- Sermon Title: Jesus: Creator of the world and the source of our salvation.
Text: Colossians 1:15-23
- 1. Contemporary Connection: I sort of like to cook. I am not always that great of a cook and do not usually cook meals that are too extravagant – actually much of the cooking I do is pretty straightforward sometimes. But over time I have learned the recipes of the meals I tend to make. I have become comfortable with them enough that on occasion I can guess how much of some ingredient I may need. How do I know, you ask? After a certain amount of experience you just know what to do. You know, like the chefs on TV, they know how much of each ingredient to use, it’s always a pinch of this, a bit that, handful of this, a cup of that, etc. Sometimes though we can get carried away and add too much. We always like to add stuff don’t we?
We can’t always be happy just to follow the recipe and leave it at that. We have to add things and mix things in.
Well, another thing I have learned is that certain ingredients don’t mix well – kind of like the whole thing with oil and water – they don’t mix. In some cases if we mix the wrong ingredients together they can result in sickness or even fatality. At some point we have to learn that certain things just don’t mix. Even so, with this knowledge I can be confident that when I make some food I am familiar with making, it will come out well.
In the Bible we’re going to see how Paul has to bring correction to the Christians in the Colossian church who were mixing Jewish theology and practice with Grecian and Roman philosophy/religion and practice. It was leading to disastrous results for the Christians there. The Colossian church was young and in a bit of a small town – they had not learned yet that certain things don’t mix. They were vulnerable to the pervading culture and the pressure others put on them to conform to the majority culture. They were too young in the Lord to know the difference sometimes. Today as we look at Colossians we are going to see all we need to know to be Christians: That Christ is all-sufficient for our salvation.
- The central proposition: Jesus is the source and ruler of all creation. He is all we need for our salvation.
restate it: He is the image of God and the source of all creation who through his death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, provides all we need for salvation and reconciliation with God. restate it again: In Jesus is all the fullness of God and because of his work on the cross and resurrection from the dead, he has supremacy over all creation.
The main points: In this passage we are going to see that because Jesus is image of God he is also the sole source of creation because his is the firstborn of all creation and by him all things were created. Next we’ll see that because through Jesus all things were made, he has supremacy over all creation. Finally, we’ll see that Jesus is all we need for our salvation. We don’t need to add anything or mix anything in. Jesus is all-sufficient for our life in God.
Announce the text and read the passage:Let’s read together Colossians 1:15-23.
Before we get into the passage I want to explain the historical situation a Colosssae. Understanding the historical background helpset the things Paul wrote in context helping us better understand the passage and why Paul wrote what he did, or why people needed to hear what he talked about.
The Situation at Colossae: In the first century, Colossae was in the province of Phrygia in Asia Minor, in the south part of what is now modern day Turkey. Phrygia was a place where religions and philosophies were often followed and practiced with intensity and sometimes frenzy. It was a small and socially unimportant city in the time of Paul though it was cosmopolitanin that cultural practices, religious ideas, and philosophies were varied and mixed together. Though small, it seems the situation with the church there was significant enough that Paul deemed it necessary to write them a letter. (It’s also possible that other churches in the area (e.g., Laodecia, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, etc.) were being affected by the same issues as at the church in Colossae and so Paul wrote one letter and asked that it be read to the other churches (see Col 4:16). Remember, Paul and his emissaries planted and established a lot of churches but he did not write letters to them all and to some he did but they were not included in the Bible.
- In the church at Colossae and in many churches around the world today – the mixing I mentioned, also called, syncretism, was quite a common problem. What is syncretism? This is when people take aspects of two (or more) different religions (or religious philosophies, or even cultures) and blends them together. The Phrygians were heavy into mysticism (emphasis on experiences), asceticism (emphasis on self-denial), a multitude of philosophies, traditions, occultism, elemental spirits (focus on the elements),angel worship, and the like.Then there was Christianity (at this point still very much Judaism with a focus on Jesus as the Messiah – it was a young church). The Christians at Colossae still followed many of the common Jewish teachings and practices but were also influenced by the culture of Phrygia. It was very challenging to keep up with the culture while also trying to keep allegiance to Christ as God and Lord and not mixing the two. The mixing of the Phrygian ideas and Christian ideas turned into what some call the “Colossian heresy.” And to Paul, the “Colossian heresy” was very dangerous because set aside Jesus Christ as the Lord and ruler of all creation.
