Can we say that Biblical theology is better than the other disciplines (exegesis, historical theology, systematic theology, practical theology)? I (and many others) don’t think one can say this, nor do I think one can say “this” discipline is better than “that” discipline simply because each discipline aims at and emphasizes different aspects. So, in some sense, for example, biblical theology might be clearer at seeing the progression of the Bible than practical theology does, but this doesn’t make biblical theology better than practical theology. We ought to remember that each discipline gets at biblical truth from a particular angle and focuses on different aspects. The disciplines should not be pitted against each other as if one is overall better than the other, for they are all interrelated and are dependent upon and inform one another and have their distinct goals.
Biblical Theology and Theology’s Ultimate Aim
It must be noted that while biblical theology especially attends to biblical connections and the progression of redemptive history, it should also be filled, begin, and end with God himself. Theology primarily studies God, and then secondarily it studies everything else. The triune God is the main being in this story; you are not. It is God who fills the pages of the Bible from cover to cover. It is him who sovereignly orchestrates all things unto his glory in Christ Jesus. And the Bible both begins with him, “In the beginning, God . . .” (Gen 1:1), and ends with him, “‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:20–21). Therefore, for biblical theology to be both biblical and theological, it must not just consider God’s history of redemption nor only his outer works, it must also attend to God himself as the beginning and end of all things.
Biblical theology, therefore, must be aware and attend to God. Things such as typology, tracing themes, following the promises of the Messiah, or capturing turning points in the progression of the biblical storyline are necessary for biblical theology, but it must not stop there. Theological studies, including biblical theology, rightly attend to grammar of the biblical text, themes in Bible, word choice of authors, and much more. But we must remember, that these, in a sense, are surface matters in theology that lead us “further up and further in.” They are “mediating matters” that “are prepatory, contributory or dispositive, serving to conduce the mind to contemplation of the infinite excellence of the divine being. Intellectual activity is theological if it tends to that contemplation.”
But theology doesn’t meet its goal only in contemplation—thinking, knowing, and understanding. While knowledge is a goal, it is not the ultimate. In this contemplation of God, we are to love him. Biblical theology, therefore, is an intellectual instrument that studies his works of creation, providence, salvation, and final restoration in the history of redemption, so that when we see his wondrous and mighty works that display his deep riches of knowledge and wisdom, our minds might be carried up to contemplation of him with the result that are hearts long for and love God.
John Webster, “What Makes Theology Theological?” in God Without Measure, 1:214.
John Webster, “God, Theology, Universities,” in God Without Measure, 2:160.