Friday, October 17, 2014

Christ and the New Creation: A Canonical Approach to the Theology of the New Testament

Title: Christ and the New Creation: A Canonical Approach to the Theology of the New Testament
Author: Matthew Y. Emerson
Publisher: Wipf & Stock, 2013
Price: $23.00 (amz)
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 184
I'm finally getting around to reading this work on New Testament theology and the New Testament canon by Matt Emerson. This book is a revision of a 2011 doctoral dissertation completed at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. I met Matt at a national ETS meeting as he was in the throes of finishing the PhD program and this dissertation, so I'm glad to see it in print! He now teaches at California Baptist University. These are a few thoughts on his work.

Thesis:
Emerson begins by outlining his vision for New Testament theology and the way that the shape of the New Testament canon supports this theology:
The thesis of this book is that the order of the books in the NT presents a reading strategy that points the reader to its theological focus, which is that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament's eschatological messianic hope through inaugurating the new creation in his life, death, resurrection, ascension, and Pentecost and consummating it at his return. (ix)
After outlining the theological and hermeneutical foundations for "a canonical approach to reading Scripture" (chapters 1-2), Emerson analyzes each corpus in light of his understanding of the NT's overall shape (chapters 3-7).

Conclusion:
In the end, Emerson "re-states" his thesis as his conclusion:
The narrative presented by the New Testament, then, is that Christ inaugurates the new creation in the Gospels, commissions his church to be agents of it in Acts, calls believers and the church to live both in light of what he has already done in his death and resurrection (Romans-Colossians) and what he will do in the future in his Second Coming (1 Thessalonians-Jude), and consummates it in Revelation.

The ordering of the books highlights this narrative and allows the reader to see that the strategy presented is one that emphasizes the new creation that is inaugurated in Christ's death and resurrection and consummated at his return. (169)

Contribution: 

In addition to providing a work that attempts to describe the theology of the entire New Testament in a brief volume (a welcome contribution!), Emerson also works toward developing a number of interesting/helpful concepts. In particular, I appreciate his discussion and attempt at the "shape" of the New Testament collection and the intertextual nature of the New Testament writings.

  • The Notion of Shape: Emerson highlights the value of the notion of “shape” for understanding the New Testament canon. His understanding of shape includes both the structure of a given book and also the placement of that book in relation to the rest of the books of the New Testament canon. In pursuit of this analysis, Emerson adopts John Sailhamer's understanding of contextuality: "the notion of the effect on meaning of the relative position of a biblical book within a prescribed order of reading" (ix; See Introduction to Old Testament Theology: A Canonical Approach, p. 213). Thus, he does not attempt an exhaustive theology of each individual book but rather attempts "to demonstrate the significance of the order of these books based on some of the most important theological themes in them" (x).

    As a result, Emerson makes a variety of interesting connections across the New Testament collection. He highlights the way the Gospels fittingly begin the New Testament and how the book of Revelation functions as its climax. The book of Acts also serves an important role in tying together the theology of the Gospels and the Epistles. He also draws significance from the ordering within the sub-collections. He asks, for instance, What impact does the eschatological emphasis of 1-2 Thessalonians have on the shape of the Pauline corpus? Some of Paul’s other letters obviously have passages about eschatological themes; however, these letters in particular seek to address the implications of an imminent return of Christ and a coming Day of the Lord. This is a type of question we might not ask if we weren’t thinking about Paul’s letters as a collection.
  • Intertextuality: Throughout the volume, Emerson also summarizes and integrates a variety of scholarly studies on intertextual relationships (OT use of the OT; NT use of the OT; and NT use of the NT). In this regard, he seeks to connect the idea of “shape” to the study of “intertextuality.” For instance, his treatment of the Gospels highlights the distinctive contribution of each Gospel by showing some of their main intertextual themes: Matthew (Jesus as the New Moses), Mark (Jesus as the leader of a New Exodus), Luke (Jesus as the Promised Prophet-King of Israel), John (Jesus as the New Adam). He also attempts to demonstrate that these intertextual emphases are not at odds at all, but rather are working together to provide a larger intertextual context for the Gospel narratives.

    For his broader thesis, he also tries to show the relationship between these intertextual connections and the broader theme of creation/new creation. As he argues, the distinctives of each Gospel “are all united in the fact that ultimately each one is a way of telling the reader that Jesus is the one who brings about the restoration of Israel from exile, and through that the restoration of all things” (54-55). Accordingly, these chapters are a helpful summary of recent studies on the intertextual tapestry of the Gospel narratives and their implications for NT theology. 
A final note of appreciation is that Emerson is attempting to discuss the notion of "canon" in light of both hermeneutical and theological foundations (chapters 1 + 2). When investigating an authoritative collection of authoritative writings, these starting points are helpful and necessary. 

Because Emerson's project is ambitious and extensive (attempting to establish a method, produce an outline of New Testament theology, and also comment on each section of the NT), there are plenty of assertions and observations that are not developed or will surely be contested even by those who share his hermeneutical approach and agree with his presuppositions about Scripture (but that's part of the fun of attempting something like this!).

So, while there are plenty of little question marks in the margins  of my copy (perhaps fodder for a further post?), there are also many insights highlighted and connections marked for further study/consideration. Glad to read this, and I look forward to more studies along these lines.  

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