Thursday, November 10, 2016

Book Write-Up: The Voices of the New Testament, by Derek Tidball

Derek Tidball.  The Voices of the New Testament: Invitation to a Biblical Roundtable.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

In The Voices of the New Testament, Derek Tidball creates a scenario in which New Testament authors discuss theology and doctrine with each other.  A Chair asks a question, and New Testament authors offer their viewpoint, often on the basis of what is in their writings.

The New Testament authors include Luke, James, John, Jude, Mark, Matthew, Paul, Peter, and the Hebraist (meaning the author of Hebrews).  Tidball assumes that Paul wrote Ephesians, Colossians, and the pastorals, that the apostle Peter wrote II Peter, and that the same John wrote the Gospel of John, I-III John, and Revelation.  Still, Tidball acknowledges that there are scholars who disagree with such ascription.

In terms of the topics that are covered, Chapter 3 talks about God and God’s attributes as they are discussed in New Testament writings.  These attributes include God as creator, God as savior, God’s uniqueness, God’s sovereignty and power, God’s holiness and righteousness, and God’s compassion and mercy.  What “Jude” says on page 25 is noteworthy because it can give insight into how the book explores where there is common ground among the New Testament authors, while still allowing each author to retain his own voice: “Even my somewhat severe letter is not devoid of presenting God as a God of a love.”

Chapter 4 is entitled “Why Is Good News Needed?”, and it says that the Gospel addresses the problems of personal sin, broken communities, and a fractured world.  A topic that Paul discusses under the topic of “broken communities” is the question of whether Paul was tolerant of slavery.

Chapter 5 focuses on the identity, nature, and characteristics of Jesus.  It discusses Jesus’ authentic humanity, his sinlessness, Jesus being the last Adam, his pre-existence, the Virgin Birth, Jesus as Messiah/Christ, Jesus as Son of Man, Jesus as Son of David, Jesus as Son of God, and Jesus as Lord, Servant, Logos (Word and Wisdom), I Am, Savior, and God.  It also explores Jesus’ relationship to God the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Chapter 6 is entitled “How Was Jesus Good News?”  It talks about the Kingdom of God, Jesus’ life and ministry, and his death, resurrection, and ascension, along with the significance of those topics.

Chapter 7, “What Does Jesus Offer Now?”, is about the New Testament’s approach to the Mosaic law, atonement, how Christians are in Christ and united with Christ, and justification by faith.  It explores various dimensions of salvation and the Holy Spirit’s character and activity.  Another topic with which it interacts is physical healing.

Chapter 8, “How Do We Make the Good News Our Own?”, is about response to the Gospel.  This includes repentance, faith, and baptism.  The chapter also discusses belonging to the Christian community, what the church does, and the relationship of the church to the people of Israel (i.e., is the church the new Israel, in God’s eyes?).

Chapter 9, “What Does It Mean to Live as a Good News People?”, talks about love and Kingdom ethics.  This chapter briefly addresses the surprising detail that love is unmentioned in some New Testament writings.

Chapter 10 is about eschatology and discusses the second coming of Christ, the resurrection from the dead, and heaven and hell.

Throughout the book, there are sections in grey that are spoken by “The Observer.”  These sections often present and interact with different scholarly and theological views about a subject.  These subjects include, but are not limited to, different models of the atonement, the extent to which New Testament writers regarded Christ’s second coming as imminent, different views on the millennium, and the question of whether Paul emphasizes faith in Christ or the faith of Christ.  Some of the grey sections provide historical context: the meanings of Savior and Lord in the ancient world, and the question of whether New Testament writings were truly anti-imperialistic.  At times, a grey section may interact with a question, such as the question of whether Christ was able to sin, or whether there were two stages of New Testament religion, an ethical stage and a soteriological stage.

In terms of positives, the book strikes a proper balance between lucidity and complexity.  The book is easy to read and to follow, yet it interacts with different views in the “Observer” sections.  While the book is an easy read, it still requires some concentration.  There is some heaviness in its manner of presentation, plus I had to stay focused to avoid missing a gem.

Although the book did not extensively discuss the New Testament interpretation of the Old Testament, its occasional comments on this topic were valuable.  “Paul” on page 33 acknowledges that he was applying to Gentiles a Psalm that was originally about Israelites’ sinfulness, but he offered a rationale for this move.  On page 129, “Paul” states that Deuteronomy 30: 6, 11-14 applies in a new way in the new age that Christ inaugurated (Romans 10:5-10, which is about the saving value of confessing and believing in Christ).  On page 199, Tidball appeals to II Corinthians 1:2 (all of God’s promises are yes in Jesus) to argue that the Old Testament prophecies about Israel’s restoration should be interpreted in light of Christ.

There were times when the book offered an interpretation that I had not previously considered.  “Paul” on page 144, for example, interprets II Corinthians 5:17 to mean, not that believers become new creations, but that believers are evidence of the dawn of a new world through Christ.  “Mark” talks about how Jesus healed a broken community by encouraging a healed demoniac to return to his family rather than following him (Mark 5:1-20).  This interpretation was somewhat artificial—-it was trying to conform the passage to the subtopic of Jesus being the savior of broken interpersonal relationships.  But the picture is still beautiful.

