Virtual Voices

Weekend Reads: Heaven according to the Bible and modernity according to scholars

Books

Life Everlasting

By Dan C. Barber and Robert A. Peterson

P&R Publilshing

Though—or rather because—they have never been there, Robert Peterson and Dan Barber’s account of heaven is biblically solid, theologically accurate, and devotionally compelling. Part of P&R Publishing’s Explorations in Biblical Theology series, Life Everlasting: The Unfolding Story of Heaven (2012) is targeted at “college seniors and thoughtful laypeople,” but it makes an excellent Bible textbook for high school students, too.

Biblical theology is the discipline that tries to understand the development of revelation through time. Foundational to good biblical theology is the motif of the organic: Everything in the tree was present in germ form in the seed, and the same is true of God’s revelation. Thus, the authors (Peterson is a Covenant Seminary professor and Barber is one of his Ph.D. students) look at the idea of heaven under five themes—creation, rest, kingdom, presence, and glory—that run through the biblical record. Each theme is explored in a two-chapter format, with the first chapter surveying each theme as created, fallen, and redeemed, and the second showing the consummation of that particular theme in heaven. The kingdom theme, for example, begins in Genesis 1 as God, the divine King, issues commands to create the world. Man’s rebellion attacks God’s rule, but God is not threatened. In fact, He promises to bring humans back under His rule of grace through the woman’s seed. This is foreshadowed in the victories of Abraham, Moses, and David, and fulfilled in the work of Jesus Christ, through whose reign even death will someday be defeated.

The authors clearly have a genius for outlining, and the work’s greatest strength is its logical structure. Each facet of the Bible’s teaching on heaven receives enough attention to satisfy readers but not enough to exhaust them.

For Life Everlasting, heaven is not an abstraction, but a home.

Mapping Modern Theology

Edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Bruce L. McCormack

Baker Academic

Reading this book you will learn a great deal about several German thinkers, and very little about God. Mapping Modern Theology (Baker Academic, 2012) is, as promised in the subtitle, A Thematic and Historical Introduction to the most recent 200 years of that discipline. Fifteen prominent scholars describe developments in the 15 traditional topics of systematic theology, from the Trinity to eschatology. Virtually every essay points to Freidrich Schleiermacher, the so-called “Father of Liberal Theology,” and Karl Barth, the most prominent theologian of the 20th century. But beyond these two giants, the modern theological landscape is exceedingly diverse, and by no means entirely liberal.

Bruce McCormack, a Princeton Seminary professor and theological disciple of Barth, opens the work with a brilliant essay explaining what modernity is: The period in which theologians turned from attempting to protect the received orthodoxy of the past and instead began to attempt to reformulate it in ways compatible with the changing spirit of the age. Some, McCormack observes, think that the problems addressed by modern theologians “are of largely their own contrivance”—a view with which he disagrees. But each contributor to this volume was left free to choose his own theological perspective, and a couple of the essays are clearly conservative.

Some scholars, especially Katherine Sonderegger and McCormack (the only scholar with two essays in the volume), are a joy to read. They lucidly explain the basic lines of thought informing creation and Christology, respectively. Other scholars rapidly survey a bewildering assortment of thinkers and ideas, leaving the reader perplexed about what just happened.

Designed as a textbook for theology students, Mapping Modern Theology is probably of limited usefulness outside the academy. But for its primary purpose, it is invaluable—nothing similar exists. If you want to get the gist of modern theological thought in reasonable chunks, look no further. 

Caleb Nelson
Caleb Nelson

Caleb grew up on a ranch in northern Colorado and is currently pursuing ordination in the Presbyterian Church in America. He lives in Greenville, S.C.

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