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Klink & Lockett, Understanding Biblical Theology
A Brief Book Notice
by Fred G. Zaspel
(originally published in Credo 3:1, January 2013)
Just a brief note here regarding a helpful new book from Zondervan. Our generation has seen a dramatic rise of interest in Biblical Theology (BT), and as the discipline itself has grown, varying approaches to it have emerged with it. As a result, the field has become complex, especially for students just getting started. Why and how do so many who are doing BT differ? Did Ladd do the same thing, say, as Clowney? Carson? Wright? Childs?
In short, at some point it was inevitable that someone would need to sort through the various BTs out there and provide an introduction, analysis, and comparison for the rest of us. This is what Edward W. Klink III and Darian R. Lockett have done for us in their new Understanding Biblical Theology: A Comparison of Theory and Practice. They summarize the major approaches as follows:
BT1 - BT as Historical Description (James Barr)
BT2 - BT as History of Redemption (D.A. Carson)
BT3 - BT as Worldview-Story (N.T. Wright)
BT4 - BT as Canonical Approach (Brevard Childs)
BT5 - BT as Theological Construction (Francis Watson)
The book is structured very simply. Allowing and recognizing varieties within these major categories, Klink and Lockett provide first a definition / description and then an examination of a representative spokesman for each of these approaches. The relation of OT and NT, the unity and/or diversity of theological content, sources (Scripture only or backgrounds also?), subject matter, and disciplinary location (Is BT a churchly or academic field?) - each of these topics is taken up under the consideration of each approach before surveying the work of the given representative scholar. In the end, Klink and Lockett have provided a helpful summary-introduction to this complex field of study.
Two questions came to mind while reading. First, I felt that their “appreciative critique” of Carson overstated his understanding of the controlling role of exegesis in both BT and Systematic Theology (ST). Carson’s insistence on the priority of exegesis is made with the explicit recognition that exegesis is itself influenced by BT, ST, and so on - each of these disciplines has influence on all the others. Of course. Exegesis is never done in a vacuum. Yet in terms of logical, controlling priority, exegesis must be given first place. No one but Carson can speak for Carson, of course, but I felt while reading this section (pp. 88-89) that if his method actually suggested that “there are forms of exegesis that are not influenced by biblical theology,” and that “there are forms of systematic theology not nourished by biblical theology,” Carson himself would disagree also!
My other question concerns the usefulness of this as an introductory text in the classroom. The short answer, I’m sure, is, Yes. But for the beginning student with no or little exposure to the field, the book will still require further supplementation from the professor. While reading the book through I tried to imagine the beginning student trying to grasp some of these various approaches and concepts - without some context and exposure the book will be challenging at certain points. This is just the nature of the case. Still, Understanding Biblical Theology is a most helpful introductory text, and each approach is presented clearly with relative simplicity. And this in under 200 pages! And as far as I am aware, there is nothing else like it - it fills a needed niche. And for the many of us who do not specialize in BT, this book serves as a helpful map of the territory.