Dr. Michael Lawrence is the author of Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church: A Guide for Ministry, which you can get for free through the end of the month. Lawrence holds an MDiv from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary 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. This is the second part of a two-part interview—if you missed part one, catch up here.
The title of your book invites the question, what does biblical theology have to do with the life of the church?
Everything. If biblical theology is essentially a reading strategy—a way of reading the Bible as a single book telling a single story—then the answer to that question is the same as the answer to “What does the Bible have to do with the life of the church?”
Of course, these days, too many evangelicals assume that the Bible has very little to do with the life of the church. We turn instead to methodology, best practices, media, structures, cultural exegesis, and music, to name just a few. We assume that if we master these things, the church will grow. There’s no question you can grow a crowd through all sorts of methods. But the church is not merely a crowd; it’s the bride of Jesus Christ. And Jesus nurtures and cleanses his bride through the Word.
As I’ve heard David Helm say many times, “God does his work through his Word, in a world gone awry.” I think that’s exactly right. And it’s because I believe passionately in the sufficiency of the Word for the life and growth and health of the church that I think biblical theology is at the heart of what we do as church leaders.
Does systematic theology play into the life of the church as well? How do biblical and systematic theology relate?
Systematic theology is incredibly important to the life of the church. I spend an entire chapter talking about that, and then another chapter thinking through how systematic and biblical theology relate to each other. If biblical theology tells us how God said what he said, then systematic theology summarizes what God said and applies it in our lives. If we don’t understand how God said it, we’ll get our summary wrong. But if we never summarize and apply, what’s the point? I’m a pastor, not an academic with boundaries to draw and defend, so maybe it’s easier for me to call a ceasefire between the two disciplines and think about how they work together in ministry.
Who are some of the authors who have most influenced how you do theology?
The five men I dedicated my book to all had a profound impact on me in seminary: Meredith Kline, David Wells, Rick Lints, Scott Hafemann, and Gordon Hugenberger. In some ways, this book is an attempt to give to others what they first gave to me. Since then, I’ve read quite a bit more. I’ve been hugely influenced by Geerhardus Vos. I’m constantly edified by the work of Graeme Goldsworthy, Richard Gaffin, and Edmund Clowney. I think Ligon Duncan is one of the finest practitioners of biblical theological preaching alive today. And the work Vaughn Roberts has done to make biblical theology accessible to lay audiences is superb. But I still come back again and again to the combination of self-critical cultural exegesis and careful biblical theology that my Gordon-Conwell professors taught me. I was privileged to sit under them.
Can you tell us a bit about 9Marks?
9Marks is a parachurch ministry that grew out of Mark Dever’s passion to encourage pastors and local churches in healthy gospel growth driven by a profound conviction of the sufficiency of the Scriptures. It has since grown into a chorus of like-minded pastors and writers, each of whom, in their own distinctive setting and voice, seeks to remind and encourage us that Christ loves his church and that he’s given us, in his Word, the resources we need to feed and lead and grow it.
9Marks hosts a number of conferences and workshops each year, both in DC and in various other locations around the world. There’s a small paid staff in DC. There’s a fantastic, resource-rich website. And of course there are books. But really it’s a band of brothers scattered far and wide, who together are committed to not only building biblically healthy churches, but also encouraging other pastors to do the same.
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