Dr. Michael Lawrence is the author of Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, which you can get free through the end of February! Lawrence holds an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell and a PhD from Cambridge University. He has served as associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and more recently as pastor of Hinson Baptist Church in Portland, OR.
Can you tell us a bit of your story?
I was born in Texas, grew up in South Carolina, and went to school in North Carolina, Boston, and Cambridge. My wife, Adrienne, and I met at Duke, we’ve been married almost 24 years, and we have five children ages 5 to 17. I went to school to be a medical doctor, but while I was in college, God got ahold of my life and propelled me into ministry, much to my family’s initial disappointment. (They’ve since gotten over it!) Three and a half years ago, we moved from Washington, DC, to Portland, OR, when I became lead pastor at Hinson Baptist Church.
From the brief bio above, you can see that, before the move to Portland, I’d lived my entire life (after Texas) within an easy drive of—if not within sight of—the Atlantic Ocean (or the North Sea). Neither my wife nor I have family west of the Appalachian mountains! So we certainly weren’t looking to move west. But Tom Schreiner, who’s from Oregon, encouraged me to take a look at Hinson. And with the blessing of the elders at Capitol Hill Baptist, where I’d served since 2002, we made the move in 2010. Honestly, it felt like moving back to the UK, in terms of both weather and culture. We went through culture shock all over again. But we’re so glad the Lord has brought us here.
Who did you have in mind when you wrote Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church?
I grew up in a typical Southern Baptist church in the deep south. As a result, I grew up knowing all the Bible stories almost by heart. But no one ever told me how to put all those individual stories together into one grand narrative of God’s work of redemption in the world. That didn’t happen until I got to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. So when I wrote this book, not only did I want to encourage seminary-trained pastors like myself to put biblical theology to work; I wanted interested lay leaders of all kinds—Sunday school teachers, lay elders, small group leaders, women’s ministry leaders, etc.—to benefit from it. The book is really for anyone who finds themselves teaching or applying the Bible to others in the church.
Why is it important that Christians know how to do biblical theology?
Whether they realize it or not, Christians are doing biblical theology all the time. They’re relating the OT to the NT, Israel to Jesus and the church, the Law to the gospel. That’s the work of biblical theology. So if you’re going to be doing something anyway, if it’s inescapable every time you pick up your Bible and read it, then I think you should know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then it’s not that you won’t do biblical theology—it’s simply that you’ll do it badly, or even incorrectly. The Scriptures are the power of God for salvation. Therefore, we don’t want to misapply the Scriptures. We don’t want to misinterpret the Scriptures. Biblical theology is essential.
What drove you to write this book?
Can I say Jonathan Leeman? There’s nothing like an editor who believes in your project to drive you along! In fact, ever since I sat through Meredith Kline’s course on OT hermeneutics, I’ve had a passion for biblical theology. And after years of practical ministry, both in parachurch and local-church settings, I was convinced that this way of reading the Bible was crucial to faithful, fruitful ministry. Too many times I’d misapplied Scripture, or watched others do so, for no other reason than that I’d never been taught how to put the Bible together as a single story.
Too many times I’d taught moralistic lessons, or watched others do the same, because I had never been taught how the OT points forward to Christ and finds its fulfillment in him. So, I suppose, once I was introduced, I had the zeal of a new convert. I really want people to know how to read their Bibles, and this is the way to do it.
For the past three years, I’ve been preaching from a biblical-theological perspective in a church filled with older members who had always been taught that the OT was a book for and about the Jews, past and future, with little more for them as NT Christians than moral examples and a few messianic prophecies. I can’t tell you how encouraged I am as a pastor to have elders tell me how they feel like I’ve given them back the other half of their Bible, and how excited they are to find Jesus there!
There are a lot of books on biblical theology that examine various arcs of the Bible’s storyline, from scholars like Tom Schreiner, Desmond Alexander, G. K. Beale, and others. How does your book differ?
I’m not really trying to do biblical theology in my book, so much as give people the tools to do it themselves. In the middle section, I do tell the entire arc of the story from five different theological and thematic perspectives. But those are meant more as examples than as thorough treatments of a single biblical theological theme. Instead, my goal is to introduce people to the key concepts that biblical theology uses, relate those tools to two other sets of tools—exegetical theology and systematic theology—and then show what a difference biblical theology makes to our preaching, teaching, counseling, missions, and ethics. It’s a deeply interdisciplinary book, designed not to give you a biblical theology, but to encourage you to discover and use biblical theology for yourself.
Come back tomorrow for the rest of the interview!
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