Book Review: Magnifying God in Christ by Thomas Schreiner
Thomas R. Schreiner, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2010)
The book by Thomas Schreiner, Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology, is Schreiner’s summary of his earlier nine hundred page work of the same title, published in 2008. The book takes a panoramic look at the entire New Testament (NT) and seeks to cover various major themes taught in the text of the NT, and in so doing helps the reader come to know and understand the New Testament better.
Schreiner’s book is slightly more than 200 pages. The book starts off with an introduction followed by Chapter 1 covering the already-not-yet motif which permeates the whole of the NT. Chapter 2 continues with the centrality of God in the NT, while Chapter 3 focuses on the centrality of Christ in the Gospels. Chapters 4 and 5 cover the doctrine of Christ and His work in Acts and the Pauline books respectively, with Chapter 6 going into the greater depth of the saving work of God and Christ according to Paul. Chapter 7 completes the coverage of the New Testament in this respect by covering the doctrine of Christ in the General Epistles and Revelation.
The next few chapters cover various major themes mentioned in the NT. Chapter 8 covers the Holy Spirit, Chapter 9 covers sin, Chapter 10 covers faith and obedience, Chapter 11 covers the motif of the Law, Chapter 12 the people of God, while Chapter 13 covers the consummation of God’s promises in three motifs: Christ’s second coming, final judgment, and final reward. With the major themes of the New Testament covered, Schreiner finishes with an epilogue summarizing what he has covered as a majestic tapestry of Scripture.
Schreiner attempts to cover the whole of the NT along thematic lines, looking through and showing in what manner each book of the NT contributes to the theme being looked at. Schreiner admits that such a thematic approach “runs the danger of domesticating the text and squeezing out the diversity of the NT” (14), but he considers it a “risk worth taking” as we cannot understand the pieces of the NT apart from the whole. This is most certainly a positive of the book, becayse looking narrowly at one piece of the puzzle may contribute to a distortion of what the NT or any book or passage in it actually teaches.
Along these lines, Schreiner refuses to join with certain elements in academia in creating specifically Pauline, Johannine or other such theologies. Schreiner begins by treating the NT as an integral whole. When looking especially at short books in the NT, Schreiner reminds us that “we can hardly claim that [the writers] have packaged the whole of their theology into such short letters” (15), that we must “recall the occasional and circumstantial character of … letters” (34) and remind ourselves of “the specific purpose of the book” (199). Such an approach does greater justice to the biblical text by reading the text according to its own terms.
The arrangement of themes are in this reviewer’s opinion as unbiased as possible, as it starts from the obvious thread of the already-not-yet motif which clearly permeates the whole of the NT, and then moving on to the less obvious themes. This may help to alleviate suspicion that such themes are chosen merely to reinforce the author’s theology; rather, such themes are chosen because they are dictated by the text. Going through the books of the NT and quoting relevant verses are also very helpful in showing us that Schreiner did not pick up concepts from thin air, as well as allowing us to check the verses to see if they indeed teach what Schreiner says they do.
The main weakness of this book is its sometimes technical nature. In the Preface, Schreiner desires that this slimmer edition will “make the main argument of the book available to laypeople, students, and pastors who are also interested in the message of the NT” (9). Yet we have a rather technical discussion on justification in Chapter 6 which responds to movements like the New Perspective on Paul, and uses terms like “definite sanctification” (108) and “lex talionis” (237). This does not seem to make the book simple enough for most laypeople, although it will probably be understandable by those more theologically informed. While it is understandable that any response to the New Perspective will be of necessity more technical, such techinical responses blur the issue of the intended audience. What audience is Schreiner actually writing for?
The second weakness of the book is its appeal to controversial doctrines. Thus, we have for example an essentially New Covenant Theology view of the Law presented in Chapter 11. While certainly it is recognized that this book is meant to be an overview of the NT, it is not a good idea to put forward systematic theological statements which cannot be seen to be immediately derived from the text.
In conclusion, Schreiner’s book is an excellent overview of the NT and adequately covers its major themes. It gives a holistic view of the NT and helps us see it as an integrated whole. At slightly more than 200 pages, a lot of details are packed into a small book, and it is thus ideal for a small group study of the major themes of the NT.
Daniel H. Chew