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).

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