Book review: 40 Questions about Biblical Theology

It is with thanks to Kregel Academic for the opportunity to do this review. The 40 Questions series has proven to be valuable on a number of levels and I think they do a good job overall with this one on Biblical Theology.


40 Questions about Biblical Theology by authors Jason S. De Rouchie, Oren R. Martin, and Andrew David Naselli is a work that seeks to “answer the most important and difficult questions about biblical theology to guide readers in their own study and practice” (back cover). This is accomplished by the selection of 40 questions one might come up with (or had not thought to ask) to learn more about the discipline of biblical theology; such questions as What is Biblical Theology? How does biblical theology compare to other ways of doing theology? What is the importance of continuity and discontinuity in biblical theology? What is the place of typology in biblical theology? etc. This book is not really meant to be an in-depth manual but more of a primer on the topic. Kregel has another book that is much more in-depth and would serve that purpose. It is their book Invitation to Biblical Theology.

The authors cite three different ways of doing biblical theology: analyze the message, trace a theme, tell the story (Question 10). So chapters (questions) are provided that touch on the different ways of doing biblical theology. Hence, the book is broken down into 5 parts: Defining Biblical Theology. (what is it?); Exploring Method in Biblical Theology (how is it done?); the next two parts illustrate Biblical Theology (showing examples of tracing themes and use of earlier Scripture in later Scripture): and then Applying Biblical Theology (how it can help the church and the believer). They cover many of the questions well and provide plenty of footnote material for the reader to follow up further in future study. There is a Scripture Index as well which is a “must have” for these kinds of resources.

My analysis/response:

I felt the book was fine and done well. There were some things I felt I would like to respond to in this review as I think they are pertinent to the conversation. I cannot write a response to all 40 Questions obviously so I would like to address a few things I noticed here and there in the book.

In the initial question, “What do we mean by Biblical Theology?” Andrew David Naselli notes the five types of biblical theology in Klink, III, and Lockett’s book Understanding Biblical Theology. They are Biblical theology as: (1) historical description (Barr); (2) history of redemption (Carson); (3) worldview story (Wright); (4) canonical approach (Childs), and (5) theological construction (Watson). Naselli states in a footnote (p19 n3) they are “not convinced” Klink, III and Lockett do well in their presenting the five types of biblical theology. Naselli goes further to say BT types 1 and 5 are not actually biblical theology and then asserts that the approach to biblical theology advocated in the book blends types 2, 3, and 4 (p.19).

He writes, “Redemptive History is a worldview story, and we analyze that story by studying the literary features of the unified canon” (p.19). (this left me feeling concerned they may not quite understand how a canonical approach to Biblical Theology works – I am still learning myself). He then puts forth their definition of biblical theology that reflects the blended approach. He offers short and a long definition:

The shorter version is “Biblical theology studies how the whole Bible progresses and climaxes in Christ” (p.20).

The longer version is “Biblical theology is a way of analyzing and synthesizing the Bible that makes organic, salvation historical connections with the whole canon on its own terms, especially regarding how the Old and New Testaments progress, integrate, and climax in Christ” (p.20).

Naselli then goes on to explain each of the parts of the longer definition of Biblical theology: “organic,” “salvation historical,” “on its own terms,” etc. He says “When we refer to biblical theology, we mean whole-Bible biblical theology” (23). The assertion is that biblical theology always seeks to look at themes and topics in light of the whole Bible and that parts will always be analyzed, on their own terms, and then synthesized into the whole in an organic, salvation historical fashion. It seems the definition of biblical theology provided is really describing the method of Biblical theology as the history of redemption moreso than what biblical theology is on the whole which is really a form of biblical theological interpretation. It can be descriptive and it can be prescriptive depending on the topic or theme. As James Mead says in his book on Biblical theology, the attempt to define biblical theology can be difficult because sometimes the terms are ambiguous and not always clear and can be disputed. So this is an interesting definition of biblical theology that I think might actually be a method instead of a definition. I could be wrong.

I have read Kink III, and Lockett, I have read Mead, I have read Barr, I have read David Peterson’s book One Bible Two Testaments. So when reading this chapter (question #1) my concern was that in discounting the Klink, III and Lockett book and their presentation of distinct types of Biblical Theology, it felt a bit like the old “no true Scotsman” approach to defining things. The authors of 40 Questions about Biblical Theology have a clear preference for the type of biblical theology as the history of redemption which in blending the types as they do, is dismissive of the self claims of the other types of Biblical theology.

Essentially it was dismissing James Barr who was a leading figure in restoring the discipline of biblical theology. Biblical Theology can be descriptive and prescriptive so really Biblical theology as historical description is not an invalid form of doing biblical theology. Additionally, since it involves theological interpretation there is that element of theological construction so even Biblical theology as theological construction can be a valid way to do BT. I failed to see how doing Biblical theology as theological construction was not properly biblical theology. The issue is, attempts at categorization always find exceptions and may or may not fit the box they get put in. BT can be a bit fluid. Furthermore, terms like “organic” and “on its own terms” don’t always fit what actually happens when doing Biblical theology. It is not always smooth, or easy or only a whole Bible analysis. Plenty of work has been done on the parts without always integrating it into the whole. There is certainly value in doing whole Bible biblical theology but this is not to the negation of other ways.

One other aspect I wanted to respond to was the emphasis on the issue of finding Christ in the Old Testament. The authors of 40 Questions about Biblical Theology place great emphasis on the Old Testament as Christocentric- that every passage of the Old Testament will find its fulfillment in Christ. This is implied in their shorter definition. It is the focus of Question 3 “How does Biblical Theology help us see Christ in the Old Testament?” Arguing for “a multi-form approach” because “Jesus fulfills the OT in various ways,” “we should celebrate Christ when we read the Old Testament (p.42). This is certainly true but I think caution is needed to think every OT passage will find a connection to Christ. Instead, I side with Christopher Wright (Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, etc) and others that a Christotelic view is a better way of doing Biblical Theology. If we want to do “proper” Biblical theology per the direction of this book, engaging the text “on its own terms,” we will realize that not every passage will be about Jesus or even have a direct connection. Instead, Christotelic Biblical theology truly allows one to analyze the text in its literary and historical context on its own terms. It must be known that not all of the Old Testament passages often referred to as “Messianic” directly point to Jesus. For example, the burning bush in Exodus was a theophany not necessarily a Christophany. Moses had come directly into the presence of YHWH. Later in the New Testament, we may see a connection to Christ but in its own historical context, it was an encounter with YHWH.

My personal reflection

I think it is a good and useful book but one will need to be aware it is also from a strongly reformed (Calvinistic) and Baptistic point of view (the authors all went to Baptist seminaries) and reading of and doing Biblical Theology – especially as it related to the approach of Biblical Theology as redemptive history or salvation history. I think the book will be valuable to the average pastor though because not enough pastors are doing Biblical theology and with the emphasis on themes there are plenty of ideas for teaching and preaching. I appreciated the opportunity to read and review the book.