New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. By Thomas R. Schreiner. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008. 990 pages. Hardback, $44.99.

In what seems like a saturated market of NT theologies, Thomas Schreiner’s own contribution to the description of an NT theology is refreshing, and just simply, ground-breaking in its own right. Schreiner has taken a bold approach by taking the widely-known thematic approach [1] with this primary thesis as the center: “that NT theology is God-focused, Christ-centered, and Spirit-saturated, but the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit must be understood along a salvation-historical timeline; that is, God’s promises are already fulfilled but not yet consummated in Christ Jesus” (23). Working out of this unifying center, the canonical books of the NT are then each examined according to the overarching thematic elements that hinge on the centrality of God.

The work is divided into four parts, which all have some dealings with “promise”: 1) “The Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promise,” 2) “The God of the Promise”, 3) “Experiencing the Promise,” and 4) “The People of the Promise and the Future of the Promise.” Only at an initial glance do these section titles seem slightly nuanced, but any serious reader would find himself richly immersed in a well-controlled discussion moving between narratives and doctrinal discussions, as well as scholarly contributions and contemporary debates that continue to this day.

The first section deals with the framing of God’s plan by virtue of the kingdom of God that has been promised in the span of time stretching from the OT to the NT gospel narratives. Echoes of the “day of the Lord” and judgment from the OT lead up to the opening scene in NT. Schreiner’s lively writing style and vivid imagery keep the readers at bay with what becomes ultimately the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation through Christ unto the inaugurated eschaton, which the church experiences and awaits for its final consummation.

The second section is the largest of all the sections, and it consists of the bulk of Schreiner’s endeavor in the theological description of God. This is done through the Trinitarian framework as set up by in the original thesis stated at the beginning. The centrality of God in the NT is worked through the synoptic gospels, the gospel of John, Acts, Pauline literature, James, Petrine and Johananine letters, Jude, and Revelation. How is God the center? Repeated is this question asked—to which, Schreiner answers in multifaceted fashion: sovereignty, glory, father, Christ, name, love, wisdom, and revelation, amongst many others. Both Christology and Pneumatology are part of the theological discourse concerning NT books. One may initially be underwhelmed by a cursory reading of the work, especially at the sight of the apparent repetition and overlap of material (e.g. “Jesus as Lord,” “Lordship and Divinity,” and “Centrality of Christ.”), but the command of Schreiner’s erudition subtly emerges in his handling of numerous scholarly discussions. Schreiner is not easily dismissive of novel, even new-fangled ideas and proposals, but he is very much willing to weigh the various sides of the dialogue, and arrive at a well-reasoned position, if at all possible.

Part of Schreiner’s novel approach is his engaging of extrabiblical sources for the purpose of providing some connections to contemporary writings. For instance, in one discussion of the Messiah and “Son of Man,” Schreiner briefly discusses the gospels’ themes with second temple, postbiblical Judaic literature: Psalms of Solomon, Josephus, Dead Sea Scrolls, Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Testament of Judah, and 4 Ezra. Schreiner gives ample reasons to dismiss any strong link or parallels to the gospel materials, but his awareness of outside material proves his erudition.

The third section focuses on the experience of the church through a God-centered understanding of the NT, especially in regards to the problems of sin and suffering, the question of faith and obedience (kinds of faith, whose faith), and salvation. The fourth and final section deals with the communal aspects of the church, and some discourse on the socio-scientific dimensions of the early church. These last two sections of the book does not really compare in size from the rest of the book, because they deal with matters that stir the curiosity in the practical realm. Questions often arise as to the aftermath of the coming of Christ, and the experience that results from various paradigmatic shifts in worldview.

Though the thematic elements may seem familiar, Schreiner’s work unapologetically treads on new grounds with his framing of God-centeredness, along with an engagement of the NT books, and academic discussions that have emerged in the past century. Rarely will a NT theology work be a joy to read like Schreiners’. This contribution to the field of NT theology will be read and appreciated for many years to come.

Donald Kim
Forthcoming in the Southwestern Journal of Theology


[1] Cf. Gerhard Hasel’s categories for different approaches: thematic, existentialist, historical, and salvation history. New Testament Theology: Basic Issues in the Current Debate (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978), 73-132. Schreiner deals mainly with the thematic approach as opposed to the book-by-book approach.