While at Southern we had some family from Norway come visit us. This couple stayed with Tom and Diane for their whole stay. One day Mari’s cousin wanted to go to the school bookstore so he could see “Tom’s book.” We took him to the bookstore and showed him the four (or is it five?) bookshelves with books either written or co-authored by Tom Schreiner. For some 15 or 20 years, Tom was the preaching pastor of Clifton Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He was served as a full-time NT professor at SBTS since 1997. He has written numerous books and commentaries while faithfully believing God works through his word in the hearts of all those whom it encounters.
This festschrift is composed of four sections:
- Whole Bible Approaches to Biblical Theology: There are quite a few different approaches by which we can understand the whole Bible: Dispensationalism, Progressive Disp., Progressive Covenantalism, Covenant Theology, and more ad nauseam.
- Major Themes and Issues in Biblical Theology: These feature topics important to biblical theology. They chapters revolve around other themes Tom has written on before (the Spirit vs. the letter; the trinity in Hebrews, magnifying God in Christ, typology, the newness of Paul’s gospel, “the ministry of the word” in Acts 6). This was easily my favorite section.
- Background Issues and Biblical Theology: The most technical part of the book, the authors in this section look at the importance (even if not the necessity) of understanding the background of the NT letters (Colossians, specifically), being familiar with Second Temple Jewish literature, and the importance of holding onto the OT when we read the NT. This last point is seen by examining the writings of heretical sects and how they held a low view of Jesus primarily because they excised the OT from their Bibles.
- Applications: This section draws out various aspects of how knowing the Bible will guide us in practical living. This is seen in regards to sexual ethics (such as transgenderism), missions, pastor-theologians, their Christ-like character, and their care for their flock, the kingdom of God, and glorifying God through theological education.
- The book begins with a foreword of appreciation by Albert Mohler, president of SBTS, and it ends with a personal reflection by Patrick Schreiner, Tom’s son, associate professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at MBTS.
The Chocolate Milk
My favorite chapter was Mark Seifrid’s chapter, “Spirit and Letter in Corinth.” Here he exposits 2 Corinthians 3, the most difficult chapter in 2 Corinthians (at least I think so, and given the amount of literature on chapter 3, I think it’s probably fair to say). I enjoy Seifrid’s perspective on how the gospel affected the Corinthians and how it affects us. Seifrid writes, “The gospel must perform its own interpretive work in them and on them in order for them to judge rightly. They themselves must be ‘interpreted,’ given and shown their true identity by the gospel, before they can rightly interpret and discern the world” (109). We are unable to “crawl out of our own skin and rise above our limited and (self-serving) perspectives” (109). We can’t even arrive at a “final interpretation of all things.” Within the “death and condemnation of Christ’s cross,” we can see the “life and righteousness” of “God’s saving work” (116). God works through the gospel, in our own lives and in the lives of those in our church. Paul the apostle was about to lose his privileged position in his tiny church. Yet God was at work through the gospel. We may see paltry results now, but the real results we are building on Christ “are the presently unseen realities of faith, hope, and love” which are “worked by the gospel alone” (118).
I especially appreciated Jason Meyer and John Kimbell’s chapter, “The Pastoral Theologian.” Their thesis is, “A pastoral theologian takes the exalted vision of God, breathed out in the Scriptures, and labors with all his might to see it fleshed out in the shared life of a people.” He is consumed by this question: “What would this glorious vision of God I savor look like in the life of the people I shepherd?” (239). It is in the local church where “the life of Christ is remembered, celebrated, explored, and exhibited. Stated simply, the pastor’s task is to help congregations become what they are in Christ” (240). To do this, the pastor needs to find his joy in Christ (as well, see Piper’s excellent chapter). Meyer and Kimbell write, “The pastoral theologian knows that people need a vision of God, not just a vision from God. The pastoral theologian must first see and savor this vision of God before seeking to shepherd people to be transformed by that theological vision” (241). Instead, he shepherds “his people into a shared vision of God that will impact every aspect of their lives” (241).
What I really appreciated about this chapter was that, although Clifton Baptist Church is not a perfect church, my biggest takeaway from Southern was attending a thriving church which not only valued knowing God and his word, but which was led by theologically-strong elders who cared deeply about their flock. They did their best to feed their flock and to bring them to a place where they would glorify God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in every part and season of life.
The Spoiled Milk
It’s strange to say that a chapter by Carson could be disappointing, but in his chapter, “New Covenant Theology and Biblical Theology,” Don Carson tries “to say some pertinent things about new covenant theology” (17). Carson begins by summarizing Klink and Lockett’s book Understanding Biblical Theology and then comparing the five approaches (of which one is his approach). He then approaches biblical theology by comparing new covenant theology (NCT) with some of the other big systems, briefly describing a few of these. It isn’t until his final two pages where he really shows what NCT is.
The Classic Reformed view reads the OT law through a tripartite division of civli laws, moral laws, and ceremonial laws. Under the New covenant, they say, we live under only the moral laws. Others argue that that imposes something on the OT law that isn’t even found in the OT. But there is a certain continuity seen in “every covenantal structure” (30). These final two pages pose useful and helpful questions to ask for all sides to think about, but then the chapter just ends. How should I think about the law? Or why God devoted “so many centuries to teaching his people that they are sinners and cannot please God on their own” (31)? But maybe that’s the point of this chapter: to make sure I understand what biblical theology is (and isn’t), and to think for myself about NCT? Maybe. I don’t know. That said, those final two pages could have been much more helpful if they had been given more room than what came before.
Much more could be said about the book, such as Jim Hamilton’s short but good defense of the tripartite structure of the OT, or Jarvis William’s technical look at Psalm 110 and its use in Second Temple Literature and the NT, and Russ Moore’s praise of Tom Schreiner teaching and living the ideals of the Kingdom of God in the public square. Though I have mixed feelings about the book, I have have been enriched by it much of it, especially its look at a man modeled these ideals who “by pursuing academic excellence without idolizing academic success, of pouring himself into his life as a professor without finding his identity there, of holding strong convictions but never at the expense of Spirit-driven kindness” (267).
What we find are essays honoring the work of a scholar, pastor, elder, and friend who seeks to honor God in Christ through loving his word and those around him. Though I didn’t get to spend much time with Tom, I was in his shepherding group for a year where a group of guys met up with him once a month to talk, ask questions, and pray together. In this, I saw his easy-going demeanor, humility, wisdom, and love for Jesus. Though some of the essays were a bit short, this is a fine book that honors an excellent scholar.
- Editors: Denny Burk, James Hamilton, Brian Vickers
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: B&H Academic (November 28, 2019)
Buy it from Amazon or B&H Academic!
Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.