Category Archives: Center of Biblical Theology

Amen to God’s God-Centeredness, and the Whole Bible Says So, Too

John Piper has a fascinating post today on how Brad Pitt stumbled over God’s concern for his own glory.

Does the Bible teach that God seeks his own glory?

Let me invite you to consider the evidence for the claim that God’s glory is his own ultimate purpose, the main theme of the whole Bible, the linchpin in the Bible’s theodicy, and the theological centerpiece of every single biblical author.

There’s a lot of evidence for the idea that God seeks his own glory. This book has not exhausted it, but if you have trouble with the idea, how about joining me on a guided tour of the whole Bible? At many points I’m not sure I’ve done it justice, but the journey will repay all the effort you can give it.

 

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Daniel J. Brendsel on the Center of Biblical Theology

I’ve just re-read Daniel J. Brendsel’s essay, Plots, Themes, and Responsibilities: The Search for a Center of Biblical Theology Reexamined,” Themelios 35.3 (2010): 400–12, which has me more convinced than ever that the center of biblical theology is the glory of God in salvation through judgment.

I’m going to paste my notes on Brendsel’s essay below, and if you’d like to know why I prefer my proposed center to his, please see God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment (for a shorter version, see either my article on the subject or this summarizing presentation).

Here are my notes on Brendsel (my outline doesn’t correspond entirely to his, and I have reformatted some quotations, summarizing other parts):

Daniel J. Brendsel, “Plots, Themes, and Responsibilities: The Search for a Center of Biblical Theology Reexamined,” Themelios 35.3 (2010): 400–12.

1) Introduction: Assumes that the search for a center is not an obsession but a responsibility and

2)   provides a rationale for the search for a center

3)   refocuses what the object of the search is, and

4)   discusses the process of the search

2) The Rationale for the Search

2.1 if a center exists, it has massive heuristic value for understanding the parts in light of the whole

2.2 the search for a center is driven by a prior conviction about the unity of Scripture

2.3 Paul’s reference to “the whole counsel of God” in Acts 20:27 seems to imply a core deposit that will inform the Ephesians as they continue to study the Scriptures in his absence

“The search for a center is the search to provide heuristic lenses for the people of God in their interaction with scripture (and the world)” (401).

3) The Object of the Search

3.1 Problems with the term “center”

3.1.1 few have defined what they mean by the term (citing me as an exception: “the concept to which the biblical authors point as the ultimate reason” for God’s activities and as “the theme which all of the Bible’s other themes serve to exposit.” [402])
3.1.2 Many centers have been proposed, and they all threaten to steamroll diversity

3.2 Plot, Themes, and Responsibilities

It is helpful to focus on the narrative of form of Scripture, but this should not keep us from searching for a center because

3.2.1 “Narrative is not an option over against ideas—the latter is intrinsic to the former” (403–404), and
3.2.2 “plot-line alone might not sufficiently summarize the message of scripture, nor describe its fundamental heartbeat, because not all scripture is narrative.” (404)

“storyline can be an effective means of communicating the whole counsel of God when the key concepts and commands arising from the storyline itself are also explicitly noted and highlighted. An adequate proposal for a center to biblical theology, or more preferably, to use the language of Acts 20:27, a sufficient summary of the whole counsel of God, will link these elements together—plot, theme(s), responsibilities—in its formulation.” (404).

3.3 Two Important Precedents

“there are two important precedents for this fusion of plot, theme, and responsibility as a way of summarizing scripture to be used as a heuristic tool by God’s people. The first comes from Jesus himself, the second from the early church.” (405)

3.3.1 ““Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day; and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45–47). Note two things: (1) Jesus presents a concise summary of “the scriptures,” offering what could be considered the core of what “is written.” (2) This core consists of a plot (the story of Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection, and a proclamation beginning in Jerusalem and moving outward), a theme (repentance for the forgiveness of sins), and responsibilities (repentance, proclamation).” (405)
3.3.2 “second, ante-Nicene theologians (esp. tertullian and irenaeus) spoke of a “rule of Faith,” which they viewed as being both derived from and serving deeper reflection on scripture.” (405)

“The rule of Faith offers four important parallels with the present proposal.
First, it seeks to offer a narrative digest of scripture.
Second, it combines plot (moving through creation, fall, redemption, and restoration), themes (creation, sin, salvation, etc.), and responsibility (as a creedal statement).
Third, it was used as a kind of framework or guide for further fruitful reflection on scripture, a kind of heuristic lens through which the people of God may discover truth.
Fourth, as Paul Blowers has argued persuasively, ante-Nicene theologians were not interested in using the rule merely as a useful guide for biblical instruction and interpretation or as a way to fend off error, but also in the formation of Christian identity, that is, in shaping believers’ “storied” existence as themselves part of the biblical story. In other words, the rule of Faith was formulated and passed on within the context of pastoral care for the people of God.” (406)

