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The books is full of typos. It seems as if this book as been digitized using OCR technology, and no one bothered to even run a spell check on it. Here an example:
JESUS’ FUIFIIIMENT OF JEWISH BIBIICM TRADITION
Thielman, Frank (2011-03-22). Theology of the New Testament (p. 84). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Zondervan Publishing does a very sloppy job of creating their ebooks. See also the NIV Application Commentary series, where more than half the books don't even have table of contents!
Of the many ways one might go about constructing a NT Theology, Theilman lets you know in his subtitle the path he chose. After a introductory chapter laying out the issues surrounding the production of a NT Theology, Thielman proceeds by first grouping the writings of the NT into 3 canonical blocks: Gospels/Acts, Pauline epistles, general epistles/Revelation. In the first section, Thielman opens with a chapter on why having a fourfold gospel account is important. He then offers chapters on each Gospel, treating Luke and Acts as a single narrative, before concluding with a synthesis chapter explaining how the four gospels are offering perspective on the one gospel of Jesus Christ.
The bulkiest section in the book is the one on the Pauline letters, but that should come as no surprise. Thielman opens with a chapter on the questions of both coherence and center within Paul's theology. He argues that Paul's theology was coherent and that the center of it is "God's graciousness toward his weak and sinful creatures" (232). Then, like the previous section on the Gospels, Thielman treats the individual epistles in chronological order of their writing. This allows him to develop the center historically and see how it emerges at different points in the span of Paul's ministry. Theilman then finishes up the section with a chapter on the recurrent emphases in Paul's writings and offers a thematic summary of Paul's theology.
The final section of the book, the general epistles and Revelation, is treated by Thielman as a coherent collection of writings rather than a grab bag of New Testament leftovers. Thielman sees unity in these letters in their thematic treatment of heresy and persecution (493-95). He then works through the individual writings in a loose historical order (James - Jude - 2 Peter - 1-3 John - 1 Peter - Hebrews - Revelation) before finishing up with a synthetic chapter exploring the challenges Hebrews - Revelation posed to the dominant first century worldview they were written within.
Finally, Thielman attempts to take all of his synthetic work on the individual sections and unite them together in a closing synthetic chapter. His major synthetic themes are:
The convergence of the human problem and God's answer to it in Jesus
Faith as response to God's gracious initiative
The Spirit as the eschatological presence of God
The church as the people of God
The consummation of all things
Again, no real surprises there, but it takes some serious scholarly work to assimilate all the New Testament teaching into these categories in a way that leaves no stones unturned.
Thielman's work on Paul's theology has to be a major strength of this book. Anyone serious about studying Paul and understanding his theology needs Thielman's book on their shelf. He interacts with the New Perspective on Paul, and while he doesn't fully agree with several aspects, he is not dismissive of it either. There is probably a good reason Thielman was chosen as a third voice at ETS alongside Wright and Schreiner. Even though those scholars are presented as the main "sides" in the discussion, Theilman helps readers recognize there is more to the discussion than simply choosing between embracing Wright or Piper (who was originally scheduled to be there at ETS). If nothing else, his careful work through Paul's epistles and his discussion of Paul's theology as a whole is worth the price of the book.
Another strength is that while Thielman is working with primarily academic sources (doctoral dissertations published as monographs, articles in journals in German, stuff like that), he presents his work in a way that is accessible to most patient readers. While this might be best used as a seminary textbook, I think it could profitably make it in a Bible school classroom. Granted, it is not the most engaging prose. It still reads like a serious commentary through most of the chapters. But, looking through the footnotes, what Thielman offers his readers is much more easily navigated than most of the sources he is drawing from.
Additionally, Thielman's synthetic chapters are a highlight of the book. Some readers may be content to have this book on the shelf as a resource, but even those readers ought to make their way through his opening and closing chapters to each section. I wouldn't have particularly thought of Hebrews - Revelation as having a coherent theme until I read Thielman's case for heresy and persecuting uniting them. As I prepare to teach the NT in class, I will probably find myself returning to my markings in the synthetic chapters.
If I had to highlight a weakness, my first thought is the writing style. I only bring this up because the companion volume on Old Testament Theology (by Bruce Waltke and coming up later this week) has almost a devotional feel to the individual chapters, whereas Thielman's chapters flow like a commentary. To be fair, they flow like a good commentary and are easy to read in a grammatical sense (unlike some commentators). I just found it harder to stick with reading through individual book chapters, but not so much on the synthesis chapters. So, maybe compared to other NT Theologies, Thielman isn't that bad, but compared to Waltke, he is just a bit on the dry side.
Ease of reading aside, I thought this was a great book. That opinion may alter slightly as I start into reading other New Testament theologies (I've already got Beale's in my queue line). But, it won't change dramatically because Thielman still has plenty to offer and his discussion of Paul's theology is particularly excellent. While the material is a bit beyond what I can offer my high school students in detail, it does have its share of insights that will find their way into my class in the spring. Overall, this book is a well structured and well executed construction of New Testament theology that is sensitive to historical development and scholarly insights, while remaining evangelical and Christ-centered in its focus. Serious students of the New Testament ought to give Thielman's book a try!
[A copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher]
Establishing the proper context in the way that he does helps to explain things such as what may seem like different (contradictory) emphases amongst Paul's letters, while showing in fact that they are not contradictory but make sense in the context of each circumstance the letter was addressing. He also takes a conservative approach, which I approve of, in consulting the accounts in Acts to provide a sufficient historical background in which to view the various Epistles. In his treatment of 1 Thessalonians he does this to explain several elements of why the people in Thessalonica might have been persecuted and why Paul had been "torn away" from them. He weaves the various themes masterfully throughout his treatment of each book, emphasizing their differences to reveal the initial purposes and meaning of the texts in each book while also unifying the various topics in the NT under a coherent view of Systematic Theology. And the compliment of the arsenal of footnotes is more than adequate.
As for the person (reviewer) who noted an exception to Thielman's treatment of justification, by "muddying the difference between justification and sanctification", I do acknowledge that Thielman's approach to some issues is not perfect and I have my occasional disagreements. However even in that case, though somewhat misleading, he does in a way show the close relationship between justification and sanctification. Though sanctification is a life long process and doesn't inevitably assume the Christian will be perfect, it starts at our justification from Christ in which he gives us righteousness which then needs to be worked out. Thus we should "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). Although the reviewer who pointed that out is correct that there is a difference between the two, yet interconnected. The only other exception that I would note would be his treatment on Romans chapter 7 (which is a controversial chapter among all Christian circles) by seemingly interpreting it as Paul not talking of himself but rather him personifying historical Israel. Though previous chapters had mentioned the experiences of historical Israel there is no reason to read that into Paul's (admittedly difficult) admission of his struggle with sin. So I found that a strange and rather misleading interpretation.
Overall the book is wonderful and in-depth, but as with any Christian book I would always council caution to examine carefully what is being presented. The truth will always stand under intensive scrutiny. We should "test everything, and hold on to the good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). I myself am writing a book, and while I strive to be thorough with my assumptions and views concerning the Bible I certainly don't expect to have everything 100% right. For that reason I give 5 stars to this book for it has made up in vitality, content, research, and intelligence for any blunders it may have and is largely a true prize of scholarship and theology, reviving the Bible of the day of Jesus and the Apostles and awaking the reader to the power and life that the Christians of the first century had and grew in despite their struggles.
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