Books: Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology by John Goldingay

51bXY75WjsL._AC_US218_A large, excellent work by a preeminent Biblical scholar, Goldingay’s Biblical Theology is a book that will benefit all.  The purpose of this book is to let the Biblical Text speak for itself and to draw theology from the text without the influence of today’s Christian theology.  Goldingay says it this way, “I aim to write a critical biblical theology in the sense that I seek to avoid reading into the Scriptures the categories and convictions of postbiblical Christian theology.”1  Goldingay always brings a certain quirkiness (at lack of a better word) to the table, often saying things that make me sit back and say, “Whoa.”  Sometimes the “whoa” is because Godlingay has just blown my mind and I see God in a new, glorious light, or I see something in Scripture in a new illuminating way.  Other times the “whoa” is because Goldingay has said something that seems to fly in the face of traditional Christian theology.  My reaction matches that of the great rhyming philosopher Eminem says it well, “Oh wait, no way, your kidding, he didn’t just say what I think he did, did he?”  I digress.  Apart from some puzzling statements, Goldingay is on point.  The first chapter, “God’s Person” is probably the chapter that has the most puzzling statements concerning God, yet at the same time Goldingay makes many amazing reflections concerning God (especially in reference to God’s grace).  The strongest chapter of the book in my opinion is “God’s Anointed” (followed closely by “God’s Reign” and “God’s Children”, though as previously mentioned “God’s Person” is full of valuable insight).  “God’s Anointed” covers Jesus’ person and work, His death, and His resurrection.  If you can get your hands on this book and don’t feel like reading through all of it, turn to this chapter and read it.  You’ll grow in your understanding of and love for Christ.  Overall, Biblical Theology is both thought-provoking and encouraging.  I highly recommend this book.

The Mission of God’s People by Christopher J. H. Wright

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The Mission of God’s People is written as “A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission” (the subtitle of the book) by a renowned Old Testament Scholar, Christopher Wright. Wait, the book is about the Church’s mission, but it’s written by an Old Testament scholar?  Yep!  And that’s what makes this book so spectacular: Wright focuses a lot of attention on explaining how the Old Testament impacts the church’s understanding of its mission.  He puts it this way: “We need to think carefully about what the Bible as a whole has to say about who exactly are ‘God’s people’, and in what sense they are (and always have been) a people with a mission. That is why I make no apology for including so much exposition of Old Testament texts in the chapters that follow. After all, the New Testament church did not actually have a New Testament when they set out on the task of world mission. It was the Scriptures of the Old Testament that provided the motivation and justification for their missional practice, as well as the underlying theological assumptions.” 2  So, what is the Church’s mission?  It’s taking part in God’s mission, which is “the story of how God in his sovereign love has purposed to bring the sinful world of his fallen creation to the redeemed world of his new creation.”3  How does the church take part in that?  Wright answers this question in each chapter of his book by sweeping the grand narrative of Scripture and focusing on the characteristics of God’s people.  The church’s mission is accomplished, God’s mission is accomplished, when His people are: a people who know the story they are a part of, a people who care for creation, a people who are a blessing to the nations, a people who walk in God’s way, a people who are redeemed for redemptive living, a people who represent God to the world, a people who attract others to God, a people who know the one living God and Savior, a people who bear witness to the living God, a people who proclaim the Gospel of Christ, a people who send and are sent, a people who live and work in the public square, and a people who praise and pray.  This book will galvanize you to live for God, to live for His mission; that’s why we’re here anyways!

The God Who Became Human by Graham Cole

41UeKruK3ZL._AC_US218_.jpgI’ve recently grown to love Graham Cole’s work, so if you can get your hands on any of his books, you’ll be better for it.  In The God Who Became Human, Cole  traces the theme of incarnation throughout the Biblical Story.  This is quite the endeavor, because the incarnation of God is not something most scholars see in the OT (Cole agrees that it’s not explicit).  He handles these issues well: “The Old Testament expected human agents or even divine agents of the Divine purpose to come to Israel’s aid at some juncture and it’s future… But an incarnate divine-human deliver? On the surface of it there seen then to have been two distinct but unsynthesized lines of expectation–one concerning God and another concerning a human agent–that constituted the mainsprings of Israel’s hope.”4  Cole spends about half the book tracing the Biblical narrative of the OT, so some may be disappointed with the amount of attention given to the Biblical narrative if you’re looking for verbose theology.  Personally, I loved Cole’s account of the narrative and how the incarnation flows out of it.  The verbose theology is dealt with in the “Excursus” sections.  These include: (1) Would the incarnation have taken place irrespective of the fall? (2) The pre-incarnate Christ, theophany and the Old Testament debate. (3) Did the divine Son assume fallen or unfallen human nature?  Overall, I highly recommend this book.  Cole deals with the doctrine of the incarnation within the beautiful framework of the Biblical Story.  I’ll leave you with a masterful quote from Cole that causes me to worship of Christ.  “The wonderful news of the gospel is that God did not send a mere revelatory spirit nor a mere prophetic surrogate but the Son himself (Mark 12:1-12). No other could reveal the Father as the Son could. No other could redeem alienated humanity as the Son could. No other could both represent and substitute for us as the Son could. No other could defeat the evil one as the Son could. No other could model all that Adam and Israel should have been as the sinless, ever obedient, ever trusting Son could. And He did!”5 Amen.

