Free Book Review About James Dunn, New Testament Theology: An Introduction
New Testament Theology: An Introduction, is the third installment of the Library of Biblical Theology series. In this book James Dunn explores in great depth the works of New Testament writers thus enabling him to give a comprehensive and informative description of the significant elements that characterized the early church. The author engages the readers using a thematic presentation approach, whereby all the subject matters, which he touches on, are divided into various themes which form the chapters of the book, the main subject matters being; the revelation of God through the person of Jesus Christ, Salvation, Israel and the church and ethics. Book acts as an introduction into New Testament Theology and the way the early church practices and beliefs relate to peoples’ day to day lives. The book offers an insight of how the early church understood and Incorporated New Testament themes like grace, the law, discipleship and the gospel of Jesus Christ into the church and how these elements affected their interactions and interpretations of the events that played out in the early church period. Contrary to most New Testament theologies where the Old Testament was side lined as inspiration to the New Testament, in this theological literature, there is distinct inclusion of the Old Testament theology and it is acknowledged as a critical part that shaped and gave rise to most New Testament practices and traditions, especially in the early church.Keywords
James Dunn notes that before one engaging in reading this book, it will be paramount for him/her to understand the different aspects of the literature and so he gave a detailed overview of terms such as theology, theologizing, canonization and multiple theologies. This was essential because other authors before him had already done a lot of work in relation to New Testament theology but some had various shortcomings that inspired Dunn write this book. These shortcomings will be subject of discussion in a later section of this book review. Theology, theologizing, canon/law and multiple theologies are the main key words in the book. These words give rise to other words that actual form the basis on which the book is written. The themes of grace, the law, discipleship, faith versus works and most importantly the concept of incarnation, the resurrection of Christ and atonement of sin. The author went into great lengths to engage the readers on these themes and how they affect the lives of Christians in the early church and how they are being interpreted in the contemporary church context. According to Dunn, theology has to be based on the actual revelation of God through the words of the inspired authors of the notable New Testament books. The use of these key terms intentional as it was meant to discourage other writers to continue the process of theologizing the New Testament writings but it was to meant to act as a precursor to the works of Paul, as the model theologian, having written most of the books in the new testament. This meant that Paul captured all the key words that Dunn highlights in his book, from the books the he wrote. Dunn makes majority of his references from the epistles that are attributed to Paul, in an effort to explain the main points he highlights in this book. these key words notably grace, incantation, atonement and justification rightfully points at the person of Jesus Christ who was in all essence God in human form, who came to earth to die so that man could be atoned of his sins. This act was a sacrifice, which gave humanity justification and through the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed, Christians are constantly being sanctified, in order for them to be able to live as Christ, blameless and free from sin. This is a life lived by grace, as Paul rightfully puts it that Christians only live by God's favor and not by their mortal works. This is so as no person should boost that they have done anything on their own. This means that all that happens in a Christian’s life is by grace and sustained by grace. The aspect of grace was missing in the Old Testament where people were justified by their actions of obedience to the law, this meant that as long as one was following all the commandments them he/she was considered blameless. Any one acting contrary to the law was considered defiled and was either secluded or punished by death. New Testament theology that is centered on Jesus Christ has a slightly different view but Dunn was careful to note that the person of Jesus Christ is a fulfillment of the Old Testament laws and His being was not to contradict the law but to make it palatable to the ordinary person.
As noted in the section above, Dunn noticed some shortcomings in other authors New Testament theologies, which prompted him to write this book with the aim of reversing these pitfalls of previous biblical scholars. He identified three distinct styles that were used by other scholars and gave their disadvantages. One common mistake that most biblical scholars where making was neglecting the Old Testament contribution to key events and occurrences that shape the New Testament. Given that most writers focused mainly on New Testament aspects in their theological works, Dunn advocated for the blend of the historical biblical events represented in the Old Testament and the principles of the new church represented in the New Testament. Dunn further enumerated that New Testament theologians should consider making the process of biblical theology a historical one, warning against the dogmatic method of theorizing New Testament works. Dunn recommended that theological works were meant to inform rather that to personalized proclamations, this is important because the bible has divine authority and is no merely Jewish text but God’s own word. He went on to state that the most outstanding feature of the New Testament is the ability of capturing unity in a diverse environment. This meant that regardless of the differences that are exhibited in terms of beliefs, point of views and actions, there is still room to accommodate all these in one body.
The other shortcoming that was evident in most New Testament theologies was the fact that most of them left out the revelation of the Person of Jesus Christ and the impact he had as God in flesh form. All these acts where influenced by the Holy Spirit of God which causes one to get a deeper understanding of the works of Christ on earth as God I human form. New Testament theologians only focused on the person of Jesus Christ as a dependant entity and not as God in human form thus missing out the important aspect of incantation and the might of the pious ghost that was working in unison with Christ and God the Father. Dunn noted that this oversight deprives the New Testament its sacred authority which was emphasized on by the early church. The early church had a high reverence to the works of Jesus Christ as God in human form and placed much importance on the divine purpose of the activities that shaped his life on earth like his death and resurrection.
Chapter one of the book covers important definitions that guides the reader into understanding the view point of the author and why the book is relevant. It gives detailed description of what New Testament theology is, building it up from the works of other biblical theology authors. He focuses on the limitations that past New Testament theologians had in their writings. In the same chapter, Dunn gives elaborations on what New Testament scriptures meant to the early church and the importance of Paul as a New Testament writer. He also gives a detailed elaboration of the difference between theology and theologizing. In chapter two, Dunn elaborates on his point of views discrediting past New Testament theologians from neglecting the importance of the Old Testament in shaping New Testament events. He helps the readers to understand why the Old Testament is important in New Testament theology. He digs deep in showing how scriptures, both in the Old and the New Testament, give a revelation of Jesus Christ as God in human form and the ways the Holy Spirit reveals all this to mankind. Dunn end the chapter with the elaboration of how Christ is the centre of the New Testament theology and without Him then the Christian faith at large will not have any place to stand on. The first chapter offers an overview of past New Testament theologies and their short comings and how the author will address them. It ends by justifying the importance of the book and its relevant contribution into biblical theology. The second chapter however offers the readers a deeper understanding of the objectives set out to be explored in the first chapter. In the second chapter, the writer offers an in-depth analysis of the important building blocks of New Testament theology, which is the Old Testament, the person of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In this chapter he addresses the short comings of past New Testament theologians.