inerrantists strictly for the academy. In 40 Questions about Biblical Theology, the authors have demonstrated a conviction for divine inspiration as a necessary presupposition to do biblical theology well. The illustrations of their use of BT, rooted on this conviction, demonstrate vibrant, devotionally rich, and theologically significant BT fruits. The stakes are higher because the subject studied is not just any kind of literature but the very words of the living God. While biblical theology is a discipline used in the academy, it is primarily for the church.

Conclusion:

Andy Naselli, Jason DeRouchie, and Oren Martin not only tell you what biblical theology is, they also show you how it is done and how they have done it. The most significant contribution of this monograph, in my opinion, is their definition and methodology of biblical theology. Furthermore, the chapters illustrating both how to trace a theme in Scripture and how later Scripture uses earlier Scripture leave you hungry for more examples while also motivating you to do your own similar research. This work should be a required text for any biblical theology course, especially for the introductory level. For more info, you can visit the Kregel website here. You can purchase this book through Amazon here.

[1] Edward W. Klink and Darian R. Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).

[2] Andreas Köstenberger, “The Promise of Biblical Theology: What Biblical Theology Is and What It Isn’t,” Midwestern Journal of Theology 17, no. 1 (Spring 2018): 9.

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