What is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

Hamilton, James M. What is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible’s Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. 128 pp. $12.99. Amazon |Barnes & Noble | Christianbook.com | Westminster Books

James-Hamilton-What-is-Biblical-TheologyJames Hamilton, associate professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, concludes his primer on biblical theology with these insightful words: “Make no mistake about it: people all around us are living their lives in light of a larger story.” (Loc. 1061-2).  Whether the story is evolutionary science or a particular political ideology, some sort of story shapes the life of every person on the planet. What is Biblical Theology? is about a story—the true story of God’s redemptive acts in history and the word in which he makes that story known. Hamilton wants his readers to know the story of the Bible, not merely for information, but for transformation. To this end, he introduces readers to the concept of biblical theology and gives us the best story in which we are to shape our lives.

What is Biblical Theology? is simply the best introductory text to this topic. While others such as Klink and Lockett provide readers with an excellent scholarly survey of the topic including various authors and modern approaches, Hamilton’s is the most accessible for the widest possible audience. In that manner, he fills the gap by connecting his scholarly work directly to the hearts of the reader. This does not mean, however, that he skips over the big concepts of biblical theology. From describing the basics of the Bible’s big story (Part 1), to the more detailed language of symbols and typology (Part 2), to connecting the story of the Bible to the church and individual believers (Part 3), Hamilton engages readers with the basic concepts which make up the big picture of the biblical narrative. Hamilton guides us and helps us to connect the dots of Scripture, perhaps in ways we had never seen before. And the magic of his writing is that he so excellently summarizes material in a way that makes one say, “I get it.”

Personally speaking, What is Biblical Theology? has helped me immensely in understanding the message of Scripture and how to study the Bible. In seminary during my master’s work, I took numerous classes on bible exposition, discussing the basics of every single book of the Bible. I ultimately walked away with a jumble of biblical pieces, unsure how they all fit together. Even though my professors presented a way in which to put the pieces together, I left scratching my head as if forced to read instructions in German for assembling a Japanese car. Hamilton has rescued me from that confusion and helped to plant my feet a firmer ground, a foundation supported by the fundamentals of biblical theology helping me make sense of the biblical narrative. I can only imagine that Hamilton will continue to help other readers do the same.

With this in mind, there are short spurts where Hamilton may confuse some readers. His discussion on typology (regarding historical correspondence and escalation) could lose some readers in the process. Occasionally (particularly in part 2), Hamilton seems to writes more with his professorial pen than his pastoral one. While there are technical aspects which need to be explained in order to grasp the basics of biblical theology, at times I felt that Hamilton lost a little momentum. Whatever he might have lost, however, he regained in part 3, driving home the spiritual vitality available to those who read the Bible based on his prescription. With gusto Hamilton exclaims, “Biblical theology is not just an interesting topic. It informs who we are and how we live. It’s a way of getting out of a false world into the real one, a transporter enabling us to inhabit the story of the Scriptures.” (Loc. 913-914).”

So who needs to read this book? Well, every believer who’s interested in understanding the grand narrative of God’s word. In fact, even interested non-believers would benefit from reading this book in order to grasp the basic story of the Bible. More specifically, I feel as if all pastors who preach on a weekly basis would benefit immensely from reading this book. If a biblical theological lens is not already shaping your preaching, let these concepts reshape and mold your preaching to fit the God-designed narrative of Scripture. It also makes for an excellent introductory text for hermeneutics courses in a Christian college or seminary. As for me, it has rescued me from a disjointed hermeneutic and allowed me to marvel afresh at the power of God’s word. What is Biblical Theology? promotes a certain story, a story filled with mystery and awe as well as an identity. It’s a story about coming home, finding a place and being caught up in what God has done, is doing and will do. What is Biblical Theology? gives us a lens to understand Scripture and a prescription for ongoing study of God’s word. I for one will return to this text repeatedly with an open Bible and a prayerful heart. 

Thanks to Crossway Books for a complimentary Kindle edition of this book for an honest review!

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