This book helped me understand the Bible better, and this book makes me want to read the Bible more. I will explain why.
Dr. Jim Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, has a blessedly infectious love for the Word of God. Thankfully, his answer to the question of his title, What Is Biblical Theology? is not that it is some dry, academic enterprise that you must trudge through if you want to understand the Bible. Rather, his answer reveals a gateway to a breathtaking, overwhelmingly glorious new world, that is, in fact, the reality of which the Bible speaks. Biblical theology is “the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing” throughout the various types of literature that make up the Bible. Hamilton’s definition stands in stark contrast to approaches to biblical theology that purport to analyze each biblical author or book on its own terms to show an evolution of thought, including the discarding or twisting of previous ideas. The author is obviously immersed in the Scriptures, making a plethora of connections between texts. What Is Biblical Theology? unashamedly affirms, with Jesus and the apostles, the unity of the entire Bible and each part of it as a piece of a bigger storyline of God redeeming His people by salvation through judgment, to the praise of His glory.
Hamilton easily grabs attention with captivating storytelling. He shows the relevance of biblical theology in pointing to reality that we miss because we’re not saturated with Bible truth. He tells a moving personal experience of a man on his death bed, a man for whom the reality of the unseen world was alive and compelling. Biblical theology will prepare us to die well. How many other topics for books can you recommend for that purpose?
The book draws from the Bible to give a framework helpful to read the Bible in order to motivate readers to eagerly do just that. Hamilton helps us think through our approach to reading the Bible with his impassioned coverage of the Bible’s big story, its symbolism and patterns, and the God’s purpose for the church.
The author describes the setting of the biblical story as a “cosmic temple,” where the world God created is “a place in which God is known, served, present, and worshiped.” God’s enemy, Satan, and his “seed,” seek destruction of God’s temple, but only succeed in defiling it. God promises restoration and gives Israel a picture of it through the tabernacle, and later, the temple. The hope of restoration is encapsulated in the prophecy that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent, which is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and the Savior of all sinners who will turn to Him. Through His death, He redeems, and, as a result, all things will one day be restored in the New Creation.
The book looks at the Bible’s symbolism, tracing the prolific usage of tree, flood, and temple imagery through the Bible. These symbols remind us of things like the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the catastrophic flood of God’s judgment, and the temple where God was to be approached, served, and worshiped. They point forward to a tree where a Redeemer would die, a future worldwide judgment, and a time and place where the whole New Creation is God’s new temple.
Hamilton writes about typology in various people, events, and institutions in the Bible, but is careful to distance himself from the wild, unchecked allegorical interpretation often associated with that term. Biblical typology has to be grounded in “historical correspondence and escalation.” The Bible is historically accurate, and when it describes Noah and Moses and what they experienced, what the first Passover was like, and the regulations God established for the temple, it is telling the truth. Yet in those people, events, and institutions, we can see patterns that God repeats in history, in a way that is both similar and escalated, in their fulfillment in Jesus.
For example, we see that
Moses led Israel out of slavery in Egypt; Jesus saved his people from their slavery to sin. Moses led Israel into a shadow of the new Eden, the Land of Promise; Jesus will lead his people into the new and better Eden, the new heaven and earth.
The book culminates in an intense focus on the church and her relationship to Christ. Those who have faith in Christ should see themselves as sheep of the Shepherd, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit. We see, not only in Christ, but also in the church, a fulfillment of God’s great story.
Just as God put Adam in the garden to extend its borders so that Yahweh’s glory would cover the dry lands as the waters cover the sea, God put Israel in the land to take up that same task, giving them a preview of what it would look like when he filled tabernacle and temple with his glory. Jesus sent his disciples on the same errand to all nations: as disciples are made, the temple grows, the place of God’s presence expands, and God’s glory spreads over the dry land. In the age to come, these realities will be fully realized. The earth will be full of the knowledge of the glory of God.
Why You Should Read This Book
1. It will give you a helpful framework to read the Bible, a framework derived and distilled from the Bible itself.
2. This book will remind you that we’re in a different story that the world is telling, and that we need to know and live by the truth.
3. It demonstrates that one can be blown away by the breathtaking vistas in the Bible and its overarching story and still trust it in the details. While seeing a cosmic temple setting, Hamilton also dismisses evolution as a “creation myth” incompatible with the Bible and as part of the world’s story, in contrast to reality, which is what the Bible presents. Hamilton sees no false dichotomy between seeing the Bible as beautiful and varied in its genres, and as trustworthy for all its assertions.
4. This book will show you who you are. If you’re not in Christ, you’re on the losing side, and there is no hope. But if you will trust in Christ, you will find acceptance, assurance, confidence, victory, and a transformed life that delights in God’s glory and God’s story.
5. The book is a good on-ramp into reading the Bible. The most remarkable thing about this book is that it points away from itself. Even though the author lists some recommended reading at the end, the focus of the book is on getting the reader to personally encounter and engage the text of Scripture. You will be directed in mind and affections right into the Bible with Hamilton’s brevity (128 pages) as well as the excitement and urgency that permeate the book. Hamilton writes, “The best way to learn biblical theology, the best way to get yourself out of the world’s way of thinking and into the Bible’s is to study the Bible itself. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Read the Bible. A lot.”
I want to go back and revisit What Is Biblical Theology? sometime, but the reason I wish to do so is that it will help me return to the Bible with a fresh, big picture perspective that keeps the main themes of the forest of Scripture on my radar so I don’t get lost in the trees. This book promotes a love for Bible reading and Bible study, and I highly recommend it. Get it, and read the Bible with a new wonder, appreciation, and anticipation to understand the unfolding of God’s story for His beloved.
Crossway provided a complimentary copy of this book through their Beyond the Page program, in exchange for an honest review.
On a side note, if you are as intrigued as I was by the cover art for the book, see the author’s explanation here.
If you are interested in a fuller treatment of themes explored in this book, Hamilton’s full-length look at each book of the Bible will serve you well: God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.