4. The Process of the Search

4.1 Validation Tests for Selecting Key Points

Citing Beale:

“Proposals for a center must be
(1) “more overarching” than other proposals;
(2) related to the other major themes of the NT;
(3) “integrally related to major old testament themes,” resting ultimately upon “a broad storyline” and rooted in Christ; and
(4) individually examined.

These four tests can be condensed into two broad criteria: comprehensiveness and integral relationship to the major themes of scripture, especially the Bible’s plot-line and the death and resurrection of Christ.” (407)

4.2 Objections:

4.2.3 historical and cultural factors result in the identification of “major” themes
Answer:
some themes are consistently identified across cultures and history

4.2.4 “the idea of comprehensiveness might be rejected on two fronts:
(1) there is no basis for relegating some elements of scripture to mere sub-categories under other more comprehensive themes, and
(2) even if there were a basis, it is extremely difficult to know what to subordinate under what.” (408)

Answer to the first: this criticism can be applied to any proposal that recognizes a cluster of broad or major themes, since even if they reject a center they are nevertheless presenting a hierarchy of themes.
Further,
1)   selectivity is inevitable
2)   complaining that some things are at the margin while others are central is more a description than a criticism
3)   those who criticize proposals for the center should do so on other grounds: for instance, that all themes should be treated equally, that another proposal is better, or that some passages contradict the proposal.
4)   Scripture itself prioritizes some parts of the Bible over others—e.g., weightier matters of the law (Matt 23:23), Micah 6:8, greatest commandment, Jesus’ claim that the Scriptures testify to him.

Answer to the Second: Factors to help us in the search:
1. “repetition and representation in diverse portions of scripture, while certainly not sufficient in and of itself, is a significant consideration.
2. Climactic portions of the biblical narrative would be key places to identify clusters of important events and ideas.
3. Integral relationship with other major themes has been shown to be a valid area for examination.
4. And related to this is whether or not parallel suggestions have been made in the history of interpretation, which could be either different expressions of or perspectives on a substantive core, or the seed form of something one is trying to develop.” (409)

Purposes and agendas cannot be denied and should be acknowledged up front (410).

5. Conclusion

“What basic, general hermeneutical lens ought we to provide for the people of God? Perhaps we might suggest the following: The triune God is actively engaged in increasing (and incarnating) his presence among his people, a presence that entails for his people the responsibility of worship, in the fourfold story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.” (412)

The whole essay is here.

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On Engaging Your World with Tom Crouse on February 16

At 2pm On February 16 at 2pm you can tune in at www.engagingyourworld.com for a live interview with Tom Crouse about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.

UPDATE: Rescheduled for Wednesday, February 16, 2011, 2pm, Lord willing.

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Part 2 of the CBD Interview

Part 1 of Matthew Miller’s interview with me is here, and Part 2 is now online.

The interview is mainly about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, but the questions in Part 2 ranged from Inerrancy to the New Perspective with the SBC reformation in between.

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Dempster Reviews God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

Stephen Dempster is Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada and is the author of a book I learned a ton from and love to recommend: Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible (IVP, 2003).

His prose is beautifully constructed and communicates profound insight, so I was delighted to read his review of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.

Here are the encouraging opening paragraphs:

When Don Quixote embarked on his quest for the impossible, it was a humorous and tragic adventure. He tilted at windmills which he thought were giants. He looked at peasant girls and saw noble ladies. And he thought an old dilapidated tavern was a castle. Obviously, Quixote was carrying “a few bricks short of a load.”

Some might think that James Hamilton Jr. follows in the footsteps of the knight-errant from La Mancha. In his book God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Hamilton sets out in pursuit of the holy grail of biblical theology—the elusive centre, the main point of the Bible. This theologian-errant is not deterred by the countless attempts before him, nor by the admonitions of contemporary scholars to give up such a quixotic quest.

As a biblical theologian, Hamilton comes with good background knowledge, which is evident throughout his 600 plus page volume. It is also abundantly evident that he is not a few bricks short of a load. Over the last few years he has been distinguishing himself with publications in the area of biblical theological themes.[1] This book is in fact a sort of culmination of his studies to date.

