Years ago in seminary, I completed a Master of Divinity degree, which is the professional, academic degree for pastors in comparison to graduate medical and law school for doctors and lawyers. I particularly enjoyed systematic theology and historic theology.
I sampled, read, and studied the writings of many systematic theology professors who took scripture themes and strove to organize them in a logical coherence over a lifetime of study. I have over a dozen systematic theologies in my possession. Among the topics in systematic theology, I also possess many books that focus individually on bibliology (doctrine of the Bible), theology (doctrine of God), pneumatology (doctrine of the Spirit), soteriology (doctrine of salvation), ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), and eschatology (doctrine of end time events). Systematic theology greatly aids us in teaching topics in the Bible.
My favorite is historical theology. I love history and meandering through the streams of Jewish theology, patristic theology, Augustinian theology, Aquinas theology, reformed theology, Arminian theology, Wesleyan theology, evangelical theology, dispensational theology, fundamentalist theology, Pentecostal theology, neo-evangelical theology, and to where we find ourselves today in 2021 as it all goes back to the roots of the biblical texts. What we believe today is not new. There is nothing new under the sun. Every religion, hermeneutical interpretation, and denomination today in Eastern Idaho has historic roots.
I also like practical theology. The Bible is the best textbook for our modern mental and spiritual health. The best counselors for men and women’s problems today are those who are saturated in the wisdom of God’s Word. If we have all this knowledge of the Bible and no application to our daily lives, what are we doing?
Of course, the heart of systematic, historical, and practical theology is biblical theology. I have a book called Toward An Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Baker Book House, 5th printing, 1985) by Walter C. Kaiser. I cut my theological teeth on Geerherdus Vos’ historic writings on Old Testament theology and Leon Morris’ New Testament Theology. I have introductions to both the Old Testament and the New Testaments and shelves of commentaries on individual books of the Bible. I was given the four-volume set of The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. But I must confess that in all my theological library, I only have only one book which covers in a pastoral way every section of the Bible with a proposed, unified, theological center. Dr. Matt Emadi gave this book to me a month ago at the Salt Lake School of Theology. It is called God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.
Author: James M. Hamilton Jr.
Copyright Date: 2010
Available: On Amazon for around $45
Length: 571 pages (639 with appendices including selected bibliography, general index, and scriptural index)
Upon receiving the book at the Salt Lake School of Theology, I glanced inside at who painted the cover photo. Stunning. Prayerful. Victorious. I read the back endorsements by Kevin Vanhoozer, T. Desmond Alexander, Thomas Schreiner, and Stephen Dempster.
Not often in 2021, do you see a book about the Bible that carries right in its title the word, “Judgment”. Postmodern sophistication shrinks back from that word. And typically, people prefer a warmer word like Love in book titles about God.
On break between lectures at SLST’s Psalms Exegesis Colloquium, I looked at the table of contents of this book and scanned the analytical outline. Sure enough, I saw the author maintaining that the theme of “God’s Glory in Salvation” resided in the Torah, the Prophets, the Writings, the Gospels and Acts, the Letters of the New Testament, and finally in Revelation. I pondered for a moment that night in Salt Lake City, Utah as I shook the author’s hand. I could easily see the theme of judgment throughout much of the Old Testament in the Pentateuch, the historical books, and major and minor prophets. But Ruth? Job? Ecclesiastes? and Song of Solomon? And what about the New Testament? What is the main theme of the Gospels from the viewpoints by each of their authors? Matthew declares Jesus as King and John proclaims Him as God. But what about Mark and Luke? The King came to save, but did He also arrive to judge? Would Mark and Luke agree with Jim Hamilton that the main thrust of their gospel books is to declare God’s glory in salvation through judgment? A lot of the higher academic discussion in the I-15 Corridor portrays Jesus one-sided as a loving savior, kind prophet, or humble servant and not as what Hamilton maintains for the central thesis for biblical theology. Sadly, some academic theologians state that Mark’s Gospel does not even consider Jesus as God. Moving further into the New Testament, we think about God’s glory in salvation through judgment in the final Apocalypse ending our scriptural canon but what about Philippians, Philemon, or I John? What first comes to your mind in those letters? Hamilton considers all these questions and addresses them thoroughly.
To be honest, I have only read 269 pages in this book. First, I read chapter 1, “Can the Center Hold?” I liked how Hamilton connected biblical theology to inductive study.
“The particular usefulness of biblical theology comes from its inductive approach. . . . The purpose of biblical theology, then, is to sharpen our understanding of the theology contained in the Bible itself through an inductive, salvation-historical examination of the Bible’s themes and the relationships between those themes in their canonical context and literary form” (47).
Every Christian in my hometown in Idaho Falls is in a sense—a theologian. As they read their Bibles, they should be asking questions of observation, interpretation, and application. Who are the people in the story? What are they talking about? Where does it take place? Why does the Holy Spirit communicate these details? What does this say about God’s glory? How are we to apply truths in this Bible story to our own lives? What do we need to turn from? How are we to praise and glorify God?
