G. K. Beale on Biblical Theology and Its Prescriptive Element

Beale - New Testament Biblical Theology

This is an excerpt from G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. He is speaking about the development of biblical theologies and their relationship to the Christian life:

A proper understanding and development of OT and NT theology reveals that theology is not only descriptive but also prescriptive. That is, the mere development of a theology of either Testament is a descriptive task, but the content of that theology manifests an imperative for God’s people to follow and obey. (pg. 5)

Unfortunately, this presupposition (and a good one to have) is easily lost on students of theology. Ultimately, the God of the Bible and the theology that can be derived from the Bible calls the church to faith and obedience. It calls Christians to live holy lives for the glory of God. Without that, the study of theology is nothing more than an academic exercise that is best left out of the church and in the halls of liberal academia.

They Know Him…They Know Him Not

For what can be known about God is plain to them…For although they knew God…(Romans 1:19, 21)

 

For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God… (1 Corinthians 1:21)

 

…the Gentiles who do not know God… (1 Thessalonians 4:5)

Do you notice the what apparently looks like a discrepancy? In Romans, Paul tells us that God can be known. He goes as far as to say that it is “plain”, uncovered, there, right in front of your face. You can point to it. That’s how plain it is. Later in the same chapter of Romans Paul tells us that humanity is “without excuse.” (1:20b) But in the first letters to the Corinthians and the Thessalonians, he says that the world and Gentiles do not know God. In other words, there is no reason for humanity to not know God, but they do not know Him. Why is that? Let’s explore and see if we can come up with the answer.

  • What can be known of God is revealed in the created order (Romans 1: 20) People can look at the created world and see the glory of God, His “eternal power and divine nature” is there to be seen. I’m not saying that God is nature; that would be pantheism. A distinction must be maintained between the Creator and the creature. However, the “invisible attributes” of God can be seen in what has been made. There is no reason why a person looking at a beautiful sunrise, the majesty of mountains, the power of thunder, brilliance of lightning, the intricate complexity of plants, animals, ecosystems, and the universe with its endless stars, planets, and galaxies which stretch to eternity cannot see the powerful and divine hand of the Master Architect. The glory of God is declared by what He has created. (Psalm 19)
  • What can be known of God is also revealed in the heart of man (Romans 2:15) The law of God is written on the heart of every human being that has ever lived. Their conscience bears witness to God’s righteous requirement. Regardless of what part of the world you visit, or which culture you explore, there is an innate sense of right and wrong built into the very fiber of our being. Even the vilest of human beings, when being honest, will tell you that the evil they do and enjoy is wrong. The greatest philanthropist will also recognize that helping the weak, the poor, and the disenfranchised is the right thing to do. We all admire those who sacrificially give of what they have, to include in many cases their very lives. This is built into our very nature because God made man and put it there.

So, with all of this, why does man not know God? Why don’t they see His glory?

I would suggest the reason is hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:18) The problem is that man in his fallen state cannot see the glory of God even though it is staring him in the face and bearing witness to his soul. The hardness in their hearts won’t let them see. But its more than that. That hardness of the heart is maintained by a love for darkness (1 John 3:19) People love the sin they live in; there is a greater love for that which antithetical to all that God represents than there is for the light of Christ in all His purity and glory. Their self-exaltation and narcissistic tendencies cloud their vision. The enemy of our souls, the Devil, has exploited this and enslaved mankind (2 Cor. 4:4) The natural mind of man, filled with their many idols, hears the gospel and considers it “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 2:14). Man wants to be God, and blindly, ignorantly, and foolishly thinks he can be. William Collin, a Particular (Reformed) Baptist pastor in the late 17th century,  clearly states the plight of man in his Baptist Catechism:

Q. 22: What is the misery of that estate whereinto man fell?


All mankind by their fall lost communion with God¹, are under His wrath and curse², and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell for ever³.

