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    Mar 09, 2016

    Class 2: Biblical Theology as Guide for the Church

    Series: Biblical Theology

    Category: Core Seminars, Bible Prophecy, Bible Interpretation, Biblical Theology


    Excerpt from Sean DeMars “A ‘Gospel’ that Almost Killed Me”

    START: I’m in a bathtub. I can’t get up. I feel like I’m about to die. Mercury poisoning.

    The water in the tub has grown cold…I’m floating in and out of consciousness. Whenever I can concentrate I begin to pray.

    “Jesus, please, save me. Please, heal me. I repent, I put my whole heart into prayer right now, and I cast out any doubt or fear. I know you can heal me. Please heal me!”

    My mom’s keys are rattling in the doorknob now, and I hear the door thud shut in the distance. I hear her purse sliding across the counter and her keys landing next to it. I barely recognize her figure as she tries with all of her wiry might to pull me out of the tub. I spend the next two days in the hospital. My mom wants to know why I didn’t let her know, why I didn’t want to go to the hospital, why I didn’t do something.

    “Mom, Jesus is my doctor. I’m blessed, and I know that he would have healed me.” This is me trying to live out what I think is true Christianity.

    I had just gotten saved two months prior. I’m fresh out of jail and I’m walking around the projects where I used to stomp like a tiny teenage giant. I’ve got a bare back, a few tattoos, and a Bible in my hand. I’m just praying for the opportunity to share the Christ with someone.

    I meet a man named Roger who invites me into his home. He buys me lunch and we spend all day talking about the Bible. This guy knows way more than me. I’ve never heard anyone spout off so many Scriptures in such rapid-fire succession. “This guy is legit…” I say under my breath.

    Over the course of the next six months, this man indoctrinates me with the prosperity gospel. Just a few months earlier, I’d never even opened a Bible. I have no idea that I’m being given arsenic in my kool aid. I take it all. I believe it all. I know it’s true. It has to be. It’s all right here in Scripture. Look, she touched the hem of his garment and was healed. Look, Jesus couldn’t heal them because they didn’t have enough faith. Look, all throughout the Old Testament you see curses for sins, and blessings for righteousness. Prosperity for the good, pain for the bad. It’s so plain. So obvious.

    But stuff isn’t making sense. I’m still without a job. I can’t pay my rent. My mom isn’t getting saved, and I keep getting cold sores. None of these things should be happening. There must be sin hidden somewhere in my heart.

    Now I have the flu, and I don’t have any money to buy groceries. I just need to claim it. I just need to rebuke Satan and his lies, and believe that what I have proclaimed in the name of Jesus will surely come to pass. Maybe I’m not tithing enough. Time to double up. I’ll get it back one hundred-fold. Maybe more. I just need to sow in faith. END

    That’s the introduction to Sean DeMars article on the 9Marks website entitled, “A ‘Gospel’ that Almost Killed Me,” and the word “Gospel” is in scare quotes. What he provides is a very graphic picture of how dangerous wrongly using our Bibles can be. This friend of his named Roger, I trust, meant well. And he probably did know a lot of “Bible.” But apparently, Roger didn’t know how to read his Bible rightly. And so he led Sean astray…by teaching him Bible.  

    Last week, I introduced that idea of biblical theology. And I said that biblical theology is the discipline of learning how to read the Bible as one story by one divine author that centers on the person and work of Christ, so that every part of Scripture is understood in relation to Christ. It’s a way to read the Bible. It is a hermeneutic, to use a fancy seminary world.

    So if last week answered what is biblical theology, this week we’ll think about why biblical theology. And the short answer is: Biblical Theology Guards and Guides Churches, as you see in the title of today’s lesson at the top of your hand out. The discipline of biblical theology is essential to guarding and guiding your church. It guards churches against false stories and wrong paths. It guides the church toward better preaching, better practices, better paths.


    If you were here last week, you recall that I began with a pop quiz. Let’s do that again. Pop quiz time. I’m going to read you a few verses. And I want you to tell me how people might apply them to their lives wrongly:

    1) Listen to these two verses from Proverbs:

    “And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you…Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.” (Deut. 28:1-5)

    One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed. (Prov. 11:24-25)

    How might they be misinterpreted?

    Prosperity gospel churches use verses like these to say you should give generously to the teacher. If you give to me, so that I can buy the nicer car or even the jet, you will be blessed. God will reward you. And if you’re obedient, you will be blessed. Your crops will grow. Your cow will give milk. Your children will prosper. Your marriage will thrive.

    2) Okay what about these few verses:

    “Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!’ And God granted what he asked” (1 Chron. 4:10).

    Jesus: “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matt. 18:19).

    Jesus: “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Matt. 21:22).

    How might people wrongly interpret these verses?

