How do lengthy regulations about the manner of dress and eating habits of the Jews point to Jesus? What significance do the proverbs and wisdom literature of the Old Testament have for Christians today? Such questions inevitably face Christians as they read their Bibles. Among scholars who study the Bible, it has been commonly recognized that biblical theology is invaluable for providing answers to such questions. Unfortunately, the many insights yielded by the study of biblical theology have not been made easily accessible to a non-academic audience.
Many recent works have attempted to address this gap—Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology has been one such attempt.1 Nick Roark and Robert Cline’s Biblical Theology is another. Instead of tracing an individual theme throughout Scripture (as in the Short Studies series), Roark and Cline attempt to introduce the reader to the concept of biblical theology and its many applications for all believers. For this reason, I was pleased to receive a review copy of this short book.2 Biblical Theology is a gift to the church: lucidly written and brimming with insights, Christians of all walks of life will benefit from reading it.
At 162 pages, it is of sufficient length to introduce the discipline of biblical theology while remaining short enough for the time-strapped reader. Roark and Cline present biblical theology as the study of the Bible’s story in order to understand the individual books, stories, and paragraphs that make up Scripture (the whole necessary to understand the parts). They describe it as “an approach to reading the whole story of the Bible while keeping our focus on the main point of Scripture, Jesus Christ. In other words, biblical theology is the scriptural road map that leads us to Jesus” (23). For this reason, biblical theology “helps clarify the Bible’s main purpose”; “helps guard and guide the church”; “helps us in our evangelistic outreach”; and “helps us read, understand, and teach the way the Jesus said we should” (17-19).
That is, by looking at the story that unifies all the pieces of Scripture, biblical theology shows us how Scripture is about God and His work in the world. By giving us a necessary tool for understanding the pieces of Scripture, biblical theology helps Christians read the bible correctly in order to think and act rightly before God and so guards against false doctrine and erroneous practices. The authors also argue that biblical theology helps with evangelism. It gives us a tool to show others not only how they can be “saved” but why salvation is needed: it moves first through the creation and fall and then to God’s work to redeem sinful humans through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In addition to describing it, the authors give the greatest space to doing biblical theology. This is probably the greatest virtue of the book. Readers will find great value in the account of the Bible’s overarching story (metanarrative) in chapters 3-4 and the expositions of biblical theology’s value for the Church’s teaching and mission in chapters 5-6.
Roark and Cline have given the Church a great gift. If I could add anything to the book, it would be nuance the term “biblical theology” a little bit more. The study of the Bible’s story is a significant portion of the discipline, but it is not the whole. It would be inaccurate to say that the Bible is a story, or that its metanarrative is the unifying feature of Scripture.
As the study of the unity of Scripture, biblical theology examines—in addition to the story of Scripture—the theological themes that run throughout the 66 biblical books, the function and nature of Scripture (is it a “story” or another sort of document?), and the distinctive features of the books and groups of books that make up the Bible.
The story recounted through Scripture is central to understanding every passage, yet biblical theology has much more to offer than the story alone. Studies of the other related aspects of biblical theology have much to offer the church yet remain almost exclusively in the halls of academia. It is, however, hard to fault a book for not doing more than it intended to do; so I heartedly recommend Biblical Theology to pastors, students, and everyone else who reads—or should read—their bibles.
1 I previously reviewed one volume from this series, The City of God and the Goal of Creation.