Book Review: "God in New Testament Theology"

Larry W. Hurtado, God in New Testament Theology, Abingdon 2010, 152pp,£13.99 (available from Alban Books)

God, who died in the holocausts and war trenches of the 20th century, was resurrected in the early 21st century by militant atheism. If they had left him in his grave, I am sure hardly anyone would have bothered. But here he is again, out and about, in seminars and debates and on the sides of buses. Archbishops Anglican and Catholic, singing from the same hymn sheet, could not have done it so effectively.

For a while God was a hot topic. Now she is once again under the floorboards. But not for the seeker, the believer, the nostalgic ex-believer, nor for people like the author Julian Barnes who once said he did not believe in God, but that he missed him. God is gone but the Spirit still haunts.

Larry Hurtado is Professor of New Testament Language, Literature and Theology at the University of Edinburgh. He has written in a clear and accessible way a brief study of the God of the New Testament. Studies of God in the New Testament are scarce. The NT does not give an orderly exposition of God. Rather its references are according to the occasion or determined by the point a NT writer wants to make.

An interesting criticism is voiced when some scholars assert that the NT studies are excessively “Christo-centric”. This is due to the post-Reformation emphasis on the God who acts in our favour, the Deus pro nobis, and who does so through Jesus Christ. I too sometimes think that we have fallen into a certain “christolatry” due, I suspect, to the hijacking of the image of Christ the High Priest by the ordained clergy.

Our author gives us five chapters which include God in the New Testament, the God of Jesus Christ and God the Holy Spirit. Hurtado notes that despite notable differences in discourse about God in the various writers, there is a notable coherence among them in key matters.

The most obvious example of coherence is the use of the term ‘Father’ to refer to God. Matthew is the most frequent among the Synoptics and John even more frequent. However, Matthew uses the term to underline that God is Father for Jesus and his followers. John uses the term to support his Christological emphasis on Jesus as the unique Son of God. The Book of Revelation views God as the “one who sits on the throne”, the all-powerful cosmic ruler.

I most enjoyed the chapter on the Spirit and God. I made the point above that our church indulges in a certain degree of “Christolatry”. It can seem at times that Christ is the only person of the Holy Trinity. Over the centuries we have forgotten that the risen Christ has given us the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is through the Holy Spirit that the Church lives, that it celebrates the Eucharist, that it preaches the Word, that it is sent (missioned) to the world for the life of the world—not to build up the church. That Spirit is a spirit of life and of faith. By Faith, the Spirit’s gift, we know ourselves loved by God. Therein lays the source of living water that wells up from each of us as we strive to maintain and deepen that relationship with the living Christ.

I learned a lot from Professor Hurtado and can recommend this book to all our readers.

Frank Regan

September 2011