Tolkien, J. R. R. Unfinished Tales of Numenor and Middle-earth. Edited by Christopher Tolkien. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1980.
In addition to containing enjoyable tales and further information about Middle Earth, Unfinished Tales also provides a hermeneutical lesson about canonical interpretation. "The Quest of Erebor" provides background to the story of the Hobbit from Gandalf’s perspective. Just as the significance Bilbo’s discovery of the ring was altered when The Hobbit is read in light of the Lord of the Rings, so the significance of Smaug’s death and the re-establishment of the King under the mountain is changed when placed in Gandalf’s perspective of the wider war against Sauron. Something similar happens in Scripture. While passages of Scripture must be understood first in their own literary context (as Bilbo’s finding of the ring or the Battle of the Five Armies must first be understood in their role in the story of The Hobbit), they should also be read in light of the canon as a whole. In this way later passages of Scripture may enrich the meaning of earlier passages of Scripture.
Pennington, Jonathan T. Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.
Pennington provides an introduction to the Gospels from the perspective of an evangelical participant in the theological interpretation of Scripture "movement." Pennington’s work reflects both the strengths and weaknesses of a TIS approach.
Strong points in the book in include:
- Pennington’s examination of what the Gospels are (including a survey of how the word "gospel" is used in the Gospels, Gospel as a genre, the relation of Gospel to bioi, and the purposes for which the Gospels were written. Pennington settles on the following definition: "Our canonical Gospels are the theological, historical, and aretological (virtue-forming) biographical narratives that retell the story and proclaim the significance of Jesus Christ, who through the power of the Spirit is the Restorer of God’s reign" (35).
- an examination of the historical nature of the Gospels that interacts with N. T. Wright’s work on the historical Jesus. Pennington rightly refuses to pit history and theology against each other. But he faults Wright for "methodological naturalism" and for building his theology not upon the Gospel texts themselves but upon his reconstructed background. Pennington argues that the Gospels must be received as testimony. As such they are historical, but they are also theologically shaped.
- Pennington’s detailed method that moves the reader from narrative analysis through to personal and pastoral application. This may be the most useful part of the book. This section of the book will be received most beneficially if it is practiced on several Gospel texts rather than merely read. It is this section that is worth the price of the book.
Weak points include:
- pitting the epistles, especially the Pauline epistles, against the Gospels. Pennington is a conservative evangelical, so he recognizes the full inspiration and importance of both the Gospels and the epistles. But he accepts the common charge that evangelicals privilege Paul and justification and the expense of the Gospels and the kingdom. He seems to over-react by arguing the Gospels should be privileged. Just as he argues that the Epistles cannot be understood apart from the storyline provided in the Gospels, so I would argue that the Gospels cannot rightly be understood apart from the more propositional revelation in the Epistles. All parts of the canon work together.
- wrong reaction to the historical-critical method that emerged in the Enlightenment period. Like many theological interpreters Pennington argues for a return to patristic hermeneutics with an openness to spiritual sense of Scripture. But pre-critical interpretation cannot be limited to the fathers alone. The problems with their multi-sense approach to interpretation was already becoming clear by the end of the Middle Ages.* The Reformers are both pre-critical and decisively reject the allegorical method of the fathers. They provide a better hermeneutical model.** The approach of the Reformers will provide Pennington with all the richness of meaning that he desires to find. And in any event, the approach of the fathers cannot be adopted without addressing the problems that led it the abandonment of their approach.
In all Pennington’s work provides a helpful approach to reading and understanding the Gospels, but he could strengthen his approach by engaging more critically with aspects of the Theological Interpretation "movement."
* See Nicholas M. Healy, "Introduction," in Thomas G. Weinandy, Daniel A. Keating, and John P. Yocum, Aquinas on Scripture (New York: T & T Clark, 2005), 7-9; Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages (University of Notre Dame Press, 1964), 281-92.
** See T.H.L. Parker Calvin’s Old Testament Commentaries (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986), 70, 81; idem, Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries, 2nd ed. (Louisville: WJK, 1993), 282-85.
DeYoung, Kevin. The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism. Chicago: Moody, 2010.
DeYoung provides an excellent entry-level introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism.
Peterson, David. Possessed by God: A New Testament Theology of Sanctification and Holiness. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Edited by D. A. Carson. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1995.
