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This review first appeared on TGC Reviews, a resource website of The Gospel Coalition.

Michael Lawrence. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church: A Guide For Ministry. Crossway Books, 2010. 240 pages.

Seeking to produce a theological vision for ministry today, Michael Lawrence addresses the need for biblical theology in the life of the church. “Our theology determines the shape and character of our ministry,” he says. Though this book is about theology, it is really about pastoral ministry. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church puts the essential tool of biblical theology back in the pastor’s tool belt.

Biblical Theology divides into three sections: The Tools That Are Needed; The Stories To Be Told; and Putting It Together For The Church. Section One: The Tools That Are Needed, explores the exegetical, biblical theology, and systematic theology tools that are needed to “construct a theology that tells the whole story of the Bible.” Beginning with the grammatical-historical method of exegesis, chapter one teaches you how to use this method in the different literary genres of the Bible. The heart of this section forges the tools of biblical theology to “give your whole Bible back to you” and helps pastors and theologians escape the pitfalls of moralism, legalism and hobbyhorses by staying faithful to the story of the Bible. To do this, Lawrence offers six tools of biblical theology: covenants, epochs, canon, prophecy, typology and continuity. Covenants, epochs, and canon form the details of the story, while prophecy, typology and continuity put the details together so it can be read as a single story about Christ and the gospel. Lawrence applies these tools to build a practical theology that opens the entire canon of Scriptures for preaching and daily ministry. He closes Section One by demonstrating how to move from exegesis to biblical theology to systematic theology—“the attempt to summarize in an orderly and comprehensive manner what the whole Bible has to say about any given topic.” According to Lawrence, the tools of systematic theology, namely biblical knowledge, personal knowledge and situational knowledge, allow sound application of the whole biblical story to our context. He effectively argues that the church needs both biblical and systematic theology because though biblical theology seeks to understand the whole story of the Bible, systematic theology uses that foundation to connect the biblical story with our own.

Section Two: The Stories To Be Told, applies Section One by taking five major storylines of the Bible—creation, fall, love, sacrifice and promise—to tell it’s whole story, from Genesis to Revelation, from the vantage point of that particular theme. Each chapter in this section uses the exegetical, biblical and systematic tools to show “the many ways in which our story is already incorporated into and interpreted by the biblical story” and how the Bible gives “an all-encompassing worldview that challenges the idolatrous worldviews of our age.”

In the final section, Section Three: Putting It Together For The Church, Lawrence takes Chapter eleven to focus on the main use of biblical theology in the church, namely preaching and teaching, and demonstrates how to begin with the a biblical text and do biblical theology. Through four text studies, Lawrence demonstrates how to get from a particular text to the major biblical storyline running through that text. Further he demonstrates how that specific text connects to the rest of the Bible so it can be applied soundly and faithfully to our lives. Chapter twelve skillfully agrues that biblical theology is not just useful for preaching and teaching, but for every ministry in the local church. Lawrence skillfully applies biblical theology to the four case studies of counseling, missions, caring for the poor and church/state relations.

Lawrence’s pastoral heart and wisdom fills every page. He exhibits a tremendous command of the Scriptures and a pastoral ministry characterized by the conviction that God’s Word, and not our words, actually changes and shapes people’s lives. By opening up the entire Bible to use in ministry by doing biblical theology, Lawrence helps pastors give their congregations a profoundly deep theology that impacts every aspect of their lives. Moreover, Lawrence reveals the beautiful tapestry of the Bible by teaching and imploring pastors to teach or preach on any text through the lens of “the ultimate revelation of Jesus Christ, his saving work, and his promised kingdom.”

Though “theology” may invoke thoughts of conflict or ivory towers, Lawrence proves that biblical theology is “really useful theology” and that the better theologian you are, the better pastor you will be. As a pastor, Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church has been one of the most helpful books I have ever read. It stirred my affections for the God of the Bible and His Word and helped me better understand the whole counsel of God and how it applies to all of life and ministry. Of all the books that will vie for your attention this year, do not let this one get pushed to the periphery. Get this book, read it, and find help for teaching biblical theology to your fellow staff, elders, and other church leaders. Even if you are not a pastor or lay leader, it will help you teach, train, counsel, and exhort other Christians. Biblical Theology In The Life Of The Church truly is a God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Word-centered guide for ministry.

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“He [Satan] would have us think that we’re better off without God, that our best interests are served by pursuing our own desires and enlarging our liberty from anything that would restrict us from fulfilling those desires.  But Satan was lying on that day when he deceived Adam and Eve, and he is still lying.  Satan intends our enslavement, not our freedom.  He doesn’t intend to enhance our lives; he intends to hasten our death… Our ears need to be saturated with the Bible and our minds shaped by the worldview the Bible creates, so that we will recognize the lie when it’s whispered softly and sweetly in our ear.”

~Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church, 134