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The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology.

The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology. By Charles H. H. Scobie. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003. xviii and 1,038 pages. Paper. $45.00

In this weighty volume Scobie sets out both to bring together Old and New Testaments for a biblical theology based on a Christian canon of scripture and to bridge what he sees as a gap between the living Word of the church and the Bible of the academy.

He divides the volume into two parts: (1) an argument for his methodological approach and (2) a thematic exploration of the theology of the Bible. In the first section, Scobie lays out his methodology, which he calls an "intermediate" biblical theology. His method takes shape against the background of two characterizations of previous attempts at biblical theology. The first is an "integrated" approach roughly covering biblical theology prior to the advent of the Enlightenment, an approach that the author asserts did not suffer from the bifurcations of Old and New Testaments or the separation of biblical witness and dogmatics. The second characterization is what he calls "independent" biblical theology. Scobie argues that this approach, in place since the Enlightenment, looks at the Bible as an historical specimen separate from the contemporary theology of the church.

Scobie's "intermediate" biblical theology is an attempt to bridge the best of the integrated and the independent. He wants to retain the historical study of the Bible and bridge it with the reality that the Bible is the authoritative scripture of the living, breathing church. Undergirding this agenda is Scobie's plainly stated theological assumption that "the Bible conveys a divine revelation, that the word of God in Scripture constitutes the norm of Christian faith and life, and that all the varied material of the Old Testament and New Testament can in some way be related to the plan and purpose of the one God of the whole Bible" (p. 47).

The second portion of the book is the arena in which Scobie thematically outlines his biblical theology. These mere 900 pages are divided into four sections: God's Order; God's Servant; God's People; and God's Way. Each chapter within these sections is divided into four parts: OT Proclamation; OT Promise; NT Fulfillment; NT Consummation.

An example of this is chapter 2, "The Lord of Creation." The chapter begins with a discussion of God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, where the author traces the created order as variously portrayed in the OT, the place of God as sustainer of creation, the relationship of humankind to God and God's creation, and the corruption of creation. The second portion, OT Promise, looks at eschatological expectations, cosmic upheavals, and the Day of the Lord in the OT. He then turns to the NT fulfillment including the place of the Cosmic Christ and realized eschatology. The chapter ends with a return to the eschatological expectations of the NT. The author follows this pattern for the twenty chapters that comprise the second portion. At the end of the book (pp. 928-48) he provides a detailed outline of part 2 that is very helpful in navigating such volume. This outline also may function as an index to the many theological themes that Scobie addresses whereby the discerning reader could use this book as a reference work.

In a work this large, how does one begin to critique? First, Scobie displays a commitment to the church and the ongoing revelatory character of the Bible within the Christian community. For this he is to be respected. But what community is Scobie addressing? The impression is that of an open or progressive (neither term is sufficient, and both betray the bias of this reviewer) evangelical. His use of inclusive language (though not for God), his concern that the church has fallen short in erasing the divide between male and female (Gal 3:28), and his concern for justice issues suggest progressiveness.

Second, Scobie's oversimplification of the plurality of canons among Christian communions is symptomatic of a Protestant bias and an oversimplification that is inherent in his project.

Third, the lack of engagement with theologians and dogmaticians from the early church through the twentieth century (not one reference to Barth, Tillich, or Moltmann, and no significant reference to liberation theology, feminist theology, or postcolonial theology) leaves holes in the argument. This lack of dialogue with theologians suggests that the ongoing witness and theological work of the church over the past two thousand years is of no use to the church, as "what is contained in Scripture [is] sufficient to guide the church in any age" (p. 647). Then what of the faith and interpretive work of theologians, biblical scholars, clergy, and laity over the last 2,000 years?

Finally, one must ask what a thematic approach to biblical theology encompassing both Old and New Testaments does to the plurality of voices in scripture. For example, what of the fourfold witness of the Gospels?

In the end, Scobie's challenge to the academy and church both to bring together Old and New Testaments and to maintain a commitment to scripture's authority and its historicity is important. Can it be done without ignoring Tradition? Scobie certainly has made a valiant effort.

Samuel D. Giere

St. Mary's College

University of St. Andrews, Scotland
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Author:Giere, Samuel D.
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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