Guest Blog (Grant Taylor): A Book Review of “God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology”

[Editor’s Note: Jim Hamilton’s fine book, “God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology” has been a topic of interest on our campus this semester, having been discussed in PhD seminars and Master’s level courses. For this reason, we invited Grant Taylor to compose a brief review of the book. Grant is a Ph. D. Candidate in Biblical Theology.]

Biblical theology (BT) is a discipline with a harried history and uncertain future (like most theological disciplines). Yet BT properly explained and presented by Christian scholars is essential for the building up of the saints for ministry. Enter the recent work by James M. Hamilton, Jr. (Associate Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Crossway, 2010). This review will outline the contents of the book and interact with his proposed “center” of biblical theology.

In chapter 1, Hamilton discusses the practice of BT for the renewal of the church (p. 39) and seeks to define the center of BT. For Hamilton “the center of biblical theology will be the theme that is prevalent, even pervasive, in all parts of the Bible” (p. 49). Following a brief review of the recent history of BT, Hamilton proposes the main theme, his center, of the Bible: God’s glory in salvation through judgment, which reflects the character of God (see Ex. 34:6-7) recounted across the storyline of the Bible (pp. 53-59).

In chapters 2-4 Hamilton traces this “center” through the Hebrew order of the Old Testament: Torah, Prophets, and Writings (pp. 67-353). By way of this “canonical approach” (p. 64), each major section is summarized as a whole and book-by-book. According to Hamilton, each book itself and each major section provides “God’s glory in salvation through judgment” as the major theme, or center, of that unit (see pp. 132-33, 267, 350-51). Thus, the story of the OT is the story of God’s glory in salvation through judgment (p. 352).

Chapters 5-7 continue tracing this center into the Gospels and Acts, Letters, and Revelation. As in the OT, each NT book and major section is about the center Hamilton has proposed (see pp. 439-40, 537-38, 549). For Hamilton, the NT continues the storyline begun in the OT: new exodus (see pp. 201-210) is fulfilled in the cross of Jesus Christ (see ch. 5) and return from exile (see pp. 75-82, 140) is finally fulfilled at the coming of New Jerusalem (see pp. 546-49). Between these events the NT narrates a “cosmic metanarrative” with God’s glory at the center of this story (pp. 358-59). Like the OT, the story of the NT is the story of God’s glory in salvation through judgment (p. 550).

In chapter 8 Hamilton addresses objections, mainly from I. Howard Marshall, to his methodology and proposal for the center of BT. Hamilton sees his center as defensible because it aligns with God’s ultimate purpose: to glorify himself (560-63; cf. 47-49). Chapter 9 concludes the book with a welcome argument for the necessity of BT in ministry. Evangelism, discipleship, corrective church discipline, Bible reading, and prayer stand to deepen in rigor, devotion, and wisdom if BT is applied to the corporate and personal lives of Christians. This chapter reveals Hamilton’s solid motives for doing BT, and invites more work to be done in this area by both scholars and pastors.

God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment is a welcome addition to the field of BT. Hamilton demonstrates his wide knowledge of the storyline of Scripture, across both Testaments. Numerous charts and tables illumine his rigorous exegesis and point the reader to further lines of study on a given text and/or theme (e.g., Gen. 3:14-19; pp. 75-89). Key components of BT, such as typology (see p. 42, n. 28), weave through the book to advance his argument, especially in the Gospels and Acts. Furthermore, the book is very well written and should receive high marks for its accessibility. Hamilton eschews complex prose, opting instead for clear language that indeed seeks to build up the church by consistently arguing his thesis.

Despite these and other strengths, one wonders if Hamilton’s thesis has been argued too well. Hamilton’s center, and title, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, crisply captures the character of God revealed in the Bible (Ex. 34:6-7) and running through salvation history. God’s glory is without a doubt the ultimate concern of his action in saving Israel from Egypt, exiling then rescuing Israel from exile, and promising and giving his Messiah for the redemption of humanity and all creation. Many biblical authors explicitly make these points (see e.g., Exodus, Isaiah, Ezekiel, John, Romans, Revelation). Yet, do all biblical authors make this point in what they write, and (even if so) do they make it in the same way?

For instance, the Writings stress what it looks like to live as a God-fearer in a world that does not fear him. Proverbs instructs one where true knowledge comes from (Prov. 1:7) and what it looks like to live out that knowledge. Hamilton agrees and argues that each section of Proverbs thus describes God’s glory in salvation through judgment (pp. 290-301). Yet, by arguing this point in this way, readers may think that the author of Proverbs makes this point in all proverbs in the same way. Perhaps clarifying the terms “salvation” and “judgment” when dealing with this specific genre would explain how the various proverbs demonstrate an explanatory center of Proverbs, however that center is conceived.

For another example, we can bring in the Gospel of John. John deals greatly with the glory/glorification of God in Christ (e.g., John 1:14; 2:11; 12:43; 17:24). Yet, John also tells us why he writes in John 20:31, “… these things are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name.” How does John’s purpose statement, which is a function of his writing a Gospel, relate to God’s glory in salvation through judgment? It does, but does it do so in the same way as Exodus, Proverbs, Romans, or Hebrews?

