Biblical and Theological Studies: A Student's Guide

Biblical and Theological Studies: A Student's Guide

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Overview

A New Testament scholar (Wilkins) and a theologian (Thoennes) offer readers a guide to biblical and theological studies from an evangelical perspective, highlighting foundational convictions while exploring contemporary issues. Part of the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433534898
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 03/31/2016
Series: Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition Series
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Michael J. Wilkins (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is distinguished professor of New Testament language and literature and dean of the faculty at Biola University’s Talbot School of Theology. He is the author of numerous books, commentaries, and articles.

Erik Thoennes (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor and department chair of biblical and theological studies at Biola University and a pastor at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, California. Previously hetaught at Wheaton College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of numerous articles and several books. Erik lives with his wife, Donna, and their four children.

David S. Dockery (PhD, University of Texas) is thechancellor of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, following five years as president. He is a much-sought-after speaker and lecturer, a consulting editor for Christianity Today, and the author or editor of more than thirty books. Dockery and his wife, Lanese, have three sons andseven grandchildren.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Introduction to Biblical and Theological Studies

God has spoken. This whole book is about those three simple words. That God has personally, truthfully, and sufficiently revealed himself in the Bible is the assumption of our understanding of the study of the Bible. That God is and that he has revealed himself are the most foundational beliefs of a Christian. If there is no God (atheism), or if there is a God but he does not personally reveal himself or get involved with creation (deism), then true knowledge of God is not possible. Our efforts to find answers to life's big questions would then be limited to human experience and speculation. We would be limited to doing "theology from below." But in the very first verse of the Bible, we are taught that God is and that he is the Creator. Then, the phrase "God said" occurs ten times in the first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1), and when God creates human beings, he blesses and immediately talks to us and invites us to join with him in ruling and creating. Indeed, there is no greater blessing he could give than relating to us — he is our greatest blessing. That is the main reason he made us in the first place — to know and enjoy him. The God of the Bible, then, is not a mere projection of human longings or an absentee landlord, but a God who powerfully creates and meaningfully relates. He is a God who speaks, and his word blesses, provides, and saves us.

These basic assumptions about God undergird the way we approach biblical studies and theology. The Bible reveals who God is, and that understanding of God then informs how we approach the Bible — as the words of an all-wise, all-powerful, gracious, kind, forgiving, holy, righteous Father and King. We are to fully trust and obey his Word, because of the integrity of its author. The goal is to know the author by listening to his life-giving voice. What we learn, even in an "academic" study of the Bible and theology, should lead to knowledge that unites head, heart, hands, and feet in a holistic, life-changing encounter with our Creator.

Before proceeding any further, it would no doubt be helpful at this point to briefly define what we mean by biblical studies and theology, what the difference is between the two, and why we even make the distinction. Biblical studies is an academic discipline that seeks to understand the Bible as God intended when he inspired its human authors. The study of theology is the effort to summarize the overall teaching of the Bible so it can be meaningfully applied to our lives. Biblical studies provides the understanding of the biblical text so that we can do the theological task of synthesizing what the Bible teaches so that its teaching can inform and influence every area of life.

As we read the Bible, we find that it has an amazingly unified voice and coherent message, even though forty human authors wrote it over about a two-thousand-year-period. These authors were from three different continents and from drastically different walks of life: fisherman, king, shepherd, scholar, and priest are just some of the vocations that writers of the Bible had. They were often addressing very different concerns and very different audiences. With this approach to writing a book, it is hard to imagine that you could ever get an integrated, consistent understanding of things. We not only get that, however; we get an unfolding story that explains all of reality with wonderful truthfulness. This story has all the elements of every great story, and this story has not just explained the world as we know it, it has profoundly shaped the world in which we live.

There is an abundant need today for biblically grounded, clear, concise, practically applied theology. The study of theology must focus on the main issues that God himself emphasizes in the Bible, not on speculative areas we may think important. We must go to God to find not only the right answers, but also the right questions. If we allow our quest for truth to be limited by the latest fads, trends, and pressing issues of the day, we won't get to the most important, God-centered, eternally important questions. Jesus taught us to seek God's kingdom and righteousness and then trust God to supply the lesser things that tend to dominate our thoughts (Matt.6:33–34).