    Again, these are some of the favorite verses of prosperity preachers. They lead to a “name it and claim it” philosophy, which views God in heaven like a vending machine in the sky. And he’ll bless you with worldly healthy and wealth if you just ask with enough faith. As you may know, that verse from 1 Chronicles 4:10 was the basis for Bruce Wilkenson’s book published in 2000 called The Prayer of Jabez, which sold 9 million copies.

    And if we were being honest, how many of us in this room have read Jesus’ words and asked ourselves, “Okay, if I just flex my faith muscles hard enough while I pray…God I do believe you will get me into Georgetown…I do believe you will get me into Georgetown…”

    But is this what these verses are about? What would biblical theology say?

    3) Okay, here’s another example:  

    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation” (Col. 1:15).

    How might it be put to wrong use?

    Jehovah’s Witnesses will use it to say that Jesus is not God and that he did not exist in eternity past. Instead, he is the first and greatest of God’s creations who then created everything else, as the verses 16 and following go on to say.

    We could keep going with example after example of false Christianity’s or at least misguided Christianities. We could talk about theological liberalism. It recasts the narrative of salvation as God’s work to overcome economic injustice or the self-centered political conscience.

    Or we could talk about Roman Catholicism. As in the Old Testament, they refer not to pastors or elders, but priests. Why is that? Could it have something to do with the fact that only the priests in the Catholic Churches are licensed to offer the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist, just like only the Old Testament priests alone could offer sacrifices. And that’s what they say the Lord’s Supper is, the actual body and blood of the Lord, as if he really is being sacrificed all over again. Is that right? The problem here, in other words, isn’t just about specific verses, and understanding specific verses. It’s about a way of reading the Bible, and putting the Old and New Testaments together, or what we call questions of continuity and discontinuity. They bring a lot of the Old Testament into the New.

    Other groups don’t bring the redemptive past into the present, they bring the redemptive future into the now. Once upon a time it was the perfectionist Anabaptists who thought they could bring heaven to earth right now. The progressive liberals tried this a century ago, through the social gospel. Now it is evangelicals who talk about transforming culture that offer subtle re-narrations.

    Civic religion, both in this country or abroad, is often the result of bad biblical theology.

    The point is, imbalanced or false gospels and imbalanced or false churches are built either on “proof texts” that pay no attention to the whole storyline of Scripture, or on whole stories gone awry. Either they wrongly connect the Bible’s major covenants; or they have too much continuity or too much discontinuity between the Old Testament or New. Maybe they promise heaven on earth now; maybe they disembody the spiritual life now. Maybe they just take Bible verses and twist them to give people what they want.

    The stories that some of these movements or churches or teachers tell may not be all wrong, but they remind me of how my daughter will retell the story her “supposed naptime”. She will speak truth, but she will also omit details, redistribute emphases, make tenuous interpretive connections so that she constructs the narrative.

    In each case, bad or imbalanced biblical theologies proclaim a bad or imbalanced gospel, and such gospels build bad or imbalanced churches.

    So super briefly, Deuteronomy 28: “If you faithfully obey…all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you.” How do we read that?

    We read it knowing that it was a promise given explicitly to the people of Israel but not to us. Yes, he was establishing an unbreakable link between righteousness and blessing. You must be righteous to be blessed. But at this point of redemptive history, God was teaching the people about their inability to be righteous by their own strength. Continue reading the story and you’ll find out that God would have to give his people his own righteousness in order for them to be blessed.             

    Or what about Jesus’ promises in Matthew about for anything in his name, especially if we ask with faith, then he’ll answer? Well, read Matthew 18 in context, and you see it’s about who speaks for Jesus—the gathered church—just like the people of Israel once spoke for God. What’s more, Jesus’ interest in the prayer of faith isn’t about the quality of your faith, it’s about whether or not you’re relying on him as the object of faith. 

    And what does it mean that Jesus is the firstborn of creation? Does it mean he’s not God but was the first creation of God? No, it means Jesus came as a new Adam to redeem the fallen human race. In that phrase we find the story of the Adam’s failure, Abraham’s failure, Israel’s failure, David’s failure, and finally our failure, and then the hope that God himself has come to recreate humanity in his own image. So how hope giving, then, to hear a few verses later: “in him the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:19). Oh, he is fully God. And in Christ God himself is showing us what it means to be fully human.

    Biblical theology is the guard of the church. “A robust biblical theology tends to safeguard Christians against the most egregious reductionisms,” says D. A. Carson.


    But biblical theology is not just a guard, it’s a guide—a guide to good preaching, good counseling, good outreach and engagement, good corporate worship, even good church structures. I want to think through each of these areas

    A Guide to Good Preaching and Teaching

    Why do you think biblical theology provides a guide to good preaching?

