Biblical Theology: Definition and Description

Biblical Theology is about how the Bible does theology.[1] It is the theology that is found in the Bible.[2] This is a theology that focuses on a whole, unified story[3] about “God’s self-revelation”[4] and his relationship and interactions with human beings through redemptive history.[5] The Bible is a collection of writings that are historically developed,[6] and so Biblical Theology focuses on the turning points in the Bible’s chronological storyline.[7] John Goldingay explains that the Bible “resemble[s] a family photograph album or commonplace book or scrapbook or collection of memorabilia, an anthology that tells a family history and gives us a picture of the family in different periods.”[8] Thus, the Bible is a “canonical bundle of overlapping testimonies from radically different contexts to the one history of God with humanity which culminates in Christ’s death and resurrection.” In other words, the Old Testament and the New Testaments consist of different voices in canonical unity and integrity witnessing to the one, true God and to the drama of redemption that culminates in the life and ministry of Jesus. Therefore, the main goal of Biblical Theology is to hear these storied and thematic voices of the canonical writings and to provide clarifications and interpretation of them “with a view to letting their various themes emerge, to indicate their dynamic interrelationship, including their continuities and discontinuities with one another, and to expose the progressive revelation of divine matters.”[9]

In view of this description of Biblical Theology, there is also a prescriptive aspect to Biblical Theology which calls individuals into God’s redemptive story and into the new humanity that has been created through Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension. It invites people into a new way of living marked by repentance and transformation.[10] Bruce Waltke sums up this prescriptive function of Biblical Theology by writing, “The ultimate aim of biblical theology is to bring us to our knees in worship and prayer.”[11] Continue reading “Biblical Theology: Definition and Description”

The Rule of St. Benedict

The Rule of St. Benedict emphasized the Lord’s service by means of a cenobite monastic lifestyle which was lived within a community under the direction and rule of the Abbot.[1] Benedictine Monasticism was considered a western expression of the monastic movement and differed from its eastern counterpart in that people were formed within community with a practical mission in the world.[2] The Rule emphasized discipline, obedience, humility, stability and prayer “for the purpose of amending vices or preserving charity” in order that  “the heart becomes broadened, and, with the unutterable sweetness of love, the way of the mandates of the Lord is traversed.”[3] Furthermore, The Rule emphasized physical labor which not only sustained the monasteries but also produced goods that were used to help the poor or sick. The main elements of the Rule were communal structured prayer times, two communal meals per day, manual labor, sacred reading, community councils and communal sleeping corridors with designated sleeping times. Material items were for communal use, and so  Monks did not own anything and did not keep personal items. There was an initiation period that people had to undergo to become a monk, and once they were accepted as a monk they were committed for the remainder of their life. They were not free to leave the monastery or transition to another monastery.[4]

Benedictine Monasticism was an internally focused community with little contact with external society. They lived an extremely devoted, disciplined, structured and minimalist lifestyle for the sake of the kingdom of God. The Rule of St. Benedict developed monks that followed the spiritual rhythms of a less distracted life. Following Christ within a focused, committed and stable community was the emphasis. Prayers and intercessions for the world were continually lifted up to God. Love for one another was daily expressed, cultivated and matured. Gifts, skills and talents were used to serve the monastic community or the poor or the sick of society. People from the cities visited the monasteries to learn how to live a different life marked by love and devotion within community.


[2] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt. 3, ch. 27, “Benedictine Monasticism. 



The Early Monastic Movement

The early monastic movement was mostly a response to the drastic changes taking place within the Christian church due to the rise of Constantine and the implementation of his new religious policies. The new position of the Christian church under Constantine was that of power and prestige. People were greedy for monetary riches with the expectation of gaining more influence and position within the church. This type of aggressive reach for riches was the exact opposite of Jesus’ teachings about worldly treasures.

Moreover, as Christianity developed an elevated status of priority over the Greco-Roman religions within the Empire, people by the thousands were pursuing entrance into the newly advantaged Christian faith. Throughout the past, becoming a Christian was an extremely costly decision with life and death implications, but in the new Empire supported Christianity, there was a sense of easiness or shallowness to becoming a Christian. In a way, Christianity became the new Empire supported socio-religious program rather than a “Jesus is Lord” discipleship movement.

In view of these changes, many Christians believed that the church had been seduced with security and comfort and was caught in the snare of Satan. Many recognized the unfaithfulness and sinfulness of the church, and so they decided ‘to flee from human society, to leave everything behind, to dominate the body and its passions, which gave way to temptations.”[1] The monstatic movement established itself in the desert where people lived in solitude in caves or other natural structures, and their lives were defined by silence, solitude, minimalism, simplicity, prayer, celibacy and purity. They pursued a distraction free life with the hope of experiencing more deeply the presence and holiness of Jesus.

A positive and strength of this movement was that it became a strong spiritual voice from the desert against the sin and corruption of the Imperial church. They were performing their part of the drama of redemption as witnesses to the gospel’s redeeming power from sin and corruption. The monastic communities taught a powerful lesson of laying aside every sin and hindrance that so easily ensnares people and of fixing their eyes on Jesus the source and perfecter of their faith (Heb 12:1-2).

