We recently launched the BibleMesh Research Fellows program. Our aim is to highlight the expertise and insight of developing scholars as they teach, write, and research in service to the Church. To this end, we are excited to introduce Tim Bertolet— a new Fellow in Biblical Studies. Our Dean, Dr. Dennis Greeson, recently sat down and interviewed Tim about his background, research interests, and recommended reading. Read the highlights below, or Watch the full 30 minute interview.
Where are you from and what various ministries are you involved in?
I live in York, PA, in the United States, between the cities of Lancaster and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in Pennsylvania most of my life, though I was a missionary kid for a little while on the island of Guam. I currently work at the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism (ABWE), working in instructional design for missionary training, and coordinating with our international theological educators.
I came to ABWE four years ago after serving in pastoral ministry for 16 years. I have a heart for both the church and missionaries as well as the academic side of knowing and growing in God’s word for life and godliness.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
For my undergraduate degree, I went to Lancaster Bible College, and while there, I fell in love with the study of the scriptures, especially biblical theology. After Bible college I attended Westminster Theological Seminary for my M.Div. degree because of their high value for studying Greek and Hebrew as well as their commitment to biblical theology.
While in pastoral ministry, God opened the door for me to do a Ph.D. through the University of Pretoria in South Africa. It was a research degree in the European style, which meant I could stay in ministry and do my writing while remaining in the States. My Ph.D. was in New Testament studies, focusing on the book of Hebrews, Christology and Christ’s ascension in Hebrews.
What is biblical theology and how might it relate to biblical studies?
Biblical theology is concerned with seeing the unfolding story of God’s redemption. I’ll define it by sharing a personal illustration. I grew up in Sunday School and knew all the individual stories well. In my college class on the gospels, we talked about the kingdom of God and its foundation in the Old Testament. For me a light went on—all of these individual stories were telling one grand story! The idea that the Bible has one overarching and connected narrative is the basic premise of biblical theology.
The academic discipline of biblical studies tends to focus on the individual parts and pieces of Scripture, doing the exegetical ‘spade’ work in one spot. Biblical theology, on the other hand, works to see the unity in the whole, and keep the big picture in mind as we come to particular texts. Thus, as a discipline, it is rooted in evangelical commitments to who Jesus is as the climax of redemption, as well as convictions about the Scriptures not being individual documents but rather one God is speaking throughout the text.
The use of the Old Testament in the New Testament lays key foundations for biblical theology. My own interest in Hebrews lines up with that biblical theology approach. As Hebrews 1 reminds us, God revealed himself in many ways, but all of this came to a completion in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we are faithfully interpreting the Scriptures, we pay attention to the whole of Scripture and the biblical theology that’s traced from the earliest Old Testament texts to the fulfillment of Christ.
When you make these connections and talk about the faithfulness of God, it warms our hearts and it grounds us in the faith. A few years back I went through a real trial in my own life. During that time, clinging to the covenant faithfulness of God forced me to take the biblical theology in my head and drive it deep into the ground of my heart.
What are some specific themes or topics that Christians need to engage with more?
An area we need to explore more is the idea of sonship in the Scriptures. Christians confess that Jesus is the Son of God and fully divine. In the Old Testament there is a fascinating, unfolding category of sonship. This gets at the root of what it means to be in relationship to God, what it means to be in covenant with him and connected to him.
Sonship is a category not of gender but of inheritance, relationship, and even exaltation. Jesus is the true and perfect Son, the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of His nature, and yet you and I get adopted as sons. It is such a comforting thing that God loves me unconditionally and through the work of the Spirit, I can address him as Abba Father.
As evangelicals we have a commitment to sola scriptura. The Bible is the first, highest, and final authority. Here is where church history and the Great Tradition can really help us through the early creeds, which give us language and categories for understanding Scripture and the debates that were going on.
The creeds pull all these strings together in a tightly-worded way, and provide short answers to big questions. This is vital for missions, not just for defending the faith, but also for discipleship.
If you don’t ground your converts, disciples, and church planting efforts in the Scriptures, Satan will draw people away. This also grounds the missionary. The reality is the same path that Jesus walked, in suffering and then glory, is the same path we are going to walk in our missiological and pastoral efforts.
What are you currently reading?
I am also having fun brushing up on the Civil War, learning more about the 13th/14th/15th amendments of the Constitution, the Reconstruction era, and Lincoln and his efforts with slavery and the emancipation issues. It’s fascinating and helps me be more well-rounded.
If you could recommend a book in your discipline to layperson, college or seminary student, and an up-and-coming scholar, what would they be and why?
- For the layperson, Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding our Place in the Biblical Story.
- For college/seminary student, G.K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission and L. Michael Morales, Who Will Ascend the Mountain of the Lord.
- For the Scholar: David Moffitt, Atonement and the Logic of the Resurrection in the Epistle to the Hebrews and his Rethinking the Atonement.
What is the relationship between the Great Commandment, the Great Commission, and the Great Tradition?
Our doctrine of God and Christology link these three together. John Piper says: “God’s chief end is glorify himself and make his name known through all of creation.” It’s in the commandment, commission, and tradition that we are able to do all of those things.
In following the Great Commandment, how do I act as the image of God in loving God and loving my neighbor? I glorify God, I worship God, and I treat other image bearers with respect.
What does that have to do with the Great Commission? If I really love God and love my neighbor, I want to make God’s name and renown known throughout the world. I’m going to proclaim God in the gospel and invite people to repent and believe.
Sometimes in the mission world we truncate evangelism down to saving sinners. The Great Commission tells us to not just evangelize but to make disciples. We are teaching them who God is, inviting them to believe and profess that Jesus is Lord, but we are also helping to work out the implications of that Lordship in their lives.
The Great Tradition helps us to do that by answering who is God. When we take the Great Commission to the entire world, we are taking it to people who have other beliefs and who answer those questions about God very differently. The Great Tradition offers guiderails to our understanding of Scripture by providing a basic biblical theology and showing the fundamental truths we invite people to believe.
The BibleMesh Institute Research Fellows program will highlight the expertise and insight of developing scholars in disciplines related to biblical studies, systematic and historical theology, ethics and public theology, philosophy and apologetics, and Christian ministry.
The writing of our Research Fellows will feature on the BibleMesh Blog, as well as in the forthcoming BibleMesh Journal, which will provide free long-form resources on subjects that further our mission to equip Christians for faithfulness to the Great Commandment, obedience to the Great Commission, and formed by the Great Tradition.
Find Out More About The BibleMesh Institute Research Fellowship.