Most of our students throughout the years grew up in the church. When they dive in to the study of the Bible and learn the foundational truths of their faith, many of them are often astonished that they never really learned these things before. Perhaps they were taught the Bible well, but for some reason it never sunk in. Yet, it does seem that over the years there has been less and less of an emphasis on studying the Bible and learning basic doctrine in many churches. It seems that cultural influences have had a detrimental effect on the perceived value of knowing the Bible and its major themes. Pragmatism, consumerism, and an entertainment mentality have shifted the priorities of some churches away from our primary calling to devote ourselves to knowing God deeply through his Word. We need an attitude adjustment and reorientation of our priorities back to our main calling to know God according to the Scriptures.

ATTITUDES FOR DOING BIBLICAL AND THEOLOGICAL STUDIES

Now that we have discussed why we study the Bible and theology, we need to consider how we study. Much of this book will be about the proper methods of studying the Bible and theology. But how we study begins with the state of our hearts. Motives and heart attitudes are of utmost importance. You can be intellectually brilliant and highly knowledgeable, and yet be spiritually dead and unwise. Your basic beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes will determine how you approach your quest for truth. How you define God, humans, and the purpose of life will shape your experience in learning and also determine your methods of learning. So how should the Christian approach the study of the Bible and theology? Here are six helpful attitudes to have when approaching Biblical studies:

(1) We should study the Bible with fear and worship of God. God is the greatest thing we could ever try to comprehend. He is perfect in all his ways and staggeringly glorious. When people truly catch but a glimpse of his greatness, they are overwhelmed and forever changed. When Isaiah beheld God's glory in the temple, he said, "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!" (Isa. 6:5). When Job considered God's majesty in creation, even in the midst of his great trials he said, "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5–6). When Peter saw the miraculous power of Christ, he said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord" (Luke 5:8). True knowledge of God always produces worshipful awe.

After one of the greatest prolonged teachings on theology in the Bible, Paul bursts into praise "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! ... For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen" (Rom. 11:33, 36). Our theology (right thinking) should always lead to doxology (right worship) and orthopraxy (right practice), or else we have a major disconnect in our theology. On the other hand, if our worship and practice are not grounded in deep theology, worship will be shallow, fleeting sentimentality, and its practice will be merely empty moralism. We never need to fear that our awe will deplete because God is infinite and offers an endless supply of data for our worship and fear of him. The adventure of knowing God provides never-ending vistas of glory. Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte beautifully summarized the God-exalting purpose of our study of the Bible:

First of all, my child, think magnificently of God. Magnify his providence; adore his power, pray to him frequently and incessantly. Bear him always in your mind. Teach your thoughts to reverence him in every place for there is no place where he is not. Therefore, my child, fear and worship and love God; first and last, think magnificently of him!

Bursting into praise should be a common occurrence for the student of the Bible. We should follow the example of the inspired authors of Scripture who frequently move from teaching about God's character to unhindered expression of worshipful adoration. One example will have to suffice. After Paul expounds on God's amazing grace to him although he was a former blasphemer, he cannot help but express his gratitude in praise: "To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen" (1 Tim. 1:17).

(2) We should study the Bible with growing humility about ourselves. As we saw in the previous passages, when we grow in our knowledge of God and we begin to "think magnificently of God," we also grow in humility. A big view of God invariably leads to a small view of ourselves. Studying God's Word shows us a supremely majestic God, and we then learn our place before him. Although we recognize that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in his image, we also know that all we are and have is from his hand, and we are but dust before him — glorious dust to be sure, but dust all the same. God is infinite (unlimited) and holy, and we are finite (limited) and fallen. God is the author of life and the source of all that is good. God has no unmet needs and does not need us for anything. "Not is [God] served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything" (Acts 17:25).

Everything we have is a gift from his gracious heart. Realizing this stops all human boasting in its tracks. "What do you have that you did not receive? ... If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Cor. 4:7).