A negative and weakness of this movement was that it became a form of escapism for some. Rather than stay within the Empire and minister within their everyday context, some may have given up and ran away to the desert communities. This would have been more of a self-preservation and self-focused decision rather than a calling by God. The church would have needed many of these Christians to stick around and become catechists to the new people coming into the church.   

[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 15, “The Monastic Reaction.”

The Cappadocian Siblings and A Personal Reflection

During the Early Church period, an influential group was the Cappadocian siblings which included Macrina, Basil and Gregory (of Nyssa). Growing up, these three siblings had a strong Christian family foundation reaching back to their grandparents who endured under the Decian persecution. The siblings grew up to have significant ministry roles in the eastern church. Macrina played a major role in teaching and theologically influencing her brothers and others. Basil devoted himself to a monastic lifestyle and became the Father of Eastern monasticism because of his teachings and development of monastic orders and rules. He spent his life serving and advocating for the poor. Later in his life, he became a strong and influential bishop, even confronting powerful Roman officials. Gregory was known for the inner fire of his spirit which was evident through his writing. He played a significant role as a hesitant (preferring a contemplative lifestyle) bishop in the Council of Nicea and the Council of Constantinople.

While reflecting on this family, I began to compare Macrina with my little sister when I began my walk with Jesus. My sister was well grounded in her Christian school and in her youth group at church. She had a vibrant faith and a ‘joy of the Lord’ filled heart. At my first birthday after my conversion, my sister smiled when she and my parents gave me my first meaningful and engraved Bible. She was there at my baptism (and I am certain it was her idea to go cliff diving afterwards. She had a way of showing me how to live the new and abundant life). She was there at my first sermon to her youth group and at my first public testimony about God’s radical work in my life. This was probably a little embarrassing for her because I can attest that my public speaking skills needed some work, but she was always there with her spirit-filled eyes and smile offering encouragement and support. There were times when we and others would go out on the streets talking to people about Jesus and giving out warm clothes. We worshipped together, prayed together and maybe even did a biblical word study or two together. When I got serious about academics and theology, she was my inspiration because she was a high school scholar at the top of her class and a science olympian who was kicking butt. My sister has gone on to a very impactful neonatal nursing career, and so she continues to be an inspiration while using her life and gifts to serve and support others.

Like Basil and Gregory who received the encouragement and ministry from Macrina, I have received the blessings, inspiration and support from my little sister. God used the Cappadocian siblings in a powerful way for the furtherance of the gospel and the kingdom of God. Similarly, I boast in the Lord that in his compassion and grace he has used my sister and I for his glorious purposes.

Constantine and the Church

Prior to Constantine, the Roman Empire had a well established social and religious pecking order. The traditional Greco-Roman citizens and Greco-Roman religions were at the top and the Christians, who were traditionally viewed as annoying and deviant, were at the bottom. This socio-religious positioning led to the disdain and persecution of Christians throughout the centuries. However, as Constantine gained sole control of the Roman Empire, the socio-religious landscape began to drastically change. Constantine believed that the best move for restoring the Roman Empire to its ancient glory was by acknowledging the power of the Christian God and giving Christianity superior status.[1] Thus, Christians were no longer persecuted, and they became legitimate and advantaged citizens. This new positioning of Christianity did not abolish the traditional Greco-Roman religions, but it lessened their influence and relevance within the empire which contributed to the expansion of the gospel and of the Christian church.

This new order and relationship between the Roman Empire and the church had both positive and negative aspects. As for the positives, the Christian church had a chance to breathe and regroup from the centuries of persecution. This certainly would have given the Christians a chance to experience the joy of the Lord apart from the fear of persecution and death. They would have been able to reimagine hope and peace in Christ. Another positive is that the church had a chance to focus on other doctrinal issues that needed to be addressed. With more freedom to move within the empire, Christian leaders were able to meet at church councils in order to debate theological ideas and establish orthodoxy. Furthermore, Christians were able to establish themselves in physical churches which would enable them to better organize gospel ministry and establish kingdom of God beacons within the Empire.[2]

As for the negatives, the new “privileges, prestige and power now granted to church leaders soon led to acts of arrogance and even to corruption”[3] which initiated a slow compromise of and shift away from earlier Christian values and ethics. Moreover, Christians were seduced by the power of the Empire rather than focusing on a kingdom of God ethos. There was a distorted understanding of the relationship between worldly power and heavenly power. They falsely equated a worldly conquering empire with the rule and reign of the crucified, suffering servant. The new Christian emphasis on power, riches, prestige and comfort was antithetical to the life and ministry of Christ the King.

While I believe that Constantine played a major role in God’s sovereign plan to benefit the Christian Church during this era, I do think that many of the changes were detrimental to the development of the church throughout the following centuries and even into the present day. I believe that the detrimental aspects are due to the sin corruption of human hearts, but despite the human proclivity to mess things up, God still moved and worked all things together for the benefit of his church (Rom 8:28).      

[1] Justo L.González, The Story of Christianity, Rev. and Updated, 2nd ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 13, “From Rome To Constantinople.” [2] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 13, “The Impact of the New Order.” [3] González, The Story, EPUB edition, pt.2, ch. 13, “The Impact of the New Order.”