New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. By Thomas R. Schreiner. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. 992 pp. $50.00, Hardback. ISBN 978-0801026805.
The discipline of New Testament studies has seen a flurry of publications within the field of New Testament theology in recent years. This field was formally deemed as “too broad” considering the varying New Testament books, reasons for writing, and amount of material the biblical scholar must cover. Rather, works within the field of New Testament theology have flourished with author’s seeking to provide either a chronological, or canonical, or a thematic examination. Thomas R. Schreiner opts for the latter in order to prevent forming New Testament “theologies.”
In New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ Schreiner, professor of New Testament and biblical theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, advances the thesis that New Testament theology is “God-focused, Christ-centered, and Spirit-saturated” (23). Furthermore, he argues “for the centrality of God in Christ in the concrete and specific witnesses of the NT as it unfolds God’s saving work in history” (23). Simply put, he views the three-fold work of God and his promises as “already fulfilled but not yet consummated in Christ Jesus” (23). Thus, “the grounding theme of NT theology is magnifying God in Christ” (120). This is a theme that is repeated throughout his work (289, 865, 880) and is slightly modified when he remarks that God works out his saving plan in order that “he would be magnified in Christ, so that his name would be honored” (14).
To accomplish this immense task, Schreiner divides his work into four main parts. In part one, Schreiner formulates his thesis by emphasizing the portions of Scripture which attest to the already-not yet schema of fulfillment. The Synoptic Gospels are concerned with the discussion of the kingdom of God which is “God’s saving power, the fulfillment of his saving promises” (79) and that it was essentially “inaugurated…but not yet consummated” (79). Outside of the Synoptics and John’s theology, Schreiner argues that God has begun his saving promises in Christ, but “believers still await the completion of what God has promised” (116). The realized awaits the consummation and return of Christ for the fulfillment of the promises of God in order to be fully realized.
Part two focuses upon the saving work of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The majority of this material is devoted to the saving work of the Son and the Christological implications derived thereof. Of note is Schreiner’s focus in chapter four on “The Centrality of God in New Testament Theology,” something which is often taken for granted. From here eight chapters are devoted to the person and saving work of Christ. Jesus, according to the Synoptic Gospels, is “the fulfillment of the OT Scriptures” (196) and is the new Moses (173–175), true wisdom (175–176), and the final prophet (177–179). Also, these themes are deployed by Paul in his Christology and are seen as “employed” in Acts–Revelation and their implication for church function.
In part three, Schreiner examines the expectations of the Christian to live in this inaugurated, realized eschatological framework as laid out in the New Testament. First, the saving work of God “presupposes that human beings need to be rescued from sin” (509). This is the result of the root sin of “failure to praise and worship and thank God, to glorify him as God (Rom. 1:21)” (522). Sin cannot be summed up as simply disobedience, but it “involves the worship of the creature rather than the creator” (544). The ability to worship the creator is what makes the gospel good news. When viewed as a whole, the New Testament writers continually emphasize that “faith receives from God the salvation accomplished through Jesus Christ” (615), of which will be realized upon the last day (616).
Lastly, in part four, Schreiner discusses the people of God and the future of the promise given to them by God. God’s people in the New Testament are known as “the body of Christ, or the true Israel, or the temple of God, or God’s ‘assembly’ (church) or synagogue” (754) and they are to be a unifying body (716). Furthermore, when Schreiner examines the social world of the first century there is an emphasis of the already-not yet realized eschatology that pervades “the reality of everyday life” (801). The final chapter focuses on “The Consummation of God’s Promises” and Schriner shows the tension of the three future events of the return of Christ, judgment for non-believers, and reward for believers.This will be “the new world and new universe,” that has arrived and “God will be all in all. Believers will worship and enjoy the Father, the Son, and the Spirit forever” (864). He includes an overview of the history of New Testament theology beginning with Johann Gabler and Krister Stendahl (867–871), the historical-critical era, major influencers of the biblical theological movement, and different “centers” proposed for the New Testament. He also includes the relationship between biblical and systematic theology and concludes “the two disciplines should not be fused together, and the distinctions between biblical and systematic theology need to be maintained” (883). Furthermore, “the inductive work of biblical theology should be the basis of all systematic theology,” (884) and he views biblical theology as that which “keeps systematic theology from imposing alien thought forms upon the system” (884).
The attempt by Schreiner in this work is admirable. Schreiner is an evangelical, and he makes no apologies for arguing a confessional approach towards the Scriptures. “The Spirit speaks through the written word of Scripture, and the human authors of Scripture spoke their words under the aegis of the Holy Spirit” (445), and “the entire canon [is] God’s authoritative word (888)”. As such, he shows the unity of the New Testament canon well and his Trinitarian structure of part two is a helpful guide which proves his point.
Schreiner is also, in some regards, performing a canonical hermeneutic as he understands the sixty-six books of the biblical text to be the Christian canon. Although he does seek other sources outside of the biblical canon in order to aid his argument (256, 293, 426, etc.), the primary text of his discussions are the biblical text themselves. His discussion on the Old Testament is important as it provides the foundation of his argument and surveys of the New Testament documents.
There are some limitations of this work. First, the connection between the four parts could have been presented in more fluid fashion. The transitions were not as smooth as they could have been and were choppy, whereas one would expect them to connect and make the change from one part to the next a bit easier. Furthermore, the length of this work is admirable but could have been trimmed to two smaller works.
Nevertheless, Schreiner has completed a massive undertaking that seeks to present the theme of New Testament theology as God magnified in Christ. Schreiner’s confessional stance, clear arguments from Scripture, and helpful thematic overview has accomplished this task. This work is commendable and deserves the place upon bookshelf of both the biblical scholar as well as the pastor.