Book Review: Edward Klink III and Darian R. Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology

Klink III, Edward W. and Darian R. Lockett. Understanding Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich. Zondervan, 2012. 193 pp. pb; $17.99. Link to Zondervan.

Defining biblical theology has always been a difficult problem. First, everyone who works with the Bible seems to think that their theology is “biblical” in one way or another. Almost everyone who writes a systematic theology necessarily uses the Bible and cannot read texts without doing some sort of exegesis on the text. Separating biblical from systematic theology is therefore no easy task. Second, there is occasionally some animosity between biblical and systematic theology. For many, biblical theology is the “real work” of interpreting the Bible, as opposed to systematic theology, which forces the Bible into categories in the service of dogmatic statements intended to serve denominational interests. Third, because biblical theology is often used to describe the theology of a narrow segment of the New Testament (Pauline Theology vs. Johannine Theology), the overall “plot” of the Bible was ignored.

Understanding Biblical TheologyKlink and Lockett (both Ph.D from St. Andrews, both associate professors of New Testament at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University) provide a structure for thinking about how scholars are doing biblical theology today. This necessarily involves asking questions about the relationship between the Testaments as sources for theology. How does a “New Testament Church” create theology using the Hebrew Bible? What is the relationship between the God’s people in the Old Testament and the present church? Is there a unifying theology that tells the whole story of the Bible?

The format of the book is simple. For each of the five points on their continuum, Klink and Lockett offer a chapter defining the view then a chapter examining a particular scholar as an example of how that method is worked out in practice. These approaches are set up in the book from left to right on a scale and they are roughly chronological rather “liberal to conservative.” While surveying the work of the writer, Klink and Lockett provide a short evaluation. The book concludes with a summary chart explaining how each of the five views would answer the five basic questions posed in the introduction.

Historical Description – James Barr. This view of biblical theology intentionally ignores contemporary meaning either for application or theology. As Klink and Lockett describe it, the interest of biblical theology is in “what it meant” not “what it means.” This approach will potentially result in a “theology of Paul” that is in fact different than a “theology of John.” But that is not a problem since it is not the task of biblical theology to synthesize these two authors into some sort of dogmatic theology. Klink and Lockett state that those scholars who take this approach see no relationship between the Old Testament and the New, they are “separate religions” and there is no legitimate reason to find a link between the two. This is certainly true for Barr, but I am not convinced that is always the case, especially in the light of the influence of the New Perspective on Paul and recent advances in Historical Jesus studies. These areas of study certainly qualify for this category, but they also forge a kind of continuity between the “religion of the Old Testament” and Christian theology by emphasizing the continuity between Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity.

History of Redemption – D. A. Carson.  The second and third categories are very similar. The history of Redemption view recognizes that there is a plotline that runs through the whole of scripture. While the Bible is history, it is a “special history” that tells the story of God’s work to fulfil his promise to redeem the world. In this method, certain themes are traced through the Bible (covenant, kingdom, redemption) with special attention to how those themes are developed over the history of the Bible.

Worldview-Story – N. T. Wright. While similar to the History of Redemption, Wright has placed more stress on the interconnected narrative of scripture. Since the category of “narrative” is used to describe the connection between the Testaments, more interest is paid to literary and philosophical issues and uses both historical and theological methods. It seems to me that the second and third views might have been combined since they are similar. Both are interested in the overarching plot of the Bible and drawing the Old Testament and New together into a unified theology. Klink and Lockett do make several distinctions between the two, especially with respect to the use of history and philosophy to get “behind” the story (in Wright’s method).

Canonical Approach – Brevard Childs. While Canon Criticism is growing in favor among some (younger?) scholars, Brevard Childs began working with the whole canon in the 1970s. Rather than focus on the individual units or pre-history of a text, Childs stressed the “final form” of the Canon. The placement of various traditions and how the last writer used a tradition is itself a theology that must be recognized. This method therefore recognizes that the church has a role in biblical theology since the way that textual traditions have been received can point the way forward to how those traditions ought to be developed in new contexts.

Theological Construction – Francis Watson. In this method, the Bible belongs to the confessing church and not the academy. The question of “what it meant back then” is not as important as “what it means now.” Unlike the first view (which only looks behind the text), this approach looks “in front of the text.”  While there must be exegetical and hermeneutical decisions, the interpretation of the text is concerned only with theology.

Evaluation. Klink and Lockett contribute a readable introduction to a sometimes bewildering topic. Books on method are not usually very interesting, but the use of the five scholars as examples makes the material manageable. As with any rubric of this sort, there are going to be omissions and oversights. I would have liked to see a “for further study” section for each category, perhaps in the form of an annotated bibliography so the student can find other scholars doing biblical theology using a similar method.

Nevertheless, this text serves well as a basic primer for students of the Bible who want to understand what is happening in biblical theology. It is an ideal textbook for a hermeneutics or exegesis class, but also will be a good guide for pastors and laymen who want to develop their skills as readers of the Bible.

NB: Thanks to Zondervan for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.