 

¹ Genesis 3:8, 10, 24
² Ephesians 2:2, 3; Galatians 3:10
³ Lamentations 3:39; Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:41, 46

This is why man is utterly helpless unless God steps in and rescues him. God must powerfully break in and shine His divine glory into our hard hearts (1 Corinthians 4:6), grant truth and repentance (2 Timothy 2:25), and give us the grace of faith in Christ (Philippians 1:29). In doing so, the blinders fall off, the stony heart is exchanged for one of flesh ready for molding by the Potter, and the eyes of the heart are enlightened (Ephesians 1:18). We are raised from the dead and experience the new birth. Our sins are forgiven and we stand no longer before a wrathful, righteous Judge, but before a gracious and merciful Father, the Giver of good gifts. (James 1:17) “Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) Then, and only then, will we see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4: 4).

 

Effort in Sanctification

For the last several decades there has been a significant decline in the church’s understanding of how our efforts in progressive sanctification play a role in the Christian life. When I use the term “progressive sanctification” I mean the Christian’s growth in grace towards Christlikeness in this life. This is a Spirit-wrought process whereby we are becoming more like Jesus in our thinking, words, and actions. On the other hand, we also believe the Bible teaches that there is positional sanctification that is enjoyed by believers. This is the Christian’s position as one who has been united to Christ in His death, resurrection, and current reign in Heaven (Rom. 6:5; Eph. 2:6; Col. 3:1). There is no progress to be made here. It is our current standing before God as blood-bought, Spirit-sealed children of God (Eph. 1:13). At some point in our personal history we belonged to the kingdom of darkness, but, at the moment of salvation by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone, we were transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col. 1:13; 1 Pet. 2:9; 1 Thess. 5:4, 5).

What I would like to touch on is the progressive sanctification of the believer and the role of work (not “works”). The idea that Christians must work or put forth effort as part of their maturity in the faith has fallen on hard times in many evangelical circles. Some believe that it is enough to simply recognize and believe that they are “in Christ”. This belief will be all that is necessary for the Christian to cease from sinning. The struggle with particular sins will come to an end if we simply believe and preach the gospel to ourselves on a daily basis. This line of thinking leads to a “resting in Christ” that will somehow cause all of our battles to result in victory over sin.

There is no doubt that the Bible teaches us that we are in Christ, that we have been transferred to the kingdom of light, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places. But that’s not all it teaches. The reality is that for the Christian to grow there is genuinely hard work involved in growing in holiness. There is blood to be spilled, sweat to be had, and tears to be shed in fighting the good fight. Here are a few passages that address this very issue:

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Cor. 15:10)

 

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Phil. 2:12-13)

 

Therefore, since you have been raised with Christ, strive for the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Col. 3:1)

 

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (1 Pet. 1:5-7)

 

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14)

Paul, Peter and the author of Hebrews made it very clear that Christian growth does not happen by osmosis. It isn’t just something that happens to you while you take a passive role. It happens when we take the Word of God, understand what it says, and seek to intentionally apply its principles and commands to our lives day in and day out.

Our position in Christ as those who are united to Him by faith serves as the foundation for our on-going struggle with sin. This is WHY we can engage in the battle for holiness “without which no one will see the Lord.” Our position in Christ affords us the power to conduct a persistent campaign against the remaining sinfulness that we are to mortify because we are indwelt by the third Person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit Himself. Our confidence in prayers for victory over sin comes from knowing that the Spirit of Christ helps us in our prayers and gives us the strength to do battle. Make no mistake about it: We are called to fight, to put forth effort in our daily struggle towards holiness. Our positional sanctification (being in Christ) serves to empower our progressive sanctification (being Christlike).

Dear Christian, do not rob yourself of victory in Jesus and do not disparage the glory of Christ by refusing to “work out your salvation” under the guise of not wanting to be legalistic. Instead, avail yourself of the power of the Spirit of the living God that dwells within you due to your position in Christ and seek holiness. This is not about meriting and seeking favor with God. You already have His favor, love and acceptance. You have already been justified and reconciled to God by the cross. Christ already took care of that. But the call of the Christian does not stop there. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8) The call is to mortify sin, grow in holiness, and persist till the end, by the grace of God in Christ.



