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Posts Tagged ‘NT Theology’

Thanks to Zondervan for a review copy of this book and an opportunity to participate in the Blog Tour for Darrel Bock’s A Theology of Luke and Acts

A few weeks back Zondervan went on the look-out for bloggers who were interested in joining up on their Blog Tour for this fine book, A Theology of Luke and Acts.  Who wouldn’t want to read something by Darrel Bock, right?  It makes sense, too, for Bock to be tabbed to write this particular volume, given that he has now completed commentaries on both Luke’s Gospel and Acts.

Because of the size of the book (roughly 450 pages of text) and the short amount of time to read the book before the Blog Tour, reviewers were asked to pick one chapter and review it.  Fair enough.  I opted to read chapter 17, ‘Women, the Poor and the Social Dimensions in Luke-Acts.’

Bock notes the cultural prejudice against women during Jesus’ time, specifically how they were not seen as reliable witnesses by society.  Yet, they serve that function in Luke’s gospel time and time again, from Anna the prophetess to those who first receive the news of Jesus’ resurrection.  They are some of his most loyal followers, often more faithful than the men who walked with him.

Interestingly, the women of Luke’s gospel don’t fit a single mold.  From rich (Joanna) to poor (the woman who gave her two mites), from righteous (Elizabeth and Mary, the mother of Jesus) to those with unrighteous pasts (the women who anoints Jesus’ feet)- Luke seems to take care to include the whole gamut of possibilities.

Bock also correctly notes that individual women are not the main focus in Acts, since the focus of Acts tends more towards communities (through the ministry of individuals, of course).  Key here is the inclusion of women in receiving the Spirit in Acts 2, responding positively to Paul’s teaching in Thessalonica, etc.  Priscilla, wife of Aquila, is somewhat different, however, in that she’s not a recipient, but a teacher.

As for the poor, it has been long said that Luke has great concern for them.  Bock notes, correctly, that we can’t spiritualize these teachings, but must accept them for what they are: declarations that the poor will be blessed.  He also notes that this concept is “rooted in OT texts… the pious poor of the Hebrew Scriptures who are exploited” (p355).

Bock rejects the over-politicizing nature of liberation theology, remarking “What we have in these passages is something that falls between the full political agenda of a liberation perspective and the ignoring of the poor that often is the approach of the alternatives to liberation” (p355).  I think he is basically correct here.  While I’m not convinced it’s entirely possible to separate Jesus’ teachings from politics- especially not in Jesus’ day, when ‘separation of church and state would have been a completely foreign view- it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would call for the overthrow of a government in order to liberate the poor and oppressed (not to mention probably replace it with a new government that will form a new category of oppressed people).

As solid as this chapter is, I felt like he came up one step short in explaining the importance for this aspect of Jesus’ ministry, especially how it relates to the Kingdom of God.

In fact, the ‘Kingdom’ as a category seems to have received the short shrift from Bock in this volume.  According to the subject index, it’s only discussed on about 10 of the 450 pages.  Now, I realize the Kingdom of God is not peculiar to Luke’s writings, so perhaps Bock felt the need to focus elsewhere.  Then again, healings, discipleship, Israel, the Hebrew Scriptures- these are crucial to all of the gospels yet receive their own chapters in this book.

The point is that the ‘Kingdom’ is central to Jesus’ preaching, and we know this because it’s central to the Synoptic Gospels (elsewhere Bock calls it a ‘key theme’ [p141]).  Jesus came proclaiming the Kingdom with his words, and demonstrating its arrival with his deeds.  So what does Luke’s focus on women and the poor tell us about the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed?

This is where I was disappointed in Bock’s chapter.  It’s not that he says anything wrong; in fact, there’s little to argue with in this chapter.  It’s that he doesn’t say enough.  He says basically what anyone with a little bit of time studying Luke-Acts can come up with.  What he doesn’t do is connect the dots and tell us just why it’s so important Jesus’ ministry included reaching out to women and the poor, or why Luke in particular highlights this.

Keep in mind that I’m focusing on one chapter out of 23.  I highly recommend you go and read other reviews included in the Blog Tour to get a fuller picture of the book’s quality.  From what I read (which was a little more than just this chapter), it seems like Bock makes solid observations, but may come up a tad short in pulling it all together and demonstrating the coherence of Luke’s theology.

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In continuing effort to recommend quality resources that are available for cheap, I’m letting you know about two great resources available online for free.  And free is, as you know, the cheapest of cheap.

Craig Keener and The Pneuma Foundation have made available Keener’s notes for a class on Biblical Interpretation (link for zip file which can open into a Word Document, link for a pdf).  I think it turns out to be 88 pages of notes.  According to his website, he wrote this as a beginner’s class for work in Africa, so there is no required technical knowledge needed to use it.  This would be perfect for a small group or a church class.  You can also find translations of this material in French, Spanish, Russian and Bulgarian at The Pneuma Foundation site!  You may recall Keener from my “5 Good Read Bible Scholars (for the non-academic)” post- you can add this helpful work to the list.

