Southern literature: Jim Hamilton’s new book

Communications Staff — November 15, 2010

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Crossway, $40), James M. Hamilton Jr.

Understanding the Bible is paramount for Christians to understand the way God works in His world, and to understand the purpose for which God created earth. But often, the interpreting and understanding the Bible can be an intimidating venture. Does the Bible contain a single story, as Sir Doyle’s short stories? Is the Bible somewhat of a story with loosely tied endings, like Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? Listening to some Bible teachers, the Scriptures seem like a collection of bullet-points teaching methods for living both healthy and content. Who knows the correct way to read the Bible?

According to James M. Hamilton Jr., professor of biblical theology at Southern Seminary, the Bible itself make clear how people should read it. In his new book, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Hamilton asserts that the earlier biblical authors demonstrate how to read Scripture and then later authors exercise the model placed before them. And reading the Bible exercising its own prescription reveals to the reader a central theme running through the whole Scripture.

“Seeking to exposit the center of biblical theology is necessary because many today question whether the Bible tells a coherent story. There are many who do not embrace the idea of a center for biblical theology and yet maintain that the Bible is coherent, but if the Bible tells a coherent story, it is valid to explore what that story’s main point is. That leads us to ask whether the Bible shows us what God’s ultimate purpose is. Understanding God’s ultimate purpose, even with our limited human capacities, gives us insight into the meaning of all things,” Hamilton says, offering a reason for his book.

As his book title not-so-subtly suggests, Hamilton develops his book around the thesis that God’s reveals or displays His glory through acts of judgment. The seminal example being Christ on the cross, where God both pours out His wrath and purchases salvation for His people in the same event.

In order to show its thesis, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment organizes its argument using the five major divisions in Scripture: law, prophets and writings in the Old Testament, and gospels and Acts, epistles and John’s Revelation in the New Testament. Hamilton works through each section book-by-book. For example, in studying the Pentateuch, Hamilton first examines the Book of Genesis, then looks for the literary structure and central meaning of Exodus, then Leviticus, follows with the Book of Numbers and then of course Deuteronomy. Hamilton follows this pattern throughout his book.

In a rare combination of both a thematic (God’s glory in salvation through judgment) and a book-by-book approach to interpreting the Bible, Hamilton makes a convincing case that reading the Bible in its natural progression causes this theme to surface organically from the text. The glory of God in salvation through the judgment of sin shines at the forefront of both the biblical books and the Bible as a whole, according to Hamilton’s book.

“The New Testament authors present their accounts as the completion of the story begun in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament itself creates the expectations realized in the New Testament. The two are to be read together, and [God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment] will follow, in its general outline, the structure of the Old and New Testaments that has been briefly discussed above. As the story unfolds, the central theme of the theology contained in the Bible itself will flame out like shining from shook foil, and the dearest freshness deep down in these rich soils will be the glory of God in salvation through judgment,” Hamilton writes.

Establishing his central theme of the Bible’s theology, Hamilton concludes his book offering several practical implications of his thesis. The conclusion explores such topics as evangelism and church discipline, and prayer and “personal” Bible reading.

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