I found this panel session at the 2014 Together for the Gospel conference to be very helpful. Although it is geared toward preachers, I found that it would be helpful for all believers.

Preaching Sanctification

Trials: Theological Rubber Meets the “Everyday” Road

I have been away for several weeks due to some troubling news that my wife and I received regarding her pregnancy. She is doing well but there is a good chance that she is in the early stage of Placenta Accreta. This will present a particular set of difficulties down the road as she gets closer to her due date. In light of this, my time has been occupied with taking care of her, our home, our children. It has also presented the opportunity to reflect on God’s providence and unceasing love for those who are called to be His.

I confess that I struggled at first to understand why this was happening. I would imagine this is a fairly normal reaction for most people, Christian and non-Christian alike. In a single instance everything seemed to come to a screeching stop. Things that seemed important before now appeared trivial and insignificant. And the nagging question continued to haunt me: “Why would God, my Father in Heaven, allow us to go through such an ordeal?” As I was driving home from work one afternoon I was flooded with a terrible anxiety and my imagination ran wild… But only for a few moments.

At this point, my theology kicked in. This is what this blog is about: where the study and the “everyday” meet. I immediately and intentionally began to meditate on some biblical and theological truths that served as a salve for my soul. I remembered that I love God, and that He causes all thing to work out for our good (Rom. 8:28). I reflected on God’s sovereign grace and a love that neither my wife or I could ever be separated from (Rom. 8:38-39). I thought about the role that trial and tribulations play in our lives and how God uses these to build us up in our most holy faith; how they should not rob of us joy (James 1:2-3; Rom. 5:3). All of these are founded on theological truths about the nature and being of God, His providential hand in all things, His lordship over all creation, but most of all, in the blessed gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ. The truth is that I cannot fathom how the unbeliever can graciously face the difficulties and anxieties that accompany this life without gospel of Jesus, without a biblical theology of suffering. Regardless of the outcome, Christ is mine and I am His. Adding to that the fact that my wife is also a believer brings all the more joy.

Suffering, trials, tribulations, afflictions…these are God’s ordained means of growth in the life of the Christian (Acts 14:22; 1 Peter 4:12; 2 Tim. 3:12). No other religion in the world would make such a claim. It forces us to face our own sinfulness and fall into the hands of the Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer of our bodies and souls. Does this mean we do not feel the pain of suffering? No, in this life there will be pain and heartache. Concern for our loved ones will always be there. But underneath it all, there is an unshakable joy in knowing that the God of the Scriptures has us in His heart and mind, and He will use these disconcerting moments to increase our faith, our holiness, and make us more like the Savior. Therefore, we can be strong and courageous in the Lord (Deut. 31:6; Eph. 6:10).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5

“Frame Stops Where the Bible Stops” – Why Christians Should Read John Frame?

This is a blog post I found on The Calvinist International written by Joseph Minich. I was planning on writing about my earnest desire that more Christians engage the theological works of John Frame. Mr. Minich has beat me to the punch (by a few years) and I am grateful because I couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s a little long but worth your time.

One of the main reasons, which Minich will point out below, that I highly recommend John Frame is because he really seeks to understand and apply Deuteronomy 29:29:

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

Frame is very intentional in his Scripture-based approach to theology, as opposed to other systematic theologies that can be shoddy in exegesis and emphasize historical theology and tradition as a means of justifying a doctrine. Frame’s high view of Scripture comes out and he is very aware of the boundaries that are imposed by Scripture itself.


 

WHY I LOVE JOHN FRAME’S “BIBLICISM” & YOU SHOULD TOO

by Joseph Minich

The most common complaint I’ve seen regarding John Frame’s recent Systematic Theology is that it does not contain enough historical theology. It approximates “biblicism” (cue scary music) in its approach to the Reformed faith. And while I might attribute a greater degree of significance to historical theology and confessions than does Dr. Frame (though I’m not entirely sure of this), I want to write briefly in his defense here.