The “Colossian heresy” was a blend of ascetic practice and discipline, the cult of angelic worship and a pride in superior wisdom and knowledge (as a way to salvation from this world) and various Jewish/Christian practices and beliefs. When it comes to belief in Christ, the “Colossian heresy” implied there were spirit powers (over and above Christ) which controlled the natural world and which were to be revered as mediators between God and his creation. The result was that both the person and work of Christ were down played by this system of angelic mediators. It undermined and played down the Christians’ belief in Christ as Lord of Creation and all-sufficient redeemer of the church.
The way of salvation was asserted to be through fellowship with these angelic mediators. It was believed there was an impassable gulf between the universe and God’s presence. This gulf was called “the fullness” and it could only be bridged through acknowledgement and reverence of these angelic beings or elemental spirits. But it was all based on human knowledge and not true knowledge of God through Jesus Christ. What this did is lead the Colossian believers to believe they were alienated from God and unable to relate to him unless they emphasized a rigorous human spirituality based on asceticism and worship of the elemental spirits just like Phrygians did. What happened then was and it downplayed and undermined the gospel Paul had taught then through his emissaries
- The heart of the gospel is the focus on the all sufficiency of Christ for our salvation and his supremacy over all creation because he is the first born of all creation. He is the source of all things and in him all things hold together.
- Main Point 1: Jesus is the sole source of all creation. He is all we need for our salvation.
Restate it: He is the image of the invisible God and the source of all creation who through his death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, provides all we need for salvation and reconciliation with God.
Restate it again: In Jesus is all the fullness of God and because of his work on the cross and resurrection from the dead, he has supremacy over all creation.
The Phrygians were not believers in Christ – they were advocates of mystery religions and mystery philosophies, they worshiped the invisible elemental spirits – they believed that to key to salvation was to unravel the mystery. To do this they believed one needed special spiritual knowledge and contact with these invisible angelic mediators we talked about – they believed in a multiplicity of these angelic beings who would help pass the gulf between them and God – isn’t this what we do today? We’re still trying to accessGod by means other than Jesus Christ. Remember a few years ago the big fad about angels and how everyone has one and that you can talk to your angel? Things haven’t changed much have they?
With God, at one time things were mysterious and not all that we could know about him was known (well, there is still a lot to know of God but I digress). But now, God has revealed the mystery and his is fully open about who he is, how he works and what his intentions are. God who is invisible, has now become visible. He has done this through the person and work of his Son Jesus Christ. See, we believe the Bible is a progressive revelation from beginning to end. In Genesis we see a bit of God as “El Shaddai,” God Almighty. Then in Exodus he gave a fuller revelation of himself to Moses as YHWH. He gave Moses his name: I AM who I AM. Fast forward to the first century and we see that Jesus is now the full and complete revelation of who God is – in the person of Jesus of Nazareth the nature and being of God are perfectly revealed and he has made himself known completely and without reservation. If you want to know God, know Jesus. The Phrygians were confusing the Colossian Christians and pulling them from their understanding of Jesus – that he is image of the invisible God the firstborn over all creation. That Jesus is the source of ALL creation.
He is the creator of ALL things because ALL things were created by him and for him – YOU were created by Jesus and for Jesus. He is over ALL things and in him ALL things hold together. He is the beginning and the end of ALL creation, he is its source and its means of existence. There is no more mystery, one doesn’t need angels or some special spiritual esoteric knowledge to gain access to God – all one needs is Christ and him alone. Jesus is the source of all creation and as its source and means he has supremacy over all creation, He is Lord of all add over all.Transition, restate main point; introduce next point.
- Main Point 2: Jesus has supremacy over all creation.
Restate it: Because Jesus is before all creation, in everything, he has first place, meaning that he is before all others with respect to time, order, rank, importance.
Jesus is superior to all other supposed gods and the elemental spirits – he made them so he is superior to them. Look at verse 16: For by him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He created all things therefore he is over them.
