Book Reviews

Book Review: The Righteous & Merciful Judge (Aernie & Hartley)

“He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” “Do not judge lest you be judged. For with the same judgment you pronounce, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured against you.” Judgment isn’t usually a big topic in (many) churches today. Churches don’t want to be associated with fire-and-brimstone street corner preachers. But it is a topic that can’t be avoided because it is in the Bible, and because of that it needs to be understood properly. Matthew Aernie and Donald Hartley have worked together to write a theology of Paul’s understanding of the future Day of the Lord, which we see in both his writings and his life. 

The authors review the Day of the Lord in recent scholarship in chapter one. Chapters two and three give an overview of the Day of the Lord in the Old Testament and in extra-canonical literature (the apocrypha, the pseudepigrapha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls). The authors look at the possibility of Genesis 3:8 being one of God coming in terrifying judgment rather than of him just perusing around in the “cool of the day” in the garden. It’s a compelling case about how God came to Adam and Eve rather than when he showed up. They review Exodus 32-34, the blessings and curses of Deuteronomy 27-28, throughout the Book of the Twelve, and in the Writings, specifically Lamentations. The authors write that, “The prophets seemingly understand divine punishments in Deuteronomy 27-28 as patterns depicting what the final Day of the Lord will be like” (37). 

Chapter four surveys how Paul’s encounter with the risen Jesus on the Damascus road taught Paul about the Day of the Lord. It was there that Paul was both converted and received his calling. Paul had been pursuing the church and killing Christians. But when the Lord showed up, “he pronounced a severe indictment against Paul, namely that he was guilty of fighting against God (Acts 9:4-5; 26:14)” (88). Paul realized he stood condemned before the Judge, having no defense against his actions. Not only had he killed Christian, but he was attacking the Lord of glory himself. Yet the Judge gave Paul mercy instead of judgment. This moment radically changed Paul’s outlook and theology. 

Chapter five provides some of the terms Paul used in reference to the “Day of the Lord.” Instead of restricting the Day of the Lord to conversations about eschatology, the authors try to show how this “Day” affected all of Paul’s theology (95). While there may be no “center to Paul’s theology (3-5), this “Day” gets pretty close (5). The authors examine different terms (like parousia, “coming”), where these terms are found, what they mean, and how they relate to Jesus as the eternal Judge. 

Chapter six, the longest chapter in the book (102 pages), provides a thematic survey of the Day of the Lord in Paul’s letters “to analyze Paul’s perception of the day of the Lord and how this was a major theological motif for the apostle” (104). They examine Paul’s letters chronologically to show that the Lord’s return was a consistent theme from his earliest to his latest letters. The authors do this in this way because it “arguably substantiates that [Paul’s] understanding of this doctrine was fully formed because of his conversation on the Damascus road, the teachings of Jesus, and his familiarity with the Old Testament” (105).

Most, if not every time, Paul writes about the coming Day is for behavioral and moral reasons. Our belief in the coming Day should lead us to temperance, neither asceticism nor excess (165). It motivated Paul for his ministry, and it should motivate us for our present ministry (175). The length of this chapter allows for extended discussions on the contexts that surround Paul’s Day of the Lord language (12 pages are given to Romans 9-11). Positively, Christians experience the “kindness” of the Lord in that the wrath we should receive on that Day has all been poured out on Jesus. On the other hand, non-Christians experience the “severity” of the Lord. They experience God’s wrath now in limited degree and will experience it in full later. The length of this chapter also gives the authors space for an extended discussion on Paul’s now-not-yet (inaugurated) eschatology in Colossians (as well as the letter’s historical background). 

Recommended?

Anyone studying the Day of the Lord will want to pick up this book, particularly pastors, teachers, and students. It gives a good overview over the history of study, the terms used, and how it was crucial to Paul’s theology, more crucial than we usually think it is. 

Lagniappe

  • Series: Studies in Scripture & Biblical Theology
  • Authors: Matthew D. Aernie & Donald E. Hartley\
    • Matthew D. Aernie (PhD, University of Wales) is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies for the College of Adult and Graduate Studies at Colorado Christian University.

    • Donald E. Hartley (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) is Adjunct Professor of Biblical & Theological Studies at Regent University.

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Lexham Press (December 12, 2018)

Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press

Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. 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.

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