The Voices of the New Testament: A conversational approach to the message of good news
Church Times Bookshop £16.20
THIS is a somewhat unexpected book from Derek Tidball, as it seems, at first glance, rather speculative. Once I started reading, however, it didn’t take very long for me to become excited by his thesis and gripped by the content.
He explains “his agenda” at the start of the book: “how far it is possible to speak of the message or theology of the New Testament? Is there just one message of good news or several? And what does that good news look like?” He acknowledges that George Caird had first mooted this idea in the 1990s in his magisterial New Testament Theology, and Tidball takes it forward in this book.
Reminding us that “the New Testament documents are written in the heat of the missionary activity of the early church, on the job, and they dealt with the living and ever changing context of the young church,” he recognises the significance of this question.
Throughout the book itself, he adopts the approach of envisaging “a conversation between the New Testament authors that both reveals how much they have in common but equally permits them to emphasise their distinctive and unique contribution”.
In this supposed conversation, two imaginary characters join them: the first is the Chair, who “introduces the topic and brings in the speakers”, and the second is the observer, who “does not take part in the discussion as such but has freedom to comment on it”.
After a “discussion” where it is agreed that the common thread of the New Testament is Good News, the book continues to explore engagingly, if necessarily predictably, the source of the good news, why it is needed, the identity of Jesus, and the way in which he personified good news. Having laid the foundations, Tidball addresses what this good news means for today, and this section includes some particularly insightful writing on the Holy Spirit and “the already but not yet”.
In the final section, the author considers what it means to live as people of the Good News, and what this Good News says about the future. This section of the book is an outstanding piece of writing on fundamental subjects.
The publishers have given us a well-produced volume with a full and helpful bibliography, and I delighted in the clarity of Tidball’s thinking. Although not for the intellectually fainthearted, it is a surprisingly accessible and typically thought-provoking book.
The Revd Jeremy Crossley is the Rector of St Margaret Lothbury and St Stephen Coleman Street, London