The truth is, the Reformed world needs this “biblicist” systematic theology, and for several reasons:

1. No matter how much we pay lip-service to the subordinate authority of confessions, there are many in the Reformed world who seem to functionally treat the confessions as on par with Scripture. Even if this is not their heart’s intention and even if they argue that quoting the confession in theological disputes is appropriate precisely because the confessions are “biblical,” the simple point of fact is that the confessions are not the Bible. And when Reformed believers relate to their non-Reformed Christian brethren about doctrines we hold dear, the thing they need to know and emphasize the most is the Bible. The Bible alone is God’s speech (i.e. words) to His people, and as such, it is the common ground that we share with all our Christian brothers and sisters. Do you want to persuade ordinary believers of the Reformed faith? Then show them that the Bible teaches the Reformed faith.

2. Some systematic theologies are very strong on philosophical and historical issues, but forget to go over the basic biblical commonplaces for defending a position. I have often wanted to find the (forgive me) “proof texts” for various topics, and have been sorely disappointed. Never with Frame. Every time I try to explore even the most esoteric doctrines (divine atemporality, etc), Frame presents the main texts (and several besides) and then discusses what can and cannot be derived from them. This is so helpful for the teacher of theology. For many, Frame’s work will be the “go to” for approximating the sorts of texts a Reformed person might appeal to for our various distinctives.

3. While I wish Frame would state certain doctrines in stronger and more traditional language (divine simplicity, especially), his work is actually a help to the historical theologian because his views are mostly traditional. He does use some terms more broadly (law/gospel) and he adds a distinctive “Frame-flavor” (a wealth of triads, vocabulary, etc) to many doctrines. But most of the time, these “special touches” are either pedagogically useful or (at least) warrant reflection. And in either case, the substance is quite traditional– whatever the artifice. In my judgment, it takes only a small dose of critical evaluation to see this clearly. And for those (like myself) who are comfortable with a very pronounced role for reason in theology, Frame is usually a great place to go to determine how far we can get toward certain classical doctrines from Scripture alone. In some cases, Scripture “hints at” certain classical formulations which might nevertheless have a more elaborate defense from reason (in coordination with Scripture). If one does not feel the need for all truth to have a “Bible verse” to support it, then one can be easily motivated to be honest about the extent to which Scripture approximates traditional theology. And Frame is perhaps the most helpful and honest author I’ve found in showing where Scripture most closely approximates classical Christian doctrine without feeling the need to say that it goes “all the way” in each case. In short, Frame stops where the Bible stops.

4. Frame is also a philosopher by trade and so his “biblicism” does not result in the sort of shoddy exegesis or overly quick inference that often plagues such an approach. His judgments are measured with the sharp mind of a philosopher and the wisdom of one who has walked long with Christ. Even when you disagree, he asks the questions that must be grappled with. This is a biblicism with philosophical precision and a love for Christ and His church that jumps off the page. This is “the application of the word of God to our questions,” which is something like Frame’s definition of theology.

5. What is more, most of the philosophical and existential asides are more contemporary is nature than their historical theological counter-parts. Again, while I think these latter are important and essential, it is also very useful to see someone address the sorts of philosophical issues, practical problems, and common questions that might arise in a Sunday School classroom or in a conversation with a moderately educated non-historian. Several other systematic theologians have done this as well, but the reader will always walk away from Frame’s own analyses with either some nuts and bolts tools that get right to the heart of the issue, or they will be challenged to think very hard about an alternative.

In short, Frame’s is something of a “go to” systematician for determining the Biblical material that must be engaged in grappling with a topic. And he is a top contender for determining the sorts of questions that need to be answered if one is to resist his own skeptical or non-committal treatment of some traditional formulations, as well as for addressing contemporary questions in a pedagogically useful manner. Frame’s work really is for the people of God and it always directs them with humility, wisdom, and precision to His voice above all else.


Joseph Minich lives in Texas with his wife (Rebecca) and four children (Samuel, Truman, Felix, and Ruby). He recently graduated from Reformed Theological Seminary (D.C. Campus) and is pursuing a Ph.D in intellectual history at the University of Texas at Dallas. (As of 2014)

Link to the original article: WHY I LOVE JOHN FRAME’S “BIBLICISM” & YOU SHOULD TOO