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Biblical Theology, Köstenberger’s JETS Editorial, and J. P. Gabler

Andreas Köstenberger’s editorial in the most recent issue of JETS surveys the recent revival of biblical theology among evangelicals (“Editorial,” JETS 55 [2012]: 1–5). I am grateful that he took notice of my work in this area along with that of Greg Beale, Frank Thielman, and a host of others. A lot of good work is being done in biblical theology, and Köstenberger serves us by highlighting some of it.

I do, however, want to take issue with both Köstenberger’s characterization of my approach to biblical theology and his commendation of J. P. Gabler’s.

Köstenberger has this to say of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology,

. . . it should be noted that Hamilton’s brand of Biblical Theology is in fact a hybrid of Biblical and Systematic Theology—Hamilton calls the two disciplines “equal tools”—and takes its cue from both theologians such as Jonathan Edwards and direct study of biblical texts (3).

A Hybrid?

I would first observe that a “hybrid” is the offspring of two animals or plants of different breeds. Regarding biblical and systematic theology as “equal tools” does not hybridize or merge the two but simply recognizes that they are both used for different things at different times. Observing that an ox and a cart-horse are “equal tools” at the farm does not result in an equi-bovine hybrid of the two animals.

My statement that biblical and systematic theology are equal tools adds to the usual assertion that we use biblical theology as a “bridge” or a “building block” toward systematic theology. I agree with that concept, but I also think that at points biblical theology is an end in itself and is taught directly to the people of God, rather than being merely a step in the process of assembling a full systematic theology. So the statement that biblical and systematic theology are “equal tools” does not hybridize the two, as though my book means somehow to merge them into one thing.

Taking Cues Not from Edwards but the Biblical Authors

Köstenberger then states that my “brand of Biblical Theology . . . takes its cue from both theologians such as Jonathan Edwards and direct study of biblical texts.”

I do quote Jonathan Edwards, and I use his distinction between subordinate and ultimate ends to define the “center” of biblical theology (47–49). What biblical theologians are looking for in the quest for the center of biblical theology is usually left unarticulated, resulting in confusion and uncertainty as to how to evaluate the various proposals.

I define the center of biblical theology as “the ultimate end ascribed to God in the Bible,” noting that it needs to be demonstrated that “the Bible’s description of God’s ultimate end produces, informs, organizes, and is exposited by all the other themes in the Bible” and shown “from the Bible’s own salvation-historical narrative and in its own terms” (48). In sorting through the Bible’s themes to determine which one the biblical authors consider to be ultimate, the distinction Jonathan Edwards makes between subordinate and ultimate ends is very helpful. But quoting Edwards on this point does not mean that my “brand of biblical theology . . . takes its cue” from him, as anyone who has read Edwards and my book will easily discern.

I have learned from and have great respect for Jonathan Edwards, but he did not define biblical theology as I do, nor am I pursuing an interpretive methodology that takes its cues from his way of operating. He was working at a different time with different dialogue partners.

If I am not taking my cues from Edwards, what am I doing? Here’s how I describe what I undertake in GGSTJ:

In this study, I will pursue a biblical theology that highlights the central theme of God’s glory in salvation through judgment by describing the literary contours of individual books in canonical context with sensitivity to the unfolding metanarrative. In my view this metanarrative presents a unified story with a discernible main point, or center. This study will be canonical: I will interpret the Protestant canon, and the Old Testament will be interpreted in light of the ordering of the books in the Hebrew Bible (see further below). It will be literary: I will seek to interpret books and sections of books in light of their inherent literary features and structures as we have them in the canon (44).

It’s not as though that’s the only time I say that sort of thing. A few pages later:

The purpose of biblical theology, then, is to sharpen our understanding of the theology contained in the Bible itself through an inductive, salvation-historical examination of the Bible’s themes and the relationships between those themes in their canonical context and literary form. In this book I am arguing that one theme is central to all others (47).