Again the Phrygians were implying through their beliefs that Christ was not over all – but was just another of the elemental spirits. I mentioned that the gulf between the universe and God was called “the fullness” and that the fullness could only be passed though acknowledgement of the elemental spirits. Paul takes on this philosophy head on and turns it around – in Jesus is “the fullness” of God and it is in him and through him that man is reconciled to God – it is in him and through him that the gulf has been bridged. Jesus is the fullness – the fullness is not some impassable gulf that can only be passed by angelic beings, rather Jesus Christ is the fullness – Jesus makes it possible to know and be known by God on personal terms! How did this happen? He did this through the blood of the cross – through his work on the cross and his resurrection from the dead – Jesus has become supreme over all creation and made it possible for us to be with God! We don’t need to add anything to this formula, we don’t need any extra ingredients because Jesus is all sufficient for our salvation – he is all we need. Again, in Jesus is all the fullness of God and because of his work on the cross and resurrection from the dead, he has supremacy over all of creation.
Transition, restate main point; Jesus is the sole source of all creation. Because Jesus is before all creation, He is all we need for our salvation. He is the image of the invisible God and the source of all creation who through his death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, provides all we need for salvation and reconciliation with God.
introduce next point
- Main point 3: Jesus is all-sufficient for our salvation!
Restate it: Jesus is all we need for salvation and reconciliation with God.
It is true there is a gulf between humanity and God – the gulf that separates us from God and alienates us from God is our sin and state of fallenness. Our sin separated us from God and it had caused us to be hostile toward God so that we would do evil deeds – were not at peace with God but rather at enmity with him. Because of our sin there is no way we can pass the gulf – not through the elemental spirits, not through varied philosophies or special spiritual knowledge, not through good works and loving lots of people (whatever that means) but only through Jesus Christ can humanity cross the gulf and be reconciled to God.
The cross of Christ has paid for our sin and made us acceptable to God, holy in his sight and free from blemish and free from accusation. If you want to have peace with God recognize that Jesus alone is both the Savior and Lord of all creation, that he is all we need for salvation and reconciliation with God – we don’t need to add any ingredients or mix extra stuff into the formula – Christ is all sufficient for our salvation.
Now, of course we need to stay strong in the faith, established and firm – not allowing others to move us from the hope of the gospel which is Jesus Christ and his sufficiency for our salvation. If we wander from that then we risk his all-sufficuency to save us. Note too, Paul says at the end of verse 23 that this is the gospel that has been proclaimed to all creation – it wasn’t shared in secret and is not a special spiritual knowledge – every person has access to God through Jesus Christ because “the ground is level at the foot of the cross” and all have equal access to God.
- Sermon Conclusion:
Central Proposition: Jesus is the source and ruler of all creation. He is all we need for our salvation.
restate it: He is the image and full revelation of God and the source of all creation who through his death on the cross, and resurrection from the dead, provides all we need for salvation and reconciliation with God.
restate it again: In Jesus is all the fullness of God and because of his work on the cross and resurrection from the dead, he has supremacy over all creation.
May we now not try to obtain our great salvation on our own or through the ways of the world, but only through the all sufficient means of Jesus, his work on the cross and resurrection from the dead.
This is really good!
Ken writes: Friend, do you want more joy in your life? Learn to rejoice more. And whatever you do, don’t forget to hold onto the truth that persistent joy is yours in Christ.
“What are the joy-stealers? Why do so many of us struggle with joy?” I often ask my students this question when we open the book of Philippians.
“Time pressures.” “Financial pressures.” “Unfulfilled expectations.” “Hurts from the past.” These are common responses from my students. But Paul would point us toward two other foundational reasons for our lack of joy.
First, Paul would advise us that one of the reasons we struggle so much with joy is that we don’t rejoice enough. The themes of joy and rejoicing intertwine throughout the book of Philippians in such a way that a reader of that letter must conclude that joy and rejoicing are intricately connected to one another. We shouldn’t think of joy as one thing and rejoicing as a totally different thing. Joy is the noun, and rejoicing the verb, but the basic idea is the same. Thus, if we want more…
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Isaiah 35:1-10 – Joy in Advent
This week For advent is Joy – resposting and old sermon I did on that theme at the Grand Canyon.
συνεσταύρωμαι: living the crucified life
Here is the sermon I did this weekend that I wanted to share with you all. Let me know what you think.
