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Interview With James M. Hamilton Jr.

Jul 2010

Dr. James M. Hamilton Jr. is Associate Professor of Biblical Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist church. He is the author of God’s Indwelling Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Old and New Testaments and God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology.
 

Andy Cheung: Your forthcoming book is titled, God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Please tell us why you decided to write this and how your book differs from the approach taken from recent authors such as Thomas Schreiner, Christopher Wright, and Bruce Waltke among others.

Dr James Hamilton: For as long as I can remember I have wanted to understand the Bible and help others understand it, too. This was never an end in itself but always a desire to know God through Christ by the Spirit and live in a way that was pleasing to him. So I mainly wanted to write this book in order to understand the Bible so as to know and please God.

As I studied biblical theology, it was curious to me that the glory of God was absent from discussions of the center of biblical theology. At that time I was also making my way through Isaiah in Hebrew, slowly working through the text and reading it repeatedly. I became convinced that the glory of God in salvation through judgment was the center of Isaiah’s theology, and then I began to test that thesis against other parts of the Bible: it matched what happened at the exodus, at the cross, and at the consummation. Once all this came together, I wanted to make a case that the glory of God in salvation through judgment is indeed the center of biblical theology.

My book differs from others in scope, organization, and argument:

Scope: whereas Waltke and Schreiner do the OT and NT respectively, my book goes through the whole Bible.

Organization: Schreiner’s NT Theology is thematic, as is Wright’s work that I’ve seen. Waltke arranges his work according to historical and genre concerns. My book, by contrast, has an introductory chapter, followed by chapters on the Law, Prophets, and Writings, and then NT chapters on the Gospels and Acts, the Epistles, and Revelation. In these chapters I go book by book through the whole Bible. Having moved through the canon this way, the last two chapters seek to address objections and apply the center of biblical theology to ministry.

Argument: I’m trying to demonstrate inductively that the glory of God in salvation through judgment is the center of biblical theology. Pursuing this agenda means that many things addressed by Schreiner, Waltke, and Wright are beyond the scope of what I do.

Who would be the target audience? For example, academics pastors, students, laypeople?

I hope all of the above!

I was rather struck by a statement you made in an article published on 9Marks.org which said, "There are signs that the iron curtain between systematic  and biblical theology might be rusting away." Can you explain why you think this is, and also why it may (or may not) be a good thing? (1)

From the theological side of the curtain, the best aspects of the Theological Interpretation of Scripture movement look to me like an attempt to serve the church by wedding orthodox concerns from the history of interpretation to a close reading of the whole Bible.

From the biblical side of the curtain, a growing interest in biblical theology is moving discussions away from atomizing interpretive methods.

In the history of interpretation, the great scholars have been churchmen. Hopefully we are seeing a healthy reorientation toward believing biblical theology in the service of the church.  

I'm interested in the choice of words in the title, "God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment". Is there a particular emphasis on judgment here? In other words, why not simply call it "God's Glory in Salvation"?

When Yahweh proclaims his name to Moses in Exodus 34:6–7, he says that he forgives, but he also says that he does not clear the guilty. Similarly, Paul states in Romans 9:22–23 that God patiently endures objects of wrath in order to highlight the wealth of his glory upon the objects of his mercy. Without justice there is no such thing as mercy. God displays his justice in order to highlight his mercy. He judges in order to save, and he saves through judgment. God uniquely displays his glory as a God who is both just and merciful.

Is the judgment to which you refer evidenced only in the past and the future of God's dealing with the earth - or to be seen currently?

We see God’s judgment in the present every time someone dies, every time someone comes under conviction for sin, every time someone is convinced that their own attempts to attain salvation by what they are able to do are futile, and every time creation groans in the form of a hurricane, an earthquake, or a tsunami. God judged the world and subjected it to futility, from which it won’t be released until it is made new. These ongoing, present experiences of God’s judgment join with the judgments of God in the past (flood, exodus, exile, cross) and in the future (seals, trumpets, bowls, lake of fire) and testify to God’s righteousness, preparing a context in which mercy will appear for what it is: shocking, free, gracious, heavy with the very glory of God.

I would be interested in hearing your take on the phrase "in that day" that is so common in the prophets and whether or not it is related that to any kind of judgment/eschatological event.