    When you sit down to study a text and prepare a sermon, biblical theology keeps you from proof texting or telling an imbalanced story of redemption. One friend of mine compared it to having “court sense” in basketball. You don’t just focus on dribbling the ball to the hoop. You are aware of the location of their teammates and defenders on the court as well as the flow of play.

    It places each text in the right canonical context, and helps you to see what your text has to do with the person and work of Christ. It wards off moralism so that one preaches Christian sermons. It rightly relates faith and works. It ensures that every sermon is part of the big story.

    How could a study of the life of Abraham make the gospel clear?  Do we simply slap an evangelistic trailer onto the end of the sermon? “For our non-Christian friends here today, I’d like to end this message about Abraham’s circumcision by telling you about how you can receive the free gift of eternal life. Come to Jesus!” “But he was just talking about circumcision?!”

    Or suppose you are teaching a lesson on David and Goliath. Nobody in Israel’s army wants to fight the giant Goliath who taunts them day after day. Then this young, naïve shepherd boy David shows up to bring his brothers food, refuses the king’s armor, picks out 5 stones, nails him in the forehead with one stone, and cuts off his head. What are some of the lessons people often take from this?

    Well, you have 5 stones, you see, and those stand for faith, hope, love…I got two more, uh, truth and emergency preparedness. Typically, people will talk about David: David’s faith, David’s courage. And, friends, you need David’s faith in God to fight the Goliaths in your lives. Is that the right way to teach the passage. Well, it’s a part of it. But this is not a Christian sermon. A Jewish rabbi could teach that sermon.

    Next week, we’re going to talk about typology as one of the tools you need for biblical theology. And the New Testament teaches us to read David as a type of Christ. Jesus and the apostles tell us in a number of places, like Mark 12 or Acts 2, that we’re to watch David in order to get a somewhat dim preview of Jesus. Who is David in the Goliath story? He is the Spirit-empowered and unlikely king who has come to rescue God’s people from God’s enemy. So, friend, I’m less interested in the Goliaths in your life, and more interested in whether there is a David in your life. Who is the king who will rescue you from God’s greatest enemy—sin? 

    In short, if you are in the Sunday gathering, a Sunday School, or a mid-week small group, you need biblical theology to do the most important thing in a church: preach and teach God’s Word.

    A Guide to Good Counseling

    Hopefully you can see how biblical theology is a going to be a good guide to all word ministry. But let’s think about on more form of word ministry: counseling.

    A younger Christian asks us what he should do with his life. A married friend needs encouragement because of difficulties in her marriage. A church member confesses that he struggles with an addictive behavior. Your teenage daughter is concerned about being accepted at school. All of us engage in counseling. How do you think biblical theology guides us here?

    And how you respond basically depends on what you think human beings are, what their problem is, and how the Bible speaks to it.

    In a lot of those situations, we diagnose his problem as either wrong thinking or wrong behavior. For the cure, we turn to the Bible as an answer book to show them how to think right or act right. The result is a proof-texting approach, a sort of Christianized version of behavioral or cognitive therapy. The basic counsel is, “You simply need to learn, by the power of the Spirit, to think or act differently.”

    The trouble, of course, is that story of Adam and Israel should teach us that you can give people all the right thinking: Adam had God in the Garden with him telling him precisely how to think. And Israel had the prophets. And you can get people to engage in the right behavior, for a while, at least: Israel had the elaborate structure of the law. Yet how well did all that succeed?

    A biblical anthropology, however, doesn’t finally define us by our behavior or our thoughts. Rather, we are defined by who we worship. We are fundamentally worshipers. This is graphically and perversely illustrated with Israel’s worshipping the gods of the nations.

    According to Paul, real change involves moving from idolatry to the worship of the true God. How does that happen? Through the gospel, through receiving and resting on what Christ accomplished on the cross. Through repenting from sin and putting faith in the grace of God held out in Jesus Christ. The Christian caught in sinful actions, destructive beliefs, or addictive behaviors is someone who is worshiping idols, as every fallen human does, and needs the gospel.

    Your friend who needs guidance: Are they stuck inside indecision because they have a wrong conception of where history is heading and where they will find ultimate joy?

    Your friend in a difficult marriage: is she resting hopes on her marriage that the marriage just wasn’t meant to bear?

    Your friend struggling with addiction: why does he think he was created?

    Biblical counseling refuses to hold out false and temporary goals, like an easier or more pleasant life now, or tricks and tips for a better marriage. Rather it holds out the goal of sanctification and glorification, our transformation into the very image of Christ. Its method is therefore the gospel because Christ is the goal.