God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham Cole

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What a title right?  Graham Cole says this of the title, “[The title] attempts to capture this important biblical perspective on what God intends for His broken creation.”6  Cole, a respected theologian, sets out to write a Biblical theology on atonement (quite the task), and he hits a biblical-theological-doxological home run.  The first three chapters tell the story of the world’s problem while the next three chapters tell the story of God’s solution.  These six chapters are an outstanding and edifying overview of the Biblical storyline.  Chapter 7 “explores how the peace/shalom that comes through the cross works itself out at the personal, corporate and cosmic levels.”7  Chapter 8 deals with how we are to live in light of what God’s done and chapter 9 discusses the purpose for it all: God’s glory.  Cole concludes with this grand statement, “The triune God’s reconciling project will see God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule living God’s way enjoying shalom in God’s holy and loving presence to God’s glory.”8  This is one of my favorite books because I came away having learned A LOT (about the Biblical narrative and about atonement), but also having worshiped God A LOT.  Cole communicates deep biblical-theological truths in ways that produce doxological(worshipful) hearts.  I pray that reading this book will help you understand what God has done in Christ, but that this understanding will lead to worship.

 

Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster

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Rarely do I find a book that I know I will reread and continue to reread for the rest of my life, Dominion and Dynasty is one of those books.  The subtitle of the book describes the book well, “A theology of the Hebrew Bible.”  Dempster, sees the Old Testament, specifically the Tanak (Hebrew Bible) as one unified Story.  The Tanak is structured differently than our Old Testament; same books different order.  Dempster argues that following the order of the Tanak: Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings) shows purposeful structure, composition, and narrative plot.  By the way, Jesus seems to affirm the Tanak order as the Scripture He used in Luke 11:51-52 and Luke 24:44-47.  Dempster begins the book with a short hermetical discussion and argues for what he calls a “literary” approach to reading the Tanak (the introductory chapters 1 and 2 should not be overlooked).  Then, Dempster works through the Story from Genesis to Chronicles (the last book in the Hebrew Bible) and shows how the unified themes of “Dominion and Dynasty” develop throughout the Narrative.  The following quote will give you a taste of the entire book, “This represents the story of the Tanakh, a story that leaves Israel still in a type of exile, waiting for someone from David’s house to come and build a house to bring about the restoration of all things. To be sure, it consists of many texts, but these find their part in a larger Text. The many stories together constitute a single Story.  And this Story is about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic Dynasty. In short, it is about the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is unfinished.”9 Overall, this book is fantastic and will revolutionize how you read the Old Testament.  I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially Pastors and Teachers of the Word.  This will inform and transform your reading of the Hebrew Bible.  Read and see the Story about Dominion and Dynasty, Geography and Genealogy, God’s Kingdom and God’s King.

The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight

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An engaging and thought-provoking book about the gospel by a New Testament scholar that is often pushing the buttons of evangelicalism (though he is an evangelical himself).  One of McKnight’s main points is that we as evangelicals (the word is literally based on the Greek word for gospel “euangelion”) need to be Gospel people, and to do so we must recover what the Gospel has always been: the story of King Jesus.  He asks a challenging question to Christians, one that would be most revealing if a poll was taken in churches: What does Jesus being Israel’s Messiah have to do with the Gospel?  The short answer is “everything.”  McKnight’s point is that the way we share the Gospel today, our actual answer would be “nothing.”  McKnight argues convincingly that Christians (especially Western evangelicals) have replaced the Gospel with the personal “Plan of Salvation” turning the story of Jesus into “how an individual gets saved, what God has done for us, and how we are to respond if we want to be saved.”10  McKnight makes clear that this focus is indeed fundamental to Christianity, but it’s not the Gospel.  He says it this way, “Salvation–the robust salvation of God–is the intended result of the gospel story about Jesus Christ that completes the story of Israel in the Old Testament.”11  McKnight fleshes out what the gospel is by looking at the gospel preached by Jesus, preached by Paul, the gospel handed down to Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, and the gospel preached by the apostles in Acts (especially Peter’s sermons).  He comes away seeing the Gospel as “the saving Story of Israel now lived out by Jesus, who lived, died, was buried, was raised, and was exalted to God’s right hand, and who is now roaring out the message that someday the kingdom will come in all its glorious fury.”12  The longer rendition of McKnight’s understanding of the Gospel is given from pages 148-153 in the section titled “The Gospel Sketched” and should really not be missed, it’s excellent.  Overall, I think this book will both challenge and edify any Christian who reads it.  I do think, like always, the reader must be discerning.  At times, it seems the McKnight has overreacted and swung the pendulum too far away from the “salvation” side of the gospel story.  However, the discerning reader will be gain much from this book!

