What about the Covenant?

Since the appearance of Kingdom through Covenant, some have raised questions about how I do or don’t deal with the covenant concept in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Here are some thoughts on the issue, as they come to me (this is, after all, a blog post):

1. I like the way Tom Schreiner answered the question when Tony Reinke raised it on the Authors on the Line podcast: Schreiner basically said that he chose to go book by book rather than organizing his biblical theology according to a thematic discussion of covenants or other themes. There isn’t just one way to skin a cat, and there isn’t just one way to do biblical theology. None of us should expect everyone else to do biblical theology just like we have done it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t lay out the benefits of or make the case for our way of doing it. How would others feel if we suggested that what they should have done is what we did? That’s just applying the golden rule to what we say in book reviews and what we say about other books as we comment on them in our own.

2. Going book by book helps you stay anchored in authorial intent–the intent of the human authors of the biblical books. If we choose to organize an approach to biblical theology according to a theme or a concept like covenant, it’s easy to start moving in the direction of the intention of the Divine Author and what he intends to communicate across the message of the whole Bible. The only way to avoid taking that step away from exegesis toward systematic theology is to stay anchored in the treatments of the concept or theme done by particular biblical authors. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to move toward what the Divine Author is doing, just that we should be aware that it’s happening.

3. In my view, biblical theology seeks to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors. As I read others who do this, I’m more stimulated by treatments that move book by book, not least because I find them easier to read and ponder, then easier to remember and quote.

4. I chose to make a book by book argument that God’s glory was the center of the worldview of every single biblical author, that each of them considered the display of God’s glory to be the ultimate purpose of the universe. This point was made slightly more particular in the contention that the display of justice was intended to make mercy more poignant, and that God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, justice making mercy meaningful, is the summit of the glory that God built the world and told its story to display.

5. I also like the way that Schreiner goes beyond the label “covenant” to the meaning of the term–he highlights the blessing of Abraham. As I listened to Schreiner saying these things, I realized that if we come at it that way, I can say the same: Anyone who has read my book will know that I argue for strong connections between Genesis 1, 3, and 12, and then I operate as though these set the trajectory for the rest of the big story of the Bible: God’s purposes at creation threatened by the fall and God’s curses, which are answered by the promises adumbrated in Genesis 3:15 and elaborated upon in the blessings of Abraham. Isn’t this what’s at the heart of any discussion of covenant?

6. By emphasizing these points of connection, and by moving book by book, I agree with one student’s assessment of the relationship between Kingdom through Covenant and my work, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: he said that if Kingdom through Covenant provides the “backbone” of the biblical narrative (a claim they make for themselves), God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment puts flesh on that skeleton. I think that’s true and hope others find it helpful.

7. My overarching aims were twofold: I wanted to argue for the glory of God as the center of biblical theology. Because I think it’s true. Don’t agree? I think you will when Jesus comes back. I may not have proved it, but I’m pretty sure the King on the white horse will. We will see The King in His Beauty. And I wanted to write a book that moved book by book through the whole canon in the hope that it would give people a guided tour of the Bible. My hope is that people will read God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment alongside their reading of the Bible the way that folks check out those recorded audio tours when the go to historical sites or museums.

Want more on the definition of biblical theology and what we’re after? Please see What Is Biblical Theology?

Want to teach it to the generation to come? Try The Bible’s Big Story.

12 Responses to What about the Covenant?

  1. Richard Hutto May 27, 2013 at 7:57 am #

    Dr. Hamilton,

    I watched the video hosted by Denny Burk with you, Wellum, and Gentry and I was interested in hearing more of your perspective regarding their claim that anyone can agree with your theme (I assume they mean paedobaptist and others) while their theme is more specific.

    Do you recall that? If so, I wonder if its true and if it matters?

    For the record I have read both books and find them both extremely helpful and complementary.

    • JMH May 27, 2013 at 8:01 am #

      I would hope that all Christians would agree that God’s glory is central to biblical theology! : )
      The difference is that they more directly discuss the differences between the old and new covenants, and then they argue, rightly, that the new covenant calls for baptistic ecclesiology–believer’s baptism by immersion and regenerate church membership. My book is shorter than theirs to begin with, and I’m going book by book through the whole Bible, so such discussions weren’t part of my project. I hope this helps!

  2. Joseph Justiss May 27, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    I’m always uncomfortable separating the Divine Author’s intention from the biblical author’s intention. It opens the door for finding meanings which cannot be construed from the biblical authors’ words and then any creative exegete can find what he needs to find in those words.

    • JMH May 27, 2013 at 8:26 am #

      I’m talking about establishing the Divine Author’s intention FROM what we can see of the human author’s intention. So we’re following the biblical authors in making big picture suggestions, rather than inventing our own ways of summarizing the story . . . see this review: http://jimhamilton.info/2012/08/31/review-of-goldsworthy-christ-centered-biblical-theology/

      • Joseph Justiss May 29, 2013 at 9:16 am #

        I wasn’t saying I thought you separated the two so much as I was thinking of other’s who use this distinction to go for a sensus plenior reading where we have essentially two different intentions in the same text. I have never felt like you would be comfortable doing that.

  3. Andrew Suttles May 27, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    If your Biblical Theology deals with the Scriptures on a book-by-book basis, how does your treatment account for the larger inter-biblical themes that work across books? In other words, how is your treatment a Biblical *Theology* rather than a high level, whole Bible, commentary (ala Halley, NBC, etc)?

    • JMH May 28, 2013 at 10:22 am #

      You’ll have to read the book for my answer to your questions : ). The answer is there.

  4. Greg Gibson May 27, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Jim,

    I haven’t read your book yet, but plan to later this year or early next year. (Also I can’t wait to read your children’s Bible!)

    I’m not sure how you define “center” of Biblical Theology? But I suspect the views of Hamilton (glory), KTC (covenants), and Beale (creation) can be harmonized. My tentative view is that:

    1. The Bible’s main theme is the gospel of Messiah.
    2. The gospel is organized from the time of old creation to new creation.
    3. The gospel is pictured progressively by covenant relationships between God and His creatures.
    4. The gospel’s goal is God’s glory.

    Just my present understanding. So if anyone here has any thoughts, please share.

    P.S. Here’s an interesting, new review of Kingdom Through Covenant from an SBTS student: http://tachord.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/kingdom-through-covenant-review-pars-unus-ignotus/

    • JMH May 28, 2013 at 10:22 am #

      I’ll be interested to see whether my book can convince you on these points! : )

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