Review of James M. Hamilton Jr., What is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.In Jackson Wu’s book, One Gospel for All Nations, he states, “Missionary training must emphasize biblical theology, not simply systematic theology.” (25). I could not agree with him more. I was delighted when I came across James Hamilton’s book, What is Biblical Theology? because here was a short (128 pages) clear explanation and example of biblical theology.
Hamilton makes it clear that, “by biblical theology [he] does not mean ‘my theology is more biblical than yours.’” (Kindle location 136). The author states, “To do biblical theology is to think about the whole story of the Bible. We want to understand the organic development of the Bible’s teaching so that we are interpreting particular parts of the story in light of the whole.” (Kindle location 102) He further notes, “One of the primary aims of biblical theology is to understand and embrace the worldview of the biblical authors.” (Kindle location 104)
Biblical theology enables us to see the coherent framework of the Bible. Hamilton sums up what he means by the phrase:
To summarize, by the phrase biblical theology I mean the interpretive perspective reflected in the way the biblical authors have presented their understanding of earlier Scripture, redemptive history, and the events they are describing, recounting, celebrating, or addressing in narratives, poems, proverbs, letters, and apocalypses. (Kindle location 125)
After describing what biblical theology is, the rest of the book is divided into three parts. The first part is “The Bible’s Big Story” comprised of three chapters on “The Narrative”, “Plot: Conflict, Episodes, and Themes”, and “The Mystery”. In this part Hamilton presents a brief survey of the story line of the Bible.
In Part 2 the author explores “The Bible’s Symbolic Universe”. He describes what symbols do, then identifies the imagery, typology, and patterns in the Bible’s story.
In part 3 “The Bible’s Love Story” is the focus. Hamilton describes the Church as the bride of Christ and the fulfillment of the promise beginning in Genesis 3:15 and woven throughout Scripture.
In the epilogue Hamilton writes: “The point is that we’re trying to get our minds and hearts out of worldliness and into the Bible’s symbolic universe.” (Kindle location 1064).
“The best way to learn biblical theology, the best way to get yourself out of the world’s way of thinking and into the Bible’s is to study the Bible itself. Don’t make this harder than it needs to be. Read the Bible. A lot.” (Kindle location 1065)
The book contains an excellent list of books for further reading. If your training lacks emphasis in biblical theology, Hamilton’s book is a good place to start.
I would also direct you to D. A. Carson, The God Who is there: Finding Your Place in God’s Story, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010. Carson’s book is also accessible in lecture format at the Gospel Coalition website.