How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by N.T. Wright

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The four Gospels are about Jesus.  Often times though, we read our own modern problems into the narrative.  We select what parts of the Gospels we read haphazardly, choosing this story our that story because it seems to communicate advice to our present life circumstance while ignoring the bulk of the other stuff.  I’m not saying that we can’t glean practical advice from the Gospels, what I am saying is that they are not self-help books.  This is not why they were written, therefore, that’s not how we should read them.  All of the Gospels are stories, so we need to read them as stories.  Prolific author and renowned biblical scholar, N.T. Wright helps us mightily in this regard.  To properly read and understand the four Gospels, Wright makes use of a handy analogy.  He says to imagine buying a new quadrophonic surround sound speaker system.  There are four speakers, one in each corner of the room, but the sound is uneven and distorted, so now you have to adjust the volume of each speaker to make sure the sound comes through beautifully clear and organized.  Likewise, Wright argues that there are four strands or “speakers” that must be all simultaneously turned up and tuned together to be able to hear the beautifully clear and organized story of the Gospels.  The four “speakers” he discusses are: (1) The Story of Israel, (2) The Story of Jesus as the Story of Israel’s God, (3) The Launching of God’s Renewed People, and (4) The Clash of the Kingdoms.  Unfortunately, many of us read with only one speaker blaring and the rest are completely turned off (or maybe all of them are completely turned off).  By turning all of the speakers on and adjusting the volume to bring them into unison, Wright believes the four Gospels sing this major tune: “The story of how God became king–in and through Jesus both in his public career and in his death.”13  We can always be nit-picky here, but I think he’s generally right (HA!).  I highly recommend this book to anybody interested in the Gospels and what they say about Jesus.  Christian, non-Christian, and skeptic alike will better understand the story of the Gospels and hopefully enjoy the music they produce.

The Servant King by T. Desmond Alexander

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This is a tremendously helpful book by a distinguished biblical scholar.  The Servant King is only 168 pages, but Alexander covers the whole Bible, scanning for the “Portrait of the Messiah” (the book’s subtitle).  It is a quick and easy read, full of helpful information.  You will grow in your understanding of Christ and your love for Christ as you see Him throughout the Biblical Story.  Alexander provides his own bird’s eye view of the book, “The purpose of this study has been to trace the development of the portrait of the Messiah through the Bible. While the specific designation Messiah is not used at the start, we noted how Genesis focuses attention on the coming of a divinely promised monarch. Beginning with the Lord God’s promise to Eve concerning the defeat of the ‘seed of the serpent’, the Genesis narrative highlights a unique line of ‘seed’ which is traced firstly through Seth to Noah and then from Noah to Abraham. Against the background of humanity’s existence under God’s judgment, Abraham receives the promise that through this ‘seed’ all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”14  And we’re off!  Following this “seed” through the rest of the Biblical Story.  I highly recommend this short, but fantastic overview of the Anointed One.

From Eden to the New Jerusalem by T. Desmond Alexander

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If you purchase one book on Biblical Theology, this is the one.  I’ll go so far as to say that the next book you purchase that has anything do with the Bible should be this one.  It’s that good.  T. Desmond Alexander is a great scholar and an excellent author and his book From Eden to the New Jerusalem will absolutely transform how you see and read the Bible.  Essentially, Alexander traces several themes throughout the Biblical Narrative, drawing these themes from Revelation 21-22.  Themes include: God’s dwelling place (tracing the “temple” from Eden to the New Jerusalem), God’s throne (dealing with the reign of God and the reign of Satan), evil and its (his) destruction, the slaughter of the Lamb (following redemption through the Biblical Story), the tree of life, and living as the people of God.  A quote from the conclusion of the book previews its material, “The coming of Jesus Christ is vital for the ultimate restoration of the earth as God’s abode. Bringing to fulfillment a series of interlocking expectations that link to the royal line of David, Jesus Christ, as the perfect man, overcomes Satan through his death, resurrection, and ascension. As a result of his sacrificial death upon the cross, Christ brings about a new exodus that delivers people from Satan’s control and bestows on them a holy and royal status. By repenting of their sin and acknowledging Christ’s kingship, human beings are enabled by the Holy Spirit to become citizens of the kingdom of God.”15  All I can say is that you need to find this book, buy this book, read this book, and grow in your love for The Book.

