A Brief Book Summary from Books At a Glance
About the Author
Thomas R. Schreiner (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including New Testament Theology and Romans in the Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series.
In this book, renowned New Testament scholar Tom Schreiner summarizes his massive New Testament Theology into a succinct, helpful, and highly readable form. He presents his major conclusions and the most important lines of evidence, while bypassing scholarly minutia and technicalities. This book takes a thematic look at NT theology. Schreiner focuses only on the main issues and quickly gets to the heart of the topics he discusses. This is a helpful introduction to the field.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises: The Already—Not Yet
Chapter 2 The Centrality of God in New Testament Theology
Chapter 3 The Centrality of Christ in the Gospels
Chapter 4 Jesus’ Saving Work in Acts
Chapter 5 The Christology of Paul
Chapter 6 The Saving Work of God and Christ According to Paul
Chapter 7 The Christology of Hebrews – Revelation
Chapter 8 The Holy Spirit
Chapter 9 The Problem of Sin
Chapter 10 Faith and Obedience
Chapter 11 The Law and Salvation History
Chapter 12 The People of Promise
Chapter 13 The Consummation of God’s Promises
The Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises: The Already—Not Yet
The NT is focused on the nature and work of the triune God. This work must be understood in salvation-history. God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ but have not yet been consummated. NT eschatology is inaugurated but not consummated. The Synoptic Gospels show that the kingdom of God is central to Jesus’ teaching (drawing on a rich OT background), and the kingdom is both already present in the ministry of Jesus and yet awaiting its future fulfillment in eschatological consummation. In the person and work of Jesus, God’s promises were being fulfilled, but they were not being fulfilled in the manner that many were expecting. The miracles and exorcisms that Jesus performed are signs that the kingdom is present, but it starts small and grows.
The concept of “life” is a major theme in the Gospel of John. Life is bound up with the resurrection, but because Jesus is the resurrection and experiences resurrection, life is bound up with Jesus. Life has a greater eschatological form, but it is also a present reality that Jesus’ followers experience. Paul also maintains the tension between the already and the not yet. He separates the present evil age from the glorious age to come, but he also teaches that the ages overlap: the future age is, in some measure, already present, and believers live out their lives in this place of tension. In Acts the gift of the Spirit is a gift of eschatological fulfillment that fulfills some of God’s promises, but this gift does not exhaust all of God’s intentions for the future. The Book of Hebrews places a great emphasis on the present reality that believers experience, but it also looks forward to the consummation of rest and life. The Book of Revelation naturally focuses on the future, but even there we find elements of the already pole of the NT tension. Even though the General Epistles are short and occasional, it is possible to see the already—not yet tension there as well. It is a tension that is fundamental in NT theology.
The Centrality of God in New Testament Theology
The centrality of God in Christ is absolutely foundational in NT theology. Sometimes we miss what is most obvious. God reveals himself in Christ. The Synoptic Gospels teach that God is completely sovereign—nothing happens that is outside of his control. They also teach that God is merciful, so that his sovereign reign reveals his kindness to all (not just the righteous). A third major theme in the Synoptics is the glory of God. Everything exists for his glory, and every creature is to honor him. There is nothing better than knowing God. Praising, thanking, and glorifying God is the most important thing we can do. That God is our Father is a vital and dominant doctrine. In John’s Gospel, the emphasis falls on the fact that Jesus is the unique son of the Father and stands in a special relationship to him. God’s glory is also central in John.
In Acts God is revealed as fully sovereign. He accomplishes his purposes, even using sinful actors who are responsible for what they do. The plan of God includes bringing salvation to the Gentiles, and his grace alone is responsible for conversions. Paul’s writings—like the rest of the NT—are monotheistic. Paul’s high Christology does not overturn monotheism. God is depicted as a God of grace who is absolutely sovereign. Hebrews teaches that God is the only living God, the creator of everything, and a holy, awesome judge. James is explicitly monotheistic and emphasizes God’s goodness and justice. Peter reminds his readers that God is fully in control of the present and the future, and they must live their lives in the knowledge that God is the eschatological judge (the theme of eschatological judgment is also prominent in Jude). God is also, however, the one who has given them the new birth. The Book of First John powerfully communicates that God is light and love. Revelation depicts the sovereign reign of God both now and in the eschaton. From beginning to end the NT is steeped in the OT revelation of God and shows how he is bringing his purposes to pass.
