Book Reviews

Understanding Biblical Theology

A Comparison of Theory and Practice

Edward W. Klink III and Darian R. Lockett Grand Rapids 2012-11-10

Klink and Lockett provide a helpful taxonomy for biblical theology. They place five theological approaches on a spectrum with history and theology at opposite ends. First, “biblical theology as historical description” (BT1) treats biblical theology as a descriptive task. The theologian describes the theology of the ancient writers as a part of history. Second, “biblical theology as history of redemption” (BT2) analyzes how God progressively reveals Himself and His plan for redemption through history. Third, “biblical theology as worldview-story” (BT3) seeks to understand theology through the worldview of the biblical writers. Each writer has a worldview, out of which he articulates theology. Fourth, “biblical theology as canonical approach” (BT4) unites the diverse historical and theological characteristics of each book through canon. The church recognized the books of the canon on the basis of Christian faith and theological convictions. And fifth, “biblical theology as theological construction” (BT5) argues that Christians read the Bible through the theological lenses bequeathed to the church. The faith and convictions of the church guide how Christians read the Bible.

Klink and Lockett distinguish each approach by how it addresses five questions: First, what is the relationship between the two testaments? Second, is there unity or diversity among the theological witnesses? Third, what are the sources for a biblical theology? Fourth, what is the subject matter for biblical theology? And fifth, is biblical theology intended for the church or for the academy? Even though two or more of the approaches will agree at any point, they will distinguish themselves by how they answer each question. For example, James Barr (BT1) argues that since biblical theology is a historical category, it can only be done in the academy, and apart from ecclesiological assumptions. All other categories note that the church plays a significant role in biblical theology, even though the academy and historical analysis may enhance theological conclusions. For another example, BT1, BT2, and BT3 will make use of noncanonical literature to construct their theology, but for different reasons. Barr (BT1) argues that as a part of the historical record this literature contains its own valid theology. D. A. Carson (BT2) and N. T. Wright (BT3) argue that this literature serves a different purpose—to help readers understand the environment of the biblical writers. Despite these differences, all three use noncanonical literature as a part of their method.

Klink and Lockett also show tensions within each category. Two examples stand out. For one example, they present three distinct variations within BT2. The Dallas school, represented by the faculty at Dallas Theological Seminary, traces various themes through the biblical literature. The sum total of these themes represents a complete biblical theology, but they lack a unifying theme. The Chicago school, represented by Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, traces individual themes, but synthesizes these themes across the entire Bible. The Philadelphia school, represented by the faculty at Westminster Theological Seminary, integrates all biblical themes into a single Christological theme. For a second example, Klink and Lockett compare Wright and Hays. Even though both fit within BT3, Wright emphasizes the historical work to form the worldview of the authors, while Hays emphasizes the literary background. In light of these tensions, Klink and Lockett point out that “the differences between brothers are greatest within the family, while the neighborhood cannot understand all the fuss” (p. 106).

A number of reasons make this helpful guide essential for students entering the field of biblical theology. First, Klink and Lockett critique a biblical theologian who typifies each theological method. This allows students to see the method in “real-time” and quickly identify subtle differences between approaches. Second, this survey provides a roadmap to the crucial literature in the field. Students need to access the primary literature, but a scholar articulates his or her method through multiple books and articles. Klink and Lockett direct readers to the more important books and articles and help frame the discussion. Third, Klink and Lockett form a grid as they evaluate each theological approach. Students can adapt this grid to evaluate other works.

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