The book is also spiritually edifying, even though I often felt that its emphasis on believers being in community and loving each other was unrealistic, at least for myself.  But my problem here may be with the New Testament!

In terms of negatives, the book was only willing to acknowledge diversity in the New Testament to a certain extent.  Overall, in this book’s presentation, the New Testament authors agree with each other, even if they may phrase the truth in their own ways, or differ in some of the facets on which they focus, or even have different, albeit non-contradictory, viewpoints (i.e., John’s realized eschatology).  Sometimes, certain voices were excluded.  In the section discussing whether Jesus pre-existed, the only New Testament authors in the conversation were those who believed in Jesus’ pre-existence!  The ones who do not mention Jesus’ pre-existence were left out of the discussion.  Also noteworthy is when “Mark” tries to reconcile Mark 10:17-18’s statement that no one is good but God with Jesus being sinless.  “Mark” there did not make any incredible leaps beyond what the text says or Markan Christology—-he did not explicitly say that Jesus was claiming to be God in response to the rich young ruler.  Still, Tidball did seem to be trying to fit Mark into an evangelical mode of soteriology.

To his credit, there were times when Tidball mentioned tension in the New Testament, particularly on the question of whether Jesus became Lord at his resurrection.  In Tidball’s picture, “Paul” repudiates adoptionism in his discussion of Romans 1:4 (page 68), whereas “Luke” seems to say that Jesus entered the Godhead at his resurrection (page 70), and Hebrews is slightly contradictory on this (page 72).  Tidball did not really wrestle with the tension but just put it out there, which was awkward and left a slight unclarity.  My impression is that Tidball wanted the New Testament to be orthodox but was coming against a brick wall.  Tidball does deserve credit, though, for not covering up inconvenient details in the New Testament, at least in this case.

At times, the discussions were essentially a laundry-list of what New Testament authors said about a topic, but there was little attempt to explain why they said what they said.  For instance, the discussion of Jesus being the “Son of Man” affirmed that the title had to do with Jesus’ suffering, but there was no explanation as to how or why that was the case: Why use the phrase in reference to Jesus’ suffering?  Tidball may be heading towards an explanation on page 61, when, after discussing the term in Daniel 7, he states that “The title connects suffering with glory…”  Indeed, suffering is a theme in Daniel 7.  But Tidball could have noted the presence of suffering in Daniel 7, for that would have improved his argument and made it less elliptical.

There were other times when Tidball should have gone into more detail.  On page 128, for instance, “Paul” states that the Mosaic law “concerned circumcision, diet, and sabbath observance” and had the purpose of revealing “how truly desperate our situation was and drive us to Christ.”  How do circumcision, diet, and sabbath observance fulfill this purpose?  On page 94, “Mark” is talking about the Messianic secret and why Jesus spoke in parables, or riddles.  “Mark” states that anyone could become a disciple and understand Jesus’ riddles; he does not address, however, why Mark 4:12 says that Jesus is telling parables to prevent people from repenting and receiving forgiveness.

The book insisted that the hope of the believer is physical, not so much going to heaven.  For Tidball, God’s purpose is to redeem the physical and to create a new earth.  Tidball showed places in the New Testament that have this vision, and he addressed passages that have been interpreted as implying a more heavenly destiny.  These discussions were good, but they would have been better had Tidball discussed how intertestamental literature interacted with this topic.  (The same goes for Tidball’s discussion of hell, in which he was actually open to annhilationism.)  In one case, though, Tidball’s perspective led to a bit of a blind spot on Tidball’s part.  Tidball on page 121 states: “Jesus did not rise again as a ‘spirit’ or as a ‘soul,’ but as a real, if different, material body.”  Tidball failed to address I Corinthians 15:45, which states that Jesus became a life-giving spirit.

This is not so much a criticism, but rather an observation.  It was interesting to see how Tidball handled the contradictions, or apparent contradictions, between the Gospels.  Overall, he presents the Gospel authors doing research and trying to write accurate history, even though one may include details that another omits.  On one occasion, though, Tidball says that Luke and Matthew remembered differently where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount/Sermon on the Plain.  And Tidball presents John as altering history for purposes of theology (i.e., presenting Jesus as dying on the day before Passover, when the synoptics have a different time for Jesus’ crucifixion).

Yet, the idea that, say, Matthew altered Mark and put his own ideology into the mouth of Jesus seems rather foreign to this book (and I am open to correction on this).  For instance, on page 193, “Matthew” wrestles with Jesus’ statement that he would build the church on the rock (Matthew 16:18): is this rock Peter, or Peter’s confession of faith?  My response was, “Well, don’t you know?  You wrote it!”  But, in the book, apparently, Matthew did not make up that statement but rather was trying to interpret what Jesus himself had said.  You will not get much redaction criticism in this book!

Overall, this book is informative regarding the content of the New Testament, though I would recommend that students use supplementary works as well, ones that present the New Testament as more diverse, that are more skeptical or critical about the New Testament’s historicity in areas, and that acknowledge redaction criticism.  This can provide them with a fuller perspective.  This book was still a delight to read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher.  My review is honest.

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