Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Value of New Testament Theology

Do we need another NT Theology? I ask this because one day I'd like to write one, so I have a vested interest in the discipline. I know however that there is a proliferation of NTT's out there, only recently we have I. Howard Marshall and Frank Thielman, and with more to follow in the near future from Thomas Schreiner and Ben Witherington. In such a context, I did found this quote from Luke Timothy Johnson quite interesting:

"Those who are expert in Scripture and also committed to the shared practices of faith can probably best serve theology within the church, not by writing books called the theology of the New Testament, but by enabling and participating in the practices and joining in the conversation, viva voce and vulnerable, together with other, less learned perhaps holier, fellow believers."

Luke Timothy Johnson, “Does a Theology of the Canonical Gospels Make Sense?” in The Nature of New Testament Theology, eds. Christopher Rowland and Christopher Tuckett (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 95.

Provocative stuff, of course the same thing could be said of commentary writing, something that Johnson excels in (in fact, his Hebrews commentary is just about to come out). But hey, who needs another commentary on Hebrews - we have Koester, Bruce, Lane, Attridge, and Ellingworth? Now I would acknowledge that Christian scholars should not be ivory tower theologians or remain too distant from the life of the believing community, otherwise they go off on weird tangents. Jim Hamilton of the blog For His Own Renown is a good example of NT Professor who pastors a church on the side, a quasi-liturgical Baptist church too, and keeps his feet planted firmly on the ecclesiastical ground. So, taking Johnson's warning to heart, I still think that there is a place for a good NTTs to be written. Two reasons come to mind:

1. I think of the profound impact that G.E. Ladd's NTT had. It was in many ways responsible for taking a large number of Evangelicals away from a "classic" Dispensationalist theology and into a more biblical view of eschatology, it gave excellent summations of the theology of John and Paul, introduced students to scholarly debates about the text, Ladd demonstrated how eschatology undergirds much of the NT, and he strove to show the unity within the witness of the NT.

2. I've inherited a number of libraries from pastors who have retired. Every single one of them had a copy of Donald Guthrie's New Testament Theology. Thus, a good NTT can still be of value and constitute a great resource for those in ministry and for people of faith.

I think that the entrprise of writing a NTT, is both possible and worth while.


Ben Myers said...

Has there been much talk in NT circles about the big six-volume Theologie des Neues Testaments which Ulrich Wilckens is currently completing? The first four volumes have been released, and in the next volume he'll be discussing NT theology in relation to church doctrine -- a topic where most NT scholars fear to tread!

tony siew said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for this interesting post. I am glad you mentioned Ladd's NTT, one which I treasured and you may want to try Ladd's commentary on Revelation. I would put Ladd in the evangelical camp that is a must for students of Revelation.

About writing NT Theology, go for it. There is always something new and insightful to write about.

I kind of envy Western scholars with all the resources. In my local situation here, we have 250 million people speaking Malay/Indonesian (at least 40 million Christians in Indonesia and Malaysia) but hardly any scholarly books or commentary on NT or NT Theology written in Malay.

Anonymous said...


One day I'd love to write a New Testament Theology for the French Speaking world. I'm patiently waiting for yours to come out.

Michael F. Bird said...

Don't hold your breathe. I'm not planning on starting it until at least 2010 - Lord willing!

Dave said...

Good to hear of a new Hebrews commentary, I was just about to buy Nolland on Matthew...oh the choices.

As for a NTT? The more the merrier, you know the saying 'of the writing of books there is no end', the difficulty is getting people to read them.
So if Nolland is anything to go by we can expect your NTT around 2020. Bearing in mind most significant books cost £50, maybe we should save a penny a day, that should cover postage as well.