Friday, July 27, 2012

Book Review - A Theology of Luke and Acts

A Theology of Luke and Acts, by Darrell Bock, is the second installment (of eight planned) in Zondervan's Biblical Theology of the New Testament series. As the publisher's website states,
The Biblical Theology of the New Testament (BTNT) series provides upper college and seminary-level textbooks for students of New Testament theology, interpretation, and exegesis. Pastors and discerning theology readers alike will also benefit from this series. Written at the highest level of academic excellence by recognized experts in the field, the BTNT series not only offers a comprehensive exploration of the theology of every book of the New Testament, including introductory issues and major themes, but also shows how each book relates to the broad picture of New Testament theology.
Bock, having spent over three decades studying and writing about both Luke and Acts, is certainly qualified for the task, and his volume is a suitable contribution to the BTNT series. A closer examination of a representative chapter demonstrates both the overall format and the intended goals of the book and series.

Chapter 3 presents "The Case for the Unity of Luke-Acts and Reading the Volumes as Luke-Acts and as Luke and Acts." As Bock states from the chapter's outset, "Before one can work with Luke and Acts and present their theology as a unified whole, one must make the case that these volumes were intended to be seen as a literary unit and can be read as such."  Since Bock's work contains 17 chapters worth of discussion on various theological themes appearing in Luke and Acts, there's a good bit riding on his case that Luke and Acts present a unified theology!

The chapter begins with a bibliography of sources relevant to the discussion. One noteworthy feature is that Bock interacts with sources which were published predominantly within the last 5-10 years, in keeping with the BTNT's goal of providing a survey of recent scholarship. In Chapter 3, Bock presents the case that Luke and Acts were originally designed and written to tell one basic story. As various scholars have observed, the two books correspond at several important points, such as the similarities of their respective prologues, the description of Israel's tragic rejection of their Messiah, the portrayal of Jesus' interaction with the main characters of each book (i.e., Peter and Paul), and the emphasis on the Gentile mission (hinted at in Luke but coming to fruition in Acts) - not to mention structural details linking Luke 24 with Acts 1. The preponderance of these features strongly indicate that Luke and Acts should be read not merely as two books by the same author, but as a literary unity.

However, not all scholars have accepted this position, and Bock surveys the two major categories of objections: one, that certain tensions between the two books challenge a unified reading, and two, that the early church's use of the books (especially in the ordering of the canon) indicate that they were not viewed as a single unit. Bock treats these objections evenhandedly, but also responding to each point from additional relevant scholarship. To the first objection, Bock concludes that the sheer amount of similarities and connections between the two books far outweighs the purported tensions. As to the second objection, he argues that the early church's treatment of the books as separate ends up being a matter of nuance, and not a factor which undermines the literary unity of Luke-Acts. Ultimately, he allows for the value that can come from reading Luke and Acts as separate units on their own terms, but holds firm to the case that the two are best seen as a unified work. In the end, the suitability of the two different perspectives depends on the intended use: in terms of developing a biblical theology, Luke-Acts should be seen as a whole, whereas the church's canonical division between Luke and Acts serves as a reminder of the drastic new-ness of the faithful community created after the death and resurrection of Christ.

Having set the stage in Chapter 3 with this argument for the unity of Luke-Acts, Bock then spends the rest of the book surveying the text to discuss several theological themes, examples of which include the Person and Work of Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Israel, the Gentiles, Discipleship, Ethics, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. In each chapter, he interacts with applicable scholarship, and provides plenty of bibliographical material for further study.

Overall, Bock succeeds in providing a useful overview of the major themes of Luke-Acts. The interaction with scholarly literature allows for a nuanced discussion, although Bock never intends his work to be a mere compendium of scholarship - that is, he presents his own assessment of the topic of hand. As expected in a book of this sort (and one whose primary object of study presents such a wide range of topics for discussion!), Bock often has to greatly summarize the positions with which he is dialoguing, but the detailed bibliography gives plenty of entry-points for these wishing to go deeper. Anyone seeking to study the theology of Luke-Acts would be well advised to consult A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell Bock.

(Disclaimer: the publisher provided me with a copy of the book in exchange for writing a review. I was and am under no obligation to provide a favorable review.)

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