Biblical Training has posted I Howard Marshall’s A Pocket Guide to New Testament Theology for free at their site!  If printed out, this comes in at a mere 67 pages!  I own Marshall’s slightly larger (almost 800 pages) book, New Testament Theology, and have been very slowly reading portions of it.  At any rate, the Pocket Guide is a nice resource to have handy if you have basic questions on what the NT teaches. 

Happy reading!

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Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for a review copy of this book.

Michael Bird is a rising young voice amongst New Testament scholars.  An Australian by birth who now teaches in Scotland, he has made himself notable for good scholarship, offering mediating positions between debating parties and blogging (over at Euangelion, which we have linked to the right).  In some senses, he’s rare in the world of Bible scholars, particularly in two ways: he avoids idiosyncrasies (i.e., he doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind) and he’s fairly funny.  Both of these points come up in this book.

Introducing Paul is an excellent and compact guide to Paul and his letters, or as the subtitle states, “The Man, His Mission and His Message.”  The back cover of the book purports to aim for “beginning students and laypeople,” an audience Bird seems particularly suited for.  His discussion is in depth enough to get past the surface level and to the heart of the issues, but not bogged down in details to the point of obscuring the message of Paul.

Bird introduces Paul using five dominant images: persecutor, missionary, theologian, pastor and martyr.  One comes away with the understanding that Paul was not merely a dogmatic theologian looking to wield his authority, but rather a church planter and pastor who eagerly sought the health of his churches.  His theological work was intended to serve and strengthen the church.

There are a number of good points to highlight from this book.  Included is a chapter on the gospel and its terminology, as well as Greco-Roman uses of those same terms to give the reader an idea of how words like “gospel” or “savior” would have been understood in Paul’s day.  This point has been made by many scholars, of course, but Bird actually puts quotations from ancient writings to make his point.  Bird gives a brief overview of the “stories behind the story,” dealing with Abraham, the church, Israel, etc.  I could see bits and pieces of various scholars throughout this chapter, but it was presented in a fresh way that made it enjoyable to learn all over again.

On the debate over justification (most popularly in the Piper vs. Wright showdown), Bird notes that “imputation” is never explicitly stated in Paul but it is an undeniable extension of what is clearly taught, namely “incorporated righteousness” (to use Bird’s term).  Bird also allows a greater place for the resurrection of Jesus than many evangelicals, who often relegate it to “proof of what God did on the cross” (p166).  The “wretched man” of Romans 7 is not Paul as a Christian, but rather written from the point of view of a “pre-Christian.”  There were even moments of personal conviction in this book, especially in his chapter on “gospelizing.”

There are, of course, areas where I was not in full agreement, though they were few and relatively unimportant.  I noticed some grammatical issues, such as a relative clause that stands alone as a sentence.  Which is poor English.  Paul wasn’t referring to offending people when he warns against causing someone to stumble in 1 Corinthians 8 (p152).  Paul is actually talking about leading a brother or sister to act against their conscience, and therefore sin.

While I greatly appreciated the emphasis on the Greco-Roman background of certain terms in Paul, as noted above, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Old Testament could have received more space.  After all, didn’t Isaiah have something to say about the “good news” of salvation?  Old Testament references are offered in the helpful chart on pages 87-88, but the Greco-Roman parallels receive paragraphs instead.

A subsection specifically designated for the Holy Spirit would have been helpful, too.  It’s not that I disagreed with what Bird had to say about the Holy Spirit, but the references were scattered throughout the book.  Since there is no subject index, one couldn’t simply look there to find the references; nor is there anything in the bibliography that stood out as a book dedicated to the subject (Gordon Fee, anyone?).  But the main reason I point this out is because of the book’s intended audience.  Sure, scholars know where to look in this book to find out what Bird thinks of Paul’s view of the Holy Spirit.  They’ve read widely enough on the subject that they know the types of places that scholars will place the discussion.  But the audience of this book is “beginning students and laypeople.”  These are the kinds of people who will want to find a quicker route to what they’re looking for, but will come up disappointed.  It’s a shame, too, because Bird has a strong grasp of Paul’s view of the Spirit, who is active in more ways than many Christians think.

But those points should not detract from the high regard I have for this book.  Bird has a done a remarkable job of making Paul make sense.  I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t do well to read this book, which hits its target audience very well.  I also think that anyone preaching or teaching on Paul’s letters ought to read this book to help them place each letter in the context of Paul’s life and ministry.

I couldn’t recommend this book highly enough.  Bird has a wonderful gift for communicating difficult concepts in an enjoyable -at times witty- manner, but still serious enough given the subject matter.  Bird, like Paul himself, is not content in the ivory tower, but seems to have the goal of helping build the church.  If we can hear Paul’s message in our time, the church can only more faithfully reflect the image of Christ.  Michael Bird helps us hear Paul’s message.

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