Right now I am reading through G.K. Beale’s most recent book A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. This is an amazing book that every pastor, teacher and student needs to possess.

Recently, Mark Dever visited Westminster Theological Seminary in PA and interviewed Beale on biblical theology. You can listen here.

In relation to Biblical theology and the New Testament use of the Old Testament, Beale mentions a few of his other books: The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Text?, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament,  The Use of Daniel in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature and in the Revelation of St. John and his forthcoming book from Baker Handbook on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament.

Mark 2:14 says, “And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he arose and followed him (ESV).”  It is here that “Jesus summarizes His call to discipleship (p. 25).” So what does it mean to follow Jesus? This is what Jonathan Lunde seeks to answer in his book Following Jesus, The Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship.

The title of the book is loaded with meaning making a brief explanation of the words and phrases necessary. As Jesus he calls people to follow him as their leader.  As Servant Jesus “has come to serve, and give his life a ransom for many (Mk. 10:45).” Throughout Jesus’ ministry Jesus is seen serving various kinds of people culminating with His death on the cross as fulfilling the role of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. As King Jesus gives commands to His disciples which “mirror the relationship God had with Old Testament Israel (p. 26).” Jesus is the promised Davidic king who rules His disciples and makes sure “God’s covenantal stipulations were upheld in the nation (p. 26).” As a biblical theology Lunde explores discipleship as the theme progressively unfolds from the OT to NT. Finally, as a covenantal discipleship, Lunde explores the overall meaning of discipleship through the lens of the covenants (Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic & New Covenant). This covenantal discipleship is defined as,

Learning to receive and respond to God’s grace and demand, which are mediated through Jesus, the Servant King, so as to reflect God’s character in relation to him, to others, and to the world, in order that all may come to experience this same grace and respond to this same demand (p. 276).

On the grand scale the book is structured around answering three questions. First, “why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace (p. 28)?” If Jesus has fulfilled the righteousness of the Law for me then why does He give me any commands to follow? Lunde seeks to counter both “lackadaisical” and “legalistic” disciples (p. 30). Second, “what is it that Jesus demands of his disciple (p. 29)?” To answer this question Lunde focuses on a few of the many commands Jesus gives as a means of providing examples for how to understand them all. Finally, “how can the disciple obey Jesus’ high demand, while experiencing his ‘yoke’ as ‘light’ and ‘easy’ (p. 30?)” Obeying commands seems to be such a burden so how can Jesus say his “yoke is easy” and his “burden is light” (Matt. 11:30)?

Answering the Why Question – Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace?

The answer to the Why question is found in the biblical covenants. Lunde goes through the covenants five times in order to explain the basic relationship disciples have with Jesus. After defining both grant and conditional covenants (p. 39-40), Lunde introduces the reader to the basic content of the biblical covenants. Here Lunde sets the “gracious context in which each covenant is established”, he explores “the demands that God places on those who enter into covenant with him” and he explains how “faith and works of obedience relate to reception of the blessings” of each covenant (p. 42). While explaining the relationship that disciples have with the covenants, Lunde also gives us a glimpse into how Jesus ultimately fulfills the demands and works out the tension of faith and works of obedience within the covenants. This “climactic fulfillment” is displayed in Jesus’ fulfillment of the New Covenant (p. 111). Lunde explains:

While the grace that has come through Jesus is deeper and wider and higher and better than any of the gracious provisions in the prior covenants, it is at the same time continuous with those prior expressions, even as their fulfillment (p. 111).

The ultimate implication of Jesus’ covenantal fulfillment for his disciples is that

Those who are led by the Spirit will inevitably produce the fruit of the Spirit and fulfill the law of Christ. As Spirit-enabled New Covenant partners, those who follow him ought to be continually concerned regarding obedience to all of Jesus’ covenantal commands (p. 113).

Answering the What QuestionWhat is it that Jesus demands of his disciple?

