Bread and Cheese, and D.A. Carson on Biblical Theology

Je manger du fromage avec du pain” (“I eat cheese with bread”) was the first French phrase I learned, even before the usual “je m’appelle” (“I am called”), reflecting the central importance of those foods in my life and even, identity.

The brie de meaux is a lovely and melty (in Singapore weather) cheese with a sweet, creamy, slightly truffley, complex taste that totally cuddles up to your tastebuds. The morbier I am less effusive about – it is stronger tasting (good) but the saltiness trumps any nuance in flavour. There is a bitter aftertaste (interesting), and an almost agar-agar texture (not keen).

Accompanying the cheese, baguette au levain (sourdough baguette) from The Bread Table was a decent loaf. Its lack of an assertive depth of flavour (cf, say, Poilâne) commended it as a good base for any cheese.

There was no reason why a finicky child born and bred in Singapore, where lactose-intolerance prevailed on a sizeable chunk of the population, would take to bread and cheese so readily. It was too specific a liking and too early a proclivity to be any sort of pretension.

Photograph Wine and Cheese and Bread by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

On the subject of non-pretentiousness, we were discussing theology and the ordinary Christian, and how all Christians engage in theology, not just pouncy academics. Of course, the term could be used to mean generic academic study (in the U.K.) and systematic theology (in the U.S.), but at its heart, all these merely amount to serious discourse, reflection about God, based on the Bible.

Some points from D.A. Carson’s Introduction to Biblical Theology at The Gospel Coalition’s 2014 National Women’s Conference:

Biblical theology is interested in the temporal development themes across redemptive history. It is normally concerned with the following:

  1. What is the particularly set of theological emphases in particular book or corpus? What is contribution of Gospel of John? What is role of Moses in redemptive history? So as we study Nehemiah, we want to outline the biblical theology of Nehemiah – thinking through themes, argument, priority of Nehemiah.
  2. The examination of certain themes that run through the entire canon, where you’re keeping an eye on temporal development. What does the bible say about the temple – where is the temple first introduced? storyline? Some themes that run through the whole Bible: temple. covenant, priesthood, sacrifice, exile, creation-new creation etc.
  3. A combination of the first two: theology of a particular book, but looks backward to see what biblical themes it is taking up and looks forward to see how later books use this particular book. Carson recommended James M. Hamilton Jr’s With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology as a good example of this.

What are the ways that a good grasp of biblical theology help us to understand the Bible better, lead better Bible studies, and preach better?

    1. biblical theology directly addresses the massive biblical illiteracy prevalent in our age. If you have preaching and teaching that thinks only in terms of systematic theology, you just pull in all sort of biblical texts that seem to apply to your theme. It does not help you understand the Bible. You need to examine the flow, immediate context – what comes before and later. For example, the “fear of the Lord” is a theme in Nehemiah, but how does it work out in Nehemiah, how does it contribute in understanding Nehemiah? Look at the flowline, textline.This is also one of the aims of expository preaching. The truthfulness of what is being taught in systematic preaching is based largely on proof-texts. Rather, with expository preaching we take readers to the text and say “follow with me”. What we want to hear after the sermon is not “boy, i could not have seen it in the text” but “it is so obvious, it’s in the text”.Look at the Bible storyline – how the story of redemption is unpacked. It works with biblical categories: fear of lord, tabernacle, faith, kingship that are there in the Bible. Pointing out biblical categories is desperately important because these usual themes are incoherent to current biblically-illiterate generation. Systematic theology generally uses synthetic categories – categories that are not found in Bible, eg. trinity or cessationist. These might reflect truths but they don’t help readers understand the Bible, because when they turn to their Bibles, they don’t find these words there.
    2. biblical theology draws attention to the turning points in biblical history. If we only use bible as source book for pious thought for the day, it may be of some help, but reading like that won’t tell you how all the bits fit together.

      Turning points: creation – fall – choice of abe – beginning of covenant people of God – story of Abraham and patriarchs – Jacob and sons to Egypt – slavery – exodus – law at Sinai – tabernacle and priestly system – entrance to land – judges – united monarchy – David and davidic dynasty – splitting of kingdom – northern tribes go to captivity – southern tribes go to captivity – return and rebuilding – silence – coming of Jesus (sacrifice, temple, high priest, covenant – all categories in the new testament) – descent of Spirit in Pentecost – new heaven and new earth.

      If you know the Bible storyline well, you know how the different books fit in it. The Bible is not primarily organised on chronological grounds. For example, in the New Testament, the letters to churches come before letters to individuals. And long letters come before short ones.

    3. biblical theology enriches systematic bible reading and vice versa. This prepares the way for mature preaching. A biblically-informed parishoner is the best hearer.

    4. biblical theology encourages various kinds of integration and diversity in preaching. We can see that biblical books are of many sorts: letters, poetry, songs, narrative, discourse, curses, maledictions, oracles, apocalyptic, wisdom. Every genre of literature has its own way of making an appeal. What would be lost from the book of Genesis if i lost this chapter? What is this chapter doing in this book?
    5. biblical theology fosters inductive rigour. If we what bring to bear on the Bible first from systematic theology, then comes out of our pre-existing framework. This blinds you to what can be inductively perceived from Bible. BT therefore makes you a better interpreter of Bible.
    6. biblical theology helps you to avoid anachronism in preaching and teaching. It enables biblically-warranted connections and avoids imposing something from the big picture on the local text – this may be doctrinally right in general but anachronistically wrong in chapter.
    7. biblical theology is also fundamental for detecting one of many penetrating biblical arguments for connecting Old Testament and New Testament, and the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament. See Edmund P. Clowney’s The Unfolding Mystery.
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