Reviewed by Mitch Chase
A traveler to a new land would benefit from a compass and a map, and anyone broaching the subject of biblical theology would be helped by Klink and Lockett’s work Understanding Biblical Theology. They know the terrain because they are familiar with the major players. Even readers familiar with biblical theology should think through the comparative categories as they have presented them.
In Klink and Lockett’s own words, their book attempts to define biblical theology “by describing various theories and practices of contemporary biblical theology” (20). Not everyone agrees on what biblical theology is or how to practice it, so Klink and Lockett have aptly subtitled their work A Comparison of Theory and Practice in order up front to explain what they are doing. Their goal is not to argue for their own view but to present and evaluate the views advocated by different biblical theologians. They want to initiate a dialogue “that hopes to clarify the notion of biblical theology and to encourage its practice in the life of both the academy and the church” (25).
The Introduction gives a brief history of biblical theology, highlights the main issues integral to the discipline, and summarizes the types of approaches discussed in the subsequent chapters. The rest of the book has five parts, each devoted to a type of biblical theology. Klink and Lockett devote two chapters to each type, discussing throughout each part the definition of the approach and then a representative of that approach. A conclusion reiterates key aspects of the book as well as summarizes the five types of biblical theology in a handy chart.
Part 1 views biblical theology as “historical description” (hereafter BT1). BT1 is “past-tense theology, not present-tense or contemporary theology” (31). It is exegetical, seeking a theology of the Bible on its own terms and contexts (41). The representative for BT1 is James Barr, who argues that biblical theology is a descriptive task within the confines of history (45). Sources for biblical theology would include documents like the Apocrypha and Dead Sea Scrolls (51). The theology behind the “canonical” books becomes the pursuit, and for Barr this theology is more important than a particular canon (51).
Part 2 views biblical theology as “history of redemption” (hereafter BT2). BT2 understands God’s revelation “as a fundamentally progressive disclosure deployed along a sequential and historical timeline” (59). BT2 aims to relate the “parts” of Scripture in relation to the “whole” (60). An assumption of this approach is the Bible’s coherence as it unfolds in history (60), and since this progression is a self-disclosure of God, the revelation is “a unified message” (62). The message reaches its climax in the revelation of Christ (74). The representative for BT2 is D.A. Carson, who understands biblical theology to be a “bridge discipline” between responsible exegesis and responsible systematic theology (79). Though BT1 downplays the relevance of biblical theology for the church, BT2 contends that it is important for the preacher and the academic (84).
Part 3 views biblical theology as “worldview-story” (hereafter BT3). BT3 emphasizes the “category of narrative” as an attempt to balance historical and theological concerns (93). The Old and New Testaments have an overarching “story shape,” a fact that should inform biblical theology (93). Seeing a narrative unity illuminates textual interconnections and shows how the unified narrative is relevant for modern readers (97). The sources for BT3 are the Old and New Testaments (99). This approach seeks to “reconstruct the historically grounded worldview of the biblical authors, which, in turn, shapes the story structure of Scripture” (100). The representative for BT3 is N. T. Wright, who seeks to put a biblical passage into its larger framework of early Christian origins (110). Knowing the stories and sub-stories that the Bible tells is important because “stories express a worldview and in turn generate theological beliefs.” (112). His worldview-story approach is grounded in canonical and extracanonical texts (115). Wright’s contribution “is particularly helpful because of his insistence on bringing history and theology together via narrative” (121).
Part 4 views biblical theology as “canonical approach” (hereafter BT4). BT4 endeavors to “unite the historical and theological dimensions of biblical theology with the foundational axis being the canon” (126). The canon itself is the context used to determine Scripture’s meaning (127). This focus serves not only the academic community but the confessing Christian church (131). The representative for BT4 is Brevard Childs. For Childs, “the multifaceted dimension of the canon of the Bible becomes the most ideal context for interpreting the Bible with both historical and theological sensibilities” (143). The study of the biblical text should be closely connected with the community of faith (147). According to Childs, the study of the canonical text will show that Jesus is the Bible’s substance and subject matter (148).
Part 5 views biblical theology as “theological construction” (hereafter BT5). BT5 “is concerned to recast the Bible from its status as an ancient, historical text to contemporary Christian Scripture” and is associated with an increasing interest in the theological interpretation of Scripture (157). At its core, BT5 has an integrated methodology for the task of biblical theology (158). Crucial to the task are “the posture and presuppositions of the Christian church,” for the Bible belonged to the church before the university ever existed (159). The representative for BT5 is Francis Watson. For him, important to the task of biblical theology is “the combination of what Scripture is and does” (171). God’s self-communication continues in the present day in the Scripture (172). The text, especially the Four Gospels, mediates the living Word, Jesus (173-74). Watson calls his understanding of the whole Bible and the motivation for his hermeneutic a “christological construction.” He conceives of biblical interpretation within three concentric circles: text, church, and world (178).
There is much to commend in Understanding Biblical Theology. First of all, the book is the right size. For their introduction to the proposals of doing biblical theology, the writers spend two chapters on each type and conclude their project in less than two hundred pages. This amount of space affords them the (often challenging) task of being concise without compromising substance. A book could easily be written on each of the five types contained therein!
I believe Klink and Lockett accomplished their goal, which was to clarify and compare the various proposals and methods for doing biblical theology (183). Two aspects of their book made achieving this goal an insightful process for the reader. At the end of the chapter which is devoted to defining a type of biblical theology, the writers evaluate the type’s strengths and weaknesses. And in a second chapter on each type, they select a representative of the approach in order to flesh it out. This second feature allows the reader to become more acquainted with the type, but their focus on an individual does not exclude their use of other individuals who may be associated with the type.
Due to Klink and Lockett’s goal, and since I believe they reached it, I found the book difficult to criticize. At times some repetition seemed unnecessary. During the explanation of the types, some overlap between them could be discerned, which may make readers question how firmly the distinctions of the five types should be drawn. I also noticed that writers like Thomas Schreiner and James Hamilton – who wrote on biblical theology prior to the publication of this book – were absent from the footnotes and the author index. Greg Beale’s name appeared only once – in a footnote and misspelled.
Take Up and Read!
As readers progress through a comparison of proposals on how to do biblical theology, the categories and representatives prove to be a helpful guide along the way. Klink and Lockett offer evaluations but do not advocate a position themselves. They lay the facts before the reader, and we must take it from there. So, indeed, take up and read – and then take it from there!
Mitch Chase (PhD, SBTS) is the Preaching Pastor at Kosmosdale Baptist Church in Louisville, KY, and an Adjunct Professor at Boyce College. He is married to Stacie, and they have three boys.
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Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison Of Theory And Practice