Since I took the class New Testament Theology with Dr. Thomas Schreiner, I have been deeply impressed that a thorough grasp of biblical theology is essential for good preaching. Peter Adam has an excellent article in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology on the relationship between good preaching and biblical theology. One sentence particularly grabbed my attention:
People learn how to use the Bible mostly from their teachers in church, so preachers have a better opportunity than anyone else to teach good biblical theology and to model a hermeneutically sound use of the Bible (New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 106).
To put it negatively, preachers can be responsible for teaching their listeners bad biblical theology by a careless approach to Scripture, or by succumbing to the tyranny of the urgent to crank out another sermon for Sunday. From Adam’s article, I have distilled five ways in which a preacher (and his listeners) can benefit by having a thorough grasp of biblical theology.
The preacher who grasps biblical theology . . .
Demonstrates how any passage fits into the redemptive story line of Scripture. Thus, he does not need to avoid preaching from any particular section or genre of Scripture out of fear or disinterest.
Has the freedom and conviction to let the text do what God intended it to do. Adam writes, “This is why biblical theology is so useful for the preacher; because both [preaching and biblical theology] have the same aim, ‘to allow God to address man through the medium of the text’” (108).
Teaches his people how to read Scripture as it was intended to be read. This is the point that I stated above. A preacher who ignores biblical theology might treat the Bible as if it were a collection of pithy statements or topics directed at meeting felt needs. Worse yet, he teaches his people to treat the Bible the same way.
Preaches topically without doing violence to the text or to the topic. Adam goes so far as to warn that “inexperienced preachers should not try to preach topical sermons because they are the most difficult to prepare, and require an extensive biblical theology” (109).
Makes appropriate applications. We have all heard preachers make arbitrary (and sometimes disastrous) applications from a certain text because he has failed to locate it in its redemptive-historical context. Avoiding that mistake is not merely a matter of technical accuracy. It is a matter of respecting the integrity and authority of God’s word.
Not every preacher has the advantage of taking advanced classes on biblical theology. But any preacher can learn from the way Christ interpreted Scripture: every Old Testament passage pointed to him (106). Reading the Bible cover-to-cover, over and over again with this Christocentric perspective might be the best “class” on biblical theology any preacher can take.