Biblical theology is a discipline that is long overdue for biblically-based scholarly attention in a more public, accepted and permeating manner. It has been long been established that The Biblical Theology Movement as spearheaded by Brevard S. Childs in the ‘40’s – ‘60’s did not accomplish what it set out to do in reaction to the source and form criticism of liberal theology. Until the last 10-15 years, biblical theology as a discipline had been almost lying dormant in terms of having a major influence within the broader theological world. No doubt there have been a number of major biblical theology works that have had a significant and timeless influence upon the Christian world. Authors like Geerhardus Vos, William VanGemeren, Daniel Fuller, Walter Kaiser, Graeme Goldsworthy and Charles H. H. Scobie have made classic contributions to the cause. Regardless of how ling these works have been around one wonders if they have had the impact they and others might have hoped for.

One wonders if the work done by biblical theologians within the past 10-15 years is signaling the rise of a new biblical theology movement. One that will take Scripture seriously as we have it and not as some might assume it to be or wish it was. Not just biblical theology in regards to the whole canon but applying that same method to its various sub themes.

With God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, James Hamilton Jr. makes a significant contribution to the growing number of books seeking to tackle the daunting task of canonical biblical theology. Hamilton sees biblical theology as concerning itself “with what the Bible meant for the purpose of understanding what the Bible means (p. 45).” Thus, the purpose of biblical theology

is to sharpen our understanding of the theology contained in the Bible itself through an inductive, salvation-historical examination of the Bible’s themes and the relationships between those themes in their canonical context and literary form (p. 47).

From this purpose we see Hamilton’s binocular-like view for doing biblical theology.  The first lens looks at the canon itself. “I will interpret the Protestant canon, and the Old Testament will be interpreted in light of the ordering of the books in the Hebrew Bible (p. 44).” This falls in line with how biblical theology has traditionally been done. After all, the word “biblical” in this context implies that one is dealing with the whole cannon. The second lens in Hamilton’s binocular view is literary. Of the two features of Hamilton’s approach, this seems to be the most unique. Hamilton explains, “I will seek to interpret books and sections of books in light of their inherent literary features and structures as we have them in the canon (p. 44).” This literary emphasis is clearly seen throughout the entire book and on almost every page. Hamilton proves himself page after page at being very adept at picking out the inherent literary features of the text both within verses, chapters, individual books, groups of books (i.e. Pentateuch) and both testaments together.

Hamilton believes that the Bible has a center and that if we listen to Scripture we will hear it tell us what that center is. Hamilton further believes that the Bible has a center because “the Bible has a coherent story” and therefore “it is valid to explore what that story’s main point is (p. 39).” As the title of the book indicates, Hamilton believes the Bible communicates to us that its central theological message is the “glory of God in salvation through judgment (p. 41).” This central message “is the ultimate reason the Bible gives to explain what God has done (p. 48).” Throughout the book (and all 66 books of the Bible for that matter) Hamilton shows how this central idea is repeated over and over again as it is woven into the very fabric of the canon, each book and the thought of each biblical author.

Though Hamilton unashamedly puts forth what he believes to be the center of biblical theology, he is not blind or ignorant of the fact that others have previously put forth other proposed centers. In light of this, Hamilton seeks to show the willing listener and ardent skeptic to the proposition of a definite theological center, how he and/or how one arrives at this theological center of the Bible. Hamilton states,

The center of biblical theology will be the theme that is prevalent, even pervasive, in all parts of the Bible. This theme will be the most demonstrable centerpiece of theology contained in the Bible itself, because this theme will be what the biblical authors resort to when they give ultimate explanations for why things are they way they are at any point in the Bible’s story (p. 49).

