Book Details: James M. Hamilton Jr., What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 128 pp. Paperback, $12.99.
It stands to reason that when one sets out to write a book entitled What is Biblical Theology? the thrust of the book would aim to define, explain, and elaborate on the uses of the term. In his latest publication, Jim Hamilton not only accomplishes this feat, masterfully I might add, but winsomely conveys the benefits and necessity of adopting this perspective.
Biblical theology is described numerous times throughout the course of this book. My favorite definition (preferentially and not qualitatively), however, comes from the Epilogue: “Biblical Theology is an attempt to get out of this world and into another.” The world of which Hamilton speaks is the interpretive perspective of the biblical authors.
John Calvin referred to the Word of God as the spectacles by which we can rightly see the world around us. Developing a right understanding of biblical theology, then, is like determining the original author's prescription so that we may process our interpretation through their lenses; the result is clear vision. It's one thing to have glasses, it's another thing to have the right prescription and clean lenses.
The book is divided into three parts. Part one taps into the grand storyline of the Bible. Part two explores the different uses of symbolism, imagery, typology, patterns, and themes which are woven throughout the metanarrative, and explains how the biblical authors used these symbols to encapsulate and describe the overarching “Big Story” of the Bible. Part three spells out the role of the church in this story, as well as the practical ecclesiological significance and benefits that a biblical theology provides for the church. It is the opinion of this reviewer that God’s story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration can be best understood by understanding these aforementioned parts of Hamilton’s book, which he puts into three words: story, symbol, and church.
While I understand the stated purpose of this book is to introduce the reader to the interpretive perspective of biblical theology, it can just as easily be used as an evangelistic tool. In chapter three, Hamilton rehearses the gripping gospel story, from Genesis (creation) to Revelation (restoration), in a way that made me shout, "That! If we would just start sharing the gospel like that!”
On a personal note, what a wonderful blessing it is to study at an institute of higher learning such as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where I have the opportunity to learn under men like Jim Hamilton. Men who not only push for academic rigor, but also prize true biblical gospel-depth for the purpose of personal enrichment and the betterment of the church.
I was sitting at the local coffee shop finishing up this book when two elderly men sat down to chat at a table adjacent to mine. Enthralled with my reading, I paid them little mind. Without intending to, however, I heard bits and pieces of their conversation. The elder of the two informed his friend that he had brain cancer and did not expect to live past January. As he began to sob, his friend sat there stunned, unsure of what to say. I couldn’t help but set my book down, just for a second. The silent friend had my full attention, and I was very curious and concerned as to what he would say. Then, the silence was broken, and the man, attempting to console his dying friend said this, “The universe is blind to justice. We are all going to die, it’s just a matter of when. I guess now’s your time.” The crying man, who later lamented that he would likely not live to see his seventieth birthday, replied, “I know. We live such short lives. We are born, then we die, and that’s it. Just a few laughs and some pain in-between.”
I would like to end this brief review with an invitation from the author found toward the end of the book:
We are not neglected. We are the sheep of the good shepherd.
We are not forsaken. We are the beloved of the bridegroom.
We are not alone. We are embers of his body.
We are not strangers. We are adopted into God’s family.
If you’re not a believer in Jesus, who looks after you? Who will come for you? To whom are you joined? Do you have a family? If you will repent of your sin and trust in Jesus, you can be part of the family of God.
I cannot recommend this book enough, and would likely chart it as one of the top five books I have read in 2013. You can (and ought to) buy this book here: What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns.