Foundations: No.71 Autumn 2016

Book Reviews

The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering their Structure and Theology

O Palmer Robertson, Presbyterian & Reformed, 2015, 336pp, £14.99

It is commonly recognised that the book of Psalms is divided into five books, and that each of the first four books closes with a short doxology, with the final book concluding with a group of psalms that constitutes an extended doxology (Psalms 146-150). Within the books there are well-defined groups of psalms (e.g. a preponderance of psalms attributed to David in Books I and II, groups of psalms attributed to the sons of Korah and to Asaph in Books II and III, and fifteen “songs of ascents” in Book V). Other patterns have been noted, such as, for example, the fact that the divine name Elohim is more commonly used of God in Book II in preference to the covenant name of Yahweh which features more prominently in Book I.

But beyond these and other similar observations, there has been a widespread perception that the book of Psalms consists of a largely randomly-arranged collection of sacred poetry and a reluctance to attach theological significance to the limited degree of structure that has been discerned. Recent scholarship, however, has challenged this common assessment. Since the publication of The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter by Gerald H Wilson in 1985, there has been a growing interest in the final, or canonical, form of the book. Wilson’s attempt to identify an overall structure to the Psalter focused on the titles of the psalms, their genre and indications of authorship, and devoted particular attention to the psalms positioned at the “seams” of the five books.

Other scholars have built upon Wilson’s pioneering work, but the publication of the present volume by Dr O Palmer Robertson, director and principal of African Bible University in Uganda, marks a substantial advance in our understanding of the book of Psalms. Convinced that “structures in the Psalter should be sought in the substance of the Psalter, and not merely through the analysis of titles, authors, and genres”, Robertson sets out to demonstrate a flow in the book of Psalms that “may be traced from its beginning to its end”. He refers to a “purposeful arrangement”, to an “intentional structure [which] is apparent across the Psalter” and to “groupings or interconnections” which “bind the entire book of Psalms into a well-organised composition”. He rejects the idea that the positioning of individual psalms and groups of psalms was haphazard and writes rather of “a capable editorial craftsman who determined the final form of the Psalter”.

The Flow of the Psalms argues that “the prevailing consideration of the Psalter’s arrangement is not primarily chronological but biblical-theological”, though Robertson is careful to disavow the thought that the book of Psalms constitutes some kind of systematic theology. He stresses that: “Acknowledging all these various structural elements of the Psalter does not mean that the book should be perceived as though it were a theological treatise setting forth its various topics in a predetermined logical order.”

In terms of broad themes, Robertson traces progression from Confrontation (Book I) through Communication (Book II), Devastation (Book III) and Maturation (Book IV) to Consummation (Book V).

Book I – Confrontation (Psalms 1-41)

The opening book of the Psalter focuses on David’s confrontation with the many enemies of his messianic kingdom of righteousness and peace.

Robertson notes that the “central themes of constant confrontation and ultimate victory reflect the unending struggle of the ‘seed of the woman’ with the ‘seed of Satan’ that characterises the whole of redemptive history”. He further observes that: “The message of the book moves from David’s struggle to establish his messianic kingship to the founding of a permanent dwelling place in Jerusalem and a perpetual kingship according to God’s covenant with David.”

Book II – Communication (Psalms 42-72)

Robertson asserts that: “The most striking thing about the content of [the] second collection of Davidic psalms within Book II is the number of psalms that refer to the ‘peoples’, the ‘nations’, the ‘foreigners’, or ‘all mankind’.” Progression is seen in a movement from David’s personal struggle with his enemies to establish his kingship which features prominently in Book I to a declaration of the reign of the Messiah as Elohim on his throne (Psalm 45:5-6), ruling over the nations. Against this backdrop, there is direct communication with the nations as the psalmist reminds them that God will defeat them again as he has done in the past, while holding out the prospect of redemption for all his creation and calling on the nations to repent and join in the worship of the God of all the earth. Herein lies the explanation for the predominant use of Elohim, the general name for God, in Book II in preference to Yahweh, the covenant name revealed to Israel.

While Book II reflects the fulfilment of the Abrahamic covenant in the blessing of all the families of the earth and the fulfilment of the Davidic covenant through the establishment of the throne of the Lord’s anointed, other psalms in the collection depict conflict, suggesting that there will be further struggles and humiliations before the final exaltation. Robertson writes: “A situation that may be described in terms of the already and the not yet prevails. Yes, the Lord has established his Messiah in a position of rule over the nations. Yet the challenges to his position continue.”

Book III – Devastation (Psalms 73-89)

Book III is markedly different from Books I and II in that it includes only one psalm attributed to David and that most of the psalms in this part of the Psalter are expressed in the first person plural (we/our/us) rather than the first person singular (I/my/me). Almost all of the psalms in this book are attributed to Asaph (two-thirds) or to the sons of Korah (a quarter). The predominant message concerns the defeat of God’s people at the hands of invading international enemies. The book concludes dramatically with the throne and crown of the Lord’s anointed cast into the dust (Psalm 89:38–39, 44), leaving God’s people devastated.

Book IV – Maturation (Psalms 90-106):

In Book IV, Robertson discerns a more mature perspective – “a perspective that has been fostered by stretching the people’s faith through their experience of the exile”. There is a particular focus on the everlasting and sovereign rule of Yahweh over Israel and all the nations. One striking feature of this book is the way in which David’s song of thanksgiving on the occasion of the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem is reproduced in its entirety, dispersed across three psalms (Psalm 96:1-13, cf. 1 Chronicles 16:23-33; Psalm 105:1-15, cf. 1 Chronicles 16:8-22; Psalm 106:1, 47-48, cf. 1 Chronicles 16:34-36). Robertson reasons:

By quoting from David’s ancient psalm celebrating the bringing up of the ark-throne of Yahweh that it might be joined to David’s royal throne in Jerusalem in both these concluding psalms of historical recollection [Psalms 105 and 106], the psalmist has effectively climaxed redemptive history with the union of God’s throne with David’s throne. God’s great kingship merges with Messiah’s kingship as guaranteed by the Lord’s covenantal oath to David.

Book V – Consummation (Psalms 107-150)

The opening psalm of Book V with its reference to the Lord gathering his redeemed “out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south”, “sets the stage for the consummate realisation of the gathering of Yahweh’s people from all the nations to his permanent dwelling place in Jerusalem”. Thus “the overall flow of the book of Psalms clearly moves in Book V toward the ultimate triumph over all the enemies of Messiah’s kingdom” and the whole collection is brought to a climactic end with a “Hallelu-YAH finale”.

From the outset, Robertson sets the Psalter in the context of the age-old enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). That conflict is very much to the fore in Book I where we see the Lord’s anointed in confrontation with his enemies, but the contrast between the two kinds of people in relation to God’s law continues throughout the Psalter. Robertson explains:

As the Psalter progresses, this animosity between the two seeds is viewed from various perspectives. At one point, communication with the enemy includes an invitation to join in the worship of the Lord of the Covenant (Book II). At another point, the Lord’s people experience devastation at the hands of international enemies (Book III). Still further, the people of the Lord undergo maturation as they focus on Yahweh’s kingship despite the displacement enforced by their enemies (Book IV). Finally, God’s people experience consummation as they shout “HalleluYAH” when ultimate victory is achieved over all their enemies (Book V).

In a relatively brief review article it is not possible to do justice to such a rich and illuminating study. The following observations are selected almost at random from many that could have been chosen to demonstrate the wide-ranging and stimulating nature of Robertson’s contribution to the study of the Psalter:

  • Attention is drawn to how acrostic psalms often provide a structural framework within the books of the Psalter, To take just one example, acrostic psalms 34 and 37 bracket four psalms of the “innocent sufferer” (Psalms 34-37). This group of four psalms is then immediately followed by another group of four psalms, this time regarding the “guilty sufferer” (Psalms 38-41).
  • A connection is noted between the “songs of ascents” (Psalms 120-134) and the Aaronic blessing of Numbers 6:24-27. Twelve of the fifteen psalms in this group include at least one of the component parts of the benediction. Robertson remarks: “As the people approach the restored temple, the wording in twelve of the fifteen Songs of Ascents reminds the pilgrims of the priestly benediction that awaits them as they make their trek to Jerusalem.”
  • Reference is made to the “poetic pyramid”, a possible structural element in the Psalter which has hitherto received little or no recognition. Robertson refers to several examples, one of which is found in the “songs of ascents”. Taking Psalm 127 as the “pinnacle psalm”, he notes that it is balanced on each side by seven psalms, two of which are “of David” while the other five are unattributed. He further notes that the divine name Yahweh appears exactly twenty-four times on either side of the “pinnacle psalm”. Robertson dismisses the idea that this is an accident or a mere curiosity, maintaining rather that “a focus on the ultimate blessing associated with the Name lies beneath this preciseness in the pronouncement of the divine Name”. He further suggests that, like the acrostic psalms, the poetic pyramids may have served as an aid to memorisation and to grasping more effectively the structure of the Psalter as a whole.

The Book of Psalms has brought comfort and strength to generations of the Lord’s people and has served as a rich source of devotional material. And yet, at the same time, the intensity of emotion expressed is such that believers have often struggled to relate to it, both in its depths and heights. On this point, Robertson offers a few hints along the way to help us in our use of the Psalter. He writes:

[I]t is almost certain that no single person since David, with one exception, has undergone the depths of agonies and the heights of exhilaration of that particular man. For he was a unique individual raised up specifically as the “man after God’s own heart” to display in all its fullness the glorious life of the person who is one with Almighty God. In a similar way, Jesus the Christ as great David’s greater Son experienced in his turn the realities described in the Psalms in a unique and heightened manner.

In order to appreciate the significance of the Davidic Psalms for ourselves, Robertson suggests that we must first hear in them the voice of the messianic king, the representative head of his people. David was not speaking as a private individual, but as the Lord’s anointed, the recipient of the divine covenant and a type of the promised Messiah. The Psalter is thus to be understood in the context of our union with Christ our representative head and read covenantally. Hence, in Robertson’s words:

Transference of value in the Psalms is not simply a matter of one person (David or the psalmist) to another person (the contemporary reader), but primarily from covenantal head to the people he represents.

This is an area which merits further attention in order to assist us both to better apprehend the dimensions of Christ’s fulfilment of the book of Psalms and to enrich our use of the Psalter in personal, family and public worship.

It is inevitable that in a book of this size and nature that not all readers will be persuaded by the author’s analysis at every point and may feel that his arguments are forced or contrived on occasion. Nevertheless, there can be little doubt that Dr Robertson is correct when he writes that, “Rediscovering the Psalms in their fuller biblical-theological context as uncovered by the structure of the Psalter may provide rich blessings to the church of today.” And in this volume he has performed a most valuable service to that end.

Norman Wells
Director of the Family Education Trust

Marital Imagery in the Bible

Colin Hamer, Apostolos Old Testament Studies, 2016, 258pp, £19.99

If you want to do your bit towards undermining Christian unity then simply try to get a discussion going among fellow pastors and other believers on the subject of marriage, divorce and remarriage. It is sometimes surprising to see what a range of, often trenchantly held, views exist, even among those who may appear to be on exactly the same page otherwise. We need all the help we can get in this area.

Colin Hamer has already produced popular books on being a husband and on divorce (he has also written short biographies of Thomas Cranmer and Anne Boleyn whose stories very much touch on this area). This present title, which seeks to explore Genesis 2:24 and its significance for the understanding of New Testament divorce and remarriage teaching, is Dr Hamer’s 2015 Ph.D. thesis awarded by the University of Chester. It therefore contains much that would probably be omitted from a more popular volume – most of the 771 footnotes, for example, and the constant quoting of other scholars, the discussions of methodology and most of the extra-biblical material essential in any rigorous study of the subject.

Having said that, this is a beautifully produced book written in very clear English, with regular summary statements and set out in meticulously numbered sections that enable the reader to know exactly where he is going, enabling him both to keep up and to find the material later on with ease.

The first three chapters are introductory and deal with “cross-domain mapping”, with previous material on the same subject and the methodology used in looking at the Scriptures quoted. The other chapters take a generally chronological direction. First, we have a background chapter on betrothal, marriage, divorce, adultery and remarriage in the Ancient Near East (the laws of Hammurabi, from Ur and the Nuzi archive, etc). Chapters 7 and 8 are two short excursions into the literature of the Second Temple period (Pseudepigrapha, Apocrypha, Qumran documents, Rabbinic writings, Philo and Josephus, Judean desert documents and Graeco-Roman documents). Chapters 5 and 6 look at the Old Testament material and Chapters 9 and 10 look at the New Testament material.

The basic argument of the book concerns Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Whereas Genesis 2:23 (“Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’”) speaks of a miraculous couple in a literal one-flesh union formed, not voluntarily or on a covenantal basis, but by God, Genesis 2:24 restates what the marriage union is to be using a metaphor. In this case a naturally born couple, by means of a covenant, voluntarily choose to be formed into what they were not before, a (metaphorical) one-flesh family union. The argument is that whereas many have taken Genesis 2:23 as the model of marriage or conflated the two verses, it should rather be Genesis 2:24 that is our model. That is the way earthly marriage should be understood and the way both that the Old Testament understands the covenant relationship between the LORD and Israel and the New Testament understands the covenant relationship between Christ and his church. In the technical jargon of the book, which he carefully and helpfully explains throughout, Genesis 2:24 “is the source domain which is cross-mapped to the target domain (God ‘married’ to his people) in the marital imagery of both the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.”

The book contains several helpful diagrams or maps found in the text and in an appendix. The two most interesting are the ones that show consequent Old and New Testament analogies from the biblical understanding of marriage. First, we have five consequent Old Testament analogies, namely marital obligations for God, adultery forbidden, divorce certificate required, remarriage to God forbidden but a future betrothal followed by remarriage promised (see Ps 132:13-16; Ez 23:1-9; Jer 3:6-8 [twice over]; and Hos 2:19, 20; Is 54:4-8). The references to a new covenant in Jeremiah 31 are also brought in here. Secondly, we have nine consequent New Testament analogies, namely betrothal, wedding feast, invitations, Jesus prepares a place for the church, he pays the mohar (purchase price for a wife) for the church, Christ cares for the church, the church waits for Jesus, Jesus comes for the church, Jesus takes the church to his own home (see 2 Cor 11:2; Mat 22:1-14; Jn 4:5-29; 1 Cor 6:1, 20; Eph 5:22-29; 2 Tim 2:10-13; Mat 25:1-13; Rev 21:1-4).

The book argues that it is on this basis that we should understand the concepts of marriage, divorce and remarriage. Hamer argues that the New Testament affirms his thesis that the pattern for earthly marriage is to be found in Genesis 2:24 but scholars and the churches alike down the years have conflated Genesis 2:24 marriage with that of Adam and Eve as described in the previous verse so teaching that earthly marriage is to be modelled on the first couple. This leads to the restrictive views on divorce and remarriage that we all know about and perhaps hold. He blames the confusion on the influence of Neoplatonism and of Augustine. Hamer argues that the New Testament writers would not employ an imagery when speaking of Christ and his church that they then repudiated when it came to earthly marriages.

The bottom line, then, is a more liberal view of divorce and remarriage than many are comfortable with: “A divorce can be legitimately initiated by either spouse when the other fails to fulfil their own specific covenantal responsibilities”. However, the case is very thoroughly and carefully argued and does raise the higher and ultimately more important question of the nature of the relationship between God and his people.

Even if one does not accept every argument or piece of exegesis employed or even the thesis itself (and some may well not), this is nevertheless an erudite, well thought-out and tenable approach that yields many insights along the way. This reviewer found references such as that to the Exodus in terms of divorce and remarriage and the briefer allusions to how we understand the minor prophets (a set of books that begins in Hosea with marriage and divorce and that ends in Malachi with a reference to divorce) and the opening chapters of John (where there is not only a wedding in Cana but also a meeting at a well) most stimulating and thought-provoking. His understanding of God divorcing his people, as in Isaiah and elsewhere, was also very well handled.

In his conclusion he has a series of observations that, if all correct, might transform the way we read Scripture. The pattern in the Old Testament is marriage (in Eden), divorce (expulsion from Eden), remarriage (to Satan), divorce (from the gods of Egypt), remarriage (at Sinai), divorce (the Assyrian exile thought not the Babylonian). In the New Testament he sees a marriage proposal in John 4, divorce from Satan at the cross, divorce from the “Israel cult” in 70 AD and a glorious remarriage at the eschaton.

This book has undoubtedly made great strides in analysing and presenting a biblical understanding of these matters. It will not convince every reader but it is no surprise to read Craig L Blomberg’s appraisal of it as “The best and most thorough treatment of this topic now available…”. Hamer acknowledges that no attempt is made to deal with any of the pastoral issues that arise from his view and certainly there is room for lengthy discussion on those. This is certainly a book that anyone with an interest in this matter can and ought to read and ponder. We are grateful to the publishers for having decided to publish and promote it.

Gary Brady
Pastor, Childs Hill Baptist Church, London

Conscience: What it is, How to Train it and Loving Those who Differ

Andrew David Naselli and J.D. Crowley, Crossway, 2016, 160pp, £12.99

The authors want to put conscience back on Christians’ “daily radar”. In every generation and in every church, conscience issues arise – from whether Christians should wear makeup or go to the cinema or have drums in church, to how we bring up children or use non-fair-trade coffee – whatever the issue, conscience will be at work.

The authors begin with our experience of conscience, how individual consciences differ (“your conscience is your conscience, not anyone else’s”) and can be damaged. Conscience reflects the moral aspect of God’s image; he is the supreme Lord of the conscience and the general principle is that we should obey conscience – although it is not always right and, as with Peter in relation to Cornelius, the Lord may correct our understanding.

There follows a helpful overview of the New Testament occurrences of “conscience” after which the authors define conscience as “your conscious-ness of what you believe to be right and wrong”: It bears witness, it judges, it leads to action.

We are then guided as to what to do if your conscience condemns you. The gospel is most helpfully applied. We are reminded that our battle with conscience will get more intense as we grow as Christians.

Chapter four is on “calibrating” your conscience – adjusting it according to the Word of God. The conscience is a skylight, letting in light from God, not a light-bulb radiating its own light (an illustration borrowed from John Macarthur). We need either to “add to” conscience if we are ignorant in certain areas of God’s law, or “subtract from” it if we tend to legalism. But is the statement “Sometimes we need to calibrate our conscience by adding commands to it” the best way of describing the growth in maturity that comes with a greater exposure to God’s Word?  We add to our understanding of God’s law and of new (to us) aspects of it, but this statement gives the impression that sanctification is a matter of adding to “rules”. I don’t think they mean this, but the economy of their discussion leads to imprecision.

The last two chapters are devoted to living with people with whom we differ. The discussion of Roman 14:1-15:7 on the “weak” and the “strong” is very helpful and applied with many contemporary examples. Finally, there is an illuminating chapter on how, in a missionary or cross-cultural context, we can adjust to people whose consciences differ on matters that are not fundamental to the faith. One of the authors having served as a missionary in south-east Asia, this comes with the ring of experience, though you may not agree with all his judgments. We must not assume that all our rules are God’s rules but should deal with differences both to accept one another (Rom 15:7) and also to bring others to the gospel (1 Cor 9:19-23) and bring glory to God.

Diagrams and charts help to illustrate the arguments and the book is practical throughout.

This is the third “popular” book on conscience I have read in recent years from evangelical authors and is certainly the simplest. It spends little time on historical, philosophical or even theological discussion (though it is not un-theological) and aims at being a simple, biblically-based and practical guide for Christians. In that aim I believe the authors succeed and I would be happy to recommend this to Christians and also use it myself in preaching.

Mostyn Roberts
Pastor, Welwyn Evangelical Church

Newton on the Christian Life: To live is Christ 

Tony Reinke, Crossway, 2015, 288pp, £13.99

This book is part of a helpful series published by Crossway entitled “Theologians on the Christian Life”. Each volume in this series explores how a different past teacher of the church envisioned and taught what the Christian life is and how it is to be lived. With heavyweights such as Luther, Calvin, Owen, Edwards and Bavinck in the mix, it might be tempting to bypass Tony Reinke’s contribution on John Newton. After all, we might know and appreciate Newton’s hymns, his dramatic conversion and his role in the abolition of slavery, but his sermons weren’t thought of as being particularly weighty at the time, and he only published one work of serious historical theology, which didn’t shift many copies. So we might not consider Newton to be qualified to give us a theologian’s perspective on the Christian life.

This is a mistake that Reinke, a writer and researcher for, seeks to address. John Newton was a pastoral letter-writer par excellence, his published correspondence of spiritual counsel to friends and acquaintances being much appreciated and valued during his lifetime and to this day. To read one of Newton’s letters is like digesting a contemporary blog-post that is informal, warm and loving, diagnostic of the workings of the human heart, and taken up with the glory of the Lord Jesus. Many of the readers of this journal might have already appreciated the depth and insight of Newton’s letters; many more might benefit from considering them for the first time. I remember a pastoral theology lecturer of mine, now in Glory, urging us trainee pastors to soak up Newton’s letters. He also bemoaned the fact that Cardiphonia, Newton’s most famous collection of letters, wasn’t more readily available at the time. This book would have encouraged him.

Reinke’s work is the fruit of painstaking consideration of each of Newton’s 500 available letters and of the themes that connect them. His thesis is that they are “bound together by a cohesive theology of the Christian life, and as a result I believe it is possible to synthesise his pastoral counsel and discover his core message on the aim on the Christian life” (30). Reinke goes on to give what he thinks this core message is:

John Newton’s vision for the Christian life centres on the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Awakened to Christ by the new birth, and united to Christ by faith, the Christian passes through various stages of maturity in this life as she/he beholds and delights in Christ’s glory in Scripture. All along the pilgrimage of the Christian life – through the darkest personal trials, and despite indwelling sin and various character flaws – Christ’s glory is beheld and treasured, resulting in tastes of eternal joy, in growing security, and in progressive victory over the self, the world, and the devil – a victory manifested in self-emptying and other loving obedience, and ultimately in a life aimed to please God alone (30).

