Interview with Tom Schreiner

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I can’t wait to get hold of Tom Schreiner’s new book, New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ. Midlands Bible College and Divinity School recently interviewed Dr. Schreiner about the book. You can read the interview here, but here’s a sample that particularly interested me:

Let’s consider two things that you focus upon in your book. The first is the theme of magnifying God and the second is the theme of salvation history. Taking the first of these, what do you mean when you say, “the New Testament is radically God-centred”?

What I mean by that is that the New Testament’s ultimate aim is to lift us up into God’s presence so that the purpose of the New Testament is not merely intellectual but is doxological, that we will glorify, honour, and praise God for his saving work in Christ. I have 10 plus chapters on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit but the majority focus on Jesus Christ, for the person of Christ is central in the NT witness. My book is subtitled, Magnifying God in Christ because that is the interest of the New Testament writers themselves. It seems obvious, but if we don’t centre on what God has done in Christ through the Spirit, then our NT theology does not accord with the documents themselves. Our first task is not to be creative, but as Schlatter said to observe the subject matter before us, to try to see in depth what is laid before us in the New Testament.

Do I detect some influence here from Dr John Piper?

John has had a huge influence on me – I was in John’s Church for 11 years and he’s a good friend and I heard John exposit the Scriptures year after year and I am convinced that he is on target so yes I credit John in my Pauline theology and also my Romans commentary. I am so grateful for his ministry and his influence on me.

You state that, “the focus of New Testament theology is the supremacy of God in Christ.” I understand there’s been some criticism of your position that God seeks to bring glory to himself. How would you respond to that?

Yes, there has been criticism of that. Some think this is a wrong way of speaking about God and that it depicts him as selfish. But we must start first and foremost with exegesis and not our own conceptions. We must observe what is before us. In text after text after text we see that God’s glory in Christ is paramount. Note that in the great Philippian hymn of Phil 2:6-11 that Christ’s ministry, death, and exaltation bring glory to God the Father. Or, we can think of texts like Ephesians 1, or John 17, or the Lord’s Prayer. In every case we see that God’s aim is to glorify and honour himself. Three times we are told in Ephesians that God chose us to the praise of the glory of his grace. Jesus tells us in John 17 that the purpose of his ministry was to glorify the Father. Jesus instructed us to pray, “Hallowed by thy name.”

God aims to glorify himself but he does so through the saving work of Christ, by loving and delivering us. We glorify God when we delight in him and trust in him. Yes, there is more than a hint of John Piper there, but we find the same themes in Augustine, Edwards, and many others. We must remember that God is the Lord. He is a transcendent God and we must beware of inverting the image (so to speak) so that we read God through our own lenses and our own experiences.

Let’s talk about the second major theme in the book: the perspective of salvation history, sometimes called the “already not yet” paradigm. Can you explain what we mean by salvation history?

Another term for it of course is redemptive history. What I had in mind especially when I think of the kingdom of God or this age and the age to come, is that when we read the Old Testament story, the world is plunged into sin and curse and death and that God promises in the history of salvation to redeem his people, to bring in his kingdom. I think this is described in a lot of different ways in the Old Testament such as a new exodus or in terms of a new creation or a new covenant.

This is picked up in the New Testament with the language of the kingdom of God and my argument is that those saving promises of God are fulfilled in the ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection itself signals that the age to come has arrived, the age of salvation is here. But we say “already not yet” because even though that age of salvation has arrived and is inaugurated, it’s not consummated. We enjoy the new creation that has begun but we do not yet enjoy it in its fullness because death still exists and the curse is not completely gone.

As many others have said, we live in the overlap of the ages between the already and not yet. We are already saved and yet we await final salvation. We are already adopted but we await the full adoption of the restoration of our bodies. I find that to be immensely practical as well. Many errors in NT theology will be avoided if we understand the already and not yet tension.

Peter serves as a pastor-teacher, at home and abroad, resourcing gospel-centred communities.

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