This week I would like to introduce BTW readers to one of the periodicals on BGST's shelves, Themelios (the title comes from the Greek for 'foundation'). Themelios, as described on its front cover, is 'an international
journal for theological and religious studies students'. I would judge that for BGST students it is one of the most obviously useful periodicals in BGST library. Not that other, more technical periodicals do not have their place: of course they do, and it is BGST's hope that in future years we may make yet more of them
available to students. But, if you have quarter of an hour's 'browsing time' in the Library (as it might be, while waiting for a lecture to begin or for a spouse to turn up), give a Themelios a glance.
What makes it so good? Firstly, it is solidly evangelical in its outlook, but well aware of what is going on in the world of theological and biblical studies generally. This is a periodical to turn to if you are looking for a response to a current theological trend. Secondly, while its contents are always scholarly, they are also always readable. The writers (doubtless with occasional coaxing from the editor) always fulfil their brief, which is to deal with topics in a way that will be accessible to students.
Each issue contains a number of essays which usually either discuss a topic of contemporary interest or survey a particular field. The following titles of essays from volume 27 (2001-2002) gives some idea of the typical contents: 'Mistakes of the New Perspective on Paul'
(P.F.M. Zahl); 'The Father with Two Sons: A Modern Reading of Luke 15' (an essay which will be of particular interest to BTW readers, as it was written by Douglas
Milne); 'New Testament Literature Survey - 2000' (A.I. Wilson); 'The Secret Diaries of Jonathan Edwards Aged 54½' (D.S. Strange); 'Redemption and Resurrection: An Exercise in Biblical-Systematic Theology'
(R.B. Gaffin); 'Devotional Books on the Old Testament: Some Recommended Reading'
(S.J. Gathercole); 'Between Bukuru and New York: Reflections on Islam, Christianity and
Western Values' (D. Smith); 'Introducing the New Testament: Its Literature and Theology - A
(C.L. Blomberg). The essays are on average 5-10 pages long and are usually, as I have implied, crisp, well-written and interesting.
Then there are the book reviews. If you want to keep up to date with recent publications in
theological and biblical studies, or just want to have an idea of what sort of issues scholars are writing about, each issue of Themelios contains about 50 pages of reviews and short notes. I don't know how many books I have first read about in the pages of Themelios and then gone on to buy, read and profit from, but it must be quite a few. As well as summarising the main arguments of the books they review, the reviewers also engage with them and suggest appropriate responses. To read a review is, of course, no substitute for reading the book itself, but it can be a helpful first step in getting a handle on the book's main arguments. (On a less exalted note: the reviews in Themelios could give students who have to do 'summary and critique' assignments some helpful examples of how to set about their task.)
Lastly, a feature of Themelios in recent years has been the Editorials which begin each issue, written by Carl
Trueman, a theologian and churchman with a passionate concern for the health of the church and of theological studies. He writes in a hard-hitting style and on the basis of clear scriptural convictions. I defy anyone to read what he says, take it seriously, and fail to derive spiritual benefit. Hear him on the pitfalls of
What's wrong with a biblical-theological approach, you ask? Nothing, in and of itself. But the way it pans out has, I would suggest, sometimes been less than helpful. First there is the problem of mediocrity. It is one thing for a master of biblical theology to preach it week after week; quite another for a less talented follower so to do. We all know the old joke about the Christian fundamentalist who, when asked what was
grey, furry and lived in a tree, responded that 'It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know the answer to every question is "Jesus"'. One of the problems I have with a relentless diet of biblical
theological sermons from less talented (i.e., most of us) preachers is their boring mediocrity: contrived contortions of
passages which are engaged in to produce the answer 'Jesus' every week. It doesn't matter what the text is; the sermon is
always the same (Themelios 27.3, p. 2)
Or again, on theological controversy:
What is the desired goal of theological controversy? Well, surely it is twofold: that of glorifying the name of Christ; and that of persuading those with whom we disagree that there is a better way, that their theology is less than biblical and that they need to subject their thinking to the searching criticism of the Word of God. Controversy therefore should be part of a mutual quest for the establishment and articulation of the truth, a quest in which we listen to what our opponents have to say and then seek to respond to them. Our responses should put down error in a firm and decisive manner and yet not
compromise our love for them as brethren or our desire to see them - and, of course, ourselves - come to a fuller knowledge of the truth. The aim of theological conflict among Christians is not to win, not to beat one's opponent mercilessly into a bloodied wreck, but to establish the nature of truth and to convince as many as possible of the truth. This requires a personal openness on our part which is driven by a love and concern for those with whom we disagree, not a sneering contempt for anyone who disagrees with us (Themelios 27.1, p. 2)
I hope these snippets are enough to whet your appetite for this thoroughly useful and stimulating periodical.
(Review by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)