The means through which Lunde answers the What question is by exploring the “ways in which the covenantal demands are mediated to us through Jesus (p. 115).” Here Jesus’ role as King and Prophet come to the forefront. As Prophet Jesus provides authoritative teaching (Matt. 14:15; 21:46) and acting (Matt. 5:21-48). Further, the Father Himself commands Peter, James and John to “Listen to him! (Matt. 17:5).” As the Prophet King Jesus authoritatively summons us to discipleship. Lunde states,

Jesus commands his hearers to follow him as the embodiment of God’s kingly reign over them. He is indeed the Prophet, but his prophetic cloak is worn under his royal mantel, as was David’s before him (Acts 2:30). As David’s great heir who reigns faithfully as Yahweh’s Anointed King, then, Jesus appropriately summons us to an absolute discipleship (p. 123).

To help us see how Jesus mediates the law to us Lunde employs three metaphors that “characterize the distinct ways in which Jesus has brought the law to its fulfillment (p. 127).”

First, Jesus is the Filter. That is, He fulfills certain aspects, commands and practices of the Law “rendering the continuation of their practice inappropriate (p. 128).” For example, Jesus fulfills the sacrificial system (Matt. 26: 17-29; Heb. 7-10), the Food Laws in Mark 7:19-23 (p. 132), circumcision by fulfilling the New Covenant promise (p. 137 – 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:6) and the Divorce law (p. 138). That Jesus fulfills these laws is not to be seen as an excuse for a disciple to become slack in his life. “What continues on in each case is a summons to a life of righteousness befitting the New Covenant era, to which each superseded element was pointing all along (p. 140).”

Second, Jesus is the Lens.  As the Lens, Jesus “brings back into focus an aspect of the law” and strips away the traditions the religious rulers made “as he reestablishes and recovers the law’s teaching so that its original intent and demand might be perceived (p. 141).” For example, Jesus brings into focus the intent of the Greatest commandments (Matt. 22:34-40) over against the rabbis quibbling over what were the weightier and lighter aspects of the law.

Third, Jesus is the Prism. As a prism, “Jesus demands the heightened righteousness befitting the era in which the covenants have come to their fulfillment (p. 154-56).”  Lunde walks through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew and repeatedly shows how Jesus raises the bar for New Covenant disciples in relation to the commands.

Answering the How QuestionHow can the disciple obey Jesus’ high demand, while experiencing his ‘yoke’ as ‘light’ and ‘easy’?

As the ultimate fulfiller of the New Covenant, Jesus has inaugurated the Kingdom on earth here and now (Matt. 11-12). However, this Kingdom is not complete and so New Covenant believers look forward to the completion of the Kingdom (p. 188). There is both “this age” and “the age to come”. Though the promise of the Spirit has come and we are receiving the blessings of the New Covenant, the present state of the Kingdom is not the intended fulfillment of the completed Kingdom pictured by the Prophets (p. 190). Recognizing this tension Lunde says, “Since the kingdom has only been inaugurated in Jesus’ coming, we should not be surprised if some of the aspects of the New Covenant initiated by Jesus are similarly only inaugurated (p. 192).”

One of the key ways in which covenant disciples can fulfill the high righteous demands of Jesus is by living in the grace that He has provided prior to the demands. It is this

Prior and sustaining grace, in all of its forms, is always to be understood as the enabling context in which God’s demands are to be responded to. That is, covenant faithfulness will only be possible as disciples experience the enabling power of grace (p. 195).

We can accomplish this by living the three-fold pattern found in the Mosaic Covenant: (1) “the frequent remembrance of God’s provision” (motivation for obeying the Law – Deut. 6:12; 8:2, 7-18), “the present celebration of the reception of those provisions” (part of the purpose for Sabbath keeping – Ex. 31:16-17a; Ex. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15) both of which lead to “the enabled response of obedience and faithfulness (part of the purpose for the Festivals – Ex. 12:15-27; Deut. 16:9-11; Num. 29:1-6; Lev. 23).