At this point, borrowing an image from Doug Wilson, imagine me dancing around in a circle waving a handkerchief trying to draw attention to what I’m about to say: My “brand of Biblical Theology” means to “take its cue” from the biblical authors. As I put it in GGSTJ:

We can think of the practice of biblical theology in two ways. On the one hand, we have the practice of the believing community across the ages. On the other hand, we have a label that describes an academic discipline. Regarding the first, I would argue that biblical theology is as old as Moses. That is, Moses presented a biblical-theological interpretation of the traditions he received regarding Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, and his own experience with his kinsmen. Joshua then presented a biblical-theological interpretation of Israel’s history (Joshua 24), and the same can be said of the rest of the authors of the Prophets and the Writings, the Gospels and Acts, the Epistles and the Apocalypse. The biblical authors use biblical theology to interpret the Scriptures available to them and the events they experienced. For the believing community, the goal of biblical theology is simply to learn this practice of interpretation from the biblical authors so that we can interpret the Bible and life in this world the way they did.

It seems to me, then, that the history of biblical interpretation in the church is a history of more and less success in accurately understanding the interpretive strategies used by the biblical authors. Some figures in the history of the church were more adept at this than others. Some failed miserably . . . (41–42).

So I mean for my “brand of Biblical Theology” to take its cue from the biblical authors. I think we should be attempting to trace the contours of their interpretive perspective, reflected in the way they have interpreted earlier Scripture and their own situations, so that we can embrace and apply that perspective as we interpret the Scriptures and our own situations.

Thus, the assertion, “Hamilton’s brand of Biblical Theology is in fact a hybrid of Biblical and Systematic Theology” does not, in fact, reflect either what I say I intend to do in the first chapter or what I then do in the body of the book: tracking through all 66 books of the Bible, making observations on near and canonical context, discussing literary structure and organic thematic development, contending that the glory of God, seen most clearly in his justice and mercy, is the center of biblical theology.

Gabler’s Goal and Mine

Köstenberger writes, “Hamilton’s approach thus differs from ‘The Proper Distinction between Biblical and Dogmatic Theology’ urged by Gabler” (3).

That’s right, it does. Gabler wanted to sift the biblical material to remove the time-bound bits that no longer apply. It seems that he would exclude from “pure biblical theology” statements that the biblical authors make that reflect merely their own time and do not apply to the people of God today. I’m after something different as I pursue biblical theology. I’m not seeking the pure silver amidst the dross (cf. Gabler: “what in the sayings of the Apostles is truly divine, and what perchance merely human”). I’m seeking the perspective from which the biblical authors write, which is not what systematic/dogmatic theologians are doing, either. I’m trying to get at the world-view shared by the biblical authors. That’s what I mean by “biblical theology,” the world-view, or interpretive perspective, reflected in the biblical writings.

We also need to be clear about what kind of “dogmatic theology” we’re after as opposed to what Gabler sought. Again, Gabler wanted to remove the time-bound statements the biblical authors made so that he could get the timeless truths, and the timeless truths would then be used to construct “a dogmatic theology adapted to our own times.” As explained above, I am not interested in Gabler’s program of sifting out the statements in the Bible, where he tried to establish “whether all the opinions of the Apostles, of every type and sort altogether, are truly divine, or rather whether some of them, which have no bearing on salvation, were left to their own ingenuity.” It’s not hard to imagine how this program would handle assertions that “have no bearing on salvation” but are culturally unacceptable—statements about gender or marriage or sexual orientation, for instance. I would not commend Gabler’s enterprise to anyone, as it would seem to enable us to reshape the message of the Bible according to what fits with our culture and its expectations.

I want to teach the people of God to understand how the biblical authors have interpreted earlier Scripture, that is, I want to teach them biblical theology. And my hope is that this will equip the people of God to interpret the Bible and their own lives from the perspective the biblical authors themselves model in their writings.

Check it out for yourself.

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A 600 Page Book in 500 Words

Crossway had me fill out an Author Questionnaire on God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, and one of the things they asked me do was summarize the book in 500 words. I thought back to this today as I wrote up a 500 word summary of another book for another Author Questionnaire for Crossway.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment weighed in around 280,000 words. This next one is a short synthesis of the Bible’s big story, the symbolism used to summarize and interpret that story, and the patterns that emerge across it. It’s provisionally entitled What Is Biblical Theology?, and it weighs less that 25,000 words.