For Hamilton, the overarching story or metanarrative of Scripture is the four-fold sequence of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. He sees this sequence not merely as an overarching grid to understand the big story of Scripture but as something that “is repeated again and again in the Bible” (p. 49).” For example, he sees this in the life of Israel as God creates them as a nation, the nation falls at Mt. Sinai, “they are redeemed by God’s mercy, and, in a sense, is restored through the second set of stone tablets (p. 49).” This pattern is repeated so much throughout the Bible that it leads Hamilton to conclude that “within the grand drama that goes from creation to consummation there are many such “plays within the play (p. 49).”

After having briefly surveyed many proposed centers of biblical theology (p. 53-56), Hamilton explains what the phrase “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment” means. First, the display of God’s glory is the ultimate message and purpose of Scripture and thus biblical theology. God’s glory is

the weight of the majestic goodness of who God is, and the resulting name, or reputation, that he gains from his revelation of himself as Creator, Sustainer, Judge, and Redeemer, perfect in justice and mercy, loving-kindness and truth (p. 56).

Secondly and thirdly, God responds to the fallen state of mankind in salvation through judgment. These two themes or acts are to be viewed together and as working in tandem with each other. “Salvation always comes through judgment” and “everyone who gets saved is saved through judgment (p. 57-58).” The two are inseparable acts of God and reveal inseparable aspects of God – God is both a Savior and Judge of man and sin.

It is not realistic to do a book by book overview of how Hamilton brings to surface his proposed biblical center. It is possible to summarize the canonical structure that Hamilton moves through in his quest to prove his proposed biblical center.

In dealing with the Old Testament, Hamilton follows the lead of Stephen Dempster and addresses the books as laid out in the Tanak. Thus he follows the three-fold outline of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings (see also Luke 24:44). This method walks the reader through the historical narrative first as seen in the Torah and the Former Prophets which covers Genesis to Kings. Next, we examine the commentary on that story line in the Latter Prophets as covered from Isaiah through Malachi. This commentary continues through part of the Writings from Psalms to Ecclesiastes. Finally, picking up with Esther and ending with Chronicles, the narrative story line continues (see Table 1.3 on pg. 61).

The New Testament is approached in similar fashion again following after Dempster. The Gospels through Acts provide the introductory narrative material. The narrative is followed by commentary on the Letters (Romans through 3 John). Finally, the narrative is picked back up in Revelation.

From chapters 2-7 the major sections of the canon are addressed and the biblical center of God’s glory in salvation through judgment is brought to light page by page. There is an introduction to each major section with a one-sentence summary of each book in that section. Then each book of the Bible is worked through with concluding summary. The book is structured such that one can read through it in its entirety as you would any other book. It is also written and constructed in such a way that as you read through a different book of the Bible on your own, you can read the relevant section on that book of the Bible and not feel like you are jumping in the middle of a story or argument that you have no context for. These two approaches are the intended strategies of reading this book (p. 29-30).

Throughout the book Hamilton repeatedly uses the phrase God’s glory in salvation through judgment. This is probably unavoidable, but nonetheless becomes tiresome at times. The reader may find it a struggle to track with the argument when it comes to the Minor Prophets as the discussion is scant compared to the rest of the books. While the reader will appreciate the many literary nuances Hamilton brings to light, there are times when one wonders if things are being stretched just to make them fit. Thankfully, there are a number of these instances when the author recognizes the possible stretch. I felt the discussion from Genesis to Acts and on Revelation to be the most fruitful and engaging. I found it to be less so from Romans to 3 John though Hamilton does stay on course throughout the entire book.

I highly recommend God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment a good way to work through the Bible in order to grasp the overall story line. It will also aid the reader in gaining a better understanding of the purpose for each book in the canon. Hamilton not only seeks to prove his proposed biblical center but he also weaves many sub themes throughout the book like creation, rest, the garden, the seed of Satan and of God/Christ, the temple and how Christ ultimately fulfills and brings to close in the NT, now and in the future what was promised and anticipated in the OT. This is a great whole Bible tool and book study reading companion from the Bible college student to the seasoned pastor and teacher. I would suggest that a new believer read through the Bible on their own first and then use this volume as a companion the next time through.

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