A Greater heuristic
An introductory note: this post is going to assume a measure of understanding in the reader with regards to how primary redemptive-historical themes are established by means of Biblical support and heuristic value.
A debate not often mentioned in introductory Biblical-Theologies is how we determine the predominate theme of Scripture. However, one is able to see the differing sides in this debate by looking at which theme in Scripture the author labels as the “grand theme” that unifies Scripture. For example, one prominent “grand theme” or “meta theme” (I use the two interchangeably) proposed in a variety of books is that of “covenant”. These authors hold up the covenants of Scripture, from the Old Testament to the New, as the topic under which the other aspects of Scripture subsume. Another popular grand theme proposed by some of the best theologians in the field is that of “kingdom”. These authors view the “Kingdom of God” as the theme under which the other aspects of Scripture relate. Besides these two grand, or meta, themes proposed for Scripture, there are other less common themes proposed, and a variety of modified versions of the covenant and kingdom themes.
This raises a question. Which theme is the most accurate? Which theme, covenant, kingdom, or something else, can most accurately be the explanatory framework with which to view the rest of Scripture? There is a method to proposing these grand themes; Christians are not at liberty to just come up with one on a whim. There are a variety of principles used to identify and propose grand themes in Scripture. Two of the most important are as follows:
1. Is this theme Biblically supported? Does Scripture subsume other topics and ideas under this one idea that we want to propose as a grand theme. For example, the prophets, Jesus, and the apostles frequently discussed different topics in Scripture with regards to the idea of “the Kingdom”. This is likely why the meta-theme of the Kingdom is so dominant, because it has solid Biblical support.
2. Does this proposed theme actually do a good job at explaining and tying together the varying eras and aspects seen in Scripture, such as the period of the Patriarchs, period of the judges, Israelite history, time of the prophets, time of Jesus, and the church age? Are these incredibly varied eras described in Scripture better understood and more comprehensible in light of this proposed meta-theme? This is known as a proposed meta-theme’s heuristic value. Returning to the example of “the Kingdom”, the varying eras of Scripture are well explained and comprehensible in light of this theme. Creation is seen as establishing the pattern of the Kingdom, in the Patriarchal period the kingdom is promised, in the time of the Israelite monarchy the kingdom is exemplified and partially realized, in the prophetic era the kingdom is prophesied, with Jesus’ coming the kingdom is inaugurated, with Jesus’ return the kingdom is consummated.
There are other principles used in the establishment of meta-themes, but these are the two most prominent.
With regards to the meta-themes proposed in light of the aforementioned principles, the theme of the Kingdom is honestly a very, very good one. It has phenomenal Biblical support and does a great job tying together the differing aspects of Scripture. This theme, or variations of it, is the theme most used by the majority of the prominent scholars in the field of Biblical Theology. However, in this post I would propose that there is a grand or meta-theme in Scripture with even more heuristic value and Biblical support than even the Kingdom. Namely, it is the theme of Christ. There is tremendous support in Scripture for Christ as the grandest theme. Jesus and the apostles frequently explained all of Scripture as pointing to Christ:
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” – Luke 24:25-27
“Then [Jesus] said to [the apostles and disciples], ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.’” – Luke 24:44-47
Jesus said to the Jews:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me…Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” – John 5:39, 45-47
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.’” – Acts 17:1-3
“For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.” – Acts 26:21-23
The tremendous Biblical support for Christ as the most “grand theme” of Scripture and its accompanying huge implicit heuristic value as seen in the Biblical methodology of preaching (see previous post: The Content of Preaching) compels me to argue that Christ is the best “grand theme” for all of Scripture.
A possible rebuttal is since Christ is the center and effector of the Kingdom, Scripture being about the Kingdom is ultimately being about Christ. Perhaps that is true, and perhaps I’m just being trite with regards to the emphasis; however, I do believe the emphasis is important. In light of the tremendous Biblical support and heuristic value for Christ as the grandest theme; it appears more accurate to say that the Kingdom is subsumed under the theme of Christ rather than Christ being subsumed under the theme of the Kingdom. Perhaps these two themes are more synonymous that I think, and it is just my lack of comprehension that is the issue. However, I do believe that it is more true to Scripture to hold Christ as the grand theme of Scripture over and against any other proposed theme. Don’t get me wrong, the theme of the Kingdom still has incredible heuristic value, and I do believe that Christians should continue to use it in the study and analysis of Scripture. However, we must strive to never forget that it is yet subsumed in an even greater theme, namely Christ.