Tuesday 21 July 2009

Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House on Central Themes in Biblical Theology

Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House (eds.), Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity (Nottingham: Apollos, 2007), 330pp., ISBN 9781844741663.

This volume, a collection of essays examining key biblical themes, is published in the USA by Baker, who provide the Introduction as a pdf excerpt.

The editors deliberately selected contributors who are committed to a ‘whole-Bible biblical theology’, who see the benefit of tracing ‘themes and overarching structural ideas through the whole Bible’ (15) – the contributors and themes, in this case, as follows:

1. Scott J. Hafemann: The Covenant Relationship

2. Thomas R. Schreiner: The Commands of God

3. Frank S. Thielman: The Atonement

4. Stephen G. Dempster: The Servant of the Lord

5. Paul R. House: The Day of the Lord

6. Elmer A. Martens: The People of God

7. Roy E. Ciampa: The History of Redemption

It is noted that although they don’t share the same way of exploring the themes, they do share some convictions:

Conviction #1
The Bible is a unity because it is the Word of God. The authors are thus committed to a unified biblical theology, to exploring their chosen theme across the whole Bible, not pitting different biblical writers against each other or the Old Testament against the New Testament. A commitment to unity does not reject legitimate tension or diversity here and there, but it is diversity which ‘contributes to overall unity’ (17).

Conviction #2
Biblical theology is not just about surveying the contents of the Bible, but establishing ‘the conceptual unity of the Scriptures as a whole’ (17), the history and significance of God and his people, past, present and future. Nor are the contributors content merely to describe the theology of individual biblical authors, or focus on religious experiences or historical events ‘behind’ the text. Rather, ‘biblical theology seeks its content and coherence in the final propositions and basic ordering of the Old and New Testaments read in their entirety, in their final form, and in concert with one another’ (17).

Conviction #3
Doing whole-Bible biblical theology should be a collaborative effort, since the issues have become too complex to be pursued by any one person working alone. The volume seeks to model this, to some extent: the participants chose their own theme, but met together twice to present their work to each other, so that the resulting contributions have benefited from peer interaction.

The essays are up-to-date pieces of work by key scholars in their areas, and excellent examples of biblical theology at work in an evangelical mould. They are also substantial treatments of the topics – not book-length, of course, but with greater scope for development of the topic than a dictionary-type article (say) allows.

Although there is overlap between the topics, each can be read as a stand-alone treatment of its area. No claim is made that any one of the topics or a combination of any or all of them represents a centre of biblical theology; simply that they are an indication, as the title says, of central themes of the Bible.

Even so, the order of the papers is deliberate, beginning with the covenant relationship, followed by essays on God’s commands, God’s means of atonement, God’s sending of servants, and God’s warning about the Day of the Lord as natural outgrowths of the covenant relationship. The final two contributions – on God’s people and the history of redemption – are summaries of God’s purpose for relating to humans in a covenantal way, that ‘God is in the process of gathering a holy people, which in effect means that God pursues a redemptive mission in our world’ (18).

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