A Book Review from Books At a Glance
by Taylor Lassiter
Dr. Brian Tabb is academic dean and professor of biblical studies at Bethlehem College & Seminary. He is general editor of Themelios and the author of All Things New; Suffering in Ancient Worldview; and 1-2 Timothy and Titus: A 12-Week Study. In his After Emmaus: How the Church Fulfils the Mission of Christ, Brian Tabb aspires to connect the gospel account of Luke with the Acts of the Apostles to create a clear paradigm to view the work of Christ across the entirety of the Scriptures. Tabb states that his work “proposes that Jesus gives his followers a hermeneutical lens with which to understand the Scriptures” (18). This lens, he suggests, is found in the account of Jesus speaking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. By analyzing the elements of the words of Christ from Luke 24:25-27, Tabb guides the reader into seven chapters that trace the messianic promises of the Old Testament to the work of Christ and the ongoing work of God in the church today.
While this is standard fare in contemporary Biblical Theology, Tabb desires to take an extra step. His distinctive claim is that not only Christology should be derived from the overarching themes of Christ’s mission, but also missiology. Tabb repeatedly claims that the church’s missiology does not suddenly appear out of thin air with the Great Commission mandate from Christ, but rather is derived from a careful consideration of Christ throughout the Old Testament (especially the Psalms and Isaiah) and to be re-announced in Luke’s Gospel account. Tabb suggests that Christ’s exposition on the road to Emmaus provides a connection between Christology and missiology and that the contemporary church must grasp this connection (19). This missiological connection creates a unique construct for the reader. Though the work is not explicitly missiological, there are key themes and areas where Tabb connects the work of Jesus with the ongoing mission of the church.
Tabb then uses the discourse between Jesus and the disciples to create an outline for his work. He begins with the promised suffering, resurrection, and global hope of the Messiah in fulfilment of Old Testament promise within Luke’s gospel (chapters 2, 3, and 4), followed by the outworking of this paradigm in Acts through the Apostles preaching (chapter 5) and global mission (chapter 6). He then supports his claim from a synthesis of other New Testament writings outside of the Lukan accounts (chapter 7) and concludes with an admonition to the church to continue the Messiah’s message and mission (chapter 8). This outline, Tabb suggests, is derived from Luke 24 as Jesus summarizes His Messianic mission to the bewildered disciples (23).
Of particular note in Tabb’s presentation of the connection between Christology and missiology is his use of Isaiah 40 (especially vv. 3-5) in chapter 4, “A Light to the Nations.” It is at this moment when After Emmaus begins to address its title shifting the reader’s attention to the work of the church after the resurrection. A reader familiar with biblical prophecy and messianic anticipation will find little unique in the early chapters, but it is at this point where Tabb begins to draw the reader into the global work of Jesus. Tabb cites David Pao in claiming that “Isaiah 40:3-5 is ‘the hermeneutical key’ for properly understanding Luke’s Gospel and Acts.” Though it is nearly midway through the book, it is at this point where the patient reader will begin to see Tabb deliver on his early promise to connect Christology and missiology. Without evaluating the accuracy of Pao and Tabb’s claim, this observation will help the reader know that Tabb does indeed deliver on his promise to connect the two disciplines, though it does not yet happen until midway through this fantastic volume.
Is there a link between Christology and missiology established in the conversation between Jesus and the two on the road to Emmaus? Tabb claims it is so, and masterfully establishes this claim, particularly in his regard to the message of the Apostles and the church today. The greatest strength of this volume is Tabb’s repeated verification that the message of the Apostles was not unique but merely repeating the claims of Jesus and the Old Testament prophets, though from a perspective of fulfillment rather than anticipation. Tabb guides the reader into a deep dive into Biblical Theology to carefully show the skeptical reader that Jesus’ message was predicted in the Old Testament and fulfilled in full by Christ. Though the suffering of the Messiah is clear in Isaiah, Tabb snatches the theme of Christ rising “on the third day” to show that Jesus’ resurrection was not haphazard. From the prophecy of Simeon (68), the Exodus (69), the sign of Jonah (72), Hosea 6 (79), and Davidic Psalms (80), Tabb reinforces the claim that the apostolic message in Acts is dripping with prophetic implications, demonstrating that the global commission of Christ is merely a continuation of God’s global plan.