The author then goes on to explore each of these themes in turn. Sometimes he focuses in on one particular letter or group of letters, like Newton’s letters on growth or Christian blemishes. Other times, Reinke draws out broad themes across them all. Although not a biography, there is much insight into Newton’s character and a thorough knowledge of Newton’s historical and theological context (it could be read to great profit in tandem with Jonathan Aitken’s terrific biography of Newton). Reinke’s writing is extremely readable, drawing contemporary applications and bringing in comparisons to modern theologians and authors. Reinke is not afraid to note places where he feels Newton’s emphasis has fallen short of Scripture, for example when he wonders whether he emphasised enough God’s delight in his people in Christ (260-261). Reinke is not sniffy about Newton’s exegesis and handling of Scripture; he is extremely charitable and endorses Newton’s Christ-centred approach (Chapter 7, “The Goal of Bible Reading”). Although there is depth and rigour here, this no exercise in mere academic analysis; Reinke wants this book to have the same effect Newton’s letters were designed to have – action and change in the lives of believers: “Think of this book as a field guide meant to get dirty, dog-eared and faded in the clenched hands of a Christian pilgrim”(32).

As you can probably guess, this reviewer thinks this book is well worth the consideration of busy Christians, especially pastors. As Christian leaders we need to grow in our skill of how we counsel and apply the rich Christ-centred theology of Scripture to the needs and struggles of individuals; we need to grow in personal ministry, not just pulpit ministry; we need to be able to explain the mechanics of Christian growth and assurance, and to diagnose the various appearances of “Mr Self” in our own hearts and our churches; we need to make sure we are commending the Lord Jesus in a way that is heartfelt and authentic, not just as a by-rote way of ending sermons. We need also to keep our own walk with the Lord spiritually fresh. Here you will find much help from a Christian of the past; avenues of application to explore, illustrations to adapt to your context, and much encouragement to keep going. For example, a read of chapter 9, “The Discipline of Trials”, would encourage empathy and discernment in considering how to help those who suffer.

Tony Reinke shares the “Christian Hedonism” perspective of John Piper, and if you have read Piper’s books it is possible you will hear echoes of Piper’s teaching (see, for example, “The Daily Discipline of Joy in Jesus” or “Gospel Simplicity”). While Newton lacks the depth, rigour and attention to ecclesiology of the stalwarts mentioned at the start of this article, Reinke demonstrates that he is an able practical theologian on the Christian life.

I would recommend reading this book slowly and thoughtfully, maybe with a volume of Newton’s letters in hand. It might repay a group of hungry-to-grow Christians reading it together. If you have never considered John Newton’s pastoral theology, here is an excellent place to start. If you are a long-time admirer of Newton you will find this a useful reference work and a good refresher. I am sure I will be revisiting this book in the future for help and counsel. We understand Newton best when we are seeking to grow in our knowledge of Christ. As he himself would say: “To know him is the shortest description of true grace; to know him better, is the surest mark of growth in grace; and to know him perfectly, is eternal life” (101).

Pete Campbell
Pastor, Capel Fron Evangelical Church, Penrhydeudraeth

Your Will be Done:
Exploring Eternal Subordination, Divine Monarchy and Divine Humility

Michael J. Ovey, Latimer Trust, 2016, 164pp, £7.50

Ovey’s monograph is based on a paper he submitted to evangelical bishops of the Church of England at the beginning of 2015. The format is similar to a doctoral thesis which may put some readers off what is otherwise a short and clearly explained book on an important, but little understood, topic. The cogent flow of thought builds a compelling argument, grounded in orthodox historical theology, for the eternal subordination of the Son of God. Each chapter focuses on a particular argument contributing to the central thesis that the person who is the eternal Son of God is a true son, and as such submits to the Father, and is consubstantial with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Ovey discusses this thesis in four interrelated contexts: First, the Arian controversy surrounding the council of Nicaea (325 AD); secondly, the biblical material, specifically the Gospel of John; thirdly, the Christological doctrine of dyothelitism; fourthly, the theological consequences for the issues of power, individualism and virtue. Many of these include interaction with two pertinent works of Kevin Giles on the eternal subordination of the Son. The bibliography and footnotes of Ovey’s monograph serve to guide the reader to further reading in the primary sources, particularly in the Church Fathers.

