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Current Issues in NT Studies: Biblical Theology

I was grateful to be invited to speak at the spring PhD colloquium at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The topic for the colloquium was “Current Issues in New Testament Studies.” At the program director’s request, and in consultation with him, I’ve identified four important current issues in the field of NT studies. In this series of blogs, I will survey each of these in order to keep students and faculty outside of the NT area (and those in biblical studies as well) abreast of new developments. I’ll also offer succinct summaries of each of the following issues: (1) Biblical Theology (BT), (2) gender issues and biblical manhood and womanhood, (3) Pauline studies, and (4) NT Greek.

Biblical Theology

I recently gave a two-part lecture on BT at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) on March 13-14, 2018 entitled “The Promise and Practice of BT,” a sort of sequel to my earlier piece “The Present and Future of BT.” In this lecture, capably summarized by Pat Hudson in a Baptist Press piece, I defined BT as the theology of the biblical writers themselves, distinguished it from ST, and engaged in two case studies, the Letters to Timothy and Titus and the Holy Spirit. I also talked about method and presuppositions in BT, arguing that BT, properly approached, should be characterized in three ways.

(1) It should be descriptive, over against approaches that blend an interpreter’s own theology with that of the original authors.

(2) It should be historical and consider a given biblical teaching in its original setting.

(3) It should be inductive, that is, sensitive to the terminology and conceptual categories of the biblical writers rather than deductive, using abstract categories and classification systems not indigenous to the text.

I also set forth four ways in which BT has been conducted in the recent literature: book by book, central themes, single center, and metanarrative (in addition, some of you may be familiar with the alternate taxonomy provided by Klink and Lockett). I develop these four approaches in “The Present and Future of BT.”

(1) Book by book approaches, which study the theology of a given book or corpus of Scripture (e.g., Mark or John’s letters; e.g., the volumes on Mark, Luke-Acts, and John’s Gospel and Letters in the Biblical Theology of the NT series).

(2) Central theme approaches, which trace important motifs such as creation, covenant, or Messiah through a Testament or the entire Bible (e.g., Central Themes in Biblical Theology, edited by Scott Hafemann and Paul House; or Graeme Goldsworthy, According to Plan).

(3) Single center approaches, which posit one theme that is preeminent above all others (e.g., James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment).

(4) Metanarrative approaches, which focus on the storyline of Scripture (e.g., G. K. Beale, A NT Biblical Theology; or T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem; note that together with Brian Rosner, D. A. Carson, and Graeme Goldsworthy, Alexander is also the editor of the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology).

When lecturing at MBTS recently, I also sat down with Owen Strachan for a Student Forum where we explored the contribution of BT for preaching and other topics in a Q&A format. In my own work on BT, I have also produced studies on biblical manhood and womanhood (God’s Design for Man and Woman, co-written with my wife), Johannine theology, and mission (more on this below).

Major Series in Biblical Theology

There are several series underway that attest to the vibrancy of BT in the evangelical world today. I will briefly discuss five of these series below.

(1) The Biblical Theology of the NT series (BTNT), which I edit, covers the NT in 8 volumes. Already published are the volumes on Johannine theology (by myself, the inaugural volume), the theology of Luke-Acts (by Darrell Bock), Markan theology (by David Garland), and the theology of James, Peter, and Jude (by Peter Davids). Still in the works are the volumes on Pauline theology (by Douglas Moo), the theology of Hebrews (by George Guthrie), Matthean theology (by Mike Wilkins), and the theology of Revelation (by Scott Duvall). These are in-depth studies that are all written by scholars who have already written major commentaries on the respective books they cover, and thus far have all received excellent reviews.

(2) The Biblical Theology for Christian Proclamation series (BTCP), edited by T. Desmond Alexander, Thomas Schreiner, and myself, will cover both Testaments in a projected total of 40 volumes. The purpose of this series is to provide preachers of God’s Word with a thorough thematic discussion of the major themes in a given book or corpus. Typically, preachers who preach through books in an expository fashion only really catch the themes in an organic way as they work through a book, and then, only once they’ve gotten through a good portion of the book. The value of the BTCP is that a preacher heading into a book can immerse himself in its themes, and from the outset highlight those themes as they arise in the preached text. The inaugural volume, by Tom Schreiner, is on Hebrews; the second volume, by myself, is on the Letters to Timothy and Titus; and the third volume, by David Peterson, is on Romans.

