A Book Review from Books At a Glance
By Ryan Speck
Redemptive Reversals is part of the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series, printed by Crossway, which is intended “to connect the resurgence of biblical theology at the academic level with everyday believers” (p. 19). This is the 9th book in that series. To read any of these books “requires no prerequisite theological training of the reader” (p. 19). The books in this series provide basic building blocks to train a beginner in Biblical Theology.
G.K. Beale (PhD, University of Cambridge) is the J. Gresham Machen Chair of New Testament and biblical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary.
In the Foreword, Andrew White testifies of an ironic work of revival that God accomplished amongst vicious, genocidal murderers through “a murderer, an over-the-hill missionary, and a severely depressed doctor” (12). White himself was, in fact, that “severely depressed doctor” and provides a first-hand account of a remarkable event. Arguably, this was one of the more fascinating parts of the book, especially if you are already well-versed in Biblical Theology.
In the Introduction, Beale makes bold claims: “This book is about the notion that God deals with humans in primarily ironic ways…. In fact, we will see that the ironic nature of Christian living is necessary in order that faith be given opportunity to grow” (pp. 21-22). He divides his topic into two types of irony, retributive and redemptive. Chapters 1-2 detail retributive irony, and chapters 3-6 conclude the book with redemptive irony.
Section #1: Retributive Irony (Chapters 1-2)
As Beale acknowledges in the Conclusion, “The reason that everyone experiences either retributive irony or restorative irony is that they are identified ultimately with either the devil or Christ” (p. 183). Accordingly, these opening two chapters deal primarily with unbelievers, who are aligned with the devil (although he places chastisement upon believers in this section also).
In Chapter 1, Beale shows how God judges people by their own sin, citing examples such as Haman, Absalom, Pharaoh, and even King David (as an example of a believer chastised ironically). That is, although each figure appears to be powerful in his presumptuous and arrogant sin, God turns that sin against him in each case. Beale applies this truth by noting how seminaries have “rejected the authority and relevance of God’s word so that today it is relatively rare to hear the Bible preached in many churches.” This leads to God ironically refusing to speak to his church today—a famine of words (Amos 8:11). What is the solution? Beale calls for reading the Bible daily, applying the word to your life, and repenting of your sins (pp. 48-49). In other words, Beale calls us to be diligent in the ordinary means of grace that God has given to us.
In Chapter 2, Beale notes, “What you commit to, you become; what you revere, you resemble either for ruin of for restoration” (p. 65). Thus, when men worship idols, they become as useless—as spiritually dead—as the idols they worship. Remember, we have idols today too! We have idols such as covetousness and greed (Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3). We have idols of sports or media. There is no neutrality. What you devote yourself to (time and energy), you conform yourself to also. So, again, Beale urges us to spend our time and energy with God—in his Word and in prayer. For, devoting ourselves to God conforms us to Godliness.
Section #2: Redemptive Irony (Chapters 3-6)
In Chapter 3, entitled “The Irony of Salvation,” Beale shows how the sufferings and death of Jesus led ironically to the glorification of our Lord, as well as to our salvation. He uses OT passages such as Genesis 3, Numbers 21, Deuteronomy 21, and Psalm 8 to prove his point.
In Chapter 4, entitled “The Christian Life: Power Is Perfected in the Powerless,” Beale makes clear that Christians should expect their sufferings to lead to greater power, to good (e.g., Romans 8:28). To demonstrate this truth, Beale examines the life of Joseph and the life of Christ, applying the principles found in these examples to the lives of believers.
In Chapter 5, entitled “Faith in Unseen Realities Contradicts Trust in Superficial Appearances,” Beale notes how poison ivy may seem beautiful, and a Caesarean operation might appear evil, but we should learn to judge realities in deeper ways. Namely, we must live by faith in God’s Word, not by sight (e.g., 2 Corinthians 5:7). Accordingly we must have faith in the midst of: (1) transitoriness (i.e., Abel), (2) unbelief (i.e., Noah), (3) hopelessness (i.e., Abraham), (4) worldly pride (i.e., Moses), (5) wrath (i.e., Daniel and his friends), and (6) tribulation (i.e., the characters cited in Hebrews 11:33-39). Once again, Beale applies this principle (of living by faith) by exhorting his audience to consistently and carefully read and apply God’s Word on a daily basis.
In Chapter 6, entitled “The Irony of Eschatology,” Beale notes, when it seems to be the worst of times, it is actually the best of times for God’s people. When Rome oppressed Israel, Christ came. After His saving death and resurrection, the “slain Lamb” rules as King. Although Christ’s Kingdom is invisible in many ways today, Christ will be revealed and the citizens of the Kingdom that seemed so weak and insignificant, will be proven to be members of the one, great, glorious Kingdom! In the meantime, when we live as Christ (self-sacrificially, not seeking revenge, for example), ironically we exercise our “end-time messianic reign in the kingdom with Christ” (p. 182).
In conclusion, if we would be complete in Christ, we must experience and be conformed unto Godliness through God’s ironic dealings with men.
Beale has tailored this book towards beginners (novices) in Biblical Theology. It is a book filled with Scriptural passages and examples, coupled with clear application, and interspersed from time to time with interesting cultural references (from the Road Runner Cartoon to the song “Cats in the Cradle” to the book character Don Quixote).
Beale applies his theme at various points in two primary ways. First, he evangelizes his audience (e.g., p. 5). Second, he exhorts his audience to read the Scripture daily (e.g., p. 44).
If you are new to the topic, you will likely find this book to be insightful and helpful in very practical ways. If you have studied this topic at some depth already, you will likely read the first line of each section and know where he is heading already. For example, when Beale notes Joseph is an example of redemptive irony, you will jump forward in your mind to Joseph’s experience as one sold into slavery, which ended (ironically) in his ascendancy to power and glory.
Nonetheless, whether discovering Biblical Theology for the first time or being reminded of well-known truths, any reader can be edified by this book, since Beale filled its pages with Scriptural references, added clear and driving application, and built a substantial case that God “primarily” deals with mankind in ironic ways and that such dealings are “necessary in order that faith be given opportunity to grow.”
Ryan Speck is Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Columbia, MO, and is Review Editor for Theology here at Books At a Glance.
Buy the books
REDEMPTIVE REVERSALS AND THE IRONIC OVERTURNING OF HUMAN WISDOM, by G. K. Beale