Central Themes in Biblical Theology

In an age in which works of biblical scholarship tend to focus on either Old or New Testament (and usually on specific books or themes within one or the other), and popular Christian literature tends to be biblically shallow, it is refreshing to find a book like this which takes in the whole sweep of Scripture and achieves a degree of scholarly depth at the same time.

Written by a team of American evangelical scholars, this symposium covers seven major strands of biblical theology: the Covenant Relationship (Scott J. Hafemann), the Commands of God (Thomas R. Schreiner), the Atonement (Frank S. Thielman), the Servant of the Lord (Stephen G. Dempster), the Day of the Lord (Paul R. House), the People of God (Elmer A. Martens), and the History of Redemption (Roy E. Ciampa).

The essays are all written from a canonical biblical perspective, i.e. they treat the books of scripture as finished products (rather than delving into their pre-histories) and as needing to be read in the light of the canon of Scripture as a whole. They also emphasise the over-arching coherence of biblical teaching as transcending the diversities to be found between and even within the individual books of Scripture. Moreover, they are clearly written, well argued, and helpfully comprehensive. For all these reasons, the book is one which, I suspect, will commend itself to members of MET.

Particularly interesting is the book’s treatment of a number of controversial issues in the world of contemporary biblical scholarship. For example, on the debate over of the ‘old’ and ‘new’ perspectives on Paul, generated by E.P. Sanders’ ground-breaking book ‘Paul and Palestinian Judaism’ published in 1977, T.R. Schreiner argues that a synthesis can be found which incorporates aspects of both perspectives; on the debate over substitutionary atonement, recently reignited in evangelical circles by Steve Chalke, F.S. Thielman gives a robust defence of the traditional evangelical view; and on N.T. Wright’s thesis that the Jews of the 1st century AD regarded themselves as still being ‘in exile’, R.E. Ciampa offers qualified support, arguing that many Jews at that time regarded the original exile as having attained only ‘incomplete resolution’.

Inevitably the book will not satisfy everyone. Biblical specialists will probably regard many subjects and passages of Scripture as having been treated superficially. Ordinary church members, on the other hand, may find themselves out of their depth. But ministers, local preachers, and serious students of Scripture are likely to find here a feast of good things, ‘solid food’ (1 Cor. 3.2, Heb. 5.12-14) to nourish their faith and assist them in their own attempts to share with others the riches of God’s Word.