Ovey very helpfully discusses the issue of the eternal subordination of the Son with reference to several significant theological problems that are less frequently debated than they were in previous centuries. These issues include divine monarchy and its concomitant heresy, modalism, and the relationship between Christ’s divine and human wills, and the will of the Triune Godhead. Unfortunately, the latter issue is not brought to a sufficiently clear conclusion in chapter 6, but the former is beneficial and concise. Chapter 7 succinctly surveys the state of Western civilisation, and powerfully applies the central thesis in a way that clarifies many controversial issues in our churches and cultures.

The author draws our attention to the relevance of the doctrine of eternal subordination to the contemporary debate over the ordination of women, and the marriage relationship. Drawing on Augustine of Hippo, he asserts that loving authority and loving obedience within the full equality of the Trinity brings great joy and meaning when it is reflected in marriage and in church leadership. Furthermore, when eternal subordination is understood correctly in the Trinity, it demonstrates that humility, obedience, and love are rooted in the eternal Triune Godhead.

By way of critique, I would like to mention two shortcomings: First, Ovey’s articulation of Arianism is slightly simplistic. However, a more nuanced presentation would be extremely difficult given the limited space of the monograph. Chapter 2 is the historical prolegomena to chapter 3 in which he treats Arianism almost entirely in the context of Nicaea. The second footnote of this chapter distinguishes between the Nicene Creed and its reformulation produced by the Council of Constantinople (381 AD). However, this critical distinction is not satisfactorily worked out in the main text, and the Nicene Creed produced by the council in 325 is often assumed to have been fully accepted as the statement of orthodoxy almost immediately. Furthermore, Ovey frequently conflates the theologies of the two councils in a way that ignores the multifaceted and amorphous nature of fourth-century Arianism.

Secondly, Ovey in general interacts with other works very charitably. However, in dialogue with Jürgen Moltmann, he draws from only two of his works according to the bibliography. This is not enough to present a full-orbed account of Moltmann’s articulation of the intra-trinitarian relations, which results in a one-sided presentation of his position. The focus of this dialogue is Moltmann’s exploration of Christ’s use of “Abba” in the Gospel of Mark. Ovey argues that Moltmann uses this to exclude authority in the relationship between the Father and the Son. However, elsewhere in The Trinity and the Kingdom of God and in other works, Moltmann expressly articulates the obedience of the person of the Son to the Father in a way that includes authority.

Overall, this book is highly accessible, despite the intricacy of its subject matter. Its timely arrival will, God willing, enable readers to come to biblical conclusions about some controversial contemporary issues, and to reach a more solid and coherent theological position, built upon a rich understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. I would commend it to a wide-ranging audience, both as a reference book, and one that is well worth reading and re-reading.

Thomas Brand
Pastor, Binfield Heath Church, and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Durham

Pleased To Dwell: A Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation

Peter Mead, Christian Focus, 2014, 224pp, £7.99

The Incarnation: a doctrine for life, or just for Christmas?

Perhaps it is a case in the church – generally – that we tuck away some doctrines, only to be displayed like presents and unwrapped at certain times of the year. The Incarnation may be one such doctrine. The “Easter Story” is a theological heavyweight. However, festive distractions can perhaps crowd out the Incarnation. Softened and disconnected all too easily, the doctrine is often presented with a sentimental sugar-coating, effectively stripping it of an earthiness and reality. Often, what is presented are clean, safe, family-friendly pictures of a baby in a manger, a stylish teenage expectant mother, a little donkey or two, and a last minute dash to find a room, all to add a little bit of drama. Instead, what we need is the connected, unfolding drama of redemption that stretches all the way back to the Garden, the promise of a seed preserved through the ages and outworked in history in the most unlikely of ways, de-sanitised, neither myth nor quaint, but real. The Word became flesh at a point of time in history – connected to the past and the giving of a promise, and having great significance for everything since!

Since “Christianity is a faith with Christmas in its DNA” (16) and the reality of the Incarnation permeates every day, Mead has written what he describes as a “Biblical Introduction to Christmas”. However, more than a mere unwrapping of the Nativity narratives, this book is an open invitation to ponder the wonder that God was pleased to dwell with us. Rather than working back from the Nativity narratives, the author begins in the Garden with Adam and Eve and takes a journey through the full sweep of the biblical narrative until when, in the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son to be born of a virgin.

Thus, his goal and primary reason for writing is to stir hearts by the Bible record itself. Indeed, he hopes that readers may even set down this work, pick up the Bible instead, and thereby know the God of biblical revelation better. A noble goal!

The book is in twenty-four chapters, perhaps acknowledging that readers may wish to use it as a devotional tool through the “Advent” season. Perhaps unintentionally, the chapters are divided into four sections, like parts of a play, lending itself to the unfolding drama of the biblical narrative.

