Most evangelical biblical theologies rightly focus on narrative. In my circle, the most popular approach is Graeme Goldsworthy’s focus on the Kingdom of God, which gained a wide audience thanks to Vaughan Roberts' God’s Big Picture.
Others have cropped up, including James Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology, Tom Schreiner’s The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.
The topic has fascinated me, and a few weeks ago, I finished G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology, which focuses on eschatology as the overarching framework to understand the storylines of both the OT and NT.
Early in his book, Beale offers good descriptions of the OT and NT storylines:
OT storyline: The Old Testament is the story of God, who progressively reestablishes his eschatological new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word and Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption resultnig in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgement (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory.
NT storyline: Jesus' life, trials, death for sinners, and especially resurrection by the Spirit have launched the fulfillment of the eschatological already-not yet new creational reign, bestowed by grace through faith and resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this new-creational reign and resulting in judgement for the ubbelieving, unto the triune God’s glory.
Following Vos, Beale picks “eschatology” as the framework through which we gain a comprehensive understanding of all that Jesus did, is doing, and will do.
Part 1 establishes the biblical storyline and Beale very quickly homes in on its eschatological focus. My main problem is how much he extracts from Genesis 1-3, following in Meredith Kline’s footsteps. But besides that, he carefully shows how eschatology is likely the best lens through which readers understand both testaments.
After establishing the eschatological nature of both the OT and NT storylines, in Part 2, he discusses the eschatological great tribulation which commences in Jesus. This is significant, because Beale shows that throughout the OT, eschatological fulfilment of God’s promises come after intense suffering. That’s why even as Jesus inaugurates the new creation with his earthly ministry (like defeating the forces of evil symbolically in the casting of demons), it quickly follows opposition, suffering and ultimately, death.
In Part 3, Beale argues that Jesus' resurrection inaugurates the end-time new creation and kingdom. In this book, Beale (rightly, in my view) spends more time on the resurrection, than on Jesus' death, showing how the NT authors see Jesus' resurrection as beginning fulfilment of the OT eschatological (new-creational) promises.
Parts 4 and 5 deal with biblical theological understandings of what Jesus' death, but primarily resurrection achieved. Beale traces idolatry through the OT and identifies the restoration of God’s image in humanity as an end-time promise. He then explores how NT concepts of justification and reconciliation can be rooted in OT end-time promises.
Part 6 focuses on the Spirit’s work as the transforming agent of the inaugurated eschatological new creation, especially in relation to temple-building. Parts 7 & 8 follow naturally, exploring the relation of the church to OT Israel, and therefore considers areas of continuity and discontinuity.
Part 9 is more pastoral, with Beale rooting Christian behaviour in the inaugurated and gradually-transforming new-creational life of the believer. Part 10 looks at what we would call “Christian living” and draws parallels or contrasts with OT saints.
Thoughts and who should read it
For me, Beale’s thesis' most attractive feature is how it is able to account for almost(?) all aspects of the biblical storyline. Since reading Essays on Old Testament Hermeneutics (edited by Claus Westermann), I’ve begun to realise that eschatology should play a bigger part in our biblical theology. And hearing a number of episodes of The Reformed Forum has cemented that. Beale’s book is probably the only attempt at articulating the significance of eschatology for Jesus and the NT authors' self-understanding at such a scale.
The tome is massive at 962 pages excluding the bibliography and index at the end. It wasn’t an easy read. I bought the book in 2015 (I think), couldn’t get past 100 pages in multiple attempts. However, recent circumstances have given me the staying power to get through the book. I haven’t fully grasped every nuance in his proposal and will revisit certain chapters to deepen my understanding.
Nevertheless, this repays careful reading. I can honestly say that this book has been paradigm-shifting. My understanding of the gospel has deepened and many issues have been clarified - although he has raised further questions for me to consider. I feel that reading this as a group can be fruitful. It might be extremely slowgoing, but I believe this book will enrich the patient and receptive reader.