Book Review – What is Biblical Theology by James Hamilton

We all live inside of a story. No this isn’t a Stranger than Fiction or Truman Show kind of statement; I mean that all of us (whether consciously or unconsciously) have a bigger picture story (a narrative) that shapes our lives. Some people live according to a story written by a guy named Charles Darwin – other live according to a story written by advertising firms – others live stories written by their local community’s traditions. All of these stories have a hint of truth to them yet none of them are the real story. There is only one real story – it’s the story told in the Scriptures. James Hamilton Jr.’s book What is Biblical Theology? A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns helps us understand that story.

Overview

Hamilton’s book is broken up into three parts:

  1. The Bible’s big story
  2. How the biblical authors use symbols to summarize and interpret the story
  3. What the Church’s role is in that story

The three parts of this book can be put into three words: “story, symbol, and church.” (22) Each section is quite short (the whole book is only a little over 100 pages) yet its packed with great information. HamiltonWhat is Biblical Theology frames the Bible’s big story around the concepts of salvation, judgment, and God’s glory. He shows how the biblical authors use people like David and Moses as well as symbols like floods, lambs, trees, temples, and exile to get the story moving forward and to help the reader make sense of prior parts in the story. Yet these elements ultimately point forward to the climax of the story – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The church today fits into that big story and lives in light of the climax of the story. Knowing the story well and being able to articulate it helps us to see where we are at and it gives our lives and tasks a meaning that is much bigger than ourselves.

What I Liked

  1. A nuanced understanding of biblical theology – He says that BT 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…” (16) I really like this definition, primarily because it maintains the unity of scripture while leaving room for diversity between authors.
  2. A thoughtful explanation of what is going on in Typology – I like the fact that he points out the fact that the biblical authors are consciously using types. This (in my opinion) can be used to parlay detractors of typology who claim that typology is irresponsible and a form of eisgesis. He says that “later biblical authors notice patters and similarities between earlier characters, with the result that the later authors highlighted similar patterns and characteristics in their own material.”
  3. It is a practical and encouraging book – It gets really practical in the last section of the book. I wholeheartedly believe that one of the most important tasks of preachers and pastors is to help their flock see that they are a part of a bigger story. Knowing that one is part of the bigger story gives our lives purpose, it teaches us to be selfless, it encourages us to revolve our lives around what God is doing rather than revolving our lives around our own needs and desires. The entire last section is devoted to this very task – placing the church in the grand narrative of scripture.

Recommendation

While I was finishing up the book one of our pastors walked into my office. He asked me what I was thinking about the book. He asked if I was drawing anything from it or whether it was simply a book to pass on to others as a resource. It took me a second to decide whether it was personally enlightening or if its just a book to pass a long to somebody who needs to learn the basics of Biblical Theology. I ended up deciding that there was a lot in here that was personally beneficial. I loved the section on Types – I heavily rely on typology when preaching the Old Testament. Also I will probably use his definitions of typology and biblical theology when teaching at EBC. Yet I see this book as primarily being a resource for people new to Biblical Theology. I would definitely hand this book to upcoming preachers and pastoral interns. Biblical Theology (primarily through N.T. Wright) has shaped so much of my life and ministry, that I wouldn’t want anybody to miss out on the wonders of Biblical Theology.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of Crossway in exchange for an impartial review.)

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