This substantial volume from John Goldingay, David Alan Hubbard Professor of Old Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, is a welcome contribution from a creative scholar. I enjoyed reading this book. It is an engaging and stimulating presentation of significant themes in the Christian Scriptures.
Many authors have written books with the words “Biblical Theology” in the title, but the common vocabulary disguises many different approaches. Goldingay recognises this (p. 13) and explains his own approach. Having already written a three-volume Old Testament Theology (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003–2010), Goldingay decided to change his approach to the Scriptures, frequently beginning with the New Testament. For matters of method, Goldingay points to his previous book, Do We Need the New Testament? (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2015; see the review in Themelios 41 : http://themelios.thegospelcoalition.org/review/do-we-need-the-new-testament-letting-the-old-testament-speak-for-itself). He comments concerning his new book, “It does pay proportionately more attention to the New Testament than that other title might suggest or than you or I might have expected” (p. 10).
One of the notable features of Goldingay’s work is his distinctive use of terminology. He explains a number of his choices in his Preface. For example, he describes the first part of the Christian canon as the “First Testament,” yet the second part is described as the “New Testament” (compare his earlier book, Models for Scripture [Carlisle: Paternoster, 1994], in which he used “First Testament” and “Second Testament”).
Following the brief Preface and Introduction, the book is composed of eight chapters, with titles that reflect the emphasis of the book’s sub-title: “God’s Person,” “God’s Insight,” “God’s Creation,” “God’s Reign,” “God’s Anointed,” “God’s Children,” “God’s Expectations,” “God’s Triumph.” Goldingay’s stated aim is to allow Scripture to determine the shape of his work (p. 9). While most of the categories chosen are uncontroversial, Goldingay’s choice of “insight” to translate logos is typical of his striking use of language.
The very nature of “biblical theology” demands consideration of a vast range of texts and this inevitably means that many passages are frequently dealt with fairly briefly. The prose has something of proclamation about it.
Goldingay’s writing is frequently a little quirky, but also fresh and thought-provoking. Here is an example (p. 211):
The first human beings were warned not to eat of the good-and-bad-knowledge tree because they would then die, but they chose to do so anyway. They did not die that day, but they eventually died, and so did everyone who followed (cf. Rom 5:12). Adam lived to be 930, Seth to be 912, Enosh to be 905, Kenan to be 910, Methuselah to be 969 (Gen 5). You hold your breath through the account of each man: maybe someone will reach a millennium. But no one does. Each of their little paragraphs ends with the solemn epitaph “then he died.” The exception is Enoch (and later Elijah), who simply disappears (Gen 5:24), which maybe hints at some other possibility, but that exception deepens the refrain’s poignancy. The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).
Some of his translations did not work so well, to my mind. For example (p. 346), “‘Through the Anointed One we have redemption, by means of his blood, the remission of errors’ (Eph 1:7).” “Errors” seems a weak rendering of a Greek term that indicates moral transgression.
At times it is somewhat unclear to which genre of writing the book belongs. Goldingay frequently uses colloquial expressions and rhetorical flourishes that would be more typical of popular Christian writings, or even of preaching, than of an academic work. Some readers might find this strange, but I generally found it endearing and an indication of an author seeking to communicate effectively with his readers. For example, with reference to John the Baptizer’s view of Jesus, Goldingay writes (p. 282), “It may not be what the Anointed One was expected to do, but it’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? John has to reframe his way of thinking about what the Anointed One might do.”
Goldingay also draws on numerous illustrations to support his points (e.g., on pp. 337–38). Preachers may find these features helpful. They certainly make the book more accessible to a non-specialist.
The book is not heavily referenced. There are footnotes on most pages, but rarely are there more than three or four brief references. Goldingay draws on a wide range of authors, ancient and modern, including Augustine, Barth, Bavinck, Bonhoeffer, Bultmann, Dunn, Fee, Moltmann, Pannenberg, C. J. Wright, and N. T. Wright.
I found several statements either theologically problematic or, at least, needlessly provocative. Most notably, I found Goldingay’s language regarding the atonement difficult. For example, he interprets Jesus’ cry on the cross as a plea for God to “come back and rescue me!” He then comments, “In due course God does, but for the moment God sits in the heavens resolutely watching his Son suffer and resolutely declining to terminate his suffering when he could do so” (p. 295).
The final phrase, “when he could do so,” seems to me to require significant clarification. A little further, I sensed a determination to avoid the notion of penalty in the cross, to the extent that Goldingay uses rather undefined language (following L. Gregory Jones) of God “absorbing” human hostility.
Goldingay has written a book that will encourage Bible readers to consider key themes in a new light. There is much to learn here for the discerning reader. This reader is grateful for Goldingay’s work, even while differing at points.