Thomas Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at Southern Seminary, has written what in many ways is a marvelous biblical theology. Biblical theology differs from systematic theology in its approach and purpose. In systematics one is seeking to organize all of Scripture around key doctrinal subjects, such as the Godhead, salvation and Scripture. Biblical theology follows the historical timeline and wraps itself around a common theme, seeking to unwrap each biblical author’s contribution to that theme. Schreiner believes the “kingdom of God” is the unifying theme that pulls together all the books of the Bible (p. xii), “Scripture unfolds the story of the kingdom and God’s glory is the reason for the story” (p. xiii). Schreiner’s definition of the kingdom of God is important as might be discerned. The author offers three components that comprise the kingdom: the rule of God, those being ruled [people], and a realm [the universe] (pp. xiii – xv).
With this theme as a grid Schreiner systematically works his way through every book in the Bible, examining what it teaches as well as what each contributes to his central theme. The result is a comprehensive, often insightful understanding of the entirety of Scripture. The author envisions his book being used for private study and also in Old Testament and/or New Testament survey classes (in an interview found in Towers, a publication of Southern). In the future, as I teach through a book of the Bible, I will begin my study by reading the appropriate sections found in The King in His Beauty.
I appreciated Schreiner’s understanding that mankind was created by God, in His image, to rule the world for Him. With the fall man temporarily lost his position and a battle began between the serpent and sin, and God and His kingdom. That battle is central to the storyline of Scripture and rages still today. But the Bible is clear that God and His kingdom ultimately win and the paradise Adam and Eve forfeited is restored with Christ reigning supreme for eternity (see pp. 6-12). Schreiner takes great pains to show how each book of the Bible records this drama, even though at times he has to push the envelope to its limit.
This leads to my main concern with The King in His Beauty. Schreiner has written a book in which the kingdom of God is the unifying theme, but his theological position is amillennial and thus he rejects a literal millennial kingdom on earth following the return of Christ. This means that the author must handle the vast, copious sections of Scripture describing the kingdom in some way in which the clear teaching of a literal kingdom is rejected. He does this by giving symbolic meaning to these texts and interpreting them through his theological preunderstanding. If there is no literal kingdom, as amillennialism teaches, then all the passages that describes the literal kingdom must mean something else entirely. This is the approach taken by Schreiner. One of the principle ways he does this is by applying the “already, but not yet” hermeneutics throughout (pp.341, 421). Whenever it is impossible to deny that Scripture speaks of a future kingdom, the author reverts to the idea that the kingdom is already here (inaugurated but not fully here [consummated]) (pp. 444, 446, 473, 491-492, 543-544, 549, 580, 583, 591, 637, 641-644). As might be expected Schreiner sees the book of Revelation as a symbolic historical account of the time between Jesus and His coming again (i.e. the church age) (pp. 619-624).
The author rightly understands that the Mosaic Covenant is no longer in force in the New Testament era (p. 61) and that Israel’s mission of “come and see” is vastly different from that given the disciples of Christ to “go and tell” (pp. 172-163). But since he sees the kingdom as present and because of his amillennial presupposition, he, in my opinion, makes some unfortunate interpretations. For example Schreiner believes:
· The new creation is here (although more is coming) because it has been fulfilled in Christ (pp. 338, 341, 362).
· The new covenant is fulfilled in Jesus and therefore the Law has been written on the heart of His people (p. 362).
· “The kingdom, the new creation, the new covenant and the new exodus have arrived in Jesus Christ” (pp. 428, 434).
· Jesus is the true Israel; hence all who belong to Him are part of restored Israel (pp. 452, 539, 607, 640, 642).
What about Israel and the church? While Schreiner says that he does not believe the church actually replaces Israel (p. 497), his view is more complicated than that. Since Christ is the true Israel (see above), and the Davidic kingdom has been restored in Christ, the church, composed of both the Jewish and Gentile people of God, is restored Israel (p. 497). “Jesus is the true Israel, and those who belong to Jesus belong to this restored and new Israel” (p. 539). Further, “The church is the new Israel and the restored Israel. Promises and declarations in the O.T. related to Israel are applied to the church, showing that the prophecies relating to Israel are fulfilled in the church” (p. 614). Even while claiming that the church does not replace Israel, in effect the author sees ethnic Israel, with all its promises, curses, and declarations, as having been swallowed up by the church, the one people of God.
There are a few other comments that disturbed me as well. Even though Schreiner rejects works-righteousness (p. 614), he makes some strange statements such as: implying that salvation comes through baptism (pp. 482, 528, 575), “One must do good works to inherit the kingdom” (p. 599), and believers must persevere in order to be saved (p. 644). He understands the epistle to the Hebrews to be addressed to Christians but sees it possible that some will fall away and face God’s judgment (p. 595), implying that believers can lose their salvation although he denied that when reflecting on Roman 3:28-30. Schreiner is in danger of viewing perseverance as a work that contributes to our salvation. If he had written on page 644 that true believers will persevere then he makes perseverance a fruit of the Holy Spirit regeneration. If the Christian must persevere Schreiner makes perseverance a work necessary for salvation. Under this scenario the believer can never have assurance of salvation until he dies, for it is possible that at some point they might not persevere. This is tragic in light of God’s desire that we be assured of salvation (I John 5:13).
I would love to give an unqualified endorsement of The King in His Beauty as there is much wonderful and helpful material found within. But due to the caveats above I would have to recommend this book only to those who are solidly grounded in Scripture and can discern when the author switches his hermeneutics from literal to symbolic and when he forces his “already, but not yet” interpretation on the text to accommodate his amillennnial eschatology.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor, Southern View Chapel.