So here’s my attempt to summarize God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, a 280,000 word book that came to about 600 pages, in about 500 words:

Exodus 34:6–7 is determinative for the thesis of this book. When Moses asked to see God’s glory, God proclaimed his name and declared himself to be merciful and just. This experience of the glory of God profoundly shaped the first biblical author on record, establishing God’s glory in justice and mercy as the center of his theology, with justice highlighting mercy. Subsequent biblical authors learned and embraced this from Moses.

The wide angle story of the Old Testament is one of salvation through judgment. Adam sinned and was judged with exile from the garden and God’s presence, but the words of judgment brought a glimmer of hope: the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. Like Adam, Israel (having been saved through the judgment of Egypt) sinned and was exiled from the land and God’s presence. The judgment at the exile had been preceded by promises of the salvation that would come through and after judgment, as the prophets pointed to a new exodus and return from exile. God acted for the sake of his own name. He showed justice, making his mercy precious, displaying his goodness and showing his glory. Israel experienced a partial, physical return from exile, but they had not yet returned from the exile from Eden.

The wide angle story of the New Testament presents the death of Jesus as the deepest, darkest moment of the exile—when the temple was destroyed and he became the curse. Here the justice of God was displayed, as the one who had redone the history of Israel right came under the full weight of God’s justice on behalf of his people. Jesus died as the Passover lamb, and his resurrection inaugurated the return from exile. This is no mere physical return. No, this is the return that will take those sojourning through the wilderness to the new and better Eden, the new heaven and new earth, where the dwelling of God will be with men.

When Jesus comes to consummate the story, he will come with judgment for his enemies, and through that judgment he will save his people. God will be glorified in salvation through judgment. Thus, the glory of God in salvation through judgment encapsulates the plot of the meta-narrative set forth in the Bible.

God’s glory in salvation through judgment is the plot of the Bible’s narrative, and it also informs the Wisdom of the Old Testament. The simple are urged to behold God’s justice against the wicked, turn from folly, and experience salvation through the announcement of God’s certain justice. Individuals who believe unto salvation are embracing this very message: they become convinced that God will judge their sin, and feeling the crushing weight of God’s judgment they flee to him for mercy, trust in what he has accomplished in Christ on the cross, and are saved by faith. The redeemed, saved through judgment, respond by glorifying God.

The glory of God in salvation through judgment is the center of biblical theology.

If you’ve read this book, what do you think of my attempt to summarize it? Would you leave anything out that I put in, add, or change anything?

If you’ll be at ETS this fall, watch for info on the Biblical Theology Session that will discuss God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment and Gentry and Wellum’s Kingdom through Covenant. There’s time between now and November to read both!

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God: The Merciful Judge

This past weekend it was my privilege to be in Fayetteville, AR, at University Baptist Church. I spoke on the theme of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

These talks seek to summarize the Bible’s big story, highlighting the promises that generate the typological patterns.

The talks are now available on UBC’s website, or you can use these links:

God:The Merciful Judge – Session 1 [ 47:38 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 2 [ 51:08 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 3 [ 45:19 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 4 [ 42:22 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Session 5 [ 38:30 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
The Doctrine of Election – A Q&A Panel Discussion [ 1:02:24 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
God:The Merciful Judge – Jeremiah 16 [ 48:16 ] Hide Player | Play in Popup | Download
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CogitoCredo Interview on God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

Thanks to Calvin Moore for conversing with me about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

We had a good time talking about how this book joins the battle to save the west, about how the most serious books are the most devotional (HT C. S. Lewis), about how the issues Rob Bell has raised are really about the character of God, about how the Song of Songs teaches the center of biblical theology, and about how these things should affect our lives today.

To hear the interview, head on over to CogitoCredo, and Jacob Sweeney contributed an engaging reviewed the book for the thinking-believing site.

Amazon Marketplace has several copies of the book for $22.something, which is the lowest price I’ve seen.

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Summer Reading Plans

Thinking about reading through God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology this summer? Maybe it would help to gather some friends and go through it as a group, discussing things along the way. If you don’t have a quorum where you are, a group from Kenwood Baptist Church will be going through it on a 13 week schedule covering about 40 pages a week, and John Michael Larue has started a blog to facilitate discussion among those who might be scattered far and wide (dates and pages on the first post).

Some guys doing doctoral work at SBTS led church groups through the book as part of an application assignment, and they’ve given me permission to make some of their material available. John Lake provided an outline that guided the discussions in the group he led, and Allen Cagle worked up a set of discussion questions that he used.

