In the Fullness of Time edited by Donald M. Gurtner et al

by
05 May 2017

John Barton on the best kind of tribute, which is engagement

In the Fullness of Time: Essays on Christology, creation, and eschatology in honor of Richard Bauckham

Donald M. Gurtner, Grant Macaskill, and Jonathan T. Pennington, editors

Eerdmans £42.99

(978-0-8028-7337-8)

Church Times Bookshop £38.70

 

RICHARD BAUCKHAM is one of the greatest, and certainly the most versatile, of British theological scholars. He has contributed to understanding the Gospels, the Christology of the New Testament and of the Early Church, eschato­logy, ecology, ethics, archaeology, and systematic theology; and has also published children’s books, and poetry. In this volume the list of his publications covers 24 pages, in a small fount.

Furthermore, he has transformed the fields he has worked in, perhaps especially the study of the Gospels and early Christology, arguing for an early “high” doctrine of the nature of Jesus Christ, and showing that the Gospels were designed for wide circulation, not simply for one community each. If anyone deserves a Festschrift, he does, and this one does not disappoint.

The list of contributors includes many scholars starry enough in their own right, and guarantees a fascinating volume. Part I, “Thematic Studies”, touches on all Bauckham’s special interests, with Jürgen Moltmann on “The Birth of God and the Resurrection of Life” at the front of the list. Jeremy Begbie discusses the theology of J. S. Bach (”the fifth evangelist”), Trevor Hart the last judgement, David Brown the rights of animals, Larry Hurtado the implications of worshipping Jesus, and Philip Alexander the con­sequences for Christology of early Jewish understandings of divine messengers.

James Dunn seeks to reconstruct how the Christian message would look if Paul were removed from the equation.

Part II, “Textual Studies”, con­tains more detailed discussion of specific texts. N. T. Wright reflects in a very detailed way on Romans 3.24-26; Sean McDonaugh examines the evidence that Jesus baptised; and Philip Esler thinks about ethnic identities in Matthew.

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Bruce Longenecker envisages how St Mark’s Gospel would have appeared to the “second Church” (the popular Christian communities that heresy hunts largely suppres­sed), and James Davila pursues parallels between the Revelation of St John and the Hekhalot literature in later Judaism.

This listing is essential to show the diversity and reach of the book, but cannot do justice to the riches on offer. The essays I found particularly interesting — purely a personal choice — were those that reflected Bauckham’s own interests most closely.

Hurtado’s reflections on “Wor­ship and Divine Identity” give us a further study of early high Christo­logy, in close but critical conversa­tion with Bauckham’s work, and reflect a shared belief that Christians came to ascribe a divine identity to Jesus much earlier than is often supposed. Hurtado argues that this did not derive from scriptural ex­­egesis, but resulted in it: the impetus came from a sense that God desired worship of Jesus.

David Brown engages, also crit­ically, with Bauckham’s ecological concerns, in discussing the rights of animals. He shows that the Chris­tian idea of animals as subordinate to humans is genuinely rooted in scripture and tradition, much as we may wish it were not. Current (cor­rect) revision of this idea requires revision also of our attitude towards the Bible, which needs to be quite complex. We also need to recognise the place of animal and human
pain as part of the process of evolution.

Dunn’s “Christianity without Paul” is a thought-experiment con­ceiving a style of Jewish Chris­tianity which might have flourished if Paul had not intervened with his em­­phasis on mission to the Gentiles. It, too, is a reminder of the complexity of the biblical witness, and (like Longe­necker’s essay) of the plurality of “Christianities” which may once have existed, before the New Testa­ment canon and the orthodoxy of the “Great Church” swept so many of them away.

This is a fitting tribute to a great Christian scholar, in which every essay demands close attention.

 

John Barton is Emeritus Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford, a Senior Research Fellow of Campion Hall, Oxford, and an Anglican priest.

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