The Centrality of Christ in the Gospels
The centrality of Christ in the NT does not diminish God’s glory: on the contrary, it enhances it. The greatness of Jesus is revealed in a myriad of ways. He is a prophet like Moses, but clearly transcends Moses. He speaks with the authority of God, forgives sins, and accepts prayer. The OT anticipates the coming of a future anointed king in the line of David. Jesus is this Messiah, the son of David who is also David’s lord. The title “Son of Man” is very important in the Gospels. It is a title that Jesus uses frequently about himself. This title is used to describe Jesus’ work on earth, his suffering, and his eschatological coming in glory and judgment. John’s Gospel makes it explicitly clear that the Son of Man’s glorification comes via the cross.
In the OT, Israel is described as “the son of God” as are David’s descendants who reign as kings. This title is applied to Jesus—he is the true son of God, the true Israel, David’s perfect descendant. Yet he is more. Jesus is also the son of God in an absolutely unique and special sense—Jesus is God’s son because he shares fully in God’s nature and equally divine. Jesus’ use of “I Am” in John’s Gospel identifies him with Yahweh (to the point where his opponents try to stone him for blasphemy). Jesus is the logos, the Word of God, the one who is both with God and is God. He comes to serve, suffer, redeem, and save. Jesus is the suffering servant and the substitutionary lamb of God. Jesus saves by his death on the cross and his resurrection to life.
Jesus’ Saving Work in Acts
Since Luke wrote both his Gospel and the Book of Acts, the same high Christology of his Gospel carries over into Acts. Acts emphasizes that Jesus is the resurrected Lord who is reigning in heaven. Jesus pours out the Spirit. The use of the title “Lord” for Jesus equates him with Yahweh, and Jesus is the center of the Day of the Lord as well as the Lord that people call on to be saved. He is the only Lord who saves. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah. He is the servant of the Lord who dies and is vindicated in his resurrection. Prayers are offered to him and he calls and commands with divine authority. Miracles are done in his name, and forgiveness of sins is offered in his name. Jesus is fully God and fully man. Salvation is to be preached around the world in Jesus’ name.
The Christology of Paul
Union with Christ is a fundamental theme in Paul’s epistles. Those who are in Christ share in every spiritual blessing. Paul uses the title “Savior” of both the Father and the Son, sometimes in such close proximity that it is evident his use of the title “Savior” for Jesus is to identify Jesus with God. Jesus is also seen as the unique Son of God, the pre-existent deity. The Christ hymn in Philippians 2:6-11 teaches that Christ is God but did not exploit his deity for his own advantage. On the contrary, he became incarnate so that he could serve, die, and be glorified. Colossians 1:15-20 shows that Jesus is Lord over creation and Lord over the church. He is the full image of God and the firstborn (i.e. the pre-eminent, sovereign one) over all things. Paul frequently calls Jesus “Lord” which clearly references the name of Yahweh. Jesus is worshiped and honored, something that is only appropriate for God. Paul teaches the divinity of Jesus in multiple ways, and there are even times when he calls Jesus “God”. The centrality of Jesus in Paul’s writings cannot be denied.
The Saving Work of God and Christ According to Paul
Salvation is from the Lord, and it begins with his foreknowledge, election, and calling of sinners. God is the one who chooses human beings to be saved and then he effectually calls them to Christ. Those who are called by God are justified by him. Justification is God’s forensic declaration that those who belong to Christ by faith are legally innocent. Believers can be declared justified because they are the recipients of God’s saving righteousness. Those in Christ are covered by an alien righteousness (Christ’s) and are not saved on the basis of their own merit. Jesus offered himself as a propitiation, absorbing and satisfying the wrath of God. He took our curse upon himself and died to pay our debt in full.
Salvation in Paul focuses on deliverance from God’s eschatological wrath. Likewise, the full experience of salvation and life awaits the eschaton. Yet even now believers are saved and reconciled to God through Christ. They are adopted as his children and they are awaiting their inheritance. Christ’s work on the cross has paid their redemption price and also broken the power of sin. Satan and his hosts have been defeated. Believers are sanctified in Christ, transferred from the sphere of sin and death into the sphere of sacred holiness. They eagerly await their final inheritance, the time of their glorification.
The Christology of Hebrews – Revelation
Hebrews depicts Jesus as the true man, the son of David and the Adam who succeeds. Because of his success he has been exalted and reigns at God’s right hand. Jesus is the servant of God and the son of God. He is the one who gives people rest. He reigns as king over all things, but he is a priest-king who provides atonement for his people. Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, a priest who reigns forever and high priest who was established on the basis of the oath of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of the sacrificial system and the fulfillment of the tabernacle cultus. Jesus had to live a perfect human life so that he could die as a perfect substitute. The fact that Hebrews shows Jesus as a genuine man, however, does not mean that it does not reveal Jesus’ deity. The first chapter of Hebrews makes Jesus’ deity perfectly clear. Jesus is fully God and fully man.