Please don’t write this book off as too academic!

My 76 year old great-uncle has finished all but the last two chapters. He’s a farmer near the Mississippi river hoping the levee holds, and he loves the Bible and has faithfully taught Sunday School for lo these many years now. And if you need some encouraging testimonials, try this two-parter from a member of Kenwood whose husband is studying at SBTS: Part One and Part Two.

Steve Davis of WCTS Radio also interviewed me on the book, and you can hear that here.

May the Lord give us hearts that rejoice in his justice and mercy.

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Piper Endorses GGSTJ

These words on the Crossway blog have me saying Soli Deo Gloria:

“I was riveted. Never do I sit down and read sixty pages of ANY book that I get in the mail. But I could not stop—could not stop reading and could not stop rejoicing over God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. It is the kind of overview of redemptive history Edwards wanted to write. It’s what I hoped would be written.”

–John Piper
Pastor for Preaching and Vision
Bethlehem Baptist Church
Twin Cities, Minnesota


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The Chiastic Structure of Revelation: Limited Time Offer

And here is the fifth and final Table from God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology that will be posted here. This one lays out the chiastic structure of Revelation. I think this structure is key to understanding the book. My sermons on Revelation are here, my Preaching the Word commentary on the book will appear, Lord willing, early in 2012.

Here’s the Table: “The Chiastic Structure of Revelation.” [Link Removed]

This is going live on Thursday, April 28, 2011, and it will be removed on Saturday, April 30, 2011.

I welcome your comments, questions, objections, or critiques!

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Dan Phillips Reviews “God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment”

Ever wondered how to make an author really, really happy? Call his book terrific, then refer to its distinctives as sparkling! He’ll be smiling with a great smiling. Trust me.

If you want to make it even better, say this as one farther along in the faith, from a big platform with a reputation for sound theology, incisive commentary, and great writing that is by turns clever, fresh, hard-hitting, and hilarious. If it’s not altogether clear, I’m really encouraged by this review.

Hearty thanks to Dan Phillips of TeamPyro, author of the forthcoming World-Tilting Gospel and God’s Wisdom in Proverbs, for his review of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

You can read the review here, and if you aren’t subscribed to Biblical Christianity and Pyromaniacs blog, you’re missing light and heat as they set the world on fire.

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Doxologies in the New Testament: Limited Time Offer

Here is the fourth of the five Tables from God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology that I’m posting here. This one gathers all the Doxologies in the New Testament. Like the previous one, the relevant statements of the verses are printed out along with the references. A fitting thing to read through on the day after Easter, don’t you think?

Here it is: “Doxologies in the New Testament.” [Link Removed]

This is going live on Monday, April 25, 2011, and it will be removed on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

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The Messianic Woes in the Old and New Testaments: Limited Time Offer

As noted earlier, Crossway is allowing me to post some Tables from God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

This is the third of the five that will be posted here, and it seeks to provide background for statements like the one in Colossians 1:24,

“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church . . .”

In what sense is Paul “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions”? Well, there are passages in the OT that indicate that the Messiah will suffer and that before his kingdom is realized his people will suffer, too. On the basis of this strand of OT prophecy, there are many texts in the NT that point toward afflictions for God’s people before they receive the kingdom. Acts 14:22, for instance: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”

This Table seeks to gather the texts in the Old and New Testaments that speak of the affliction and tribulation that the Messiah and his people will fulfill before kingdom come.

This is being posted on Thursday, April 21, 2011, and it will be removed at the end of the day Saturday, April 23, 2011. Here it is: “The Messianic Woes in the Old and New Testaments.” [Link Removed]

This table gives the relevant language from the passages it cites rather than simply the references. I think it would make for a healthy time of meditation as we approach the celebration of the resurrection this Easter Sunday. The statements in these passages will also explain to us the persecution that Christians are facing around the world and that may be heating up here in our culture.

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What Is God’s Glory?

Thomas R. Schreiner defines the glory of God in his essay in For the Fame of God’s Name as follows:

“I would define the glory of God as the beauty, majesty, and greatness of who he is; therefore, in all he does, whether in salvation or in judgment, the greatness of his being is demonstrated.”

