OV2 – Finding the Bible’s “big picture”
© Jeff Stacey | Last updated: 7 August 2020
Over the centuries great scholars have spent their lives studying the Bible’s information about God – its “theology”. They have developed various ways of organising this into a “big picture” summary. The result is that two main approaches or theologies have emerged. These go together and are both vitally significant. They are:
Systematic Theology: aims to define all the topics or themes about God that occur in the Bible. Then it examines the connections of meaning between them.
Biblical Theology: aims to trace the expanding understanding of God throughout history, as recorded in the Bible.1
Both of these approaches draw on the whole Bible as their source of information. They have shown that the Bible’s theological themes have maintained an amazing consistency over a very long period of history.
These theologies can be illustrated from my engineering background. They could be compared with two ways of analysing a railway system. One would compile full technical details of each item such as the locomotives, wagons, tracks, signals and so on. Thus a specification of each part and its functions would be produced.
The other way would focus on the whole system. This would include train timetables, control of safe traffic movements, maintenance of tracks and equipment, economics and the like. Thus a description of how the whole system operates in real time and the dynamic relationships between all of its parts would be produced.
Obviously both approaches are highly relevant. They are simply coming from different perspectives. However, it is the operation of the whole railway system that connects all the parts and fulfils its purpose. This gives meaning to it all.
Biblical Theology similarly highlights God’s declarations of His primary purpose and His accomplishing of it in the unfolding of history Isaiah 55:11. So I have chosen this approach of Biblical Theology as my preferred way to get an overview of the whole Bible – to find and chart its “big picture”.
1. It is unfortunate that the label “biblical” theology has been adopted, because systematic theology is also thoroughly biblical, as are various other types of theological approaches. See:
Geoffrey W.Bromiley, “Biblical Theology”, in E.F.Harrison, G.W.Bromiley and C.F.H.Henry eds. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1960), page 95.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical theology which includes the following helpful summary:
“Biblical theology can be compared with and is complemented by systematic theology, in that the former focuses on historical progression throughout the Bible while the latter focuses on thematic progression. Systematic theology deals with a single topic in each place it is dealt with, whereas biblical theology seeks to follow the flow of “redemptive narrative” as it unfolds. In this way, biblical theology reflects the diversity of the Bible, while systematic theology reflects its unity.” (Return to reading).