Students of New Testament theology have the benefit of multiple New Testament Theologies written from many perspectives and utilizing many methodologies. Two recent New Testament theologies (Thielman and Marshall) proceed by examining the themes of individual New Testament books.
To my knowledge, there has been no comparable Old Testament theology. Walter Kaiser’s Toward and Old Testament Theology and his more recent The Promise-Plan of God move through the individual books of the Bible, but they do not examine them thematically. The Dallas Seminary compendium, A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament approximates this approach, but it deals with larger corpora: the Pentateuch, the Minor Prophets, etc. Paul Houses’s Old Testament Theology does move through the Old Testament book by book, but he does not examine these books thematically. Bruce Waltke’s acclaimed An Old Testament Theology, has a helpful introductory section, but it is heavy on Genesis and extremely light by the time it reaches the prophets.
Bell’s The Theological Messages of the Old Testament Books provides a thematic study of each of the books of the Old Testament. (The exceptions to this book-by-book approach are Judges and Ruth and the three minor prophets Obadiah, Joel, and Zephaniah. Intriguingly, Bell suggests that Judges-Ruth may have once been one book. Obadiah, Joel and Zephaniah are treated together because they share the common theme “Day of the Lord.”) In general, Bell discusses the structure of the book, he follows this with a thematic analysis, and he concludes with suggestions for pastoral application. He does not hold himself to following the pattern in every case (see explanation on p. 14).
Preceding the individual book theologies, Bell provides the reader with a brief orientation to biblical theology and to the method he employs in this volume. Regarding the nature of biblical theology, he contrasts Vos’s popular view that biblical theology and systematic theology are distinguished only by method with the view that the two disciplines differ in nature. Bell thinks a better approach limits biblical theology to studying what God revealed in Scripture (by which, I understand him to mean the primary messages that God intended each book to convey). Systematic theology, on the other hand, extends to investigating what is true about God using Scripture statements, implications from those statements, natural theology, and historical theology (4-5).
The introduction also reveals the two great advantages that Bell sees in biblical theology. First, biblical theology provides a way for the Christian to find relevance in the Old Testament without resorting to allegory or mere moralizing (1). Bell’s concern for enabling Christians to see the significance of the Old Testament is emphasized by the application sections that conclude each chapter and by two appendices which provide example sermons based on the methodology exhibited in this work. Second, while granting the “legitimacy of systematic theology” (5, n. 15), Bell believes Biblical Theology enables the Christian to see what God explicitly says. In his words, “It is very important for Bible students and pastors to be able to distinguish between what the Bible says and what the theologians have concluded, even when these conclusions may correctly reflect God’s truth” (5-6).
Bell notes that book theologies of the sort he proposes could easily match the dimensions of standard commentaries on those books. His work is therefore a starting point for deeper investigations.
The BJU Campus Store has the book available in the store and at their website. According to the website, books purchased before October 7th will received a signed copy. There is also a live book signing at the Campus Store on October 7 from 11:30 to 1:30.
Disclosure: I am an employee of BJU Press and I received a review copy from the BJU Campus Store.