August 05, 2007 Q & A

Biblical Theology


Hello. I just have a few questions. Could you define Biblical Theology for me? Does OPC teach Biblical Theology? I don't know if the following question makes sense, but, here it goes. I have heard sermons (I guess you can say in a Biblical Theological way). In most cases, however, applications are usually not mentioned. If they are, it's minimal. In contrast, evangelicals preach with applications, examples, and so forth. Do you feel that this is a "watered-down" preaching or is it entirely wrong for preachers to add those in to a sermon?


Since you're asking what I think, I can tell you:

The term Biblical Theology is used in a couple of ways. The best definition and that one that has most affected the OPC is found in the Preface of Biblical Theology, Old and New Testaments, by Geerhardus Vos.

"Biblical Theology occupies a position between Exegesis and Systematic Theology in the encyclopedia of theological disciplines. It differs from Systematic Theology not in being more Biblical, or adhering more closely to the truths of Scripture, but in that its principle of organizing the Biblical material is historical rather than logical. Whereas Systematic Theology takes the Bible as completed whole and endeavors to exhibit its total teaching in an orderly, systematic form, Biblical Theology deals with the material from the historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation from the primitive preredemptive Special Revelation given in Eden to the close of the New Testament canon."

Biblical theology, in this sense, refers to a science for the study of Scripture. In other words, it helps us to look at a particular passage in its historical context in the history of revelation. For instance, we do not read justification by faith alone as it is completely unpacked by Paul in Romans 4 back into Genesis 15:6, when we read, "Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness." Certainly the seeds of what Paul would call justification were known to Abraham but nothing like what would be understood after the law and the sacrifices and prophets and finally the revelation of Jesus. Biblical theology helps us to see how God expanded on and caused His revelation to grow in the Old Testament until it reached its climax in the fullness of the revelation of Jesus.

Although, as you can see from that definition, Biblical Theology is actually a science for studying the scripture, sometimes the term is used to refer to a particular preaching style. Sometimes the preaching style is also called Redemptive Historical. There are several approaches to preaching represented in the OPC. There are those who preach topically, in which their sermon focuses on a topic or doctrine rather than a particular passage of Scripture. Then there are those who focus on a particular passage in their sermons. Some arrange their sermon around a theme in the text and look at the text in a systematic or analytical way. Then there are those who preach Redemptive Historically, arranging their sermon around its historical context and internal development.

The analytical approach to the text is going to lend itself to application that is also analytic. The passage is going to be shown to instruct us in one thing or several things we must believe or things we must do. This may be the sort of sermons that you are most familiar with. The application of a redemptive historical sermon, on the other hand, is quite different. It should show the believer what they already have been made in Christ (a new creation), what Christ has done for them (by virtue of their union with Him) and therefore what they should believe or how they should behave (because they are being renewed in the image of God, in Christ).

While the application of a redemptive historical sermon may sound different, as might the whole style of the sermon, from an analytic approach, there should be application in the sense that I have described. The OPC does call the minister to apply the Word of God in his sermon. Here is, in part, what our Directory for Worship 3.3 says:

A text may not be used merely to introduce a sermon but must be painstakingly expounded. In the sermon the minister should explain the Word of God for the instruction of his hearers and then apply it for their exhortation. Care should be taken in preaching that Christian duty be not divorced from Christian truth. That minister fails to perform his task as a God appointed watchman on Zion's walls who neglects to warn the congregation of prevalent soul destroying teachings by enemies of the gospel.

This is not, as you can see, the sort of thing that you are able to find in very many "evangelical" churches.

While every minister in the OPC is carefully examined and tested, we are men of varying abilities. Not every minister is as able to preach as well as another and not every sermon that is preached by the same man is as good as another (how we wish they were). Your problems, therefore, may have to do more with a particular man's abilities within his style and type of preaching than they do with his particular approach.



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