Friday, January 17, 2014

Book Review - What Is Biblical Theology?

I consider myself an outdoorsman. I love to hunt and fish. I don't get to do those things as much as I'd like to, but when I can get out I thoroughly enjoy myself. I'm thankful my father introduced me to fishing and hunting because I wasn't born with a love for those pursuits. I had to be introduced to them. I had to be mentored and pointed in the right direction. I needed someone, in this case my dad, to give me a little push in the right direction. Hunting in particular is a sport that is difficult to begin on your own. You need have someone to guide your steps and teach you the ropes. I'm thankful my dad played the role of mentor in this aspect of my life.

I think biblical theology is a bit like hunting in this regard; it is a little intimidating and difficult to get into that type of reading. The books are often big...really big even. And the term itself seems beyond what the average reader desires or is capable of handling. For us non-scholar types, the pursuit of biblical theology is like hunting in that we would be well served to have a mentor to get us started and teach us the ropes, someone to guide us and get us started in the right direction.

Jim Hamilton, through his book What Is Biblical Theology?, acts as the mentor we need to begin this literary pursuit. Hamilton advises us and instructs us in a preparatory manner for delving into the very edifying and enjoyable world of biblical theology. And once you begin down this path, you just might find reading and studying biblical theology is something that you love to do. The few books on biblical theology that I have read have been God exalting and personally enriching. Hamilton uses What Is Biblical Theology? to point us in the right direction and encourage us to press into this captivating curriculum called biblical theology.

Hamilton begins the book, which for the intimidated is a mere 120 pages, with two introductory chapters which motivate us to investigate biblical theology and educate us on exactly what it is. Biblical theology is the "interpretive perspective of the biblical authors" (15) and its aim is to "understand and embrace"(12) their perspective. Starting in these chapters and continuing throughout the book, Hamilton's passion for this discipline is evident and infectious. From here the book is divided into three parts: "the first sets out the Bible's big story, the second looks at the way the biblical authors use symbols ... and the third considers the part the church plays in that story" (22).

Part 1 of What Is Biblical Theology? is comprised of three chapters. The first considers what we in the English teaching profession call the elements of fiction. But in this case we could call them the elements of non-fiction narrative. These aspects include settings, character, and plot. Hamilton informs us that the big story of the Bible provides us with the true perspective on life; "We make sense of our days in light of this overarching narrative" (32).

The second chapter of Part 1 takes one of the aspects-plot-and focuses its attention on its details. Hamilton includes conflict, episodes, and theme under the heading of plot. The author demonstrates how plot episodes, which revolve around creations conflict with God, recur throughout the biblical narrative. These recurring plot episodes, which include ideas like exile and exodus, "function like schematics or templates" which are "used to communicate the meaning of who Jesus was and what he accomplished" (39). Thus, the importance of biblical theology should be apparent; it helps us understand Jesus!

The final chapter of Part 1 investigates the promises throughout the big story of a coming redeemer. These gold coins represent clues to a mystery: the mystery of God's great work to save His people through His Son. What seems obvious to us now was not so to those who were anticipating a Messiah. But as we read the Bible, Hamilton explains, we can retrospectively see how God announced this coming mystery-Messiah through the prophets and Old Testament writing. Part 2 deals with elements a little more figurative.

The Bible's Symbolic Universe is the title Hamilton gives to Part 2. The chapters in this section cover symbols, imagery, typology, and patterns in the Scriptures. Hamilton concisely explains how these elements work and what they do. He offers intriguing examples which beckon the reader to look and understand these concepts as they come to us in the Bible. I found these succinct chapters whetted my appetite for more; more study, more investigation, more understanding and more of the Bible. In the author's words, "These images, types, and patterns are often laid on top of each other, and this layering both interprets and communicates. This use of symbolism and imagery adds texture to the story the Bible tells, reinforcing it and making it concrete" (65).

The final section of this book, Part 3, discusses the church and her grand role in this story of stories. Hamilton's passion permeates the whole book but particularly rises in these chapters. He writes, "The true story of the world and the church's place in it is a stupendous tale. Best of all, it's true (98)." Biblical theology's importance increases as we understand that the "Bible's story and symbolism teach the church to understand who she is, what she faces, and how she should live as she longs for the coming of her King and Lord" (113). Biblical theology helps us grasp the glorious truths of the gospel, the magnificence of our Messiah, and the riveting role of the church in this drama. Do you really need any more encouragement to look into biblical theology? I think not.

Hamilton's enthusiasm and zeal for this topic is infectious. I found myself getting excited as I read through this relatively brief introduction to biblical theology. I have found Hamilton's contagious passion for this subject, and similar ones for that matter, to be an endearing quality of his writing which encourages me in my pursuit of understanding and appreciating my God. I think, in this book, he will have this impact on you. In particular, if you need a mentor and coach and motivator to help you to become a disciple in the sometimes intimidating discipline of biblical theology, I do not think you will find a better guide than Hamilton and his guidebook What Is Biblical Theology? is a good place to start.  


  1. Jude, this one sounds very good. I had not ever considered Biblical Theology as a curriculum before (very good point). Did Hamilton give an endorsement for any BT's in print that sound good?

  2. One thing in the book I didnt mention was there is an appendix with suggested titles. I could email the list if you'd like!

  3. Oh I would love that! There are times I get as much joy in reading the appendix and bibliography as I do the book. I've got a couple of them (Biblical Theologies), but they're by the older guys.

  4. Great review Jude. I ordered this book today! Picked up DeYoung's Crazy Busy as well!