My title seems to be an interesting question to ask, especially in light of everything going on in the world today. However, as I meet more and more students with another school year underway, I am continuing to run across an ongoing and seemingly endemic issue with new students that come from a church background. This issue consistently hamstrings our discipleship efforts; many times it forces us to spend far more time teaching biblical basics rather than advancing in Christian maturity.
As I have been having discussions about my teaching series with my students this semester, I am seeing the problem reveal itself once again. This is the problem: There has been a great neglect in teaching and applying a holistic biblical theology in the discipleship process of those being raised within the church.
Why Biblical Theology Matters
Why is this lack of biblical theology such a problem? Well, it means that our students have very little understanding of the entire Bible’s message and how the parts fit within the whole. This has a drastic effect on the confidence our students have in sharing the gospel. Many of our students have only read a handful of books in the Scriptures, and they couldn’t tell you the difference between the Old and New Covenants—much less why that difference matters.
In other words, they can’t consistently make heads or tails of the New Testament message of Jesus because they don’t know their Old Testament and how the Bible fits together as a whole. They’ve never understood the foundational themes that God gave us in the first half in order to understand why it matters that every promise is yes and amen in Jesus. This causes anemic Biblical understanding. Students are basically coming into our ministry from their church Biblically illiterate, and this starvation of understanding greatly influences how effective we are in actually sharing the gospel. This, in no small way, is a problem.
Filling in the Gaps
The question I’m asking you, the reader, is intended to help us think through how to address this issue in our ministries. Some students are at a much higher level in their biblical understanding, some are lower, however, I see this issue as a consistent refrain in our new students for the last four years since coming to the university at which I serve.
Due to this, I have consistently begun our fall with an overarching biblical study through various themes that tie the entire Bible and its message together. For instance, my second year we began with a study on the New Testament’s use of the Old Testament in the gospel of John. My third year we went through the covenants and how they progressively revealed the Bible’s entire message that was pointing to the New Covenant in Jesus. This year, I started a study on the gospel and the mission of God in order to show that the gospel began with God in eternity past and was brought to fruition through God’s progressive revelation of His plan and purposes in the Scriptures through His Son. These studies have helped our students immensely in helping them get the big picture of the Bible, especially our new students.
Systematic vs. Biblical Theology
Many of our students actually know some amount of theology, however, this theology is primarily systematic in nature. Systematic theology looks at the individual doctrines that the Bible teaches. Biblical theology looks at the Bible as one big Story that finds its climax in Jesus. They go hand-in-hand, but they aren’t the same thing.
I think a systematic- theological study of the Scriptures is our default when we try to teach and disciple our students. This isn’t bad, but we forget that our systematic theology is actually derived from our biblical theology. In other words, our holistic understanding of how the Bible fits together must be established in order to make the best sense of the individual parts of theology that we study."Our holistic understanding of how the Bible fits together must be established in order to make the best sense of the individual parts of theology that we study." -@ReeseHammond #collegiatedisciplemaker Are You Teaching Biblical… Click To Tweet
Now, we do this in tandem much of the time, so it can be difficult to discern the primary nature of Biblical Theology, but we must be able to understand the whole of the parts in order to make better and more consistent sense of the parts of the whole. For instance, I read that God is Holy, Just, and Eternal. These are aspects of Systematic Theology. I can read these in isolation from the whole of the Scriptures and still discern that God possesses these attributes. However, to consistently apply them we must understand how these attributes are revealed in the overarching context and flow of Scripture—this is Biblical Theology.
Build the Foundation
We must give our students the Biblical foundations they need in order to help them make consistent sense out of the Bible that we teach them to love, study, and embrace. This foundation must include a solid understanding of the whole of Scripture, not just the individual doctrines found in it.
We must not let them perish for lack of knowledge or be content with a passing or anemic understanding of God’s Word. And finally, we must give this to them so that their witness and proclamation of the gospel can consistently engage every person and worldview that they come across.
Have you noticed this “biblical anemia” within your ministry? How do you teach your students biblical theology?