Ordained Servant Online
The Whole Counsel of God
Stephen J. Tracey
The Whole Counsel of God, vol. 1, God's Mighty Acts in the Old Testament, by Richard C. Gamble. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2009, xxxiii + 718 pages, $49.99.
This book is about God's Great Deeds (Magnalia Dei). It is the first in a projected three volume series. Dr. Gamble sees his book standing in line with such stalwarts as Calvin's Institutes, Owen's Biblical Theology, Wistius's Economy of the Divine Covenants, and Vos's Biblical Theology. His aim is "to continue discussions of the relationship between exegesis and hermeneutics, and the interpretations of biblical, systematic, and historical theology" (xxxiii). Gamble says:
The Whole Counsel of God will attempt to meet the need for a comprehensive theology that is attuned to the methodological advantages of biblical theology, but will also combine that advantage with the strengths of historical and systematic theology. (xxxiii)
Dr. Gamble is certainly aiming high. In one sense it is difficult to assess if he hits the mark because only one-third of the work has been published. That first third of the series, volume one, focuses on the Old Testament. The second volume will cover the New Testament, and the third will "track the church's theological development in its understanding and explication of the Bible's teaching through the centuries" (xxxiii).
In this review I will restrict myself to examining whether or not Dr. Gamble moves towards his target in his treatment of the Old Testament. Before launching into the body of his work, Gamble gives a lengthy introduction (Part 1, 1-142) covering the following topics: "The Nature and Method of Theology," "How Shall We Structure Systematic Theology?" "The Idea of Systematic Theology," and "An Old Testament Theology." I found these sections very helpful. Particularly strong is the critique of "three prevailing models" of systematic theology: the biblical theology school, the practical school, and the missiological school. This discussion was not only informative, but, with Gamble's feast of footnotes, directs the reader to many more fruitful fields. He then provides a comprehensive and capable introduction to Old Testament theology. I am sure that not all will agree with his arguments in several areas of Part 1, but it is a well-written and informative introduction nonetheless.
What I expected, or perhaps hoped for, in the remainder of the book was an exciting tour through exegesis of key Old Testament texts, with an assessment of their place in the flow of biblical revelation and an injection of key doctrinal subjects to be picked up later in New Testament theology, historical theology, and systematic theology. That is, more or less, what we get in Parts 2 and 3. These sections form the bulk of this first volume.
Part 2 (145-309) deals with "Revelation from Adam through the Flood." This section is packed with ripe fruit. Gamble covers the debate over the interpretation of the days of creation, creation itself, the nature of revelation, God and evil, the imputation of Adam's sin, and various other aspects of Old Testament theology relating to humanity. He also carefully introduces the subjects of revelation and covenant.
Part 3 (313-473) examines "Revelation from Abraham to Moses." Gamble concentrates on the Abrahamic Covenant and the Mosaic Covenant, with a useful introduction to the nature of God's law. This section ends with a helpful discussion of ecclesiology in the Pentateuch.
Part 4 (477-665) looks at the "Prophetic and Wisdom-Poetic Era of Revelation." Gamble has brief notes on each of the remaining books in the Old Testament. The fruit in this section is not as ripe or seasoned as the previous sections. Several biblical books have only a page or two of notes, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. For a book dealing with the whole counsel of God to cover the exegetical and biblical theology of the major prophets with such brevity is disappointing. Perhaps it would have been wiser for Gamble to give a separate volume to Part 4, in order to trace out the rich themes of progressive revelation after Moses. The deepening theme of the new covenant bursting forward with the increasing clarity of messianic revelation is confined to six pages under the title, "Theology in the Prophetic Era" (626-31). This little section glances at the doctrine of the covenant and ecclesiology during the prophetic era. In comparison to the weighty Mosaic section, this is lacking in depth.
Part 5 (669-83) seems to stand as merely a postscript, "God's People Respond to the Magnalia Dei." Faith and justification are briefly summarized without any reference to the ongoing debate with the New Perspective on Paul. This is surprising given the importance of several Old Testament texts in this debate such as Genesis 15 and Daniel 9. Perhaps the debate with Tom Wright is waiting, like several other issues, for volume 3.
This book will certainly be of use to students beginning to work their way through biblical theological issues. As an introduction to Old Testament theology, this volume is strong in Mosaic revelation and disappointing on the rest of the Old Testament. We must wait for the other buds to bloom before we can assess the success of this bold undertaking.
Stephen J. Tracey
Ordained Servant Online, May 2011.