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Q286 : Recommended Biblical Theologies

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Q286 : Recommended Biblical Theologies

I just read your review of Greg Beale's A New Testament Biblical Theologya.

I don't think that I would call myself a dispensationalist, but I certainly am pre-mil (100%) and believe that Paul's promise that "all Israel will be saved" is clearly physical Israel, rather than the Church. I also see the hundreds of O.T. promises about the Messiah and about Israel to be literal when the Hebrews reading it would have seen it as literal. I certainly do not believe in literal hermeneutics, per se, but rather believe that we MUST assume that the original writers wrote their prophecies and books so that their original readers would understand them. If Beale is saying that is not the case, then he is allowing his amillennial presuppositions contradict good biblical hermeneutical principles.

I do think it would have been awfully hard for a Jew in the 1st century to be deeply conversant in the O.T. and still be able to understand that Jesus was the perfect fit for the Messiah. The many allusions to the victorious Messiah seem to contradict the clear allusions to the suffering Messiah. But that is significantly different from saying that a Hebrew who correct ly interpreted Isaiah in 450 BC would have been surprised by the N.T. fulfillment.

We are starting an M.Phil. program at our school. Theology is going to be an important facet of our program. We will certainly purchase an electronic version of Beale's book. I need to freshen up on biblical theologies written over the past 20 years and make sure I am up to date. To be honest, my favorite N.T. theology right now is still Herman Ridderbos. Do you have any volumes you recommend that I purchase? Do you think that Beale's book would be helpful?

Thanks for taking the time to write the review. It was a helpful warning. .


A286 : by Paul Henebury

In reply I would say that because the victorious Messiah texts overwhelm the suffering Messiah texts your point is probably correct. But at the same time there are indications that passages such as Isa. 53 and Daniel 9:26 were misinterpreted because of the Jewish predilection for extravagant exegesis and "targuming". Still, I see your point.

I would personally not use Beale because he has no balance. Although words like "possibly", "perhaps", "could" etc proliferate, he simply does not interact with contrary positions. He just assumes he is right. BTW, a reviewer of his The Temple and the Church's Mission in JBL noted the same problem.

You like Ridderbos (I presume you are referring to his book on Paul?). Yes, I like him too, although he is pretty advanced and a bit stodgy. Plus, he focuses on one Apostle.

But you ask about Biblical Theologies. Below is my assessment of several books you may wish to consider. some of them you may know already. I make bold to make recommendations.

Thoughts on Biblical Theologies

The first thing to say is that the definition of Biblical Theology is elastic. We have an idea of what it is but perhaps because of the various ways of actually doing it the works on BT can look quite different. For that reason i have tried to include a few varieties in my list, although some of them may not qualify within stricter criteria. I tried to think about how I teach BT and choose accordingly.

James M. Hamilton - God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment

This highly competent and dense book is one of the best new entries in the genre. He takes a historical approach, moving book by book through the Bible. He imparts a lot of information along the way. Hamilton's thesis is that the recurring pattern of God's glory in salvation through judgment is the center of BT. I do not agree. This is what I think we should expect from the economy of god's providential working in a fallen world, but it scarcely supplies a goal for God's plan. My chief issues with it are that he resorts to typology far too often (but see his *What is Biblical Theology?* and you will see why - btw, I don't like that book), and he minimizes covenants to the point of near exclusion. In fact, he minimizes themes like "kingdom" too, so I couldn't make this my first or second choice. it would be good as a survey of the Bible so long as other works balanced it out.

Thomas R. Schreiner - The King in his Beauty

A similar book to the above with many of its shortcomings, although Schreiner focuses on Christ which gives it a little more interest and less repetition of a theme a la Hamilton. Still, Schreiner's insistence on reading the OT in light of the Cross skews his reading of the OT. The Prophets cannot be fairly treated from the vantage-point of Calvary. Still, there is a lot of useful material here. He is not as dense as Hamilton which makes him easier to use for undergrad students.

Miles V. Van Pelt (ed.) - A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the OT

I include this because it has aroused attention and because it merges BT with introduction. there are some very competent entries in the book (e.g. by Currid, Timmer, VanGemeren, Belcher), but there are some duds (e.g. Pratt). The editor has not made the authors follow the same basic plan, which greatly reduces the book's value. All the author's are Reformed covenant theologians.

Walter Kaiser - The Promise-Plan of God

For me, this is perhaps the best BT to put into the hands of the student. Kaiser's proposed unifying theme of "promise" has been criticized (e.g. by J. Sailhamer), but it has the merit of at least listening to the text as it unfolds, rather than reading the Bible backwards like the Reformed works tend to do. Kaiser can find basic unity between the Testaments at the hermeneutical level rather than at the symbolical level, which is a plus. While I do not hold to promise theology I do find it easy to navigate my way through the book while gaining a good understanding of progressive revelation pertaining to important themes. Another little qualm is that Kaiser's sources are sometimes dated.

Charles H. H. Scobie - The Ways of Our God

A huge, thorough book structured on a broad thematic approach. Conservative though moderately critical, Scobie mainly interacts with mainline scholarship. For this reason he is very useful for the grad level student. I have a soft spot for this book and return to it a lot. Recommended for in-depth study of BT. A great teacher's resource.