You can read the rest here. I appreciate Dempster’s insights and the things he identifies as strengths as well as what he says could be sharpened, and I want to thank him for reading my work and working hard to write a stellar review.

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Christmas and the Center of Biblical Theology

From the interview on the CBD Academic blog:

Matthew: Given the current season of the year, could you briefly outline how the Christmas story contributes to your understanding of God’s Glory?

Hamilton: When God set in motion his plan to save his people and defeat his foes, he sent his son to be born. Overturning all worldly expectations, the high King of heaven was born in a barn, the helpless babe of a peasant girl. “Out of the mouths of babes, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger” (Ps 8:2).

One of the consistent themes that exposits the center of the Bible’s theology is the way that God demonstrates power in weakness. He lifts the needy from the ash heap and humbles the proud (cf. 1 Sam 2:1–10). Paul explains in 1 Cor 1:29 that God does this so that no one can boast before him.

Through the judgment that falls on the proud and strong, God delivers those who are humble and repentant–those who seek his mercy.

God’s mercy, in the wondrous humility of a newborn child, is stronger than all the proud wickedness of worldly strength.

God’s unconquerable Champion was so unimpressive that there was no room for him in the inn at his birth, and he had no place to lay his head as an adult. He was the companion of tax collectors and sinners, the teacher of fishermen and a leader of losers.

The baby born in the manger is God’s agent of salvation through judgment. God shows his glory as the humble prince of fools slays the dragon, crushing the serpent’s head, dooming his enemies to judgment, decisively liberating those who take his yoke and embrace the reproach of the cross.

And the paradoxes multiply: the conquest of the King of kings was as unimpressive as his arrival. This child, born to the meek and lowly girl in questionable circumstances, conquered not by slaying but by being slain, he showed his greatness not by being served but by serving. God’s glory is seen in salvation through judgment at Christ’s birth and at the cross, and in both places the humble righteousness of justice intensifies the surprising wonder of mercy.

God’s righteousness is gentle, like the newborn Christ-child, but those who reject the stone laid in Zion will be shattered by the gentle justice of the humble King. Similarly, God’s tender mercy is austere and unyielding as the complement of God’s justice; this is a mercy only shown on God’s terms. He gives his mercy to whom he pleases, and he is pleased to give it to those who confess and forsake their sin (Prov 28:13). Behold, indeed, the kindness and the severity of God (Rom 11:22).

The newborn child seemed weak and vulnerable, but the dragon and the world could not overcome him (cf. John 1:5).

May the God who shows power in weakness lift your heart to sing the praise of the Servant King, the humble prince in the night who will come on a white horse wearing a crown (cue the music of Rejoice).

 

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Biblical Theology Interview on the CBD Academic Blog

Matthew Miller writes an academic blog for Christianbook.com, and he has put up a very encouraging post about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, which is followed by an interview on the book.

How many Christmas cards do you get with the word ‘judgment’?

Interview

He raised great questions that I enjoyed answering.

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What Is God’s Ultimate Purpose?

My brief answer can be found in a guest post on the Crossway blog.

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Presentation on God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

Sunday night, November 7, 2010, I had the privilege of presenting the argument of my book, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, at Bethel Church in Houston, Texas.

Bethel Church has kindly made the audio from the presentation available. On this page you can check out the “prezi” that I made to accompany my remarks. If you haven’t checked out this prezi software, it’s a nice alternative to powerpoint.

This talk is summarizing my conclusions. Obviously I wasn’t able to develop all the biblical evidence for these conclusions. The book moves inductively through the whole Bible book by book to show how this theme naturally rises up from what the texts say. The book is mainly dealing with the Bible, so I think that even if you disagree with the thesis you might still appreciate the attempt to do whole Bible interpretation that pays close attention to the parts.

A note on buying the book (which, ahem, I’d love for you to do if you haven’t yet!): If you buy from Crossway or Westminster Bookstore it ships immediately, but for some reason Amazon has had a bit of a delay. I see that Crossway has a nifty link to a Google Preview:

Audio of the summary lecture, with Q&A.

Presentation accompanying the lecture.

