This review appeared in the Jul-Sep 2004 vol. 161 no. 3 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
The Trustworthiness of God: Perspectives on the Nature of ScriptureWm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Grand Rapids May 16, 2002
This book focuses on the divine attribute of trustworthiness, that is, “on the relationship between who God is and what he has said about himself, or, to put it in more technical jargon, between the ontological and the epistemological aspects of theology” (p. ix). In essays from Old Testament, New Testament, and theological perspectives the book seeks to provide a model of interdisciplinary theological dialogue. The editors are committed to the conviction that an organic connection exists between these theological disciplines, and that exegetes, biblical scholars, historians, philosophers, and systematicians need to hear from and interact with each other. In short, in this project they intend to counter the increasing fragmentation of these disciplines in recent years. This work is intended as an example of theology in community, a community of theological disciplines.
In the first section four scholars discuss God’s trustworthiness in Deuteronomy (J. Gary Millar), Jeremiah (Gordon McConville), wisdom literature (Craig G. Bartholomew), and the problematic example of “ ‘Lying Spirits Sent by God?’ The Case of Micaiah’s Prophecy” (P. J. Williams). Williams concludes that the narrative in 1 Kings 22 asserts God’s sovereignty over lying spirits. He concludes, “These two themes of the truth of God’s word and his sovereignty over the lying spirits are such prominent themes in the narrative that it is hard to avoid concluding that they are being set in deliberate tension and that the narrator believes that both must be held to firmly” (pp. 65–66). But how can a truthful God seemingly condone the work of a lying spirit? Williams leaves the tension unresolved.
In part two Donald Macleod examines Jesus’ view of Scripture, Drake Williams discusses Paul and Scripture, and David Peterson writes on “God and Scripture in Hebrews.” David Instone-Brewer discusses “Paul’s Literal Interpretation of ‘Do Not Muzzle the Ox.’ ” In what seems to be a strained interpretation of the word “literal,” this essayist argues that Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 25:4 is not literal, since, “wherever the law said an ‘ox,’ it meant any kind of animal or human servant” (p. 139).
In the third section of the book Gerald Bray argues in “The Church Fathers and Their Use of Scripture” that “the Fathers’ teaching about Holy Scripture is not so much an explanation as a challenge to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good [Psalm 34:8]’ ” (p. 174). Carl R. Trueman, writing on “The God of Unconditional Promise,” explains how Calvin defended a necessary link between God’s trustworthiness and His unconditional promises to Abraham. Essays by Timothy Ward on “The Diversity and Sufficiency of Scripture,” Stephen Williams on “Towards Trust,” Paul Helm on “The Perfect Trustworthiness of God,” and Sebastian Rehnman on “A Realist Conception of Revelation,” complete this section.
Two brief “responses” complete the volume. Colin Gunton, in “Trinity and Trustworthiness,” while expressing appreciation for the work as a whole, wishes that the essays had been more explicitly Trinitarian, particularly more Christological. In addition, in Gunton’s view more should have been made of “the resurrection of Jesus from the dead” (p. 278), the relationship between divine trustworthiness and immutability (pp. 279–81), and the church and its mission (p. 284). He concludes, “Theology is not theology if it does not in some way shape the life of the Christian community and through that the life of the world. Without that, discussion of divine attributes and actions is in danger of becoming abstract. . . . If God is indeed trustworthy, that will include the truthfulness of our theology as one of the implications of the doctrine. . . . That is why we need to show something of how our doctrinal and biblical treatises bear upon redemption as it takes shape in the life of the Church in trust for the whole world” (p. 284).
In the final essay, “An Evangelical Response,” Francis Watson affirms that belief in a “trustworthy God and a trustworthy Bible . . . are two sides of the same coin” (286). To be evangelical, he insists, “is to read Scripture in light of the euangelion that lies at its heart. The gospel is the announcement that in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection God has acted definitively to reconcile the world to himself” (p. 287). Thus the trustworthiness of God is ultimately demonstrated in what He has said and done in Jesus Christ. Like Gunton, Watson has called for a more explicit Christological perspective in the discussion.
As a collection of essays on the trustworthiness of God, this work is worth reading. But has it succeeded in modeling an interdisciplinary theological conversation? Two brief responses at the end of the book seem to point to a lack of sufficient dialogue. More interaction between the contributors would have strengthened the book. It also might have led to some correction of the Christological deficiencies identified by the two final essayists.
—Glenn R. Kreider