Can there be a Centerpiece to Biblical Theology?
We live in a day where truth is regularly called into question. The questions of ‘meaning’ and ‘purpose’ are often raised, but many do not have answers. The worldview of our times often sees no clear ‘center’ to life–no coherent meaning; no coherent purpose. This philosophy of the world has caused the Bible to be greatly criticized and greatly questioned. Many no longer believe that the Bible tells a cogent or coherent story. Some have argued that the Bible is nothing more than a compilation of various religious texts with little to no consistency in their message and their meaning.
Biblical theology, as we saw last week, seeks to answer this question and present a unified center to the Bible. Does the Bible present an ultimate meaning for life, does it provide an ultimate purpose? If it does, we should seek to find what it is, and devote ourselves to uncovering that story and presenting it with clarity to all. If the Bible is God’s revelation of His purpose, than it will ultimately elucidate the meaning of many other things.
I believe that the Bible does in fact present a unified story, a coherent statement of God’s redemptive purposes in the earth, and the ultimate goal of all creation. I think that from this ‘center’, all other questions of life can be answered–albeit at times in humility and with small, darkened insight.
From beginning to end, the Bible presents one distinct story that is told in a multi-faceted way. It is told through historical reflections, poetry, prophetic utterance, ancient biography, religious historiography, epistles and apocalypse. There are, to be sure, many different genres of the Biblical testimony, written over a period of millennia. However, the differences in genre, culture, and historical-social background do not necessitate a difference in the essential testimony of the Scripture.
Though Moses’ voice is different than David’s, and they are both different from Paul and Mark–they are all essentially singing the same song (to steal an analogy from Ben Witherington). They each have different parts, and they emphasize different things. Some do not see the full picture, but lean forward in eager expectation, looking for the way in which Yahweh would bring to pass all that He had promised. Some look back at the day when Yahweh definitively acted, radically transitioning redemptive history by raising Jesus the Christ from the dead, and then with similar expectation, awaited the day when He would consummate that which He began in firstfruit. The differences in style, cultural-historical setting, and place in redemptive history–though they are present–do not mean a dissonant story. Rather, they show the beauty of God’s unfolding purpose as it has been made known through history–not seeking to transcend history, but to become incarnate within it and make Himself known to people in time and in space.
The differences in the writing come because God has chosen to reveal His purpose to mankind by revealing Himself to men, and inspiring them to write concerning His purposes. It is through understanding the meaning of that writing (authorial intent) that we can understand the purpose of the one, true, Creator God for all things.
As we uncover the meaning of the different texts within the Bible, there is a clear unity in concept from text to text, from one testament to the other. As the story of the Scripture unfolds, there is great literary dependence of the latter texts upon the earlier ones. The rich thought world of the writers of the Scripture is shaped by Scripture. As the writers are each dealt with on their terms, we find that there is a profound story being told in the Scripture–we find that the ‘center’ of the Bible is that God is going to universally glorify Himself in Jesus Christ, specifically by making known His nature expressed in lovingkidness and justice.