Part One traces the themes that will all eventually converge on Bethlehem. Mead labels this, “Old Testament Anticipation” – that is, working through the giving of the promise to our first parents after the Fall, that God will dwell amidst his people, and the promise of the coming Prophet, Priest and King. Mead skilfully sets the stage backdrop with all the necessary furniture, prologue, backstory, and context.

It is appropriate that at the outset Mead introduces the drama with the fall of our first parents and the first gospel promise of a seed who would crush the serpent. This “seed promise” and the assurance of the presence of the Promiser is capably unpacked throughout this section and the picture becomes clearer through the pages of Scripture. God’s loving-kindness and covenant faithfulness come to the fore, page after page and chapter by chapter, as Mead progresses the reader through this section, picking up speed on the way.

The author certainly manages to raise anticipation. The section reads like the gripping drama it actually is and succeeds in invoking wonder and amazement at the outworking of redemptive history by showing how, time and time again, “we discover a God who constantly moves toward his creation to dwell in their midst” (34).

Having aroused anticipation with the opening scenes, Mead passes the blank pages in the middle of our Bibles and in Part Two focuses in on the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. Four hundred or so years of silence are broken; no longer in anticipation and gripped on the edge of our seat, we are introduced to Immanuel, God with us; prophecy is fulfilled and the promised seed comes to fruition.

Mead begins the section with a look at the genealogy, which is both helpful and intriguing. He describes it as being akin to a map, with landmarks to help us know “where we are in the New Testament and where we’ve been in the Old Testament” (71). Helpful orientation! Rather than loosing heart with the genealogy, and stressing over pronunciation issues, we are encouraged to see the structure, highlighting “God’s great salvation plan… [and] covenantal developments of the initial declaration of the gospel” (73). After orientation, readers are introduced to a pious carpenter, a young mother, curious travellers from the East, a jealous and murderous king Herod, and the One from Nazareth called Jesus.

In Part Three Mead lays out the eyewitness accounts as described in Luke’s Gospel account. We meet them in twos: for example, the aged couple Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Anna and Simeon. This chapter will leave the reader rejoicing, perhaps in part because it deals with the joyful response to God in song: Zechariah’s Song, Mary’s Song, and the angelic chorus. The stirring theme is joyful response to the strong arm of the Lord, his gracious salvation in the sending of the Messiah and his covenant faithfulness.

The final part is a reflection in light of the Incarnation through the words of the New Testament writers. This section explains the theology of the Nativity accounts and is extremely helpful. What does all this mean? The answer comes from the apostolic response and interpretation.

Finally, the book closes with a short conclusion summing up this great story of redemption, bringing us back to Garden and revealing the One who was made manifest in the flesh for us.

Was Mead correct to give this book a title describing it as a Biblical Introduction to the Incarnation? The answer would be strongly in the affirmative. It is a fascinating little gem, delivered in an enjoyable, quickly-paced and readable style. The pace helps build anticipation in Part One, without feeling as though the reader is travelling at too fast a speed. As an introduction, it is helpful for whetting the appetite and encouraging the reader to pick up the Bible and discover or rediscover this great drama.

The book is also good at delivering, especially for the “layman”, a good overview of the developing seed promise and the assurance of the presence of the Promiser.

Overall, the text is neither complicated nor simplistic, but rather clear, concise and careful. Examples of this range from repetition of themes and truths, simple explanations of original language words to help unpack the meaning of a text, and brief explanations of theological terms and controversies that arose in the formulation of Christological understandings in the early church. These can be complex areas, yet the author guides the reader gently through them.

Although Mead often mentions “Christmas”, I believe he wants readers to realise that the Incarnation is more than a “Christmas doctrine”. In his exposition of the Nativity narratives, he presents a picture that is much more realistic than the iconic imagery many of us have formed in our minds. Further, our familiarity with the story may mean we miss significant things. For example, Mead quotes J. I. Packer to sum up the amazement he has been evoking throughout the latter parts of the book:

The divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child… The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets (76).

In conclusion, I would recommend this book – at any time of the year! Readers will become better acquainted with the “big picture” and will certainly have a better appreciation and understanding of the Incarnation. The sections working through the Nativity narratives will grip and captivate readers with the reality of the Incarnation and evoke wonder and praise. The Incarnation:  a doctrine for life, not just for Christmas!

Andrew Green
Deacon, Newtownards  Reformed Presbyterian Church, Northern Ireland