Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 05/05/2010 by Ian Clary.
Recommended. A hefty and valuable contribution not only to Old Testament studies, but as a model of theologizing.
The task of theologizing is massive and at times daunting. Categories of systematic, historical, biblical and practical theology confront the theologian. Each has its own subset of categories that make fusing them together into a coherent whole difficult. So often scholars will branch off into their own area of specialty and neglect other important fields of endeavour, as seen in the debates over the relationship between systematic and biblical theology. Enter Richard Gamble and the first volume of his projected three-part series on the whole counsel of God.
Richard C. Gamble is currently Professor of Systematic Theology at Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA and is pastor of College Hill Reformed Presbyterian Church in Beaver Falls, PA. This accounts for the melding of the theoretical and practical aspects of his work. He has taught at Westminster Seminary (PA), Calvin Seminary and Reformed Seminary (Orlando). A former director of the H. Henry Meeter Center for Calvin Studies and past president of the Calvin Studies Society, Dr. Gamble is a scholar's scholar. One would think, judging from his academic credentials, that he would be a specialist in Reformation history only, yet the work under review reveals that Gamble is a generalist who lends his expertise to a wide spectrum of Christian intellectual endeavour. The church needs generalists like Gamble, and the final fruit of his labours—when the subsequent two volumes appear in this series—will be of immense influence for good.
God's Mighty Acts in the Old Testament is more than what its subtitle suggests. While the bulk of the book is taken up with discussions of Old Testament theology, the first hundred pages deal brilliantly with questions of theological prolegomena. Indeed, this section alone is worth the price of the book. Gamble, working within in a specifically Reformed framework, takes up questions of theological method, the structure of systematic theology and the idea of systematic theology. He concludes the opening section by explaining how Old Testament theology fits into the picture. A wealth of information, Gamble provides a taxonomy of various schools of Reformed thought throughout the ages on the over-arching question of the organic unity of theology, offering critique while seeking to synthesize based upon the principle of sola scriptura. He is in constant parlance with the great Reformed thinkers throughout the ages and today including Bavinck, Calvin, Dillard, Frame, Charles Hodge, Kline, Murray, Pratt, Vos, Young and a whole host of others. His ability to navigate the various sources, and provide nuanced commentary on them is a model of careful, balanced, irenic scholarship.
The lay-out of the book is user-friendly. There is a detailed table of contents, an analytical outline, an eighteen page scripture index, and a name/subject index. All that is missing is a bibliography, though one would suspect that it would consist of a separate volume! The footnotes to the text are riddled with extended quotations from those he cites either as an authority, or those he is critiquing. Therefore this book is a handy resource not only for the theological debates within Reformed theology, but a source-book for students and pastors who are working through particular Old Testament texts.
When dealing with hotly debated subjects, Gamble is careful to promote all sides, yet he does not fall to the postmodern trap of leaving the question open-ended or unanswered. He adjudicates in concluding sections, taking into account the best of any side, all the while applying a hermeneutic consistent with his methodological conclusions set forth in the opening chapter. Thus every perspective comes into critique, but representatives of a critiqued perspective will feel that their views have been respected. This is how all Christian scholarship should be undertaken.
One critique—though it will likely be debated—is that Gamble's work does not stray outside of the camp of Reformed theology. Thus the work of non-Reformed, non-evangelical or non-Christian scholars is left largely untouched. So for instance, the late Yale theologian Brevard S. Childs only receives two paragraphs of discussion on Old Testament theology even though Gamble recognizes Childs' work as "the most important work from this perspective [a canonical approach]" (129). Even the work of T. Desmond Alexander, who by and large fits within the Reformed categories laid out by Gamble, is conspicuous for its absense. Therefore, God's Mighty Acts in the Old Testament will be of lesser use to Old Testament students faced with critiques of the Bible from other perspectives. There is little apologetics in this book, even though Gamble advocates a Van Tilian epistemology. That being said, this book is a tremendous resource, even for the Reformed university student who is confronted with challenges to the faith. The positive argument put forth by Gamble for a consistent, organic method which is then applied to the discussion of the Old Testament provides a model in which all theology can be worked out. This is so, even if the specific apologetic implications are not clearly spelled out.
In view of recent uproar over the views of two scholars who figure in Gamble's work—namely Longman and Waltke—it would be fascinating to read his take on contemporary turns of events. Maybe a second edition of the work will deal with Longman's denial of an historical Adam or Waltke's advocacy for theistic evolution and how both impact Old Testament theology within the Reformed orbit.
That this is only the first volume of a three-part series makes this reviewer excited for the upcoming volumes. God's Mighty Acts in the Old Testament has whetted the appetite. When the entire set is finally available, it will be a resource for theologians, students, pastors and laypeople to access again and again and again with great profit.