I’m leading a seminar this semester on biblical theology. We just had our third meeting this last week. For the first two, we read from and discussed a dictionary. (It was better than it sounds. I promise!) Last week we read and discussed a new release from Zondervan written by two Talbot profs called Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice (UBT). If you’re interested in biblical theology, then you’ll probably want to read this book, though, you’ll want to read it for reasons other than you might first suppose. This is not a book comparing the way your favorite authors “put their Bibles together.” (That’s what I’d initially thought it would be.) You’ll not find chapters comparing the whole-Bible theologies—the metanarratives—of, say, Beale and Bock, or Carson and Kline, or Schreiner and Vos, or Wellum & Gentry and Wright (Tom, not Chris). That would be an interesting book, but UBT isn’t that book. UBT isn’t a comparison of different ways of telling the Bible’s story. It’s much broader than that. After all, not everyone doing biblical theology thinks the Bible has a storyline. UBT, rather, is an attempt to bring some order to the sprawling body of contemporary literature going about under the label biblical theology. And herein lies its genius and its contribution. UBT suggests that uniting all this literature is a common question, answered differently: what role does history play in retrieving the Bible’s message? (Or, conversely, what role does theology play in retrieving the Bible’s message?) UBT tallies five different answers—from “history is everything” to “history isn’t very important”—and then illustrates each approach with a contemporary author. (For a convenient summary, see their concluding table, 186–89. See also here.) Beyond the immediate value of UBT’s taxonomy, I suspect readers will find the book helpful simply for the question it raises about the role of history in biblical theology and, of course, for the other questions this one implies, e.g., How objective is the Bible’s unity? and, related, What gives the Bible its unity?
Note: For a bit more reflection on the book, see Trevin Wax’s interview with the authors here. Also, for two other helpful books in this genre, interested readers will want to take a look at Yarbrough’s The Salvation-Historical Fallacy? (2004) and Harrisville & Sundberg’s The Bible in Modern Culture (2002).