“The Joy of Transformation: Isaiah 35:1-10
Do you watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition? In my opinion it is one of the better shows on TV because of the good things they do for people who are often in such destitute situations that without help they will not get out of it – in desperation they send in a video application to the show and hope and dream that maybe Ty and the gang will one day show up at their home – to build them a new one! What is the response? Spontaneous shouts of Joy! What is the response when folks see the new house? Shouts of Joy and gladness that bring tears of happiness! Sometimes people will stand in awe and…
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Did David Rape Bathsheba?
Dr. Claude Mariottini - Professor of Old Testament
David Sees Bathsheba Bathing
The Internet and Twitter have been abuzz once again with the issue of David’s affair with Bathsheba. The issue, once more, is whether David raped Bathsheba. The reason for all this discussion on social media is because a very famous pastor said in his sermon that David did not rape Bathsheba. According to him, David broke his marital vows. He committed adultery with Bathsheba but did not rape her.
When looking at the affair between David and Bathsheba, two things must be said of David. First, David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). God chose him to take the place of Saul as the king of Israel. God made a covenant with David and told him that he would “establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Samuel 7:13).
The second thing that one must remember when discussing the…
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Happy Earth Day, 2022!
Genesis 1:28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
This is known as the “creation mandate” in Scripture. It speaks in part to human vocation and purpose. Humanity, as a people, made in the image of God, is to “fill the earth and subdue it,” to “rule” over it, but as a means of caring for the earth and making it a place for humanity to truly flourish. It seems we have for sure filled the earth and subdued it. Do we care for it? Do we steward the earth well as he has called us to?
Part of our human purpose is to be stewards of the earth God made and live on it and to care for it. Tend to it. Make it a place for human flourishing. Not pollute it or destroy it or treat it as if “oh well, its all gonna burn anyways…” (even if that is true the mandate still stands). Things like the constant fires in the western US and even globally should worry us. The big garbage dump in the ocean and rising sea levels should bother us. The possibility of climate change is something we should consider and not be closed off to. The level of pollution globally should be a concern, something we make an effort to relieve. Finding ways to truly care for the world we live in should be done with joy and gladness (even intentionality) and as an act of worship to our creator and maker of all things.
It seems in light of the creation mandate Christians, of all people, should be most concerned about things like celebrating Earth day and about living and acting in ways that show we actually care about life on earth. The gospel speaks not just to the redemption and renewal of humanity in relationship to God but also the redemption and renewal of all creation which groans under the weight of human sin and failure to truly care for the earth. Let us then consider ways we can maintain our commitment to the creation mandate as part of our human vocation and purpose, which glorifies God!
on anti intellectualism
In a very general way, what is referred to as “anti-intellectualism” is an attitude that tends to devalue so-called “intellectual” pursuits and as such often shows distrust in things like science, art, history, theology, and similar such things not unusually read in books. It can also tend to see academic study as pointless and vain and think those who pursue do so do it for vanity or to be elitist. It can be especially prominent in populist and religious circles (not always or only Christian ones either, but typically more conservative circles of such). One could go on…
When a strongly anti-intellectual attitude is voiced this is and can be very painful (if not traumatizing) to those who might have an intellectual bent or even have “intellection” as a “strength” such as with Clifton’s Strengths Finder (it is in my list of top five “strengths”) and see their strengths as being despised. The reality is, God has wired some to be this way – it is part of who they are – while others he has wired to be different but I think an anti-intellectual attitude is more taught and caught than it is something ingrained. Instead of appreciating one another’s strengths, we tend to play down such strengths as boring or morose. We prefer to keep things easy and simple.
It is sometimes seen as an enemy of faith and values when in fact much of our faith and values were formulated by those with an intellectual bent (the Apostle Paul was anything but an anti-intellectual). More often we tend to hold up Acts 4:13 as a model for this – Peter and John being “unlearned” and “ordinary” men. My view is that this was from the view of the overly intellectual Sanhedrin more so than the reality of the situation with Peter and John (both were well trained in the Torah as well). Instead, I think the Sanhedrin was feeling threatened so such labels were thrown about.
It is true too there are elitist persons who are intellectuals and who look down their noses at who they think might call more “low brow” kinds of people. This isn’t right either. Somehow there as to be a way for the twain to meet and to appreciate one another’s gifts and not disdain one another’s strengths.