 

From Paradise to the Promise Land by T. Desmond Alexander

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T. Desmond Alexander (a favorite scholar/writer of mine) has written a superb introduction to the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).  Do you struggle reading through parts of Genesis (maybe), or Exodus (maybe), or Leviticus (definitely), or Numbers (yes & insert Christian pick-up line), or Deuteronomy (Idk even know how to spell that, let alone read it)?  Then this book is for you (so basically it’s for everyone).  Part 1 of the book deals exclusively with textual criticism of the Pentateuch, especially form and source criticism.  Alexander deals with the history of textual criticism, focusing a lot of attention on the good ole Documentary Hypothesis (JEDP theory).  He doesn’t necessarily seek to disprove or prove the theory, but to show that there is more and more doubt from both liberal and conservative scholars concerning the strength of the Documentary Hypothesis; he’d rather deal with the final form of the text.  Alexander puts it this way, “Although human curiosity will undoubtedly prompt scholars to ask how the Pentateuch was composed, it is vitally important that we should not lose sight of the question, why was the Pentateuch composed? While the ‘how’ question is never likely to be answered with complete certainty, the ‘why’ question directs us to the one who is the source of all true knowledge.”16  Don’t be turned off by the first part of the book if you have no interest in textual criticism (it’s ~100 pages), simply skip it and move onto the bulk of the book: Part 2 “The Main Themes of the Pentateuch”.  Although, the last chapter of Part 1 is worth reading for anybody, whether interested in textual criticism or not.  Part 2 is exactly like it sounds, Alexander makes his way through the main themes of the Pentateuch.  These themes include Royal lineage in Genesis, the blessing of the nations, paradise lost, who is the Lord?, covenant,  Passover, tabernacle, clean and unclean foods, holiness, and much more.  Alexander overviews the Pentateuch in the first chapter of Part 2, concluding the chapter with this statement, “Although the Pentateuch is a very distinctive history of the world from its creation to the arrival of the Israelites on the borders of Canaan, it is much more than a history of what has taken place. The divine promises of blessing and nationhood, which are so important to the development of the plot, remain unfulfilled by the end of Deuteronomy.  As a result, the Pentateuch is oriented towards the future.  What will become of these promises?  To answer this we must look beyond the concluding chapters of Deuteronomy.  As it stands, the Pentateuch is an unfinished story.”17  The Pentateuch is a story that begins THE STORY, and reading this book will help you see both.  Delight in finally coming to enjoy the Pentateuch and not cringing overhearing the word “Leviticus” or knowing more about Numbers than that cheesy (but funny) pick-up line.  Read this book!

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  1. John Goldingay, Biblical Theology: the God of the Christian Scriptures (Downer’s Grove: IVP Academic, 2016), 17.
  2. Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: a Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life) (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010), 29.
  3. Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: a Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission (Biblical Theology for Life) (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2010), 46.
  4. Graham Cole, The God Who Became Human: a Biblical Theology of Incarnation (New Studies in Biblical Theology)(Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013), 95.
  5. Graham Cole, The God Who Became Human: a Biblical Theology of Incarnation (New Studies in Biblical Theology)(Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2013), 139.
  6. Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 22.
  7. Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 30.
  8. Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (New Studies in Biblical Theology) (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2010), 230.
  9. Stephen G. Dempster, Dominion and Dynasty: a Biblical Theology of the Hebrew Bible (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2003), 231.
  10. Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: the Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 37-38.
  11. Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: the Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 51.
  12. Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: the Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 160.
  13. N. T. Wright, How God Became King: the Forgotten Story of the Gospels, Reprint ed. (New York: HarperOne, 2016), 175.
  14. T. D. Alexander, The Servant King: the Bible’s Portrait of the Messiah (Grand Rapids: Regent College Publishing, 2003), 165.
  15. T. Desmond Alexander, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: an Introduction to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2009), 191
  16. T. Desmond Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land: an Introduction to the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 93-94.
  17. T. Desmond Alexander, From Paradise to the Promised Land: an Introduction to the Pentateuch, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 100.