Cover Image: Biblical Theology

Biblical Theology :
Retrospect & Prospect (ed. S. Hafemann)

IVP, 2002

Blurb Review by Graham Beynon

Review by Graham Beynon

This is a book of nineteen essays by different authors on aspects of biblical theology. The authors are mainly from North American institutions but with a few from Europe and Australia. The stated intention is to give a 'status report' on biblical theology and examine ways forward for the future.

The fundamental approach in the book is that we should grasp the 'inner points of coherence and development within the biblical narrative and exposition'. This is done believing that the Scriptures are a unity and therefore, properly understood, there will be no need to sublimate one voice within them to another. As such it stands apart from liberal biblical theological methodologies.

As with all multi-author works this one is hard to evaluate succinctly. There is no one overall argument or thesis to interact with; rather we have a series of rather disparate views that occasionally even contradict each other.

One result is that these essays both frustrate and stimulate the reader. They frustrate because of their lack of engagement with each other's arguments, their different styles and methodologies, and the unevenness of the topics chosen. However they stimulate because they force the reader to compare and contrast between essays, to ask further questions, and above all to approach the Bible with biblical theology more in mind.

As an example consider the vexed issue of a 'centre' to biblical theology. The conservative beliefs of the authors mean that they think such an integrated 'centre' or unity paradiagm', exists and this is a theme that gets a repeated airing. William Dumbrell argues for 'new creation' both being foreshadowed in Genesis 2, and being foundational in biblical theology. Stephen Dempster plumps for 'dominion and dynasty' as the related twin foci of the OT; and Gerald Wilson suggests 'kingship' as the heart of biblical theology from his study of the Psalms.

These, and others suggested by different authors, are each helpful in their way and aid the reader in seeing certain connections across the canon. However at face reading they not only discover different 'centres' but also discover them by different routes. Such a discussion would have been considerably enriched by interaction with each other and debate over how their different schemas inter-relate.

As this topic of a centre occurs frequently further comment is called for: the authors agree that finding one 'centre' to the canon is fraught with difficulties, and yet the essays still appear to aim at achieving this goal without a great deal of consideration for the said difficulties. It seems to me that it is not so much a question of finding one unifying theme, which renders all others wrong, as accepting that there are numerous inter-related themes (e.g. new creation, kingship), and then attempting to present the connections between them. This is in fact part of what Paul House later argues for in his very helpful essay on the wholeness of Scripture.

The other weakness on this topic of a centre is that many essays focus on either Old or New Testament with only the slightest of glances forwards or backwards. For example James Scott's discussion of the restoration of Israel in the NT is very instructive but says little about what this means for a reading of the OT. This is not to say that helpful work is not done here; simply that it tends to be rather piecemeal.

One related, and rather surprising, thought struck me about these essays: why was there so little on Jesus? If the Scriptures are those that testify about him, whatever subject is being discussed it seems imperative to ask what relation it has to the person and work of Jesus. This is, of course, done to some extent, but to my mind simply not overtly or thoroughly enough.

A variety of other themes come under consideration: the importance, or not, of the ordering of the OT; the perennial issue of how to relate law and gospel; insights from linguistic theory and their helpfulness in relating sections of Scripture to each other; some of the unhelpful assumptions within the theological academy and how they relate to biblical theology; and issues of diversity and unity.

As this list of subjects will suggest some essays are of a more technical nature than others and a greater degree of background knowledge is required to make use of them. Overall though the essays will be easily understood by those who have done some previous general reading on biblical theology.

From the description of the content so far some may have detected a slight misnomer in the title. The idea of 'retrospect' suggests that the thinking in the field of biblical theology will be summed up and critically reviewed. There are small sections to this end but the majority of the essays are presentations of the author's own work. The suggestions made with regard to the prospect for biblical theology are more by way of methodology than the mapping of clear paths and topics. However what is said is helpful.

For those who teach the Bible regularly and do so wanting to incorporate the insights of biblical theology this is a useful book. However it will function by way of stimulating of new paths of thinking and making one aware of certain discussions. It should not be thought of as an overview of the field, or an integrated argument about it.

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