    A Guide to Good Outreach and Engagement 

    Let’s turn to a church’s outreach and engagement with the world outside. Biblical theology rightly balances our expectations between expecting too much (over-realized eschatology, perfectionism) or demanding too little (cheap grace, easy-believism, belonging-before-believing, not preaching Scripture’s commands).

    Good biblical theology will not promise our best life now (whether that means health and wealth, transforming the city, winning the favor of the elite, or retaking America). But nor does it shy away from engaging culture and seeking the good of our neighbors in deed ministry for the sake of love and justice.

    A couple of examples:

    A) Missions

    Lately there’s been a lot of buzz about the need for the church to be missional. Being missional is not the same as being committed to missions, or being missions-minded. A so-called missional church says that the church doesn’t go on mission, or send people out to do missions. Rather, the church is the mission of God into the world, in order to heal the world and reconcile people to God. Just like Jesus healed and fed people. So the mission of the church is to incarnate ourselves into culture and do good to others. Bless them.

    So just grab Jeremiah 29 and talk about how the Jewish exiles were to care for the city of Babylon. Or grab the verses in Matthew 5 about being salt and light. Or any passage on the incarnation. Or any passage about Jesus feeding and healing people. Maybe our mission as a church should be less about putting money into overseas missions and more into building houses for the poor?

    What do you think? Does that sound right?

    I think there’s no question that we should go and be salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13-16). I also think there’s no question that God is a missionary God. He moves into the neighborhood and finds us. But notice that the whole Bible’s emphasis on the coming of Jesus to do what Adam and Israel couldn’t do! Notice how the Gospels themselves emphasize first and foremost who Jesus is, and how the Epistles call us to be united to Jesus by faith. The whole Bible emphasizes the utter uniqueness of Christ. That’s what the miracles point toward.

    The most important thing the church can do for the world is not anything the church can do for the world. The church cannot die for the sins of the world, or heal the nations, or usher in the kingdom of God. The most important thing the church can do is point to the One who did and is doing all this. The church must give witness to the Son. It must proclaim his message. It must make disciples of him. The very fact that all of Scripture centers on the person and work of Christ helps us to see precisely what our mission is: point to Christ, just like the Bible does. And, yes, we point to him with our deeds. But our deeds are mute, which means we must point to him most centrally with our words. This is why Jesus said he primarily came to preach, not cast out demons or heal.

    In other words, we need more than proof texts. We need to understand the whole Bible.

    B) The Relationship Between Church and State

    Biblical theology helps us understand the relationship between church and state. There is no more vexing question in church history than the question of the relationship between the church and the state. From medieval Christendom and the union of church and state over a single “Christian” empire, to today’s culture wars with a politicized electorate divided in part along religious lines, to fears about Islam and its refusal to organize the state along secular lines, to fears that fundamentalist Christians might make a similar refusal should they ever come to power in America—the question of the relationship between political and spiritual authority continues to cause conflict and fear.

    What do we do about the example of Israel? Don’t we see there a union of spiritual and civil authority? And what about Christianity’s all-encompassing moral worldview, which declares not only the universal Lordship of Christ, but the sacredness of human life and the moral character of the universe in which we live?

    Well, we need to pay attention to the entire storyline.

    A Guide to Good Corporate Worship

    Biblical theology helps us to know what to do when we gather as a church in our corporate worship.

    Is David’s naked ark-of-the-covenant dance normative for church gatherings? How about the incense used by Old Testament priests, or the use of instruments and choirs, or “making sacrifices” for various holidays, or the reading and explaining of the biblical text? A right biblical theology helps to answer what to bring into the new covenant era and what to leave in the old.

    Much depends on one’s approach to continuity and discontinuity, and one’s understanding of Christ’s work of fulfillment. It also depends on one’s understanding of what Christ’s gathered church has been authorized to do.

    A Guide to Good Church Structures

    By the same token, the storyline of Scripture requires us to pay attention to our church structures. Should we baptize babies? Well, it depends on how much continuity you see between the Old Testament and the New.

    What about pastors? Is their job description similar to the Old Testament priest? Or more like the prophet’s? Or the king’s? Well, the answer depends on these questions of continuity and discontinuity, as well as how prophet, priest, and king actually point most directly not to the pastor, but to Christ. So the question really is, how to pastors relate to Christ, not the Old Testament prophets, priests, and kings.

    What about church discipline? Do you think there might be something to learn from Adam and Eve’s eviction from the Garden, to Noah’s ark, to the holiness laws and being placed outside the camp, to Israel’s exile, to Nehemiah’s wall?


    Biblical theology as a discipline is a way of reading the Bible, a hermeneutical strategy that refuses to turn God’s story into life’s little answer book, but rather recognizes it as the grand story that gives our stories meaning.

    That story increasingly defines who we are, where we’ve come from, and where we’re going. As a result, it guards and guides the church today.