When we study the Bible, we will at times go beyond others in our knowledge, which could lead to arrogance. This is a heinous but common tendency that God warns about when he tells us that "knowledge puffs up but love builds up" (1 Cor.8:1). This arrogance can lead to looking down on those who don't know as much as we do, and Helmut Thielicke calls this a spiritual disease that is the disease of the theologian. This disease leads to using truth "as a means to personal triumph and at the same time as a means to kill," which is the opposite of God's intention for learning truth. We are to build others up with our learning, not tear them down. Learning about the greatness of God should lower our own estimation, but sadly this is often not the case. This means we have to go to war with pride every day. Arrogant and Christian are two words that should never go together. All our boasting should be "in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1:31).

God hates pride. Having too high an estimation of our knowledge is where Adam and Eve got it wrong in the garden, and we have followed their foolishness ever since. The word sophomore literally means "wise fool" because, early in our education, we know enough to think we know a lot, but we have not learned enough to know how little we really know. Arrogance in our Bible knowledge or theological positions is an abomination to the Lord. We would all be wise, young and old alike, to heed the following admonition from the apostle Peter: "Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble'" (1 Pet. 5:5).

(3) We should study with prayerful dependence on the Holy Spirit. Atheists can understand the meaning of the Bible. Even demons can have highly accurate theology. James tells us that demons are card-carrying monotheists (James 2:19). So there must be a kind of accurate knowledge that does not necessarily lead to God-honoring adoration, worship, and obedience. The key difference is the work of the Holy Spirit. The truth we seek is heart-transforming truth that leads to Christlike character and to lives that honor and please God. The Holy Spirit is the one who brings this to the believer.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. "For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:14–16)

The illumining work of the Holy Spirit is the indispensable factor in knowing truth that leads to a growing life in Christ. Therefore, as we go to God's Word, we need prayers such as: "Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law" (Ps. 119:18) and

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Eph. 1:16–18)

(4) We should study the Bible with eager expectation to learn much but also expecting to find great mystery and challenges to our thinking. God has given us his Word so that we may know him as he is and that the Bible is completely sufficient to lead us to accurate, personal, and sufficient knowledge. But it cannot lead us beyond our finite minds. We will always be limited in our understanding of our infinite God. We should learn to love and celebrate the times when the magnitude of God comes home to us and we find ourselves running out of the intellectual ability to understand all that he is. This tension is discussed in more detail in chapter 3, where we talk about the tension between God being both knowable and incomprehensible at the same time.

(5) We should study the Bible with humble obedience. As we learn about God in his Word, the most obvious responses are worship, trust, and obedience. There is no more foundational way to express our trust in God then to obey his commandments. And there is no more fundamental way to express our delight in God than to trust him enough to walk in his ways. Those who earnestly and honestly seek to know God through his Word will quite naturally respond with submission to his Word. God is not pleased with people who are merely playing intellectual games with him, seeking to understand his Word with no intention of trusting and obeying him. The Word of God proves itself true when we put it into action in the obedience of faith. As Jesus says in John 7:17, "If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority." The Bible validates its truthfulness when we do what it says.

(6) We should study the Bible with heartfelt gratitude and joy. We should never take God's Word for granted. It is a great blessing that God has revealed himself and that we have access to that revelation and Bibles in our own language. There are still thousands of people groups who do not have translations of the Bible in their native tongue. One of the greatest experiences of our lives was when my wife and I (Erik) attended a dedication ceremony for a Wanca Quechua translation of the New Testament in Peru. People at the ceremony were weeping because they were able to read a Bible in their own language for the first time. I was humbled by their deep appreciation of the Bible and have never looked at my Bible in the same way again.

How amazing that God has revealed himself and that we have that revelation in our own languages on our shelves and on our phones! On top of that, it is a tremendous privilege to be a student who is blessed with the time and resources to devote to knowing God's Word in depth. God treats us as friends when he reveals his Word to us (John 15:15). He lets us in on what he thinks about the most important things. What a fantastic privilege it is to be a friend of Jesus and to be able to learn those things that Jesus himself has learned from the Father. As we learn, we should grow in a deep sense of gratitude for being saved by his grace and for the privilege of being able to study his Word.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Biblical and Theological Studies"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Michael J. Wilkins and Erik Thoennes.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Series Preface 11

