Archives For biblical theology

Biblical Theology

Greg Strand – November 13, 2013 Leave a comment

Credo Magazine, a relatively new on-line magazine, is an excellent resource. The most recent issue has been published with the theme “What’s the Big Idea Story?: Why Biblical Theology Should Matter to Every Bible-Believing Christian.”

It is introduced in the following way:

When the sixteenth-century Reformation erupted, one of the alarming dangers that became blatantly obvious to reformers like Martin Luther was the pervasiveness of biblical illiteracy among the laity. It may be tempting to think that this problem has been solved almost five hundred years later. However, in our own day biblical illiteracy in the pew continues to present a challenge. Many Christians in our post-Christian context simply are not acquainted with the storyline of the Bible and God’s actions in redemptive history from Adam to the second Adam.

With this concern in mind, the current issue of Credo Magazine strives to take a step forward, in the right direction, by emphasizing the importance of “biblical theology.” Therefore, we have brought together some of the best and brightest minds to explain what biblical theology is, why it is so important, and how each and every Christian can become a biblical theologian. Our hope in doing so is that every Christian will return to the text of Scripture with an unquenchable appetite to not only read the Bible, but comprehend God’s unfolding plan of salvation.

Since you are committed to the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, you also ought to be interested in biblical theology. This will be an excellent resource to aid in your understanding of “what biblical theology is, why it is so important, and how each and every Christian can become a biblical theologian.”


Sic et Non, Yes and No

Greg Strand – June 24, 2013 Leave a comment

When we encounter theological differences from our own, how do we respond. Often there is an “all or nothing” approach. That is, we must avoid either accepting everything naively and uncritically or rejecting everything (or accepting nothing) critically and condemningly outside my own personal convictions.

J. A. O. Preus wrote an excellent article a number of years ago addressing this issue: “On Being a Seeker of the Truth: Sic et Non,” Modern Reformation 11/3 (May/June 2002), 52. Sic et Non was the Latin expression used by theologians meaning yes and no. It referred to a commitment to affirm that which was true, that which was good, and to say no to that which was untrue, that which was false, that which was bad.

This is the question Preus poses.

But what should we say when confronted by theological opinions different from our own?

In our assessment of contemporary theological or religious thinking, we too often demonstrate an undiscriminating approach. Either we reject every new way of thinking or speaking out of hand, or we embrace all new ideas with open, uncritical arms. Either way is wrong; we need a better way.

We must avoid the “all or nothing” approach. There is a better way: sic et non, yes and no.

Despite the “all or nothing” approach that seems to hold sway, I think we need to learn to say “yes” and “no” (sic et non, as the old Latin theologians used to say it) to the truth claims of others: “Yes” to what is good and right and true; “no” to what is bad and false and untrue.

Notice, I didn’t say “yes or no.” We need to say both as we assess the truth of what others are saying. We should learn to affirm what others are saying that is biblical and conforms to the truth of the gospel. But we also must reject what is unscriptural and contradicts the gospel. This is the only proper approach.

Sic, yes.

This means, first of all, that in our approach to contemporary claims we need to learn to say “yes.” We need to avoid an attitude of hyper-criticism, which assumes that if any idea is new (or, if we’ve never heard it said that way before) it is, ipso facto, false. No particular church body or theological tradition has all the truth. True, biblical ideas are also found, more often than we might think, outside our own circles.

Non, no.

Just as clearly as we must affirm the truths others hold, we must also reject their errors. Too many of us are extremely naive in our acceptance of the truth claims of others. Too often we allow ourselves to be misled by others’ false notions because we are convinced that their motives are pure, unaware of the damaging (and damning!) spiritual effects of every false doctrine or teaching.

This is not a milquetoast approach that results in no one holding a position strongly, but instead the only position that is acceptable is only an amalgamation of various perspectives of a theological position such that all feel theologically compromised. Instead we learn to say “’Yes’ to what is good and right. ‘No’ to what is bad and wrong.”

What I am suggesting is not that we should adopt a middle road, as if we prefer sitting on the fence and are unable to take a position on an issue. Truth is not found simply by merging two opposing positions and seeking the lowest common denominator. The truth is the truth wherever it is on the spectrum, and we only compromise it if we treat it as if it were merely a conflation of all viewpoints.

How do we do a better job of engaging the increasingly diverse religious opinions we are hearing today? By teaching our minds and our lips to say “yes and no.” “Yes” to what is good and right. “No” to what is bad and wrong. I am not pointing out an easy way or a shortcut. This will require that we use our critical facilities and actually listen to people as they speak. It will also require us to search the scriptures more carefully and fully to be in a better position to make a valid assessment of others’ truth claims. No, this is not a shortcut. It is the more difficult way-and the more excellent way. But, the truth demands it, if we truly wish to be seekers of the truth.

Instead of revealing one who is wishy-washy on theology, this response reveals the depth to which one understands a theological issue/position and the humility of the theologian who acknowledges that the full-orbed reality of the truth of a doctrine is often bigger/larger than my understanding of it.

Sanctification and Transformation

Greg Strand – February 22, 2013 2 Comments

David Peterson has written many helpful books. Recently Sandy Grant interviewed Peterson about “using biblical words in biblical ways” focusing on two of his books addressing sanctification and transformation.

In the first book discussed, Possessed by God: A New Testament theology of sanctification and holiness, New Studies in Biblical Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995), the following paragraph sums up Peterson’s key thesis (p. 27):

Sanctification is commonly regarded as a process of moral and spiritual transformation following conversion. In the New Testament, however, it primarily refers to God’s way of taking possession of us in Christ, setting us apart to belong to him and to fulfil his purpose for us. Sanctification certainly has present and ongoing effects, but when the verb ‘to sanctify’ (Gk. hagiazein) and the noun ‘sanctification’ (Gk. hagiasmos) are used, the emphasis is regularly on the saving work of God in Christ, applied to believers through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Peterson’s concern is that there was a problem created by the interface between systematic theology and biblical theology.

With regard to sanctification, we have a problem regarding the interface between systematic theology and biblical theology, as well as a complex history of debate between different schools of thought about how we make progress in the Christian life. The use of ‘sanctification’ as a cover-all term for everything that happens between justification and glorification is misleading. Consistent with OT teaching about consecration and holiness, the verb ‘to sanctify’ is used in the NT to describe the beginning of the Christian life, not its progression and development. There are different ways in which related terms are used to challenge us about living out or expressing that sanctified status as the ‘saints’ of God under the New Covenant.

The second book they discussed built on the former book and spelled out further what Christian growth and maturity means by focusing on the term transformation: Transformed by God: New Covenant Life and Ministry (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2012). Peterson claims that the term “transformation” is a better term to describe/explain the process of moral and spiritual growth, even though it is a word that is rarely used in the New Testament (cf. Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21). But, states Peterson, there are good reasons to use the term.

Although ‘transformation’ vocabulary is fairly rare in the NT, it puts the focus emphatically on God’s work in changing us into the likeness of Christ. That theme is more widely expressed in other contexts where related terminology is used (e.g. Rom 8:29; Gal 4:19; Eph 4:13; 1 John 3:2-3). The call is for us to expose our minds and hearts to God’s word and the influence of his Spirit and to respond with faith and obedience, looking for God to change us in his own time, according to his own will.

These are two excellent books to read!

Another important book written by Peterson is Engaging with God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992). This is one of the best books on a biblical theology of worship I have read; it had a profound impact on my understanding and practice of biblical worship.

His most recent commentary written in the Pillar New Testament Commentary series edited by D. A. Carson is also, as with everything else he writes, very good: The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).