On Exodus 34:6-7
In the Old Testament, God engages rarely in self-description, preferring to let divine actions speak more loudly than descriptive words about God’s character. At Sinai, however, God makes an exception and makes this fundamental disclosure to Moses. “Yhwh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and filled with loving devotion and faithfulness. Who continues in passionate devotion for a thousand generations. Who bears with iniquity, rebellion, and sin, but never overlooks it. Who visits parents’ iniquity on their children’s children, as far as the third generation.” (Exodus 34:6b-7)
Many Christian commentators are drawn to the explanatory statements about sin, which function rhetorically to set God’s judgment of sin (“the third generation) over against the enormous expansiveness of God’s great love (“a thousand generations”). Israel, however, understood the main sentence to be the quintessential expression of God’s divine nature. The declaration that Yhwh is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving devotion reverberates through Israel’s narrative, prophetic literature, and psalms. Compassion and grace convey divine kindness, while loving devotion and faithfulness express unrelenting commitment to relationship. Together, the four terms express this core truth: God is for you. Unequivocally. Actively. Resolutely. Without fail and at all times.
In its time, this confession emphatically distinguished Israel’s God from the deities of the surrounding nations, who were notoriously fickle and given to unpredictable fits of anger. These were gods to be feared, and relating to them was largely a matter of trying to stay on their good sides. Israel’s testimony, however, consistently affirmed that Yhwh’s anger was kindled slowly and, with few exceptions, only in response to willful and persistent breaking of the covenant relationship, through idolatry, disrespect, and oppression of the powerless. Yhwh’s momentary anger was an expression, in the negative, of Yhwh’s commitment to the relationship, and it paled in comparison to Yhwh’s unbreakable “for you” love.
This is an understanding of God that has little in common with the stern and aloof God of some contemporary theological formulations. The aloof God is a demanding God, quick to anger, and full of judgment and retribution. This is a God who defines people by their sins and who is hypervigilant to punish any affront to his divine sovereignty. This is a God who is to be feared. This is the God who is being rejected by droves of former believers, who want no part in a faith that defines itself more by what it is against than by what it is for. Who seek a relationship with God but see instead churches intent on maintaining and restoring the rules. And who might yet might be persuaded by Christians who emulate the Crucified One, who by word and deed said “I am for you,” all the way to the Cross.
<a href=”http://<iframe src=”https://www.facebook.com/plugins/post.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fdan.hawk4%2Fposts%2F10220680158529559&show_text=true&width=500″ width=”500″ height=”291″ style=”border:none;overflow:hidden” scrolling=”no” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=”true” allow=”autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; picture-in-picture; web-share”>via Dan Hawk on FB
The African Roots of the Day of Pentecost
This is amazing!
Of all the books I read in 2021, nothing caught my eye more than this assertion by Thomas C. Oden in his 2011 book The African Memory of Mark:
The first Pentecost took place in the home of an African Jewish woman.
Oden’s remarkable study points out that the African church memory is shaped by St. Mark and his Gospel. St. Mark was born in Cyrene in Libya, North Africa and was the Apostle who evangelized Egypt and in Africa at large. African Christians see Mark as representative of the African perspective of Christianity.
While hints of Mark’s important African identity are present in Western considerations, it is no secret that most of Western church history accounts are Euro-centric and have ignored African church history and the continent’s ancient testimony about the shaping of Christianity. This is a point from another book I read in 2021 by Phillip Jenkins…
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What is Biblical Theology?
II. Question of Biblical Theology
In considering definitions and descriptions of biblical theology, often these differ with who one asks. Questions arise as to how terminology is defined. What is meant by “biblical”? What is meant by “theology”? Are the two related and if so, how so? On the one hand, biblical theology is viewed as strictly for historical description. On the other hand, others claim it as purely a theological construction. In reality, biblical theology is both. It engages Scripture from both theological and historical perspectives. It attempts to discern the message of the Bible as it relates to revealing God’s plan of salvation. Biblical theology, as a discipline, seeks to explicate the message of the Bible on its own terms without imposed categories. It explores what the Bible says about God, and how it says it.
Elmer Martens describes biblical theology as:
That approach to Scripture which attempts to see the biblical material holistically and to describe this wholeness or synthesis in biblical categories. Biblical theology attempts to embrace the message of the Bible and to arrive at an intelligible coherence of the whole despite the great diversity of the parts. Or put another way: Biblical theology investigates the themes presented in Scripture and defines their inter-relationships. Biblical theology is an attempt to get at the theological heart of the Bible.