To take my commentary on 1-2 Timothy and Titus, for example, the commentary unfolds in 3 parts. The first takes up standard introductory matters such as authorship, date, audience, and so forth, including an in-depth discussion and defense of Pauline authorship over against those who argue for pseudonymity. The second part consists of a concise standard verse-by-verse or unit-by-unit commentary. The main focus of the volume is part 3, which discusses in about 150 pages 6 major themes in the Letters to Timothy and Titus: (1) the mission theme; (2) the theme of teaching and related motifs; (3) salvation in conjunction with the coverage of God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit; (4) the church, metaphorically depicted as God’s household; (5) the Christian life, with a particular focus on the pursuit of Christian virtues; and (6) the last days, including a discussion of references to Satan, angels and demons, the false teachers, and the second coming of Christ. Finally, I discuss the place of the Letters to Timothy and Titus within the canon of Scripture and explore the relationship between these letters and the OT and the other Pauline letters.

(3) The New Studies in Biblical Theology series (NSBT), edited by D. A. Carson, is an ongoing series of contributions on a variety of topics. There are currently 42 volumes in print, with more in production. The inaugural volume was by David Peterson on the topic of sanctification (Possessed by God). I contributed 2 volumes to this series, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (I am currently working on a 2nd edition of this volume) and Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel (co-authored with the Systematic theologian Scott Swain). Notable contributions are Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty, David Pao’s Thanksgiving, Craig Blomberg’s Neither Poverty nor Riches, Murray Harris’s Slave of Christ, Greg Beale’s massive The Temple and the Church’s Mission, Timothy Laniak’s Shepherds after My Own Heart, and Mark Seifrid’s Christ Our Righteousness.

(4) The Short Studies in BT series, edited by Miles Van Pelt and Dane Ortlund, features various short studies (as the title suggests) in around 120-150 pages each. The current lineup includes The City of God and the Goal of Creation by T. Desmond Alexander, The Son of God and the New Creation by Graeme Goldsworthy, From Chaos to Cosmos by Sidney Greidanus, Work and Our Labor in the Lord by James Hamilton, Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel by Ray Ortlund, The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross by Patrick Schreiner, and Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World by Thomas Schreiner. I’ve been privileged to write the endorsement for T. D. Alexander’s volume on The City of God and the Goal of Creation and am particularly fond of that volume. It is an excellent case study of how BT ought to be done.

(5) The Theology for the People of God series, edited by David Dockery, Nathan Finn, and Christopher Morgan, is a forthcoming 15-volume series published by B&H Academic. The inaugural volume will be the volume on the Holy Spirit by Gregg Allison and Andreas Köstenberger. Each of these volumes will represent the collaboration of a biblical scholar and a systematic theologian. Together, the 15 volumes will cover all the major doctrines of Scripture. The contributors are all Baptists, but the series aims to transcend denominational boundaries and promises to be broadly evangelical in scope. The 15 volumes are projected as follows:

  1. The Theological Task – Christopher Morgan (California Baptist University) and Steven Wellum (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  2. The Trinitarian God – Steven Wellum (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Ardel Caneday (University of Northwestern)
  3. Special Revelation and Scripture – R. Albert Mohler (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and David Dockery (Trinity International University)
  4. Humanity and Sin – John Mahony (Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary) and Christopher Morgan (California Baptist University)
  5. The Person of Christ – Keith Whitfield (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Luke Stamps (California Baptist University)
  6. The Work of Christ – John Hammett (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Charles Quarles (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  7. Salvation – Thomas Schreiner (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Bruce Ware (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  8. The Holy Spirit – Gregg Allison (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) and Andreas Köstenberger (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  9. The Christian Life – Nathan Finn (Union University) and George Guthrie (Regent College)
  10. The Church – Christopher Morgan (California Baptist University) and Anthony Chute (California Baptist University)
  11. Last Things – Matthew Emerson (Oklahoma Baptist University) and Walter Strickland (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  12. Theology and the Global Church – Choon Sam Fong (Baptist Theological Seminary of Singapore) and John Massey (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary)
  13. Theology and Culture – Joshua Chatraw (Liberty University) and Taylor Worley (Trinity International University)
  14. Theology and Pastoral Ministry – Anthony Chute (California Baptist University) and Ray Van Neste (Union University)
  15. A Theological Handbook for the People of God – David Dockery (Trinity International University), Daniel Akin (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), and Nathan Finn (North Greenville University)

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