Monday, March 08, 2010

New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One Gospel

New Testament Theology: Many Witnesses, One GospelI. Howard Marshall
Downers Grove: IVP, 2004.

Now I may be behind the times a bit, but I am just now getting around to interacting with I. Howard Marshall's New Testament Theology. Many of you I'm sure have already had occasion to consult this volume and know its strengths. In this short notice, I wish to highlight one of the key contributions this book makes and why it is a very good, albeit lengthy, theological introduction to the NT. 

For me what puts this introduction to the front of what is becoming a crowded shelf of NT introductions is its missional and evangelistic focus. Marshall writes:
The situation of the early Christians was one in which they were communicating the good news about Jesus to people who were not believers. It is worth remembering that people were believers only if they had become believers. The good news was news, something fresh that had not been heard before. Therefore, any people who became believers did so only as a result of the gospel being communicated to them. Whether deliberately or other wise, whether consciously or otherwise, the early Christian church grew through sharing the message of Jesus with people who were not believers . . . Consequently, the writings that we have arose out of that mission (709).

He further concludes: 
It can be affirmed that mission is the origin of the New Testament documents. At the same time, the documents are concerned in part with the forwarding of the actual evangelism and contribute to a theology of evangelism.
Marshall then cautions those of us who theologize:
Focusing  on this activity can carry with it the temptation to ignore the task of mission as the sharing of the gospel with those who have not yet heard it or beleived it . . . Even today believers may find their attention diverted to teh study of theology and other aspects of Christian living to teh detriment of evangelism, and this presupposition may give them a skewed reading of the New Testament (710).
Marshall's caution here is so very important. Have we been tempted to forget or ignore the mission of the church while fixated on the study of its foundational documents? Has our understanding of those documents been "skewed"? These are significant questions indeed.

There are far to many details covered in the 765 pages of text to do it justice here. Still, although I had an ocassional quibble, the scholarship is solid as you would expect from Marshall and it is clearly the by product of a life time of work in the New Testament. What's more, with the above stated focus the this volume is sure to be an asset to any pastor whose looking for a introduction to the NT that is self-conscious about the mission of the church.

1 comment:

Andrew Faris said...


Maybe I had the wrong expectations, but I could barely stand this book. Not so much because it is bad, but because it is, stylistically at least, unfocused. Marshall uses so much space doing the work of an NT Survey that I always felt like his theological commentary was too brief. So when I agreed, I wanted him to expand. When I disagreed, I constantly thought, "But this is Dr. Marshall- surely if he had more space he could at least argue the case better."

The mission focus is definitely helpful though, you're right. I suspect what would really make this book better would be if it was retitled, "A Theological Survey of the New Testament".