The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology

Charles H. H. Scobie Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids January 1, 2003
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Scobie, Cowan professor emeritus of religious studies at Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick, has written a valuable tool for students of the Bible. In the first section, a “Prolegomena to a Biblical Theology,” Scobie defines terms, surveys various approaches to biblical theology, and explains the method he has adopted. In the second part, “A Sketch of Biblical Theology,” Scobie presents his approach to biblical theology. Although it might seem a bit odd to refer to more than 800 pages as a “sketch,” any attempt to systematize biblical themes is necessarily selective.

The strengths of this work are many. The prolegomena is helpful in setting the agenda to be followed. Scobie begins with a helpful clarification. Although in popular usage “biblical theology” may simply indicate theology based on the Bible, this designation is unhelpful since “all forms of Christian theology claim to be based in some way on the Bible” (p. 5). More technically “biblical theology” refers to the “ordered study of what the Bible says about God and his relations with the world and humankind” (p. 6). Scobie proposes an “intermediate biblical theology,” by which he means a “bridge discipline, standing in an intermediate position between the historical study of the Bible and the use of the Bible as authoritative Scripture by the church. BT accepts and builds on the historical study of Scripture, but it is not simply concerned with what the Bible ‘meant.’ It is also concerned with what the Bible ‘means’ as a canonical whole, and thus cannot be separated from the process of biblical interpretation” (p. 8). 

Scobie argues that if biblical theology is to be a bridge discipline, it must avoid the tendency toward specialization in biblical and theological studies. Rather than an Old Testament or New Testament theology, he proposes a true biblical theology, which is a collaborative effort of various specialties. Thus his method attempts to integrate the insights of Old Testament and New Testament scholars into a synthetic biblical theology.

Scobie rejects any “obsession with finding one single theme or ‘center’ for Old Testament or New Testament theology, and more so for an entire BT” (p. 87). Instead he proposes a multithematic approach that traces key themes through both Testaments. He organizes these themes into two “emphases” in the Old Testament, proclamation and promise, and two in the New Testament, fulfillment and consummation. According to Scobie the Old Testament both proclaims what God has done and makes promises about what He will do in the future. In the New Testament Scobie sees a fulfillment of those divine promises in Christ, which points to an eschatological final consummation of divine purposes.

Scobie identifies four major biblical themes: God’s order, God’s Servant, God’s people, and God’s way, and he discusses numerous subthemes under these four topics.

This work is an excellent resource and will be a valuable addition to any biblical scholar’s library. Pastors, teachers, students, and laypeople can benefit from its use.

Several cautions, however, should be noted. Scobie’s canonical approach makes his use of the Apocrypha seem strange (e.g., p. 151). His view is that “these books should be read and studied for the light they shed on God’s ongoing history with his people down to the time of Christ . . . [but] it is a wise rule not to use them in support of any doctrine that cannot be substantiated elsewhere in Scripture” (p. 64). Then it would be better to avoid the use of noncanonical sources in the development of an intermediate biblical theology. It also seems strange to read Scobie’s references to Second Isaiah (e.g., p. 150), particularly since his own listing of the Christian canon has only one book by the prophet Isaiah (pp. 65–66).

Dispensationalists will be disappointed to find no recognition of the legitimacy of their view that the church is distinct from Israel. Instead Scobie adopts the “traditional interpretation” that the church has “replaced the Jewish people as ‘Israel,’ the people of God” (p. 493, italics his). Later, he explains, “The church does not replace the Israel of Old Testament times; it is Israel, renewed and reconstituted as the eschatological people of God” (p. 494, italics his). His claim that “membership of the new Israel is no longer based on ethnicity but on faith” (p. 493) is confusing. Does he mean to imply that Israel as the people of God was constituted by ethnicity alone, that every Old Testament Israelite was a believer?

Scobie’s caricature of dispensationalism as “a view that arbitrarily assigns numerous Old Testament prophecies, literally interpreted to a millennial kingdom following the ‘rapture’ of the faithful and the parousia of Christ” (p. 227) is disappointing. More troubling is this assertion: “The view propounded by John Darby and widely circulated by proponents of so-called biblical prophecy, that believers will be ‘raptured’ (i.e., taken up to heaven) prior to the great tribulation (usually identified with the events of Rev 4–18), not only has no basis in the New Testament, but totally contradicts the main thrust of New Testament teaching that believers will not be spared tribulation” (p. 232, italics his). Since many believe that there is exegetical and biblical-theological support for the pretribulational rapture of the church, his complete dismissal of the legitimacy of this view is disturbing.

Scobie also asserts that there is “considerable biblical evidence for what is generally referred to as conditional immortality” (p. 693, italics his). After citing 2 Maccabees 7 as support, he does provide a survey of the biblical language of “exclusion from the kingdom,” “annihilation of the wicked,” and eternal life as “life of the age to come” (p. 694). He concludes, “There is thus biblical evidence for both eternal punishment and conditional immortality, and it is not easy to champion one view against the other without disregarding a significant body of texts” (p. 694). Scobie’s assertion here gives undue credibility to a fairly recent and minority theory within evangelicalism and contradicts Daniel 12:2; Matthew 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mark 9:44; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; and Jude 7, which affirm the eternal punishment of the wicked in contrast to the eternal blessing of the righteous.

—Glenn R. Kreider

October 1, 2004
 

Biblotheca Sacra

This review appeared in the Oct-Dec 2004 vol. 161 no. 4 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.

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