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.
If we were to summarize each earlier post in this series, we would have these three bullet points:
The last chapter is James’s concluding exhortation to persist in Christian maturity amid difficult situations by trusting in God. It’s almost as if James in applying his theology directly to different groups of people in his Jerusalem congregation. For these purposes, we can identify three different categories in James 5.
Once again, key verses will be in italics, followed by brief exegesis of key themes, and a summary in red. I will highlight prevailing motifs and themes in green.
James 5:1-6 “Come now, you rich people! Weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth is ruined and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your silver and gold are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You stored up treasure in the last days! Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who reaped your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts. You have lived luxuriously on the land and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned—you have murdered —the righteous man; he does not resist you.” (HCSB).
The problem being identified is not the wealth that a person may have, but what they do with the resources given. In this case, some of the more well-to-do in the Jerusalem congregation were hoarding their wealth for themselves, while refusing to assist those struggling within their own church family. James here is accusing them of having “murdered” the righteous man in this case (v6), and taking them back to his exhortation in chapter 2, which was to care for the poor in the church. If those who are wealthy (as is the case with these particular individuals) are not also generous, they are heaping up “miseries” for themselves in the life to come (v1), for their faith is in vain—indeed, they are proving themselves unregenerate!
James is just contextualizing his theology on a particular people group, reminding them that,
James then transitions from a group of unregenerate in the church to those who are enduring well in a reminder to persist in hard times.
James 5:7-12 “Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. Brothers, do not complain about one another, so that you will not be judged. Look, the judge stands at the door! Brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the Lord’s name as an example of suffering and patience. See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome from the Lord. The Lord is very compassionate and merciful. Now above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath. Your “yes” must be “yes,” and your “no” must be “no,” so that you won’t fall under judgment.” (HCSB).
What is the “Therefore” there for? Well, after just reading vv.1-6, it seems that James is reminding the poor and downtrodden that their cries have “reached the ears of the Lord of Hosts” (v4). The reason Christians can carry on in the midst of tremendous suffering is because we have a sense that God hates injustice, and is going to work things out, in this life or in the one to come. That means your grueling efforts are not in vain. The enemy of God’s kingdom will not prevail. There is hope for the Christ-follower if they will but persist to the very end! After all, the Lord, who’s “coming is near,” (v8) is “very compassionate and merciful” (v11). The first appearance of “brothers” in verse 7 of this chapter signifies that James is now addressing those within the faith, whereas the rich of 5:1-7 seem to be unrepentant and unregenerate. So there is a clear difference between the eternal identity of those being addressed in verses 1-6 as in verses 7-12. The former has put all their trust in their riches; the latter has put all their trust in God, and James is imploring them to stay in that place of trust, as evidenced by the repeated terms, “be patient,” “strengthen your hearts,” “endurance” in this sequence of Scripture (highlighted in green).
Contrasted with the “miseries that are coming” on the unregenerate who hoard their resources, James urgently implores the believers Jerusalem to…
James finally ends on a note of prayer.
James 5:13-20 “Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone cheerful? He should sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? He should call for the elders of the church, and they should pray over him after anointing him with olive oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will restore him to health; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours; yet he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit. My brothers, if any among you strays from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his life from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (HCSB).
This is one of the most beautiful swathes of Scripture in all of James.
In his closing chapter, James identifies those who have no faith (vv.1-6), those who are proving their faith (vv.7-12), and concluding with a call to arms (vv.13-20), reminding everyone that there will be some who stumble and fall, and that salvation doesn’t come to make us an island, rather, we are saved into a community that is under the allegiance of Christ, and we are to leave no man or woman behind.
This was a rewarding journey through a delightful epistle. I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Remember our original intent in starting a study like this, where we are not just looking at the minutia of the letter, but zooming out to a view of 30,000 feet in order to identify sweeping themes that hold this book together. Before I end this blog post, let me provide you with a brief summary of James. I hope after reading this, you will find James beyond just a disjointed grouping of “fortune-cookie” proverbs; it is robust with the themes of trust, suffering, wisdom, holiness, and love for the poor. Check out the summary below. When you are reading James, and mining different verses, you will be able to plug them into this overall train of thought that James had, in order to illuminate the individual verses at hand with tremendous meaning.
When life gets difficult, God will use bad circumstances to transform you, as long as you trust in Him; this occurs when our thought life is brought in subjection to what God says is true (ch.1). This new maturity is most visible in two ways: 1) how we treat others in the body of Christ, specifically, the ones who cannot repay us; in fact, the way we treat the poor in our own local churches is evidence of our faith (ch.2)! and 2) how we speak to one another (ch.3). These elements can only be cultivated in the Christian who continually trusts in God in all circumstances, bringing the theme back around to the first chapter (ch.4). At the end of the age, our fruit will either condemn or vindicate us, so we must be diligent to grow in holiness and love towards one another—the one who perseveres is confident that they are the Lord’s, and must not leave anyone in the family of God behind, even those who appear as falling away (ch.5).