Pastors come alongside to aid brothers and sisters in our local congregations. Good pastors do not just study the Bible for mere academic accolades. Hamilton rightly asserts, “The biblical theologian who writes in the service of the church does so to elucidate the biblical worldview, not merely so that it can be studied but so that it can be adopted” (45).
And in all our reading, studying, and teaching with the Bible in our river city of Idaho Falls, is there one foundational idea throughout it all? The author of this book cries out, “Can the center hold? Is the gravitational force of the glory of God in salvation through judgment sufficient to organize the universe of biblical theology?” (53).
Second, I tackled chapter 8 – “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment and Objections to Its Centrality,” where Hamilton interacted with objections by two other notable Christian scholars, the esteemed I. Howard Marshall, now in heaven, and Ben Witherington. I especially tuned in to what Hamilton wrote to Marshall in a disagreement over Mark’s Gospel.
“But biblical study is more than just word studies, and I would argue that while Mark may only rarely say that Jesus is glorious, he everywhere shows him to be glorious (559). . . . “So when Jesus barnstorms the land, driving out demons, healing the sick, and teaching the truth, he is taking back from Satan what rightly belongs to him as God’s Son. Mark may not use the world glory to describe what Jesus is doing, but he is showing the glory of Christ without using the word. The same could be said about the cross in Mark’s Gospel. Jesus is judged so that those who trust him can be saved to the glory of God. We have a diversity of expression in the Bible between Ezekiel and Mark, but they are unified in the message they communicate” (560).
I jumped from chapter 8 right into chapter 9 and meditated over the powerful practicalities summarized in the last chapter for the Christian today and the Church – “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment in Ministry Today.”
Third, since I was in a current teaching series at church, “Christ our King in the Psalms”, I read the section on Psalms in the middle of the book from pages 276 to 290, working through the five books of the Psalter and then concluding with the center of its theology. One thing that I enjoyed about Hamilton’s book is all the footnotes! In jest, I think an author and publishing company should be fired if everything is placed in endnotes. On page 277, Hamilton’s footnote 17 captured my attention and sent me on an online search for Dr. Gordon Wenham’s three lectures (https://equip.sbts.edu/category/lectures/jb-gay/) at Southern Seminary in 2006. Scrolling on the first page, I discovered the recorded sessions by Wenham on “Reading the Psalms Canonically, Messianically, and Ethically.” I am tempted to find out at what Wenham wrote in his 2013 book, The Psalter Reclaimed: Praising and Praying with the Psalms.
Finally, I read all the portions that were of initial interest to me in seeing how Hamilton holds to his theory for the center of biblical theology: (1) the entirety of chapter 4, “God’s Glory in the Salvation through Judgment in the Writings,”(2) the gospels sections of Mark through John and on into Acts, (3) the letters of Philippians, Philemon, and I John, and then last of all, (4) chapter 7, “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment in Revelation.”
Hamilton’s section on The Writings were valuable to me. I agreed with Hamilton’s outstanding assessment in Job and learned new things in his section on The Megilloth. He extensively borrowed from Addison G. Wright for unlocking the literary structure of the Qoheleth (313); and in a footnote with the theologian Peter J. Leithart, who had lived in Northern Idaho for 15 years, Hamilton disagrees over Mordecai’s motives for Esther (321). With theological precision, Hamilton supported his reason for rejecting the Masoretic placement of the athnach in Daniel 9:35 (333) to show the stunning fulfillment of Jesus Christ riding into Jerusalem and taking the curse of our sin upon the cross. And in summary, Hamilton used the Chronicler to wrap up all the theology for the Old Testament. I was thankful for Table 4.9 at the end of his section on the Old Testament that listed almost twenty prayers appealing to God’s concern for His own glory (352-353).
I have always loved Matthew and John, the first and the last gospels. But through the years, I have been growing in my understanding of Mark and Luke. Hamilton did not disappoint me by bridging Mark with Isaiah and Luke with Samuel. Wow. It was a theological feast in savoring the person and work of Jesus Christ. Again, on the theme of prayer, I appreciated the 29 passages in Hamilton’s Table 5.13 on the work and nature of prayer in Luke’s Gospel (402).
Let me conclude my thoughts on my initial reading in Hamilton’s book. Hamilton describes how Acts connects the Old Testament with the New Testament on establishing the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Hamilton bolsters his theme in Acts with an additional essay, “The Center of Biblical Theology in Acts: Deliverance and Damnation Display the Divine.” And for Revelation, Hamilton ends in triumph,
“The Son of Man will come on the clouds of heaven with all his holy ones. All the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. They face judgment. For the objects of mercy, redemption draws nigh. Jesus will come to save through judgment for the glory of God. He is worthy of trust. Every human should trust him, even now.”
The center of biblical theology is the glory of God in salvation through judgment, as can be seen in creation and covenant, salvation history and story line, exodus and exile, new exodus and return to Eden, warning and repentance, fear of God and wrath to come. He will save and judge, and there will be no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God and the Lamb will shine forever” (551).
Because of the Salt Lake School of Theology, I am thankful to have this biblical theology resource at my fingertips. I will be referencing to it again in my future study of the Bible.