Here’s a rough outline of the presentation I did at Bethel Church (basically the text from the prezi in outline form):

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology

Overview of Seven Reasons to Conclude that God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment is the Center of Biblical Theology

1.     God’s Revelation of His Glory to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7

2.     God’s Goal in Redemptive History: To Cover the Dry Lands with His Glory as the Waters Cover the Sea

3.     God’s Pattern of Saving through Judgment in the Bible’s Big Story

4.     God’s Pattern of Saving through Judgment in Each Major Redemptive Event in the Bible

5.     God’s Way of Saving Sinners

6.     God’s Ground of Ethical Appeal

7.     God’s Praise from the Redeemed

Brief exposition of these seven reasons to conclude that God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment is the Center of Biblical Theology:

1. God’s Revelation of His Glory to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7

In Exodus 34:6­–7 Yahweh proclaims his own Name, showing Moses his glory, causing his goodness to pass before him, forgiving sin but not clearing the guilty, revealing his justice to highlight his mercy.

2. God’s Goal in Redemptive History: To Cover the Dry Lands with His Glory as the Waters Cover the Sea

Numbers 14:21, “all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD”

Isaiah 6:3, “the whole earth is full of his glory”

Habakkuk 2:14, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea”

Psalm 72:19, “may the whole earth be filled with his glory”

Romans 11:36, “to him be glory forever”

3. God’s Pattern of Saving through Judgment in the Bible’s Big Story

creation – sin – exile – restoration

4. God’s Pattern of Saving through Judgment in Each Major Redemptive Event in the Bible

The Fall

The Flood

The Exile

The Death and Resurrection of Jesus

The Return of Christ

5. God’s Way of Saving Sinners

revelation of holiness – conviction of sin – mercy in Christ – God exalting trust

6. God’s Ground of Ethical Appeal

the fear of the LORD’s Judgment – curbs behavior – keeping God’s people – on the God-honoring path of life

7. God’s Praise from the Redeemed

God’s people praise his justice

God’s people celebrate his mercy

Salvation belongs to the LORD

We’ll praise him forever.

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Completion!

A FedEx Truck just left this copy of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology on our front doorstep.

Praise the Lord! May his favor be upon us, and may he confirm the work of our hands (Ps 90:17).

Some time back I thought through the timeline on this project. It’s a joy to reflect on God’s faithfulness to me and my family through these years:

Spring 2002, Prof. Mark Seifrid’s Seminar on New Testament Theology introduced me to the discussion of the question of the center of biblical theology, and in reading these discussions I was struck that no one had proposed that God’s glory was central to biblical theology.

October 2002, Finished my first trip through Isaiah in Hebrew, very impressed with the theme of God’s glory in salvation through judgment.

Summer 2004, Presented a paper at the Triennial Conference of the Tyndale Fellowship, responded to by I. Howard Marshall, attended by, among others, G. K. Beale and T. Desmond Alexander.

Spring 2005 (April), Met Bruce Winter at the Wheaton Theology Conference, and he told me that the paper would be published in Tyndale Bulletin.

November 2005, Presented a paper at ETS on “The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts.”

Spring 2006, “The Centre of Biblical Theology: The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment?” appears in Tyndale Bulletin.

June 24, 2006, Justin Taylor emailed me asking if I had ever considered proposing a book on the center of biblical theology.

September 20, 2006, Justin emails again, and I send him initial proposals.

January 2007, Proposal shaping up, positive emails with JT, Schreiner, and Beale.

January 17, 2007, Discussion of August 2007 or January 2008 as completion dates!

February 7, 2007, Passes first hurdle at Crossway.

February 21, 2007, Offer to publish (contract!) comes from Crossway.

Fall 2008, “The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts” published in Themelios.

January 1, 2010, Completed manuscript submitted to Crossway.

Spring/Summer 2010, Read through the book three different times in various editorial stages.

November 4, 2010, The book arrives at Crossway, and they overnight me a copy.

November 5, 2010, Today the book arrives on my doorstep while we were eating lunch as a family. Our 6 year old son went to the door and came back with a package. Rejoicing and celebration ensues.

Glory to God in the highest.

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Interview on God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

Andy Cheung, Academic Dean of King’s Evangelical Divinity School, interviews me about God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology here.

You can preorder the book on Amazon. Watch for it, Lord willing, in early November.

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Baptism Now Saves You?

Have you ever wondered why Peter says (1 Pet 3:20-21) that the waters of the flood through which Noah and a few others were saved correspond to baptism?

In the sermon it was my privilege to preach yesterday, I tried to pursue a biblical-theological explanation of how the flood was an expression of God’s wrath that was used by Israel’s prophets to symbolize the wrath of God that would fall at the exile. When Jesus died on the cross, the full expression of wrath anticipated by the flood and the exile was poured out on him. To capture this reality, Jesus spoke of his death as the moment when he would “drink the cup” of God’s wrath and be “baptized” (e.g., Mark 10:38-39). Jesus was baptized into the floodwaters of God’s judgment, and when believers are baptized into the body of Christ, they are united to Christ, and his baptism into the floodwaters of judgment counts for us. We are saved through the death dealing waters of judgment and raised to walk in newness of life.