Acknowledgments 15

1 Introduction to Biblical and Theological Studies 17

2 Biblical Studies 41

3 Theological Studies 85

Questions for Reflection 111

Glossary 113

Resources for Further Study 117

General Index 122

Scripture Index 125

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Wilkins and Thoennes have provided an ideal introduction for students who want to become acquainted with biblical and theological studies. The book is concise and brief while covering an astonishing number of topics. Most importantly, the authors are sure-footed and faithful guides in both biblical studies and theology.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“A helpful introduction to the world of biblical and theological studies. Beginning students will find that this little book provides big dividends.”
Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Students seeking the best in evangelical scholarship will find it here. Profoundly simple and masterfully written, this book will help anyone wanting to be equipped for the study of theology. Read it with a bowed head and grateful heart.”
Robert E. Coleman, Distinguished Senior Professor of Evangelism and Discipleship, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

“Wilkins and Thoennes, impressive models of scholarship and teaching in their own right, have crafted this readable ‘preface’ as an aid for our students who are perplexed about the nature and relationship of biblical studies and theology. The mind fog that can surround these two fields makes it hard for us to connect the dots for our learners. Thus it can be difficult to move forward toward a shared passion of what we should do with the Bible and theology. Wilkins and Thoennes bring texture and unity to what are often perceived as merely isolated and abstract terms to be memorized. This book will help enliven the minds and souls of evangelical biblical and theological students and scholars in this generation.”
Tim L. Anderson, Professor of Theology, Corban University; author, What the Bible Says about Intimacy with God

“They say that ‘well begun is half done,’ and this introduction to biblical and theological studies will set students up for success from the start. Wilkins and Thoennes seem to be mind readers as they skillfully anticipate and answer so many of the topics, terms, and names that students will wonder about. A great introduction to a vast field of learning.”
Fred Sanders,Professor of Theology, Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University; author, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything

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Biblical and Theological Studies: A Student's Guide 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Jason111 More than 1 year ago
Biblical and Theological Studies is a volume in the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series.  Written by Michael Wilkins and Erik Thoennes, this slim book gives a brief introduction to the subgenres and guiding principles involved in biblical and theological studies. The introduction to both fields is strong, addressing both the head and the heart posture involved in undertaking such studies.  The book goes on to briefly explain different fields of study within each discipline and some contemporary issues explored within them. For someone with no knowledge of these academic disciplines, the book serves as a helpful introduction to different fields of study available.  The authors also take pains to address what the Bible says about itself and how that affects a Christian's approach to studying the Bible as well as theology taught by the Bible. Overall, the book had solid truth to communicate but it was rather simplistic.  Certain sections of the book read like an academic catalogue.  While a helpful guide to how to read the Bible in general,  the book did not address the unique contributions, issues, or purposes of biblical and theological study in higher learning.   The purpose of the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series is, according to the series preface, "prepare a generation of Christians to think Christianly, to engage the academy and the culture, and to serve church and society."  While other volumes did so admirably, Biblical and Theological Studies seems to be deficient in its engagement with the academy, culture, and society. I was provided with a complimentary copy to review as part of the Crossway Blog Review Program.
Jason111 More than 1 year ago
Biblical and Theological Studies is a volume in the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series.  Written by Michael Wilkins and Erik Thoennes, this slim book gives a brief introduction to the subgenres and guiding principles involved in biblical and theological studies. The introduction to both fields is strong, addressing both the head and the heart posture involved in undertaking such studies.  The book goes on to briefly explain different fields of study within each discipline and some contemporary issues explored within them. For someone with no knowledge of these academic disciplines, the book serves as a helpful introduction to different fields of study available.  The authors also take pains to address what the Bible says about itself and how that affects a Christian's approach to studying the Bible as well as theology taught by the Bible. Overall, the book had solid truth to communicate but it was rather simplistic.  Certain sections of the book read like an academic catalogue.  While a helpful guide to how to read the Bible in general,  the book did not address the unique contributions, issues, or purposes of biblical and theological study in higher learning.   The purpose of the Reclaiming the Christian Intellectual Tradition series is, according to the series preface, "prepare a generation of Christians to think Christianly, to engage the academy and the culture, and to serve church and society."  While other volumes did so admirably, Biblical and Theological Studies seems to be deficient in its engagement with the academy, culture, and society. I was provided with a complimentary copy to review as part of the Crossway Blog Review Program.