Book Review: What is Biblical Theology? By James Hamilton

UnknownMost people don’t like arguments. This is because some avoid conflict, others don’t want to seem negative, and many more feel when arguments arise that their words are grossly misrepresented. What they have said seems to get twisted by the person they are arguing with than truly representing the meaning they truly intended. This twisting of words and intentions is what author James Hamilton is concerned about in the book What is Biblical Theology? Rather than reading scripture from “the worldview of the biblical authors,” people today read the Bible from the current culture’s point of view. No one would want their words to be misrepresented by anyone, yet this is precisely how some interpret the Bible. As a result, Hamilton has written this concise book in an attempt to instruct principles to get the most from the Bible’s original meaning. This process is called “biblical theology.”

Hamilton defines biblical theology as, “an attempt to get out of this world and into another.” The point is to understand the biblical authors original intent than to interpret the Bible with today’s standards of understanding. Many people may see the conflict in this process as cumbersome. But, by embracing this tension between today’s culture and that of the biblical authors, one finds the true meaning of scripture. Simply, the unified story of the Bible is seen that links each scripture passage together. A story that uses symbols, imagery, types, and patterns to beautifully display God’s plot of “creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.” This theme can be seen from Genesis to Revelation. It shows God, who is the central character over humanity, has provided a means to redeem the world and its people to be included in His grand design. For Hamilton, this redemption is biblical theology, which he attempts to teach in this short book.

Though this book is a bit technical, the Gospel is apart of biblical theology since all of scripture is pointing towards God’s final redemption. For this to happen it must go through the Cross of Christ, which is central to the Gospel. As a result, the reader learns about the Gospel. They will also walk away with a richer appreciation for the Gospel on every page of the Bible no matter their background.

Lay people new to the concept of biblical theology will find this book a decent read to the subject area. By taking the time to read through Hamilton’s instructions concerning biblical theology they will be better equipped to see scripture’s overall plot. Sadly, the overall challenge of this book is that Hamilton is far too technical. As a result, the average reader may struggle with part 2 of the book and never finish the text.

To contrast, anyone deeply familiar with theology may find this book too basic. As a result, those deeply interested in theology may find this book difficult to read because of the basic details Hamilton provides. Should they want to dig deeper into the area of biblical theology, Hamilton’s larger book, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment is more enjoyable. This 640-page tome focuses on the application of biblical theology than What is Biblical Theology?, which is more instructional.

In closing, What is Biblical Theology? is recommended, but with hesitation. Hamilton does a decent job of summarizing the concept in this short book. This is because there is something extremely dry about the contents, especially part 2 when readers should pay the most attention. It would also be nice to see a contrast between biblical theology and systematic theology, which he did not provide. Despite these challenges, there are benefits to reading parts of this book. As Hamilton alludes to in the epilogue, biblical theology should cause a greater desire to read more of the Bible in one sitting. By doing so, one can then make the “attempt to get out of this world and into another.” Then one can avoid twisting scripture’s meaning to see the greatest twist in God’s plot, which is His desire to redeem people and creation through Jesus Christ.

(I received this book through the Crossway Review program “Beyond the Page” in exchange for an honest review of the book.)

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