Brevard Childs simplifies it further when he states: “Biblical theology is by definition theological reflection on both the Old and the New Testaments.” Biblical theology seeks to discern what the Bible says theologically, in the light of God’s actions in history. Despite the various methods biblical theology uses to determine and communicate the Bible’s message, there is one commonality; belief in a unified structure running through the Bible. Even so, much disagreement remains. Many have given up any attempt to articulate just what the unity of the Bible is and that on its own terms. Disagreement persists as to what biblical theology is. There seems to be agreement that there is unity, but disagreement on what the unifying elements are and how to express it. It is this paper’s purpose to discuss and explain the concept of biblical theology and its unifying aspect. In response to the points of debate as to what is meant by biblical theology, the issues discussed will relate to matters of relationships between the testaments, unity and diversity, how culture plays a role, and what role biblical theology has in the life of the church.
Doing Biblical theology is not just a method of interpreting the Bible, it is a way of thinking about Scripture. This way of thinking is rooted in one’s personal theology and thinking about the nature of the Bible. What and how one thinks about the Bible, as a religious text, is integral to how one approaches the discipline of biblical theology. For some, the Bible is strictly a history of Israel and their religion and nothing more. Others engage historical matters to glean the theological message. While the points of emphasis will vary, there are at least five different approaches to biblical theology. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss all five approaches. Instead, one approach will be examined in adequate depth to provide an example of biblical theology and how it functions to communicate the theological message of the Scripture.
Biblical theology as History of Redemption is an approach to biblical theology that sees the whole Bible as a progressive revelation. It promotes a “whole Bible theology.” This approach seeks to look at the Bible in its own historical context to determine the meaning of the Bible, in the whole and in the parts. Its intent is to locate theological themes connecting Scripture together in order to emphasize the patterns of God’s redemptive activity in history. Its view is that the “history of redemption progresses in a chronological manner.” There is an approach to biblical theology that only asks “what it meant.” Biblical theology as history of redemption utilizes historical description as a means to see “what it meant” in order to discern what it means now. This way of doing biblical theology is strongly exegetical and seeks to communicate the Bible in such as way that hearers will be awed at the realization of God’s unfolding purposes for humanity from Genesis to Revelation. What sets this approach apart is its commitment to doing biblical theology as redemptive history.
The commitment to seeing biblical theology through redemptive history then, means it believes the Bible is God’s word. It understands it as a revelation of who God is and how he functions. This approach believes, “God’s revelation points readers to the real events in history, but a history that is invested with meaning.” It sees redemptive history as a historical and unified progression of God’s saving activity in and for the world. The intent is to help Christians know their place in God’s redemptive plan for them, and for the world. Biblical theology as redemptive history believes the Bible (from Genesis to Revelation) has a context and meaning for which it is intended; to reveal God to the world. In this way, then, this approach functions both descriptively and prescriptively. It describes the redemptive history of the Bible, and sets forth means for Christian living in light of its theological message.
Craig Bartholomew, Mary Healy, Karl Möller, Robin Parry, eds., Out of Egypt: Biblical Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004).
Edward W. Klink, and Darian R Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).
Elmer A Martens, ‘Tackling Old Testament Theology,’ JETS 20 (1977), p, 123 as quoted in Scott J. Hafemann, and Paul R. House, eds., Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in diversity (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007).
Stephen B. Chapman, “Reclaiming inspiration for the Bible,” in Canon and Biblical Interpretation, eds., Craig G. Bartholomew and Anthony C. Thiselton (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006).
The Role of Biblical Theology in the Contemporary Christian Church. Why Biblical Theology matters.
VIII. The Role of Biblical Theology in the Contemporary Christian Church.
The role of Biblical theology in the contemporary church garners mixed response. On the one hand, there are pastors who lead congregations with a solid perspective of what Biblical theology is. They integrate it into their preaching, teaching, and general ministry. On the other hand, there are pastoral leaders who don’t even know what Biblical theology is. There is a range in between. At the heart of the issue is at least two things: one is how people understand the purpose of the Bible and its place in the life of the church. The other is how people understand theology and its role in our lives a Christians. There is much talk about “the problem of biblical illiteracy” in the church and it is common to hear Christians say “I am not a theologian.” Some of this is connected to the previous question of the prescriptive or descriptive nature of Biblical theology. In their hearts, people know the Bible points us to God and gives direction for life, and yet, all too often anti-intellectualism often pushes theology into the academy.
