In this third volume in the Library of Biblical Theology series, James D.G. Dunn ranges widely across the literature of the New Testament to describe the essential elements of the early church’s belief and practice. Eschatology, grace, law and gospel, discipleship, Israel and the church, faith and works, and most especially incarnation, atonement, and resurrection; Dunn places these and other themes in conversation with the contemporary church’s work of understanding its faith and life in relation to God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ.
- Paperback: 232 pages
- Publisher: Abingdon Press (May 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0687341205
- ISBN-13: 978-0687341207
Dunn’s work is not meant to be a systematic theology, but more of a primer, an introduction, not just to New Testament Theology, but in many ways, the theology of the New Perspective on Paul. His goal is not to present a complete theological assessment of the New Testament, not to move people to continue theologizing the theo-logy (his words.) In doing so, he focuses on three segments of doctrinal beliefs – The Theology of God, Theology of Salvation, and The Church of God. He rounds out these center pieces with an deep introduction, factors which determine the theology of the New Testament, and the ethical outworkings of his theologies.
For Dunn, theology is theo-logy,
Theology is first and foremost theo-logy. This is not simply because the term theology means in the first instance, “talk about God.” …
It is rather because God is the basic presupposition in all they say, the axiom on which all propositions, teachings, and exhortations depend, the foundation on which everything else is built, the first principle from which everything follows.
Dunn masterfully keeps the ‘basic presupposition’ throughout the book, and while he does briefly touch on historical criticism, he does not deviate from the essential idea that Christianity’s nucleus is and has always been the teachings of and about Christ.
His supporting material – Selected Bibliography, his more than 40 pages of notes and supplemental materials, and his index of Scriptures secures a sound foundation for his theology. While you may find disagreement, Dunn has provided his bulwark of support which must first be surmounted. While he notes that the ‘NT biblical theologian is bound to the NT canon…simply because the canon demonstrates the power inherent in the documents concerned…’ he does allow that the NT writings, and the theology of the canon was established in light of the LXX and the Deuterocanon. A brief glance of his siting of Scripture, as he quotes the Deuteroncanon, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo and other Jewish literature from this time period, and other valuable documents which aid in our understanding of the New Testament.
A key feature of Dunn’s writing, which is style more than anything, is his use of italics to off set key points in his section. This is helpful in following along, as well as referring and summing the section up.
While the book is clearly a New Testament theology, he does not leave the Old Testament out, but true to the New Perspective of Paul, shows that the theology (or theologies as he so rightly puts it) is not a complete break with the Old Testament, but a continuation, albeit through Christ, of the themes of the Hebrew bible. In each of the three Theological chapters, he has a section on Inherited Theology – on how we got here from here.
He concludes this brief but powerful work with the charge,
And NT theology/theologizing is not to be seen as simply something we observe and describe, but rather as something we do.
He is most correct when he says that NT theology was not written by the NT writers, but by us.
For those who want a primer on the theology associated with the New Perspectives on Paul with supreme respect to the inherited tradition, and respect both to biblical criticism and the Christianity, this is a book which I believe will deliver. He is geared to the lay-person, who will find little in the basic presuppositions to disagree with, and who want a richer understanding of the continuing theology from the Old Testament through to the New.