Daniel P. Fuller - The Unity of the Bible

Written clearly with useful insights, Fuller's book goes its own way. He's a bit idiosyncratic, being classic premil but also critical in places. The NT portion mainly deals with certain questions thrown up the the OT. A book that influenced John Piper.

Willem VanGemeren - The Progress of Redemption

A "Vossian" treatment of the subject by a well respected OT specialist. He studies the biblical story in twelve "epochs." Pitched at about the beginning grad level this book is the best Reformed presentation of BT in my opinion. Because the author is balanced I would have little difficulty using this as a text for an advanced class, even though I would qualify it here and there.

George N. H. Peters - The Theocratic Kingdom 3 vols

Enormous, insightful and ponderous, with a dash of eccentricity (though nothing harmful), these volumes repay careful study. Unfortunately, Peters adopts a question and answer method which makes him exhausting to use. This is a shame because he is a pious writer and an often lucid theologian. Very God centered. Few have read him through.

C. Marvin Pate, et al - The Story of Israel

An undergraduate text written by six authors, but with surprising cohesion. Its central motif is "sin-exile-restoration" a little bit like Hamilton, but more thematically balanced. Designed for classroom use. Includes a helpful chapter on "Second Temple Judaism". Critical in a few places.

Alva J. McClain - The Greatness of the Kingdom

A cross between Biblical and Systematic theology, this classic is worth considering because of its well executed plan. For those who think "the mediatorial kingdom" (the kingdom theme mediated by man and the God-man) is central to the Bible storyline this is a great book.

Michael J. Vlach - He Will Reign Forever

More intentionally a BT than McClain's book, this welcome work is an easy to follow Dispensational text well suited for the classroom. Raises good points while not always having time to deal with them thoroughly. In fact, if I have a criticism of this fine book it is that it is not as detailed as I would have liked.

Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum - Kingdom through Covenant

An influential work by two Baptist scholars holding to New Covenant Theology (which is basically CT with the three theological covenants replaced by other theological covenants). Purports to be a via media between Dispensational and Covenant theologies but isn't. My impression of the book is that it flatters to deceive. The exegetical chapters are really extended diversions from the main plot. The authors presuppositions are evident, which is helpful, but they pretend to be unbiased. Still, for the grad student this book does provoke much thought.

G. K. Beale - A New Testament Biblical Theology

A mammoth work aimed at providing a penetrating case for amillennialist eschatology based upon the concept of a "cosmic temple" principle extending from Eden into the wild creation, interrupted by the Fall, but kept on track by repeated attempts to the spiritual temple via major figures (Noah, Abraham, the nation of Israel) until finally the last Adam, Jesus Christ inaugurates the "New creation" in his death and resurrection and second coming work. Very speculative when all is said and done. Methinks when the dust is settled many will see just how much of Beale's grand narrative is built on supposition. For such a huge book the interaction with other points of view is disappointingly minimal.

Geerhardus Vos - Biblical Theology

Difficult to read (is there a dutch writer who is not?, this is still a valuable study of reformed covenant theology from a master at his trade. Vos is a brilliant man, which is why he should be read even when one takes issue with him (which I do frequently). Incomplete, but important. Students should also get Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, which is a fine collection of Vos's essays on the subject.

O. Palmer Robertson - The Christ of the Covenants

I cannot get on with Robertson. His treatment of the covenants (which boils down to "the covenant") is so theologically predetermined that I find him irritating to read. I don't agree with his definition of covenant. Nor do I accept his ridiculous view that "land" is not a central covenant concept. A classic CT exercise in flattening out the biblical covenants so that the covenant of grace (or "redemption") can take center stage.

Graeme Goldsworthy - According to Plan

Very well written BT from the perspective of covenant theology. Goldsworthy is good because he tells you he is spiritualizing, reinterpreting, and reading the Gospel into the OT. He majors on the big picture, which means that the details in the OT glossed over with the rhetoric, but this is the place to go if one wants to see the broad sweep of Reformed BT. An additional plus is that Goldsworthy bolsters his doctrine of revelation with Van Tillian presuppositionlaism (without employing the jargon). His "Goldsworthy Trilogy" is written in the same way; self-evidently reading the NT back into the Old.

Finally...

Scott J. Hafemann & Paul R. House (eds.) - Central Themes in Biblical Theology

A collection of articles on matters like atonement, the Day of the Lord, People of God, etc., worth getting because the scholarship is good. I found House's treatment of "the Day of the Lord" very good. He helpfully draws together the various uses of the term and shows that it is not a technical way of speaking (few terms in Scripture are). Dempster's essay on "The Servant of the Lord" is very well done. Elmer Martens on "The People of God" highlights the fact that God's people are an "alternative community" which needs to be heard today. Roy Ciampa on "the History of Redemption" is very good, even for someone, like me, who departs from his conclusion. Hafemann's article on "The Covenant Relationship", is definitely a worthwhile survey of recent proposals alongside helpful scriptural observations, even while I found myself writing question marks on every other page.

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