What is the role of the Bible for the contemporary church? For many, while it is the Word of God, they remain uncertain what the Bible’s role is for the church. They want it to be practical and for the Bible to speak into their lives. They want to know what a Bible verse means for them. What is often missed is the need for paying attention to biblical and historical contexts so meaning can be understood. Too often the tendency is to want application and meaning before knowing the context. For some context is a non issue, they are not interested in context or in knowing the minds or intents of the biblical writers. Others may suggest we can’t know the mind
of the biblical writer and so create their own meanings. It is thought that meaning should be determined by the reader in the moment. This is the influence of postmodernism in the church – meaning is created by the reader, not the historical or literary context. This is where the discipline biblical theology can serve the church. It seeks to understand literary and historical contexts so meaning can be known, applied, and safeguarded. Without the help of biblical theology, the meaning of Scripture risks remaining unknown, and the problem of biblical illiteracy will continue unabated.
From another perspective, David L. Baker suggests people’s perceptions about the Bible overall also lies in misunderstanding the overall context of the Bible and its contents. Often, the Old Testament is thought to be irrelevant for life. He asks, “Is the Old Testament the word of God for Christians? If so, does it have the same authority as the New Testament or a lesser status” Historically, some, such as Marcion, have considered the Old Testament as no longer God’s word for today. Others have said the Old Testament is the essential Bible while the New Testament is merely supplemental. This way of thinking about the Old Testament has carried on through the ages so that even today many see it as having little to no relevance. Others give priority to the New Testament. This has led to some serious consequences.
One consequence is the misalignment of the Scripture’s authority. Another is the loss of a comprehensive understanding of the Bible. These have contributed to biblical illiteracy in the contemporary church. Negating one Testament against the other downplays the overall authority of the Bible for the church and for Christian living. Again, Baker says the real issue is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Old Testament and its relationship to the New. He writes, “the authority of the Old Testament is not to be measured, in the sense of being more or less than that of the New Testament, but to be understood in terms of function.” He states the function of the Old Testament is not the same as the function of the New so it should not be seen as such. Each have their own function. Though they are connected and interrelated, it is important to engage each Testament on its own terms. He says not all of the Old Testament is applicable to Christians, but neither is the New Testament. “Every biblical book has its specific historical and cultural setting, and was originally written for people other than us.”
What, then, is the function of the Old Testament? Its function is to help Christians know the development of their faith by seeing God’s redemptive acts in history; how he brought about their “great salvation” (Heb 2:3). The Old Testament is relevant because it typifies common human experience. It helps make sense of life and faith. This is important because it highlights the significance of biblical theology for the contemporary church. Instead of the Bible remaining at a distance, the discipline of biblical theology can help Christians better understand the Bible in historical context so they can understand its meaning and relevance for the contemporary church. This in turn reduces the issue of biblical illiteracy.
With a solid understanding of the Bible in its historical context, that is, as a progressive revelation, will come a deeper appreciation for biblical theology. Theology, in general, has long been something that, in the modern world, has been resisted by many Christians. Caught up in the long thread of anti-intellectualism in general religious practice, Christians have touted theology as heady, esoteric, and irrelevant. American society in particular has long been given to pragmatics and sees theology as intellectual and distant. For many, the only theology worth considering is theology that works. If it is not practical it is disregarded. The reason for this is because of experiences with theology that left people wanting. It did not connect. It may have been separated from the Bible. With proper use of biblical theology as a discipline, the Bible and theology will be reunited in such a way that gives life to the church. Experienced in this manner, Christians will then be open to theological reflection in their faith and ultimately on their purpose. Through the discipline of biblical theology, the Bible and theology can be reunited as collaborators in the formation of Christians as the covenant people of God who live in the world for the glory of God and the flourishing of humanity.
Baker, David L. Two Testaments, One Bible (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010).
James Barr, The Concept of Biblical Theology (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 1999).
Edward W. Klink, and Darian R Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012).
Lawrence, M. Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).
Kevin Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998).