My critique here is one of reckoning with the genre of biblical writings in doing biblical theology. Genre is the combination of what biblical authors write and how they write it. The various biblical genres thus give us guides, frameworks, as to how to find the themes and perhaps even the theme of biblical books. Kevin Vanhoozer states,

The diverse literary forms are like different kinds of maps, maps that have been collected together in a unified atlas: the Bible. As with maps, so with the forms of biblical discourse: each renders reality selectively, according to its own ‘scale’ and ‘key.’ The biblical stories, commands, promises, songs, prophecies, and didactic discourse all mediate God’s communicative action, but not all in the same way. What they share, however, is the same basic orientation.[1]

In God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Hamilton stresses the same basic orientation in all the books of Scripture: all bear witness to God’s character and action, his glory in salvation through judgment. Yet by summarizing all sections and genres of the canon as about God’s glory in salvation through judgment, Hamilton’s approach may treat each genre of the Bible as the same kind of map. There is biblical unity in the theology of God’s glory, for sure. Yet as Vanhoozer states, “it is possible to view canonical diversity not as a problem to be solved but as a blessing to be received with thanks.”[2] The biblical authors use various ways with words to bear witness to God, indeed glorifying him as they do. Such ways with words, then, should guide us to think and speak about life in Christ in similar ways. Other readers will want to wrestle with these issues as they work through the book to see if this critique has any merit.

Hamilton has done us a service by stressing the character of God and his action, his glory in salvation through judgment, throughout the Bible. Its accessibility and readability makes this book a great resource for seminary students, for instance, in becoming more familiar with individual biblical books and the theological and narrative unity between those books. These sacred books indeed point us to the ultimate end of reality-God-and also show us how to live by faith in light of that reality. As Hamilton states, “The biblical authors not only tell us particular truths, but they also model for us how to interpret the Bible and how to communicate God’s truth. We will never exhaust what the Bible has to teach us on these three fronts” (p. 560). Agreed.

[1] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), 297. For more on the significance of genre in relation to the canon, see Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 211-220, 272-275, 282-285. See also Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Is There a Meaning in This Text? The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 335-350, on the way genres function as literary “covenants,” guiding one’s interpretation.

[2] Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine, 275.

Christopher Wright on The Christian Mission

Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary had the privilege this week of hosting Christopher Wright for the annual Page Lectures. Dr. Wright is International Director for Langham Partnership International and the author several books including The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (IVP), Old Testament Ethics and the People of God (IVP), and The Mission of God’s People (Zondervan). Dr. Wright is a noteworthy theologian who has written extensively about God’s mission, the church’s mission, and international missions.

Watch his first lecture, “Reading the Whole Bible for Mission: What Happens When We Do.”

Watch his second lecture, “God, Israel, and the Nations: The Old Testament and Christian Mission.”

On a related note: in coming days, BtT will invite discussion about God’s mission and the church’s mission. We hope to hear from you then.

Book Notice: “Excellence” by Andreas Köstenberger

Andreas Köstenberger has been a colleague of mine for a decade now. He is the author of scores of books and articles, the number of which perhaps exceeds the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. His most recent book (I think he averages a book per week), Excellence, is a powerful and elegant little volume arguing that God is excellent in every way, and that he is the fountainhead of excellence, and that we as scholars ought to participate in his excellence by doing our work with excellence. We at BtT interviewed Dr. Köstenberger, the results of which are found below. (The interview was excellent.)

1. Tell us a bit about yourself, your family, and your ministry.

I have taught at Southeastern for 15 years and for about 10 years served as Director of our Ph.D. Program. My wife Marny and I have 4 children (including 3 teenagers!). I also edit the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society and serve as Director of Acquisitions for B & H Academic.

2. What was the impetus for writing this book? What does it contribute to the field?

Years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled “The Marks of a Scholar.” It was originally a talk I gave to some of our Ph.D. Students at the request of John Sailhamer, who preceded me as director. Somehow Justin Taylor of Crossway Books learned about this booklet, perhaps through my blog,, and encouraged me to expand the booklet into a larger treatment on scholarly excellence. My primary burden is to tell theology students that they need not compromise their faith and their commitment to a high view of Scripture for the sake of gaining approval by their scholarly peers. I believe my book is one of the few books on excellence that grounds the call to excellence in the character of God, hence the subtitle The Character of God and the Pursuit of Scholarly Virtue.

3. What is the primary argument of the book?

My main thesis is that God is excellent in every way, and he has called us to excellence as well. My main passage in Scripture is 2 Peter 1:3-11, which grounds God’s call to excellence in his own excellence and urges believers to make every effort to add to their faith excellence and a series of other virtues. So I start out my book with a chapter on the excellence of God and a discussion of 2 Peter 1:3-11. After this, I deal with God’s call to holiness (sanctification) and the biblical notion of spirituality. The remainder of the book is taken up with a discussion of over a dozen Christian and scholarly virtues in 3 major categories: vocational, moral, and relational excellence, including virtues such as diligence, courage, wisdom, interdependence, and, of course, love.

4. What, above all, do you wish for readers to know and/or do because of the book?

I want all of us to reflect profoundly on the excellence of God and then consider that God has called each of us to pursue excellence in everything we do. As evangelical Christians, and as evangelical scholars, we have not always been known for our commitment to excellence. My desire is for us to develop a vision of how we can glorify God by reflecting His excellence in our work and relationships. For this reason, this book truly is for everyone, not just for scholars. It certainly is very relevant for all students and those called to pastoral ministry or service in the local game