Schreiner, “A Biblical Theology of the Glory of God,” in For the Fame of God’s Name, 216. HT: Mitch Chase

Personal Anecdote: when Schreiner was writing his essay “A Biblical Theology of the Glory of God” for the volume honoring Piper, he asked me if I had defined the glory of God in my book. I was really grateful for his email, because it made me realize that I hadn’t! So having thought about it a little, I wrote up a definition, added it to my introductory chapter, and sent it to him. Here’s my definition:

“What is the glory of God? I would suggest that the glory of God is the weight of the majestic goodness of who God is, and the resulting name, or reputation, that he gains from his revelation of himself as Creator, Sustainer, Judge, and Redeemer, perfect in justice and mercy, loving-kindness and truth.”

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, 56.

I would observe that Schreiner mentions salvation and judgment, and I’m getting at the same things when I mention God’s justice and his mercy, his loving-kindness and truth.

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Amen to God’s God-Centeredness, and the Whole Bible Says So, Too

John Piper has a fascinating post today on how Brad Pitt stumbled over God’s concern for his own glory.

Does the Bible teach that God seeks his own glory?

Let me invite you to consider the evidence for the claim that God’s glory is his own ultimate purpose, the main theme of the whole Bible, the linchpin in the Bible’s theodicy, and the theological centerpiece of every single biblical author.

There’s a lot of evidence for the idea that God seeks his own glory. This book has not exhausted it, but if you have trouble with the idea, how about joining me on a guided tour of the whole Bible? At many points I’m not sure I’ve done it justice, but the journey will repay all the effort you can give it.



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Daniel J. Brendsel on the Center of Biblical Theology

I’ve just re-read Daniel J. Brendsel’s essay, Plots, Themes, and Responsibilities: The Search for a Center of Biblical Theology Reexamined,” Themelios 35.3 (2010): 400–12, which has me more convinced than ever that the center of biblical theology is the glory of God in salvation through judgment.

I’m going to paste my notes on Brendsel’s essay below, and if you’d like to know why I prefer my proposed center to his, please see God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (for a shorter version, see either my article on the subject or this summarizing presentation).

Here are my notes on Brendsel (my outline doesn’t correspond entirely to his, and I have reformatted some quotations, summarizing other parts):

Daniel J. Brendsel, “Plots, Themes, and Responsibilities: The Search for a Center of Biblical Theology Reexamined,” Themelios 35.3 (2010): 400–12.

1) Introduction: Assumes that the search for a center is not an obsession but a responsibility and

2)   provides a rationale for the search for a center

3)   refocuses what the object of the search is, and

4)   discusses the process of the search

2) The Rationale for the Search

2.1 if a center exists, it has massive heuristic value for understanding the parts in light of the whole

2.2 the search for a center is driven by a prior conviction about the unity of Scripture

2.3 Paul’s reference to “the whole counsel of God” in Acts 20:27 seems to imply a core deposit that will inform the Ephesians as they continue to study the Scriptures in his absence

“The search for a center is the search to provide heuristic lenses for the people of God in their interaction with scripture (and the world)” (401).

3) The Object of the Search

3.1 Problems with the term “center”

3.1.1 few have defined what they mean by the term (citing me as an exception: “the concept to which the biblical authors point as the ultimate reason” for God’s activities and as “the theme which all of the Bible’s other themes serve to exposit.” [402])
3.1.2 Many centers have been proposed, and they all threaten to steamroll diversity

3.2 Plot, Themes, and Responsibilities

It is helpful to focus on the narrative of form of Scripture, but this should not keep us from searching for a center because

3.2.1 “Narrative is not an option over against ideas—the latter is intrinsic to the former” (403–404), and
3.2.2 “plot-line alone might not sufficiently summarize the message of scripture, nor describe its fundamental heartbeat, because not all scripture is narrative.” (404)

“storyline can be an effective means of communicating the whole counsel of God when the key concepts and commands arising from the storyline itself are also explicitly noted and highlighted. An adequate proposal for a center to biblical theology, or more preferably, to use the language of Acts 20:27, a sufficient summary of the whole counsel of God, will link these elements together—plot, theme(s), responsibilities—in its formulation.” (404).

