For the following reasons. First, Dr. Thomas Schreiner is one of my favorite scholars. I read through his prestigious commentary on Romans, and developed a deep appreciation for his scholarly writing voice, and well as the sheer width of his focus. Second, Biblical Theologies are a favorite area of study for me—at least for the last year. It is often entrenched in complexity, so Graeme Goldsworthy’s definition will serve the purpose of this blog post well: Biblical Theology is ”the study of how every text in the Bible relates to every other text in the Bible” (Christ-Centered Biblical Theology, 40). To boil it down further, it’s the unifying storyline of Scripture, which I address more in this blog post. Third, the name alone is awesome: The King in His Beauty. This just makes me want to pick it up and swim in glorious truth!
Now that I’m done with this hefty book (700+ pages), I’ve provided a not-brief summary of what it’s about, some reasons for reading it, potential drawbacks, and a few concluding remarks. Let’s go for a swim!
The King in His Beauty is foremost a Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments. Biblical Theology (BT) may sound confusing if you’ve never heard the term before, because we sometimes use the word “biblical” when referring to something correct or orthodox; so it may sound like we are talking about a theology that is orthodox. But that’s not what we are talking about (although it assumes the theology is correct!). BT is an area of study, dealing primarily with the story of Scripture, a search for the “center” to that story, and the process of how God reveals that story. Think of it as a view of the Bible from 30,000 feet: you are taking it all in at once.
Schreiner’s intent with writing a BT is simple: to focus on a prominent Biblical theme as it is unfolding so that the average, non-academic reader can understand and enjoy. As Schreiner moves through Scripture, he does so in segments which I’ve found very helpful in following both his train of thought, and the storyline of Scripture. The segments are as follows:
As Schreiner moves through these segments of Scripture, he shows them all anchored in the prominent theme of the Kingdom of God, or as he refers to it, The King in His Beauty. He argues that the Kingdom of God, defined as the rule of God spanning the cosmos, including human beings, by means of covenant, and expressed in judgment, “thematically captures the message of Scripture” (xiii-xv).
The book was not written for scholars, but is scholarly (the footnotes are a feast!). So as he teases out the theme of God’s Kingdom in the Bible, he stays out-of-the-way, yet within close distance to the events as they happen, speaking with a depth of clarity and simplicity even in such seemingly abstract books as Amos or the Psalms. It is this simple clarity on complex topics that makes Schreiner magical. Here are a few other delicacies in the book…
The first thing that caught my eye with Schreiner is his hesitation to claim that his methodology is the only one worthy of consideration—although, this would be forgivable given his extensive research in the field of BT. Yet his humility also comes with a firm conviction from years of research.
I love that Schreiner breaks the Bible into sections which is how he arranged his own table of contents. As a result, you know exactly where Schreiner is taking you in this dash through the Scriptures.
A great amount of attention is given to the divisions of Scripture as well as the storyline of Scripture. The story shows the unity of the Bible, but the divisions show you the process of the story’s revelation—think of it as the structure of the story. Schreiner explains these carefully, especially the covenants as they are revealed in history, an important element in understanding BT.
Schreiner knows how to get an idea stuck in your head. He does this particularly well in the summaries at the end of every section. In addition to this, he inserts “interludes” to recapitulate sections and divisions of Scripture. This makes for a clearly developed thesis running through the entire book, which is constantly dripped down into the readers mind as the book progresses. The King in His Beauty even progresses in the same way as the Bible does! Brilliant.
There aren’t many, but here are a few things I wouldn’t mind changing.
The King in His Beauty has some similarities to the recent book by James Hamilton, The Glory of God in Salvation Through Judgment. Both of them, though not explicitly mentioned in their titles, are largely about the Kingdom of God (Schreiner emphasizes the King, while Hamilton emphasizes the King’s rule). I understand that there is overlap of topics and themes in the realm of BT, so this isn’t a significant obstacle to an otherwise wonderful book. And even though a few similarities in themes exist between Schreiner’s book and James Hamilton’s, there are also noticeable differences that set them apart. For example, Schreiner seems to focus more on the King Himself, than on the King’s rule. I love this! The centrality of Christ in this tome is what illuminates it most brightly.
Schreiner writes to show the “majesty and beauty” of the Biblical storyline while keeping a distance from “technical work for scholars” (x). While the substance of what he writes about is enough to cause one’s heart to soar, the technical language sometimes affects that experience. For example, I would have loved to see more over-the-top adjectives in his descriptions, since his stated desire is to show the majesty and beauty of Scripture (although this may be a faux pas in the academic world, I’m not sure). This is not to detract from Schreiner’s writing style or wording—he is a great writer, and he makes the concepts he is championing absolutely clear—rather, it seems a gargantuan piece to bite off: writing as a scholar, with scholarly material, but for the average person. At times, I wish he wasn’t trying to write to so broad and finicky an audience, as his understanding of BT is captivating. I say, write like a scholar—because you are a fine one, sir.
Thomas Schreiner needs very little introduction in Biblical studies. The King in His Beauty exemplifies his ability to take deep, complex truths and explain them in a way that the average person can understand, all without the ever-present danger of dumbing everything down. Reading this book immediately brings the reader before the person and work of Jesus Christ as presented through the entire sweep of the Bible’s storyline. All the while, Schreiner shows how Scripture interacts with various details of God’s story, such as the fascinating emphasis on King David and the promises associated with him. Schreiner’s navigation through the Christian Bible is wonderful, simple, and clear. Partly, because he doesn’t waste time interacting with critical thought (not the book’s intent), although the footnotes alone will keep you embroiled in book purchasing.
The King in His Beauty is not a book you grab off the shelf to skim through while sipping your morning tea—it’s for serious students of the Bible. Specifically, non-academics who want to enrich their understanding of the Bible’s unity, see the Kingdom of God unfolding in Scripture (even books that do not mention “kingdom” explicitly), or want a starting place for enjoying Biblical Theology. Yet, it is so clearly and simply written, that it can also serve the average person as they move through a one-year Bible reading program, for example.
Make no mistake, the church is better off for having Thomas Schreiner, his broad scope of theology, and his love for the Bride of Christ. All of which is made more evident in his latest book on the true Protagonist of the Bible.
Find the book on Amazon here: The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments.