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Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry

Michael Lawrence has written both a fine introduction to biblical theology and also an apologetic for its centrality in the ministry.  The work is readable, has helpful reviews throughout, and an annotated bibliography, but will the evangelical church listen?   

      The first section defines biblical and systematic theology and explains how to do them. “Biblical theology is the attempt to tell the whole story of the Bible as Christian Scripture.  It is a story, therefore, that has an authoritative and normative claim on our lives, because it’s the story of God’s glory in salvation through judgment” (89).  “Systematic theology is the attempt to summarize in an orderly and comprehensive manner what the whole Bible has to say about any given topic” (89). Lawrence thus rightly criticizes those who pit biblical theology against systematic theology, often limiting the former to descriptive statements and characterizing the latter as imposing a philosophical system on the biblical text.

      The second section demonstrates the utility and complementary nature of biblical and systematic theology.  It expounds five major biblical themes (creation, fall, love, sacrifice and promise) from the perspective of both disciplines.  For someone wanting to teach or preach on one of these themes this section is pure gold.

      The third section shows how Lawrence’s approach would influence our preaching and teaching of specific issues in the church.  He develops briefly case studies in four different areas: counseling, missions, care for the poor, and church/state relations.

      Why should we care?  Lawrence contends, “the most practical thing we can do, the most important tool we need in ministry, is biblical theology” (15).  This theologian turned pastor readily agrees but many will not.  The challenge to accepting his thesis lies at the heart of a weakness in evangelicalism. 

      Historically evangelicalism has been a populist renewal movement within the church with successes in promoting personal spirituality, evangelism and missions that have resulted in a significant impact on cultures that were broadly Protestant.  With the exception of the reformed traditions (Lawrence is strongly reformed, at times too much so even for me), evangelicalism has not been a markedly theological movement. 

      As contemporary American culture has largely abandoned its Christian moorings, it has become increasingly deaf to evangelicalism presentation of the gospel.  Because it does not value serious theological thought, evangelicalism’s populist strain tempts it to water down the gospel and leaves it open to conformity to a rapidly dechristianized culture. 

      Should churches when they gather concentrate on entertainment or on preaching the Word?  Lawrence answers, “I suppose it depends on whether they want a ministry designed to amuse the dying or a ministry aimed at raising the dead” (124).  If we believe that God’s Word will not return to him void, the answer should be obvious.