3.3 Two Important Precedents

“there are two important precedents for this fusion of plot, theme, and responsibility as a way of summarizing scripture to be used as a heuristic tool by God’s people. The first comes from Jesus himself, the second from the early church.” (405)

3.3.1 ““Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45–47). Note two things: (1) Jesus presents a concise summary of “the scriptures,” offering what could be considered the core of what “is written.” (2) This core consists of a plot (the story of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, and a proclamation beginning in Jerusalem and moving outward), a theme (repentance for the forgiveness of sins), and responsibilities (repentance, proclamation).” (405)
3.3.2 “second, ante-Nicene theologians (esp. tertullian and irenaeus) spoke of a “rule of Faith,” which they viewed as being both derived from and serving deeper reflection on scripture.” (405)

“The rule of Faith offers four important parallels with the present proposal.
First, it seeks to offer a narrative digest of scripture.
Second, it combines plot (moving through creation, fall, redemption, and restoration), themes (creation, sin, salvation, etc.), and responsibility (as a creedal statement).
Third, it was used as a kind of framework or guide for further fruitful reflection on scripture, a kind of heuristic lens through which the people of God may discover truth.
Fourth, as Paul Blowers has argued persuasively, ante-Nicene theologians were not interested in using the rule merely as a useful guide for biblical instruction and interpretation or as a way to fend off error, but also in the formation of Christian identity, that is, in shaping believers’ “storied” existence as themselves part of the biblical story. In other words, the rule of Faith was formulated and passed on within the context of pastoral care for the people of God.” (406)

4. The Process of the Search

4.1 Validation Tests for Selecting Key Points

Citing Beale:

“Proposals for a center must be
(1) “more overarching” than other proposals;
(2) related to the other major themes of the NT;
(3) “integrally related to major old testament themes,” resting ultimately upon “a broad storyline” and rooted in Christ; and
(4) individually examined.

These four tests can be condensed into two broad criteria: comprehensiveness and integral relationship to the major themes of scripture, especially the Bible’s plot-line and the death and resurrection of Christ.” (407)

4.2 Objections:

4.2.3 historical and cultural factors result in the identification of “major” themes
some themes are consistently identified across cultures and history

4.2.4 “the idea of comprehensiveness might be rejected on two fronts:
(1) there is no basis for relegating some elements of scripture to mere sub-categories under other more comprehensive themes, and
(2) even if there were a basis, it is extremely difficult to know what to subordinate under what.” (408)

Answer to the first: this criticism can be applied to any proposal that recognizes a cluster of broad or major themes, since even if they reject a center they are nevertheless presenting a hierarchy of themes.
1)   selectivity is inevitable
2)   complaining that some things are at the margin while others are central is more a description than a criticism
3)   those who criticize proposals for the center should do so on other grounds: for instance, that all themes should be treated equally, that another proposal is better, or that some passages contradict the proposal.
4)   Scripture itself prioritizes some parts of the Bible over others—e.g., weightier matters of the law (Matt 23:23), Micah 6:8, greatest commandment, Jesus’ claim that the Scriptures testify to him.

Answer to the Second: Factors to help us in the search:
1. “repetition and representation in diverse portions of scripture, while certainly not sufficient in and of itself, is a significant consideration.
2. Climactic portions of the biblical narrative would be key places to identify clusters of important events and ideas.
3. Integral relationship with other major themes has been shown to be a valid area for examination.
4. And related to this is whether or not parallel suggestions have been made in the history of interpretation, which could be either different expressions of or perspectives on a substantive core, or the seed form of something one is trying to develop.” (409)

Purposes and agendas cannot be denied and should be acknowledged up front (410).

5. Conclusion

“What basic, general hermeneutical lens ought we to provide for the people of God? Perhaps we might suggest the following: The triune God is actively engaged in increasing (and incarnating) his presence among his people, a presence that entails for his people the responsibility of worship, in the fourfold story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.” (412)

The whole essay is here.

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On Engaging Your World with Tom Crouse on February 16

At 2pm On February 16 at 2pm you can tune in at for a live interview with Tom Crouse about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.

UPDATE: Rescheduled for Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 2pm, Lord willing.

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Part 2 of the CBD Interview

Part 1 of Matthew Miller’s interview with me is here, and Part 2 is now online.

