Book Review: Understanding Biblical Theology, by Edward Klink and Darian Lockett

Review
06.04.2013

Klink III, Edward W. and Darian R. Lockett. Understanding Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012. 193 pp. $17.99.

What is biblical theology? The question is unfortunately not as easy to answer as many would like. For some, biblical theology may activate memories of seminary assignments demanding careful historical reconstructions and taxing lexical studies. For others biblical theology evokes anything from the works of Geerhardus Vos to the preaching of Tim Keller to academic debates over theological interpretation of Scripture.

In light of this confusion, Edward “Mickey” Klink and Darian Lockett are on target when they suggest in their new book Understanding Biblical Theology that “biblical theology has become a catchphrase, a wax nose that can mean anything from the historical-critical method applied to the Bible to a theological interpretation of Scripture that in practice appears to leave history out of the equation altogether” (13). Or as D. A. Carson wryly quips, “Everyone does that which is right in his or her own eyes, and calls it biblical theology” (78).

THE SPECTRUM OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY

Thankfully students and pastors now have a reliable guide to the various types of biblical theology on offer in today’s theological market. Klink and Lockett’s Understanding Biblical Theology defines and analyzes five major types of biblical theology along a spectrum from those more concerned with matters of history to those more focused on matters of theology.

The authors separate their work into five parts. Each part consists of one chapter defining the biblical-theological method and then another chapter analyzing the works of one of its foremost proponents. Chapters which define biblical-theological methods generally follow the same outline and address the “perennial issues” associated with biblical theology: the relationship between the Old and New Testament, the historical diversity and the theological unity of the Bible, the scope of biblical theology and whether the sources should be restricted to the Christian canon, and whether biblical theology is a task for the church or for the academy (20-21).

Part 1 explores biblical theology as “historical description” (BT1) and the work of James Barr. BT1 is strongly associated with the disciplines of the historical-critical method. Barr and his associates asserted that biblical theology was a purely descriptive task, and that the aim of biblical theology is to describe the historical events and religion which are “behind the text.”

Part 2 investigates biblical theology as “history of redemption” (BT2). This type of biblical theology is most commonly associated with conservative evangelicals and is championed by D. A. Carson. BT2 focuses on God’s unfolding revelation in history. Carson explains it as “a discipline necessarily dependent on reading the Bible as an historically developing collection of documents” (59). Proponents of BT2 believe that the Bible is one unified narrative and strive for a “whole-Bible” biblical theology “through an inductive analysis of key themes developing through both discrete corpora and the whole of Scripture” (61).

Part 3 explains biblical theology as “worldview-story” (BT3), a term coined by N. T. Wright, who also serves as Klink and Lockett’s model proponent. The “worldview-story” model focuses on reading the storyline of Scripture “through” the text, rather than reconstructing the history “behind” the text (96). The authors explain: “Instead of progressing from the smallest bits and pieces of the narrative to the larger whole, BT3 starts with the larger narrative portions of text through which individual units are read” (95).

Part 4 explores biblical theology as “canonical approach” (BT4) as well as the writings of Brevard Childs. In this brand of biblical theology, historical-critical tools are used not to reconstruct the events that took place behind the text (as in BT1) but to discern the “editorial reinterpretations” within the canon (189). This also gives BT4 a unique concern for the “final form” of the text which, as the church’s scripture, should be read as ultimately witnessing to Christ himself.

Part 5 analyzes biblical theology as “theological construction” (BT5) and the work of Francis Watson. BT5 “posits a modest critique of the abuses of historical criticism and proposes a specifically theological approach to biblical theology” (157). It also proposes that interpretation should be governed by theological concerns for the church rather than by the categories of history, redemptive history, story, or canon. In BT5 the ultimate aim of biblical theology is to read the Bible with an overtly theological perspective for the service and transformation of the church.

Each of these biblical-theological methods have some overlap with the others and it is difficult to draw sharp lines of distinction between each method (particularly between BT2, BT3, and BT4). However, Klink and Lockett are on target when they highlight that each method and its advocates have a particular hermeneutical emphasis.

  • BT1 emphasizes history and the reconstruction of what happened “behind” the text.
  • BT2 is a bit of a catch-all category. It is concerned with history, but history rightly interpreted through Scripture, which progressively reveals God’s unfolding work of redemption.
  • BT3 moves away from historical concerns and emphasizes the Bible as a worldview-shaping narrative. History is important but only insofar as it provides the “theatrical backdrop for the biblical narrative” (187). In this sense BT3 emphasizes the “story” aspect of the Bible.
  • The key-word for BT4 is canon. We can construct a biblical theology by paying careful attention to how the canon itself develops the biblical storyline, whether by editorial redaction or use of earlier portions of the canon in latter parts.
  • BT5 emphasizes theology. BT5 promotes reading Scripture through the grid of the theological convictions of the church. Graphically (if a bit simplistically) the positions relate like this:

A PLACE TO START

Klink and Lockett have certainly done their homework. The issues are highly nuanced and the authors’ prose can be a little confusing—readers will have to work hard to keep their bearings. Yet Klink and Lockett’s work is balanced, well-researched, and level-headed. Readers unfamiliar with—or perhaps even a little frightened of—the overwhelming amount of biblical theology literature and its technical academic language will find Understanding Biblical Theology a launching pad for further study. Klink and Lockett also provide helpful explanations of commonly used technical words or phrases. For example, the authors include a brief yet enlightening explanation of N. T. Wright’s use of “narrative” and “story” and how such technical terms relate to Wright’s notion of “worldview-story” (101-102, 110-117).

The authors also shed light on debates within the various brands of biblical theology. They provide a carefully nuanced discussion of the methodological disagreements between Richard Hays and N. T. Wright (104-106). They also insightfully describe variations within the “history of redemption” model, which they divide into three schools of thought that are characterized by the theological distinctives of Dallas Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Westminster Theological Seminary.

Further, for those engaged in teaching biblical theology, I find Klink and Lockett’s “history-to-theology” spectrum and their identification of five primary types of biblical theology quite helpful.

NEEDED, TIMELY, AND HELPFUL

Klink and Lockett’s survey of biblical-theological methods is a timely resource. As already mentioned, biblical theology is a label that has become “all things to all people” and one man’s biblical theology is another man’s heresy. For pastors who have neither the time nor the resources to wade through the ocean of literature on biblical-theological method, Klink and Lockett have provided a succinct, informed guide on the subject.