Thomas Schreiner’s Whole Bible Theology
Individual book commentaries will continue to be a mainstay of the pastor’s library. Yet because such commentaries are exactly that, commentaries on individual books of the Bible, the further step of integrating their distinct melody line into the chorus of redemption history is a difficult one for many to take. A new wave of evangelical, whole Bible commentaries are filling that gap and helping us make the connection between biblical texts and the bigger picture. Honestly, I find this step one of the most rewarding and thrilling aspects of biblical exposition, and I have men like Dr. Thomas Schreiner to thank for it. This summer, he will be publishing his own Biblical theology of the Bible, The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Schreiner, a Credo blogger and contributor, was kind enough to answer a few question for Credo regarding this new book and whet our appetite a bit.
There has been something of a “renaissance” in the publication of “whole bible” theologies in recent years. Where does your contribution stand in relation to these other works?
First of all I think we should celebrate the publication of whole bible theologies. What an encouraging sign that Christians in our age want to understand the whole counsel of God. Evangelicals, in particular, play a leading role here, for we believe that the scriptures cohere, that there is a unified story instead of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Second, I won’t mention all the other works that have been written, but I can say I have read and profited from them immensely. Generally speaking my work is less technical and hence more accessible than some of the works out there. I wanted to write a book that a busy pastor, college student, or interested layperson could grasp and understand. Whether I have succeeded or not is for others to say.
Third, I wanted my book to focus especially on scripture itself instead of what other scholars say. I wanted to show inductively by quoting or referring to scripture that the theology I presented was in accord with what the biblical writers were saying. This is not to say that I didn’t learn a great deal from many other scholars in my research and study. They were immensely helpful.
What are you trying to capture with the title “you will see the king in his beauty”?
The words come from Isaiah 33. I wanted to emphasize why it matters that the Lord is king. The story is about God conquering Satan, sin, and death. But why would we want to be on the winning side? It is because in the new creation (the new Jerusalem, the new heavens and earth) we will see the king in his beauty. We will be enraptured by our God and Jesus Christ forever.
Its been a fairly common theme in academic circles that a whole bible theology cannot be done or should not be done. Some suggest that labeling the Jewish Tanakh as the “Old Testament” is inherently racist and/or imperialistic. What’s your take on the “possibility” of a whole Bible theology?
Your question relates to what I said in answer to the first question. As evangelicals we believe in a unified story, in a canon that coheres, in a narrative that goes somewhere. Academic scholarship has typically maintained that there are different and even contradictory theologies in the scriptures. But as evangelicals we believe in diversity with an overall unity. Is our stance imperialistic toward the OT? It all depends upon your stance toward biblical revelation. We believe that the message of Jesus and the apostles, rightly interpreted, points toward an old covenant and a new covenant. We don’t believe we are imposing our own biases on scripture but receiving and transmitting the revelation given to us. We understand why those from other perspectives would disagree. The exclusivity of the Christian gospel has always been scandalous.
The question of “method” is particularly acute when attempting to bridge the Hebrew and Christian canon. What is your approach to “method” in terms of historical reconstruction of the literature, the reading of individual texts, and relating them across the canon?
I don’t engage in historical reconstruction in writing my biblical theology. Instead, I accept the canonical shape of the scriptures and the text as it has come down to us as the source for biblical theology. I read the texts from a certain perspective. I assume they are telling a unified story, but I also believe it is imperative to listen to the contribution of each writer and piece of literature.
You have already written a New Testament theology and indeed a Pauline theology. It must be a little difficult covering that ground again a second or third time. Are there ways in which your discussion of the NT reflects differently the aims of this book?
I was informed by what I wrote in those previous works, but I rarely consulted them in writing this one. The section on the NT is much briefer, and hence I had to distill the NT message in shorter compass. I also didn’t organize it in the same way as I did in my NT theology, for I concentrated here on the contribution of particular books and of particular authors. I don’t believe there is one “right” way or one “right” theme to write a biblical theology. So, the same corpus of literature can be examined from different angles.
Despite the previous few questions, the issues of method and approach are really not your concern here. How do you envision this book being used by the church?
I hope it helps individuals understand the whole counsel of God. We understand individual texts far better when we place them in the context of the larger story. I think my book would help those studying the message of the OT and the NT, and I think one could also consult what I say about a particular book when teaching or studying that book.
In the course of writing this book, did you come to any new conclusions or stumble upon fresh insights?
I think the narrative shape of the Psalms into 5 books was impressed upon me in a new way. The role of temple/tent/holy hill also struck me in the Psalms. People praise the Lord as they see him as the mighty king, as they see the king in his beauty. I also believe that the wisdom literature (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes) fits with God’s kingship. Those who live under God’s reign fear him, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding. I don’t think it was fundamentally new to me, but both Job and Ecclesiastes remind us that the wisdom of the Lord’s rule over the world is often hidden from us, so that what happens in our lives is baffling and sometimes absurd from our perspective.
Many of our readers are familiar with the challenges your family has endured this past year. As your wife Diane makes the slow but steady road to recovery following her bike accident, has reflecting on the sweep of the biblical story line helped you process this tragedy?
What I have written in this book about God’s sovereignty is not new to me. I have believed it for many years. The best preparation for suffering is to have good theology before the suffering begins. I am utterly convinced from the scriptures that God loves Diane and me, and that he is sovereign over all that happens to us. That doesn’t mean we understand “why” it occurred, but the sweep of the biblical story reminds us that the Lord will crush the serpent. We are in a great conflict and war. But I have been comforted all along the way, because I know God loves me and that he will use this to the glory and praise of his name. All that God brings into our lives helps us to see and know him better.
Thomas Schreiner is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Among his many books are Romans, Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ: A Pauline Theology, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, and Galatians.
Matthew Claridge is an editor for Credo Magazine and is Senior Pastor of Mt. Idaho Baptist Church in Grangeville, ID. He has earned degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is married to Cassandra and has two children, Alec and Nora.