The discipline of biblical theology is just as important to the life of your church as systematic theology. Biblical theology is the root of doctrine; systematic theology is the fruit. And we need to get both right if we want to know who Jesus is, what the gospel is, and how to guard and guide our churches.
What Is Biblical Theology?
The phrase biblical theology can mean theology that’s biblical, or what is called systematic theology. Systematic theology organizes everything the Bible says on topics such as sin, Christ, and government.
But biblical theology is more commonly used to mean a way of reading the Bible (or, a hermeneutic) as one story. It assumes that Scripture’s many human authors tell one story—about Christ—by one divine author. Just as good doctrine depends on good exegesis, so it depends on good biblical theology.
Think of how Jesus chides the Jews for not recognizing that the Scriptures are all about Him (John 5:39) or how He tells two disciples that the whole Old Testament points to Him (Luke 24:25–27, 44–47). Biblical theology, then, is the discipline that goes back to the garden, Noah, Abraham, the exodus and Passover, the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets and then always asks, “How does this moment point to Jesus?”
Bad Biblical Theology Kills Churches
Bad biblical theology misconstrues the biblical story. It makes the Bible about us instead of Jesus.
Theological liberalism redefines the story of salvation as God’s work to overcome, say, economic injustice. Roman Catholicism casts the clergy and sacraments in a mediatorial role that smacks heavily of the old covenant. The prosperity gospel also imports elements of the old covenant into the new.
The list of bad biblical theologies is long, whether in cults such as Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, or in movements within churches such as the social gospel, liberation theology, or some forms of fundamentalist separatism. Each story culminates in an imbalanced (or false) gospel and so creates an imbalanced (or false) church.
Why Your Church Needs It
Good biblical theology, however, guards a church’s doctrine and guides the church toward better preaching, better practices, better paths. It helps biblical exposition to be gospel-centered and not moralistic. It focuses the church’s mission on sharing the good news and making disciples, not just on doing works of mercy and justice. It teaches that God saves not just individuals, but a people, and that being a Christian means living together with other Christians, for they are our true family, body, and nation.
In short, good biblical theology guards the church against wrong emphases, wrong expectations, and a wrong gospel. It offers a trustworthy guide to the gospel, the Christian life, and the local church.