Peterson’s main point is that sanctification language in the New Testament almost always refers to what theologians term positional sanctification rather than progressive sanctification. It is this definitive work of God which grounds Christian growth in holiness and transformation into Christlikeness. Peterson wishes to rescue Christians from the debilitations of moralism and perfectionism by encouraging them to live the Christian life in light of what Christ has already accomplished for them and the goal of glorification that he will bring about for them. Peterson’s general thrust seems biblically substantiated, though I have the sense that Peterson may be a bit more rigid on hagiasmos words than is warranted (he wants to read in a positional sanctification background into hagiasmos texts in which a progressive idea is present). Peterson also seemed overly critical of the Puritan writings on sanctification without engaging them deeply. Nonetheless, the book is helpful, especially in its treatment of living between the cross and the resurrection.
Carson, D. A. "The Beauty of Biblical Balance." Themelios 37.2 (2012): 178-81.
While granting that not all aspects of life are to be balanced (e.g., love for God with all our being), Carson does highlight several areas in which Christians ought to seek balance: (1) Using time in a balanced way to faithfully carry out work, family, ministry, and other obligations; (2) balance in biblical emphases (note unity and purity are not equally balanced: doctrinal truth is nonnegotiable; unity is desirable but can become compromise); (3) feeding from all parts of the Bible, from a wide spectrum of biblical themes, with attention to the storyline of Scripture; (4) wisdom in applying the Scripture to those with differing spiritual conditions; (5) "balance in integrating complementary truths that lie on the edge of great mysteries, not least complementary truths about God."
Yarbrough, Robert W. "Bonhoeffer as Biblical Scholar," Themelios 37.2 (2012): 185-90.
An overly brief argument that attempts to make the case Bonhoeffer should provide an example to evangelical biblical scholars. The article was underdeveloped to the point of not being very helpful.
Williams, Sam. "Toward a Theology of Emotion," Southern Baptist Theological Journal 7, no. 4 (Winter 2003): 58-72.
Williams offers helpful definitions of feeling, emotion, and affection in which he distinguishes the three. Williams then defends the idea that God, because he is a person (and given explicit Scripture), is not an emotionless being. Williams concludes with an examination of human emotion under the headings of creation, fall and redemption. An excellent treatment.
Paula Fredriksen and Judith Lieu, "Christian Theology and Judaism," in The First Christian Theologians: An Introduction to Theology in the Early Church, ed. G. R. Evans (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.
"To spin the straw of traditional religious narrative into the gold of philosophically coherent and elevating theology, Hellenistic intellectuals availed themselves of allegory. . . . Allegory enabled the enlightened reader to see through the surface level of a text to its spiritual message, to understand what the text truly meant in contrast to what it merely said. Grammar, rhetoric, philological finesse: all these tools of classical paideia might be brought to bear on an ancient story to turn it into a philosophically lucid statement of timeless truth." 86
Holmes, Michael W., ed. and trans. The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007. [Read: First Clement, The Letters of Ignatius, The Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, The Martyrdom of Polycarp, The Epistle of Barnabas, The Epistle to Diognetus, Fragments of Papias]
First Clement and the Epistle to Diognetus remain my favorite post-apostolic writings. I don’t enjoy Ignatius as much, but it did strike me this time through that his discussion of a biship and a council of elders may reflect a situation in which one elder (the bishop) has a leadership role among the elders rather than merely indicating the rise of an episcopacy. Barnabas is interesting in that he argues that the Jews ought to have understood the Torah spiritually from the beginning. He seems to be saying that the Israelites did not need to observe the food laws or perhaps even the sacrifices. They should have simply drawn the spiritual lessons from them. It seems that the relation of the Old Testament to the believer was a real problem for the early church.
Henry, Carl F. H. God, Revelation and Authority (Volume III: God Who Speaks and Shows: Fifteen Theses, Part Two). Waco, TX: Word, 1979. [Read Thesis Eight, pp. 9-163]
Henry, like Charles Hodge, is a favorite whipping boy among recent theological theorists. While not above critique, Henry’s work contains much valuable material that should not be neglected. Henry’s defense of propositional revelation remains especially relevant and runs throughout his work. Henry is often more nuanced in his defense of propositional revelation than his critics allow for. Also of interest in this opening section of volume three are Henry’s discussion of the concept of mystery (3:9-11), his discussion of the kingdom of God and its relevance to Christian political engagement (3:69-74), his treatment of the person of Christ (3:108-117), and his defense of the Resurrection (3:147-63). Of special interest is Henry’s lengthy treatment of Jewish objections to Christianity (3:118-46) and his treatment of issues related to synoptic Gospels (3:84-91). On this latter topic Henry includes good discussions of oral tradition, Q, form and redaction criticism, the language Jesus spoke, ipsissima verba vs. ispsissima vox. In my estimation, Henry shows greater wisdom in this discussion than many other evangelical treatments.