The sermon you hear on a Sunday morning represents the tip of the iceberg of what your pastor has studied. Beyond what they have researched and written that week, an entire mountain of biblical theology and methodologies exists. Learn more about four methodologies and the meaning of Biblical theology from Adjunct Professor of the School of Ministry Studies Rob Neufer based on his studies.
In “The Present and Future of Biblical Theology,” Andreas J. Köstenberger provides a survey of four popular approaches to biblical theology (Classic, Central-Themes, Single-Center, and Story of Metanarrative). Before explaining the four methods, he gives three general principles of methodology: “(1) ground biblical theology in careful historical work, (2) conceive of the discipline as essentially inductive and descriptive, and (3) distinguish biblical from systematic theology.”
The Classic Approach
Köstenberger explains the Classic Approach with an Analysis/Synthesis base. “This classic approach involves studying first the message and theological content of the individual biblical books, followed by an attempt at synthesis tracing overarching themes across various Corpora.” Köstenberger then relies on Rosner’s definition from the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology as follows: “It proceeds with historical and literary sensitivity and seeks to analyze and synthesize the Bible’s teaching about God and his relations to the world on its own terms, maintaining sight of the Bible’s overarching narrative and Christocentric focus.”
The Central-Themes Approach
The Central-Themes approach seeks to trace major themes through the Old and New Testaments. One method — that of Charles H. H. Scobie — is: “Each theme is first traced through the OT. Although, on the one hand, the material is discussed with an eye to the way [in which] the theme is developed in the NT, on the other hand, every effort is made to listen to what the OT says on its own terms.” Scobie cautions against imposing themes but rather allows themes to arise from the biblical text. He proposes four major categories for organizing the themes: (1) God’s order; (2) God’s servant; (3) God’s people; and (4) God’s way.” The caution that Köstenberger adds to the Central-Themes approach is that the central themes must be placed within the “framework of the macrostructure of the entire canon” lest they become unhinged from the metanarrative of Scripture.
The Single-Center Approach
Köstenberger describes the Single-Center approach as a scholar’s identified “single center of Scripture that constitutes the major theme around which the entire canon revolves.” The methodology is to trace the identified single center throughout the different corpora of the entire Bible. Köstenberger calls the method “fraught with considerable difficulty at the very outset”, and critiques Hamilton’s attempt as: “fails to convince because it proves unduly monolithic and frequently appears to be artificially imposed onto individual writings.”
The Story of the Metanarrative Approach
The last approach to understanding the meaning of biblical theology that Köstenberger surveys is the Story or Metanarrative approach. He says “This approach does not identify one theme as the central idea but argues that there is an overarching metanarrative that unifies the Scriptures.” He describes the methodology by giving two recent examples of scholarship: Graeme Goldsworthy’s Christ-Centered Biblical Theology: Hermeneutical Foundations and Principles and G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New.
Goldsworthy’s method includes, “careful thematic or word study; contextual studies of individual texts, books, or corpora; OT or NT theologies; and theologies of the whole Bible as a canon.” Of Beal’s method, he states, “he engages in the exegetical analysis of keywords, crucial passages, OT quotations, allusions, and prominent themes to elaborate on the main plotline categories.”
Then in Beale’s own words, “This specific approach to NT biblical theology, according to Beale, is “canonical,” “organically developmental,” “exegetical,” and “inter-textual.”
As you can see, there is more to understanding, interpreting, and presenting the meaning of biblical theology than meets the eye. Our Doctor of Ministry in Advanced Expository Preaching program can equip you for this important work as you shepherd God’s people. Learn more about this program and how GTS is preparing leaders for their calling.
Köstenberger, Andreas J. “The Present and Future of Biblical Theology.” Themelios 37, no. 3 (November 2012): 464.