In The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie subdivides his multithematic approach into main four categories: God’s Order; God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way. Under each banner, he writes five chapters, and today we will consider his first section in his “sketch of biblical theology.” For sake of space, let me list the headings and provide a few reflections.
- The Living God. Scobie begins with God and His revelation in creation and history. According to the Scriptures, Scobie argues that God is King, and taking his cue from the Decalogue and the Shema, he outlines his chapter with three concepts that establish “the very core of the OT understanding of God” (107). These are the self-revelation of God’s Name(s), the unitive oneness of God, and the personal nature of God. He examines each of these as they are initially proclaimed in the OT and more fully developed in the latter prophets and in the NT. One of the highlights from this chapter is the way that each section (i.e. Proclamation, Promise, Fulfillment, and Future Consummation–also the framework of every other chapter) concludes with an explanation and affirmation of the Scripture’s canonical development at each stage of revelation. In a chapter focusing on Theology Proper, he argues for Scripture’s essential role in revealing the one, true, and living God. Additionally, Scobie emphasizes God’s relationship to both the created order and the historical order–this is expanded in chapters 2-3.
- The Lord of Creation. Scobie writes this chapter out of a concern that biblical theology and recent biblical studies have devalued God’s relationship to creation, and have focused only on God’s role in the historical order. He illustrates this by referring to those who begin their BT with Exodus and not Genesis; however, as he points out, this misses the way in which the canon is itself telling the story of God as Creator and Redeemer. Scobie shows convincingly that God loves creation and has made creation for our enjoyment and his glory (cf. John Piper, “The Pleasure of God in His Creation” in The Pleasures of God). He shows where creation is emphasized in the OT (Gen. 1-11; Pss. 8, 95, 104, 148; Isaiah; and the wisdom literature–Job 38-39; Proverbs 8), and argues that the NT maintains the same view of creation as the OT, only adding Jesus’ instrumental role in its creation and maintenance (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-3). He introduces the distinction between apocalyptic eschatology which is alligned with God’s created order and prophetic eschatology which corresponds with redemptive history. Just as the Bible begins with creation (Gen. 1-2), it ends with new creation (Rev. 20-22), and thus all the Bible is looking forward to the renewal of this fallen world.
His concluding application section would make the editors of the “Green Letter Bible” happy; it shows how the Bible does address many environmental concerns, but in a Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, sort of way, Scobies goes too far concerning the ways in which consumerist evangelicals have neglected the environment and are in need of confessing our “guilt for the ecological crisis” (186-87). The ‘guilt’ rests not with Western evangelicals, but with the whole Adamic race. In the end, this chapter is a helpful commentary on what the Bible says about creation and its place in biblical theology.
- The Lord of History. Scobie begins with a cursory review of the books of the Bible, and then proceeds to walk through the stages of redemptive history, before highlighting six ways in which God has worked in history. These six characteristics of salvation history are (1) divine intervention, (2) [appointing] divinely inspired leadership, (3) salvation & judgment, (4) providence, (5) blessing, (6) and suffering love (198-202). Scobie does not retain God’s work in history to veiled acts of redemption, though, he also posits that God has worked in history through revealing himself by speaking to his people (202-04). Thus, redemptive acts of God are only recognized and understood when God also inspires a biblical author to interpret the meaning of the event (i.e. the exodus, the Babylonian exile, or the crucifixion). The chapter is a helpful summary of salvation history, though he is theologically imprecise when speaking of God’s “suffering love,” a term most often associated with Jurgen Moltmann, and more recently Richard Bauckham, that ascribes suffering to the divinity of the Godhead, instead of assigning suffering to Christ’s humanity. (For more on this see my post, Can God Suffer?).
- The Adversary. Scobie presents a very balanced survey from the biblical text that walks through the Scriptures highlighting the passages of Scripture that concern the enemies of God, reprobate angels, and Satan himself. He avoids the two extremes of spiritual warfare fanaticism and the modern mindset that makes the devil a cartoonish fable. He chastens those who like Greg Boyd attempt to say too much about Satan and are required to import ideas from other Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries. However, he shows the reality of the demonic realm and of the antichrist. Like all of his chapters I have read thus far, his biblical content presents a helpful catalog of all the applicable texts on the subject.
- The Spirit. Scobie is open to the continuous presence of miraculous gifts today because there is no hermeneutical reason, he says, to deny their continuation (296). However, in his explication of this subject, Scobie is unfortunately imprecise and inconsistent. In one place he states that “Christian baptism confers the gift of the Spirit” (283), yet later as he makes his summary he says “all believers receive the gift of the Spirit when they become Christians” (296). I guess you could ask, “What makes someone a Christian,” but it seems that he inconsistently attributes the giving of the Spirit to baptism, and blurs the transitional period of Acts with what is now normative in the church today. Like in chapter 2, Scobie emphasizes the Spirit’s role in and with creation, appealing to the Eastern Ortohodox tradition which includes Psalm 104 in its daily liturgy (295). He spends little time on the revelation of the Spirit and its inclusion in the Trinity, because as he believes, the Bible gives triadic data but not trinitarian doctrine (297). On the whole, this chapter shows a developing continuity throughout the Bible for the doctrine of the Spirit, but its synthesis leaves a lot of questions unanswered because of such short statements on things like tongues, the gifts, and the relationship of baptism to the Spirit.
More than a quarter of the way through this massive volume, I am pleased to report that the reading has been edifying and that any serious student of the Bible would be rewarded by reading it.
Sola Deo Gloria, dss