As I say, I did my best to exposit these themes in a sermon preached at Baptist Church of the Redeemer on June 6, 2010. You can download it here. Thanks to my dear friend and former fellow elder, Travis Cardwell, for letting me seek to serve the beloved saints of Redeemer.

I didn’t say this in the sermon, but if my exposition is correct, we see Moses doing biblical-theological interpretation of the creation and flood narratives and then connecting those events to his own experience as a baby in the Nile and Israel’s crossing of the Red Sea at the exodus. The prophets then follow the biblical-theological interpretation modeled by Moses, and Jesus interprets what will happen to him in line with these biblical-theological moves made by Moses and the Prophets in the OT. That is, Jesus interpreted the OT and his own life the same way that Moses and the prophets interpreted the OT and their own lives. Then the Apostles, Peter in this case, interpret the OT, the Gospels, and their own experience the same way that Moses and the Prophets did, and Peter learned this way of reading the Bible, as well was this way of reading life through the lens of the Bible, from Jesus.

I didn’t say this in the sermon either, but I think that the flood, the exile, the cross of Christ, and the baptism of new believers all show that the glory of God in salvation through judgment is indeed the center of biblical theology, which is the thesis of my forthcoming book. One of the reasons I wanted to preach this sermon was that I hadn’t dealt so much with these connections between the flood and baptism in the book.

As days go by someone may want to find this sermon among the others in the sermon player on that page. If you need to search the sermon player, you can probably search my name (Jim Hamilton), the date (June 6, 2010), or perhaps the title of the sermon (“The Floodwaters of Judgment”).

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God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment Available for Pre-Order at Amazon

It looks like persecution for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus may be on its way to us, so why don’t we use the calm before the storm to study up to stand firm in the hour of testing?

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology is available for pre-order on Amazon.

I’m pretty sure they’ll let you buy as many copies as you please.

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Tyndale Bulletin Essay on the Center of Biblical Theology Now Online

I have just been notified that my essay on the center of biblical theology published in Tyndale Bulletin in 2006 is now online:

The Glory of God in Salvation through Judgment: The Centre of Biblical Theology? (that’s not a typo, and that’s not me deploying British spelling; the editors changed my American spellings to the British ones). I’m glad this is now online!

See also: “The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts: Deliverance and Damnation Display the Divine,” Themelios 33.3 (2008), 34-47.

And my manuscript on a book project on the center of Biblical Theology arguing for this center is due to Crossway January 1, 2010. I would appreciate your prayers that the Lord would enable me to help his people, particularly the shepherds and teachers of his people, understand the Bible in a deeper way (borrowing the motto of the ESV Study Bible).

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The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts

Andy Naselli announces the release of Themelios 33.3:

The latest issue of Themelios was released today, and it is outstanding! (It is available as a 129-page PDF or inHTML.)

  1. Editorial | D. A. Carson
  2. Minority Report: The Way of the Christian Academic | Carl Trueman
  3. The Gospel and the Poor | Tim Keller
  4. Shared Intentions? Reflections on Inspiration and Interpretation in Light of Scripture’s Dual Authorship | Jared M. Compton
  5. The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts: Deliverance and Damnation Display the Divine | James M. Hamilton Jr.
  6. Salvation History, Chronology, and Crisis: A Problem with Inclusivist Theology of Religions, Part 2 of 2 | Adam Sparks
  7. Ezra, According to the Gospel: Ezra 7:10 | Philip Graham Ryken
  8. Book Reviews | 32 reviews
    1. Old Testament | 4 reviews
    2. New Testament | 6 reviews
    3. history and historical theology | 4 reviews
    4. systematic theology and bioethics | 16 reviews
    5. ethics and pastoralia | 1 review
    6. missions and culture | 2 reviews

A revision of my 2005 ETS presentation, “The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts: Deliverance and Damnation Display the Divine” appears in this issue. The essay can be accessed in either HTML or PDF format. 

I am at work on a larger project on the Center of Biblical Theology, and I welcome any feedback that might present objections I should answer, things I should make more clear, or any suggestions as to how I could improve the argument I’m trying to make.

Or if you just want to register your opinion that there’s no center to biblical theology or that I’m wrong about what it is, you can of course do that in the comments, too.

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