Book Review: A Gracious and Compassionate God by Timmer
Daniel C. Timmer, A Gracious And Compassionate God (2011, Nottingham, InterVarsity Press). 201pp. Softback. New $14.95.
Daniel Timmer, the Canadian theologian, just finished his volume on Jonah called, A Gracious and Compassionate God, from the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Timmer attempts to give a biblical theological account of the book of Jonah through the lenses of three themes: Mission, Salvation, and Spirituality.
The theme of Mission is found in two chief characters, namely Israel and Jonah. Israel has a mission that is twofold, explains Timmer. It is centripetal--moving in toward the center--and it is centrifugal--moving outward. Despite these terms being horrendously confusing, they do illustrate important aspects of Israel’s mission as the people of God. Centripetal refers to Israel’s exemplar nature. This aspect is called centripetal because it refers to Israel’s ingrown nature, how if a foreigner wanted to be part of Israel he would have to take on Israel’s customs (Ex 19:5-6). This was their passive role in bringing the gospel to the nations with Jerusalem as the center.
By centrifugal Timmer refers to the promise given to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) where he would be a blessing to all the nations. At the beginning of this discussion Timmer is also careful to include that God has always had a plan for the nations rooted in the Abrahamic covenant. This promise is related to Jonah and the conversion of the heathen during the theocracy. Naaman and Ruth are examples of the centripetal theme because they both had ‘conversion’ ideas but were outside Israel geographically and ethnically. The Psalms are riddled with imperatives to make God known to the nations, and not only that but the Psalms are eschatological in looking toward an end goal for all nations.
These two themes, centripetal and centrifugal, are important to Jonah because he was sent on a mission by God to preach to the heathen. But, in both of these aspects he fails. His centripetal witness is nullified when he hides on a boat going away from where God called him. And his centrifugal witness seems blunted when he only speaks only of judgment for Nineveh. Yet by God's grace the Ninevites repent.
Salvation plays an important theme because the sailors and Ninevites seem to repent in the book of Jonah. Timmer takes note on how ironic this salvation is. The people of God, typified in Jonah, have God's word, but don't follow him. While the pagans, hearing of this God who rules the earth and the sea, repent and follow him.
This leads to the next theme of Spirituality. Ironically, the pagans, shows Timmer, understand what God requires by their repentance. Jonah and his hard heart only serve to further the planned obsolescence of the Mosaic Economy.
A few things in this book need to be brought to attention. On a lighter note, Timmer fails to mention that the Hebrew word for sailor is lexically related to salt. So the author, when he speaks of the sailors, is actually calling them “salties.” On a heavier note (perhaps it's my inner Kline leaking out), Timmer fails explicitly to put Israel in its redemptive historical context. At least I wanted to hear how this book related the Covenants of Works and Grace to Israel.
This book, despite the critiques, is a good introduction and overview of the biblical theological motifs in Jonah and to the greater missiological themes in Scripture. Additionally, the book was a very easy read.
Reviewed by Nic Lazzareschi