The interview is mainly about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, but the questions in Part 2 ranged from Inerrancy to the New Perspective with the SBC reformation in between.


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Dempster Reviews God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

Stephen Dempster is Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada and is the author of a book I learned a ton from and love to recommend: Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (IVP, 2003).

His prose is beautifully constructed and communicates profound insight, so I was delighted to read his review of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

Here are the encouraging opening paragraphs:

When Don Quixote embarked on his quest for the impossible, it was a humorous and tragic adventure. He tilted at windmills which he thought were giants. He looked at peasant girls and saw noble ladies. And he thought an old dilapidated tavern was a castle. Obviously, Quixote was carrying “a few bricks short of a load.”

Some might think that James Hamilton Jr. follows in the footsteps of the knight-errant from La Mancha. In his book God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Hamilton sets out in pursuit of the holy grail of biblical theology—the elusive centre, the main point of the Bible. This theologian-errant is not deterred by the countless attempts before him, nor by the admonitions of contemporary scholars to give up such a quixotic quest.

As a biblical theologian, Hamilton comes with good background knowledge, which is evident throughout his 600 plus page volume. It is also abundantly evident that he is not a few bricks short of a load. Over the last few years he has been distinguishing himself with publications in the area of biblical theological themes.[1] This book is in fact a sort of culmination of his studies to date.

You can read the rest here. I appreciate Dempster’s insights and the things he identifies as strengths as well as what he says could be sharpened, and I want to thank him for reading my work and working hard to write a stellar review.

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Christmas and the Center of Biblical Theology

From the interview on the CBD Academic blog:

Matthew: Given the current season of the year, could you briefly outline how the Christmas story contributes to your understanding of God’s Glory?

Hamilton: When God set in motion his plan to save his people and defeat his foes, he sent his son to be born. Overturning all worldly expectations, the high King of heaven was born in a barn, the helpless babe of a peasant girl. “Out of the mouths of babes, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (Ps 8:2).

One of the consistent themes that exposits the center of the Bible’s theology is the way that God demonstrates power in weakness. He lifts the needy from the ash heap and humbles the proud (cf. 1 Sam 2:1–10). Paul explains in 1 Cor 1:29 that God does this so that no one can boast before him.

Through the judgment that falls on the proud and strong, God delivers those who are humble and repentant–those who seek his mercy.

God’s mercy, in the wondrous humility of a newborn child, is stronger than all the proud wickedness of worldly strength.

God’s unconquerable Champion was so unimpressive that there was no room for him in the inn at his birth, and he had no place to lay his head as an adult. He was the companion of tax collectors and sinners, the teacher of fishermen and a leader of losers.

The baby born in the manger is God’s agent of salvation through judgment. God shows his glory as the humble prince of fools slays the dragon, crushing the serpent’s head, dooming his enemies to judgment, decisively liberating those who take his yoke and embrace the reproach of the cross.

And the paradoxes multiply: the conquest of the King of kings was as unimpressive as his arrival. This child, born to the meek and lowly girl in questionable circumstances, conquered not by slaying but by being slain, he showed his greatness not by being served but by serving. God’s glory is seen in salvation through judgment at Christ’s birth and at the cross, and in both places the humble righteousness of justice intensifies the surprising wonder of mercy.

God’s righteousness is gentle, like the newborn Christ-child, but those who reject the stone laid in Zion will be shattered by the gentle justice of the humble King. Similarly, God’s tender mercy is austere and unyielding as the complement of God’s justice; this is a mercy only shown on God’s terms. He gives his mercy to whom he pleases, and he is pleased to give it to those who confess and forsake their sin (Prov 28:13). Behold, indeed, the kindness and the severity of God (Rom 11:22).

The newborn child seemed weak and vulnerable, but the dragon and the world could not overcome him (cf. John 1:5).

May the God who shows power in weakness lift your heart to sing the praise of the Servant King, the humble prince in the night who will come on a white horse wearing a crown (cue the music of Rejoice).



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Biblical Theology Interview on the CBD Academic Blog

Matthew Miller writes an academic blog for, and he has put up a very encouraging post about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, which is followed by an interview on the book.

How many Christmas cards do you get with the word ‘judgment’?


He raised great questions that I enjoyed answering.


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