A second strength of After Emmaus is the use of Joel, Amos, and 1 Peter to reinforce the claim of the Lukan hermeneutical “lens.” Those serious about their Bible will have learned that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, different authors will have different messages in mind to communicate to a particular audience at a particular time. This truth may cause the reader to be skeptical of Tabb’s claim that the Biblical books written by Luke should stand as the guiding interpretive lens of both Christology and mission. Yet by pulling from a variety of prophets and the Apostolic instructions in 1 Peter, Tabb defends his claim by showing Luke’s narrative is not exclusively specific. Though the reader may tire of this repeated defense, it shows that Tabb’s claim is virtually undeniable – the church is given a continuation of the message and mission of Christ.
Two things could have strengthened this wonderful volume. First, there are times when it seems that Tabb is assuming his readers will share his views of the continuity of the covenants. For example, Tabb pulls from Peter’s second sermon in Acts 3 to note the global blessing of God from Abraham is found not in a national people of Jewish origin, but rather exclusively in a particular descendent – Jesus Christ (148-149). While most of Tabb’s audience would likely agree with this interpretive framework (the recommendations on the book’s cover are a virtual “Who’s Who” list among Reformed Evangelicals, Tabb’s theological tribe), a reader with a more dispensational bent may question some of Tabb’s assumptions. It does not mean that Tabb is incorrect in his conclusions, but that he does not take care to anticipate criticism of several key hermeneutical assumptions, especially regarding the role of Israel in God’s global plan. While the writer of this review personally agrees with the conclusions of this work, a more guarded defense would have strengthened Tabb’s claims.
A second and more significant criticism of After Emmaus is that while the theological claims for mission are adequately defended, the reader is left hungry for the practical implications of these theological claims. The unique aspect of this work is that it claims to be both Christological and missiological, yet the emphasis is far more upon the former than the latter. The practitioner awaits patiently for the missiological application to the contemporary church, yet Tabb does not fully connect to the work of the church until the final chapter, and even then it is only a dozen scant pages of recap from previous claims. In this final chapter, Tabb speaks of the church’s message, mission, and motivation in a few brief paragraphs. If Tabb had taken each of these aspects and concluded with a correlation of primary thesis of each chapter to these three, the practical outworking of this book would have been tremendous. For example, how does the suffering of the Messiah impact the church’s message, mission, or motivation? Simply taking the next step of application would have been simple. The reader is thus left longing for the missiological connections and is only left with a few brief pages at the end of each chapter to bring the theological implications to bear in the life of the church. This step would have transformed After Emmaus into a truly unique contribution.
One final note of evaluation is a nod to the publisher. The artwork from Diego Velázquez’s The Supper at Emmaus is eye-catching, and the typeface and book size make it a pleasing tome in the hands of the reader. The pop-culture stories that illustrate the main thrust of each chapter help the reader avoid drowning in the depth of Biblical Theology and refresh the excited reader. The Scripture reference guide is phenomenal, and the presence of footnotes rather than endnotes by Crossway makes this author appreciative of the thoughtfulness of Crossway in the prospective audience of this ideal paperback.
After Emmaus is a masterful work of Biblical theology and takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the Scriptures. Though an amateur reader may be overwhelmed with the repetition of the primary claim and Biblical references, even the novice will see how Tabb guides the hungry reader along the way with an impregnable defense of his claims. Though targeted toward Christology and missiology, those from every theological discipline will benefit from this volume that is written to be accessible to both lay leaders and the experienced theologian. Missiologists and practitioners will be left longing for more practical applications in each chapter, but it will not be difficult for one who desires to use this volume to derive everyday use in both the local church and the mission field. Tabb has blessed the church with his study, and one desiring to understand the Biblical story of redemption more deeply should eagerly begin reading After Emmaus.
College Heights Baptist Church, Plainview, TX
Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
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AFTER EMMAUS: HOW THE CHURCH FULFILLS THE MISSION OF CHRIST, by Brian J. Tabb