That’s a very common phrase, alternatively referring to the day Yahweh will be exalted (e.g., Isa 2:11, 17), the day he visits judgment (e.g., Isa 4:1), and the day of salvation that comes through and after judgment (e.g., Isa 11:10–11). I think the message of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Twelve can be boiled down to something like this: we’ve broken the covenant, so as Moses warned we are going into exile; but God has promised a glorious eschatological restoration that he will accomplish through a new exodus and return from exile. This new exodus and return from exile will be replete with a new covenant, a new David, and God’s people will have new hearts and live in a new Eden. These are the terms and categories the NT authors use to describe what God has done in Jesus and what he will do at the consummation of all things.

Was it difficult establishing the central theme of God's glory in salvation through judgment in books such as the Song of Solomon or Ecclesiastes?

Not if you grant me that one of the ways that God leads us to salvation is by warning us of the futility of life lived without regard for him (Ecclesiastes). This way of looking at the matter sees the eating, drinking, and enjoying of one’s labor, which is the gift of God, as a deliverance from the vanity of life without God under the sun. Thus, Solomon pronounces judgment on godless living that disregards God’s commands, and through that judgment he seeks to deliver people to live out God’s glory, finding joy and fulfillment in meaningful life in obedience to Torah and the enjoyment of one’s labor and the eating, drinking, and relationships God gives. The warnings of judgment are meant to lead the audience to salvation for God’s glory.

In the Song of Songs, we see the judgment of God in the various ways that separation and alienation intrude on the relationship between the king and his Shulammite bride. This king is from the line of David, and he repeatedly overcomes the judgments that would separate him from his bride, renewing intimacy, reversing the curse, and living out God’s glory in a lush garden and in Zion. The beauty of the poetry inspires the audience of the Song to follow in the footsteps of this ideal Davidic king who overcomes judgment and curse to renew intimacy with his bride and relish God’s glory with his beloved.

On a practical note, what is the best way of reading/studying one's own Bible in terms of Biblical Theology?

Read whole books of the Bible at one sitting. And even better would be to take a week or month and read straight through as many whole books of the Bible at one sitting as you can. The best thing for studying biblical theology is studying the Bible itself. It takes longer to read the Bible in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, but biblical theology cannot be done without the languages. As you read whole books, you’ll see all kinds of possible connections between passages. These connections have to be established from the original languages because we are looking for connections that the biblical authors intended to make through their use of the language and phraseology of earlier Scripture. If we are relying solely on a translation, we could be seeing a connection inadvertently created by translators. Incidentally, this is one of the most detrimental aspects of the dynamic equivalence approach to Bible translation—it cannot preserve inter-textual connections.

With this assiduous reading of the Bible, I think it’s extremely useful to let authors who have done book by book OT, NT, or biblical theologies take you on a “guided tour” of the Bible. So you read a section of Genesis, for instance, and then you read Paul House’s discussion of that section of Genesis in his Old Testament Theology. I think this would also be a great way to work through my book as you read through the Bible.

Finally, on another practical note, to what extent should Biblical Theology be in the mind of the preacher preparing a sermon?

To the extent that it’s necessary for understanding the passage being preached! Scripture is the best interpreter of Scripture, and often the whole OT context an NT author is referencing helps us to see where the NT author is going. For preaching a book like Ezra, it is imperative to know the Torah, the history of Israel in the Former Prophets, and the promises of restoration in the Latter Prophets. Knowing how other books in the Writings, such as Daniel, have interpreted the Law and the Prophets will also help us to get at Ezra’s theology as he narrates what took place when the people returned to the land. Biblical theology is essential for preaching! (see my essay, “Biblical Theology and Preaching” in Text Driven Preaching, which is linked at http://jimhamilton.wordpress.com).

May the Lord richly bless our study and proclamation of his Word.

Thank you Dr. Hamilton for your time.

References

(1) http://www.alliancenet.org/CC/article/0,,PTID314526_CHID598014_CIID2277976,00.html

The views expressed in this interview do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty members of the King's Evangelical Divinity School. The Talks with Scholars series is a regular feature at KEDS. Visit the Talks With Scholars for more engaging discussion and conversation with world class academics.

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