“To do biblical theology is to think about the whole story of the bible.” James Hamilton Jr. makes this pretty clear statement for a book which explains the complex intricacies that even learned scholars debate over. What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns is a “Theology for dummies” version of a thicker, more scholarly work which Hamilton has produced, called God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. Hamilton has condensed more than 400 pages of his previous volume in an attempt to bring a broader readership under the banner that is biblical theology (BT).
From the outset Hamilton lays out for us a primary aim of BT which is to, “understand and embrace the worldview of the biblical authors”. More easily spoken then grasped, though he does an excellent job of making the Bible come alive for those who may have had no previous handling of this aspect of theology. Hamilton walks the readers through 3 sections which encompass the Bible’s Big Story, The Bible’s Symbolic Universe, and the Bible’s Love Story. Throughout his explanation of what exactly BT is, Hamilton equates this practice with others found in theology like Apologetics and Historical Theology. He shows the reader that BT truly stands alone as a theology but it cannot be separated from other forms of theology which feed off each other.
In finding a point to anchor on, Hamilton mentions two separate sentences when, understood together, are very much the same thing. On page 39 he tells us, “The whole story of the Bible hinges on the death and resurrection of Jesus to accomplish redemption, and it will culminate in the return of Jesus in judgment to consummate his kingdom”. Merely two pages later he makes note that the central theme of the whole Bible can be found in the way God gets his glory in saving sinners through his judgment. He also notes that, “As God brings salvation through judgment, just serves as the dark cloth on which God will display the diamond of mercy”, which in itself is a statement which summarizes the rest of his short volume.
As he walks us through the text of the Bible from Moses to Revelation, Hamilton makes frequent stops to make sure the reader is able to take in the whole panorama which we have just taken photos of. He wants to make sure that the reader is aware of the interplay various texts play. He is always connecting the dots for us in a way that brings to light the deep truths of scripture with the practical applications they elicit. Hamilton breaks down the symbols for us in a way that we begin to see glimpses of Christ through every text and symbol which has been laid down for us in scripture.
As we come to the end of the trail we see the church as the Bride and Jesus as the all-sufficient Groom of the Church. We see our part in the storyline of the Bible, and it is glorious. We see a redemption planned for us before the foundations of the world and foreknown to God in such an intimate way that he gave us complete access to him through the sacrifice of his Son on the cross. In Christ we see the fullness of God dwelling bodily and we certainly glimpse the glory of God in the face of Christ. One thing I did notice in the epilogue was that most of the books Hamilton recommends for study are very Baptist and New Calvinist leaning. He leaves out guys like Geerhardus Vos whose work Biblical Theology helped transform the study of BT in the 20th century. I understand his intention of making such a short list. If he were to include the entire corpus of BT out there his book would have been twice the size. The study of BT is an essential part of any Christian believers life and I pray that this book would be used as a stepping stone to more in-depth study of not only BT, but of the whole bible as a center point for theology.
What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns James M. Hamilton Jr./Crossway, 2014 Review Copy Courtesy of Beyond the Page Review Program