There a four concluding actions that Jesus performs that enable us to get a better picture for how Jesus fulfills the New Covenant promises as they relate to the How question.  First, Jesus is the covenantal Representative. Jesus is the mediatorial New Covenant representative as he identifies with Israel through his baptism (p. 216 – Matt. 3) and reenacts Israel’s history in his wilderness wandering (p. 219 – Matt. 4). Second, Jesus is the Redeemer. Jesus acts as redeemer by fulfilling the prophecies in Isaiah, namely Isaiah 51-65. Finally, Jesus is the Restorer. As the restorer, Jesus begins the restoration of Israel (Ezek. 39:27-28; Matt. 9:35-11:1; Matt. 28:18-20). For Lunde, Jesus restores by

Reconstituting Israel without attempting to recover the former definition of its makeup. Membership in this restored nation, therefore, does not fall along tribal lines. Rather, this is determined solely by the response to Jesus’ call to discipleship. Israel is being reconstituted and redefined at the same time. In this way, God’s promises to Abraham that he would be both the conduit of blessing to the nations and the father of many nations are coming to their fulfillment through Jesus. Since Jesus is the true Son, true Israel is being defined Christologically (p. 245)!

Lunde closes his book with some implications for what it means to follow Jesus as a covenantal disciple. Disciples are in covenant relationship with Jesus. Jesus the Servant King has graciously paved the way for us to be able to live up to the demands of this relationship as the Spirit enables us. Since Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom, Jesus summons us “to enter into this kingdom (p. 279).” This has implications for our evangelism (p. 279-80), for how we actually do discipleship as a church (p. 283-85) and how we provide resources to disciples (p. 286).

Some Observations

First, while the book is intended to be a biblical theology of discipleship it is heavily rooted in the OT where most of the references and quotes come from. As a biblical theology I would have liked to see more interaction with the NT. Second, related to my first concern, as great as this book is, I think it provides us with more of a foundational understanding of the nature of discipleship. That is, that discipleship needs to be rooted in our covenantal relationship with Jesus. The book is more about Jesus’ relationship to us as servant, king, prophet, redeemer, restorer and representative to and for us than it is about what our discipleship looks like every day in light of those things. Finally, Lunde does take the position that what is traditional interpreted as The Abrahamic covenant in Gen. 15 & 17 is actually two separate covenants with Abraham each focusing on separate promises and yet related (p. 55, 75 & 93). Readers will have to grapple with whether or not they agree with Lunde.

I think Lunde hits a home run by rooting our identity as disciples within covenantal context. God relates to his people through covenants and it is through those covenants that he both promises salvation and accomplishes it through Jesus. Jesus is the ultimate fulfiller and mediator of those covenantal promises. God makes covenants with his people (both Israel & the Church) so it makes sense that as individual disciples we covenantally relate to God through Christ. This covenantal discipleship provides the foundation for our relationship to Jesus the Servant King as his disciples.

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Biblical theology is one of my favorite areas of study. G. K. Beale is one of the finest biblical theologians. Among his many solid works Beale’s latest book A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Transformation of the Old Testament in the New will be a most welcome addition to the ever growing field of New Testament biblical theology.

Here is the publishers description of the book:

This comprehensive exposition is the first major New Testament biblical theology to appear in English in fifty years. G. K. Beale, coeditor of the award-winning Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament, examines how the New Testament storyline relates to and develops the Old Testament storyline. Beale argues that every major concept of the New Testament is a development of a concept from the Old and is to be understood as a facet of the inauguration of the latter-day new creation and kingdom. Offering extensive interaction between the two testaments, this volume helps readers see the unifying conceptual threads of the Old Testament and how those threads are woven together in Christ. This major work by a leading New Testament scholar will be valued by students of the New Testament and pastors alike.

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.