A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Timothy Spears
Biblical Theology, which is written by Nick Roark and Robert Cline, is the eleventh volume of the 9 Marks Building Healthy Churches series. The primary purpose of this book is to help church leadership faithfully teach their congregations the “big story” of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. This book review will summarize the book’s content, highlight its strengths, touch on several weaknesses, and conclude with some specific recommendations.
The authors structured Biblical Theology into five major sections. These parts are: the need for biblical theology, biblical theology’s definition, a narrative description of the main story of the Bible, how to implement biblical theology successfully in teaching, and finally the impact of biblical theology on the mission of the church. There is also an appendix with specific biblical theological examples.
In part one, the authors outline several positive contributions that preaching biblical theologically offers to the church. They also provide several warnings concerning problems that will surface within the church if biblical theology is overlooked. This section effectively creates a compelling case for pastors to seriously consider including biblical theology in their preaching and teaching
In part two, a basic definition and explanation is offered to the reader. The main definition that the authors unpack and explain is that biblical theology is “the approach to reading the whole story of the Bible while keeping our focus on the main point of Scripture, Jesus Christ” (p. 23). The authors also provide a solid biblical basis for biblical theology.
The third and largest section of the book actually outlines the big story of the Scriptures. This narrative traces the account of God as creator and king who creates the universe and especially mankind, sees his creation rebel and then seeks to redeem and reconcile that creation back to himself. Throughout this story, God is seen primarily as a king who moves and orchestrates events, persons, and things in order to bring mankind back to himself. These promise and fulfillment acts culminate in the sending of his Son to earth to redeem mankind and ultimately to establish his kingdom forever. The authors conclude that “the very heart of the Bible’s message is the good and right reign of God over all his people and over all his creation” (p. 74).
Next, they focus specifically on implementing biblical theology in teaching. First, they warn against two dangers in teaching, especially in the Old Testament, namely proof-texting and moralizing. Second, they outline tools that a pastor should implement to help him stay focused on the big story and to prevent him from falling into the two pitfalls, which are mentioned above. The tools that they provide are “study tools” and “story-line tools.” They focus their attention primarily on the second category. Within this category they outline five specific lenses that a teacher or pastor should be looking through as they interpret the Word of God. These include: context, covenant, canon, character of God and Christ.
In the last section, they return to the need for biblical theology and relate it to the mission of the church. They further unpack the warnings concerning failure to include biblical theology in preaching and discipleship. Then, they connect it directly to the great commission especially as it pertains to not only the preaching of the gospel to all creatures but more importantly the actual discipling of individuals.
I enjoyed the book and there was a large amount of helpful information and suggestions. Here are several positive attributes. First, it is very readable. It is concise and easy enough to read through in one or two sittings and yet deep enough to work through in a church or small group setting over the course of four to five months. Second, it reaches two major audiences within the church. It is a good introduction to a layperson who is desiring to get a basic understanding of biblical theology without being overwhelmed with information or unfamiliar theological words and concepts. It also is a great tool for pastors who want to implement the big story in their preaching and teaching but are unsure about its application.
Third, throughout the book, there were inserts or side bars that gave specific tips on how to implement specific concepts or content that the authors were explaining. Fourthly, I was very pleased to see that they included key foundational themes that must be included in describing the big story and some these themes, although controversial in our post-Christian context, were explicitly present. These include but are not limited to: the universality of sin and the sin nature of mankind, the need for a substitutionary atonement, and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Thus, the book is very conservative, orthodox and non-controversial in its position on the description of the gospel.
Although this is a great resource, there are several weaknesses. Concerning the debate between preaching the OT stories and persons as exemplars or as Messianic fulfillment, the authors were not clear enough on balancing the two. They did not explicitly use the term “exemplar” but spoke very negatively of the concept through the verbal idea, “moralizing.” Often, they postured the two against each other in seemly either-or categories. On a rare occasion they did concede the viablity of “exemplar” or “moralizing” interpretations (though not explicitly). However, they did not go into any detail of the interrelationship between the two, nor did they offer a methodology for balancing both. This could lead the reader to creating a false dichotomy in which they only preach Christ as fulfillment while ignoring the imperatival nature of many of the OT stories, which the NT writers and Jesus do at times stress.
A second weakness was that within the authors’ explanation and description of the storyline tools that they offered, there was a failure to clearly distinguish between considering Christ in every text and sermon and re-reading him into every text. At times it seemed that they were promoting the latter. Not all OT texts have the same weight. Some speak directly to Christ and his work while others touch on him tangentially. Still, others only have an indirect application. We should consider and include Christ and the gospel in some way in every message that we preach, but we should not re-read him into every text of scripture. It is wrong to consider him as a “hermeneutic” or “lens” by which we view the Scriptures. It seemed as if there were not clear enough instructions on how to include Christ in a sermon, but not too much as to mis-interpret the text. There should have been a caveat about the potentiality for this overemphasis.
A last critique of the book is more of a suggestion. The book did not contain a chapter designated to biblical theological themes. This could be due to the constraints the book length in this series. I would like to see in future editions, a chapter that specifically explains how to identify and trace major meta-narrative themes that hold narratives together in specific books and throughout the entire canon and how those themes relate to Jesus Christ. A second part of the chapter should be able to explain how to implement those themes in their sermon or sermon series as the sermons would take a much larger bird’s eye view of specific books and areas in the canon.
Overall, this is an excellent introduction to biblical theology and a great tool to assist any pastor as he endeavors to implement biblical theology in his sermons and teaching. This book is designed for the layperson that wants to dive deeper into the Scriptures, to understand how the Scriptures cohere together and to see how special revelation was revealed to mankind over the course of salvation history. This book is also an excellent resource for the pastor who wants to take his preaching and teaching to the next level moving beyond expository preaching and yet still being very faithful to the text of Scripture. This book is not a good resource for someone who already has a basic understanding of biblical theology and wants to dive deeper into biblical theological themes and major exegetical points and conclusions in crucial texts that contain major covenantal turning points in salvation history.
After reading the book, I was highly motivated to be much more intentional in including biblical theology as part of our teaching and preaching. Now, we are developing a preaching schedule and implementing biblical theology in our churches’ preaching and teaching. Provided the caveats and the purpose, I really recommend this book for both a pastor seeking to implement biblical theology in their preaching or small groups and the lay person who wants a good introduction to this specific area of biblical interpretation.
Buy the books
Biblical Theology: How the Church Faithfully Teaches the Gospel