My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Pick up most versions of systematic theology and it becomes quickly obvious that the writer is balancing both system and theology. Normally they loosely follow the categories laid out by the Apostles’ Creed, with excursions into this corner or that. They also, consciously or not, draw along with them theological concepts from ages past, using specialized language and assumptions. But recently John Goldingay, associate pastor at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Pasadena, David Allan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary and seasoned author, has taken a stab at breaking out of the traditional confines of a systematic theology in his new 608 page hardback, “Biblical Theology: The God of the Christian Scriptures”. This brick of a book has been penned with pastors, parish priests, and professors in mind.
“Biblical Theology” is concerned with answering the question: “What understanding of God and the world and life emerges from” the First and New Testaments (13). The author sees Sacred Scripture as not flowing out of a single, coherent tradition, but unfolding from plurality of traditions. Further, Goldingay explains that there are two primary ways of theology in Scripture, the one comes as story and the other unpacks the implications of the narratives in a more didactic fashion, and so “Biblical Theology” will interweave these two ways. The author’s aim is to “avoid reading into the Scriptures the categories and convictions of postbiblical Christian theology” and therefore allow the Scriptures to test our thinking (17-8).
The author follows a path that begins with God’s person, moves to God’s insight and steps over into God’s creation. Then he comes to God’s reign, turns to gaze at God’s anointed and discusses God’s children. And lastly, he works over God’s expectations and ends with God’s triumph. Throughout the work, Goldingay does not disappoint the reader, in that he makes good on his promise to interact with Scripture, drawing from both the First Testament and the New. He spends pages networking biblical stories, themes and passages from both Testaments, showing how they interrelate and interlock to paint a multicolored portrait. And yet the work does not cast aside scholarly insights from others, but draws from Dunn, Wright, Hayes, McClendon, Volf, and a whole army of others. Though this is somewhat hyperbolic, it felt as if Barth showed up in referential footnotes at almost every turn.
Certain favored theological subjects of various branches of Protestantism received rewriting, reworking or remitting. The two that stick out are justification and atonement. For example, dikaiosis “does not involve a legal fiction. It does not mean treating someone as in the right when they are not. It means treating them as within the covenant people” (313). And then with regard to atonement the author affirms expiation, purification, restitution, emancipation, and subjugation, but seems to leave propitiation off to the side somewhere, especially penal substitution. Or maybe the author includes it, but so softens it that it is nearly unrecognizable. In his own words, another person “cannot be punished for you; that doesn’t work. But another person can make compensation for you, if you then identify with the offering they have made” (332).
“Biblical Theology” is a big, bustling and broad work. It would be essential acquisition for a seminary library, and would make a great dialogue partner in certain seminary classes. Though it may not usurp standard theologies that ministers and mentors depend on, nevertheless it will be a respectable resource to bump one’s thinking up against when wrestling through various biblical subjects. Though I didn’t always agree with the author, I still found engaging with the work useful, and recommend it.
Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing, upon my request, the free copy of “Biblical Theology” used for this review. The assessments are mine given without restrictions or requirements (as per Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255).
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