James teaches that Jesus is both Messiah and the glorious Lord. Peter’s Christology is rich, revealing Jesus as the Lord, Messiah, perfect lamb, atoning sacrifice, and the one who is returning in glory. He is sovereign Master and Savior. In Second Peter Jesus is explicitly called “God”. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s saving promises. The Lordship of Jesus is also highlighted in Jude, as is his glory and role as eschatological judge. In John’s epistles the logos Christology of the Gospel is continued, but John places a strong emphasis on the historical reality of the incarnation: the pre-existent Son of God became a true man. Revelation is full of high Christology, with Jesus being identified with titles that are reserved for God alone. Christ is the sovereign Lord over history from beginning to end. He is worshiped in heaven itself, in one case in a song that is addressed to both him and the Father. Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords. He rules and reigns over all things, and does so by virtue of his conquering death and shed blood.
The Holy Spirit
God’s work is not yet completed, but the present gift and ministry of the Spirit shows that it will be. There is one name in which Christians are baptized, but it is a three-fold name of Father, Son, and Spirit. This is not a polytheistic expression since there is one singular name, but it can only be understood in a Trinitarian theology. Jesus is conceived by the Spirit, anointed with the Spirit, and led by the Spirit. The Spirit also fills Jesus’ followers so they can prophesy and speak the truth about Christ, proclaiming salvation in the name of Jesus. Jesus is the one who gives the gift of the Spirit to his followers, since the Spirit was given to him by his Father when he was exalted. The outpouring of the Spirit is not just to give Jesus’ followers charismatic power—it also functions to show that individuals and different people groups have been accepted into the community of the people of God. Acts shows that in the new age of the Spirit, Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles are all included in God’s community. The Spirit is revealed as a personal being who shares in the essence of deity with the other members of the Trinity.
In the Gospel of John the Spirit is the giver of life. He is poured out after Jesus’ death and glorification. John 13-17 contains unique teaching about the nature and role of the Spirit. He is the Paraclete, a personal being who comes to fulfill a multitude of functions after Jesus ascends to heaven. The Paraclete leads the disciples into truth and also convicts the world of sin, showing that Jesus is the righteous one and that the world is guilty because they have rejected him. The Spirit is not independent of Jesus, but comes to bring him glory as a witness to his life and work.
In Paul’s letters the Spirit is a gift of the new age, a seal and guarantee of future consummation. Every Christian has the Spirit, which testifies to the fact that every believer is part of the new age. Christians are led by the Spirit and Spirit produces fruit in their lives. The gifts of the Spirit are secondary to the confession that Jesus is Lord. There are not many references to the Spirit in Hebrews, but he is seen as the mark of new life that is given to believers. First Peter references the Spirit in diverse ways, but they are tied to the Spirit’s relationship with Jesus. The Spirit was at work in the life and resurrection of Jesus and is continuing to work amongst Jesus’ followers. In Revelation the Spirit witnesses to Christ and inspires the prophecy. The Spirit is referred to as the seven spirits of God, speaking of his completion and perfection. He resides in glory and his name is used in Trinitarian formulas.
The Problem of Sin
Human beings require salvation because they are sinners. The Synoptic Gospels show clearly that every human heart is rotten with sin, and that everyone needs repentance. Sin and pride, however, keep people from hearing and responding to the message of God. John uses the metaphor of light and darkness, asserting that people love darkness and reject the light. The world is set forth as a rebellious order that hates God and rejects Christ. Its inhabitants are blind, proud, and rebellious.
The Book of Acts does not shy away from the evil of the human heart and it shows how this evil is responsible for the rejection of Christ. Nevertheless, Jesus died to save people and provide forgiveness for their sins. Paul sees the fundamental sin as a rejection of God and a failure to honor and thank him. People commit different sins, but every sin comes from the same root. Every single person—whether Jew or Gentile—is a sinner who has fallen short of the glory of God. Nobody can be righteous on the basis of what they do, whether they have the Law or not. Only those who exercise faith in Christ will be saved. Sinners do not merely sin, they are in bondage to sin. They cannot please God. They live in death and are slaves of Satan. They are born under Adam’s sin and cannot transcend their sinful nature. The General Epistles confirm that sin is pervasive and that people are lost and rebellious. Rejecting God is the heart of sin. Revelation reveals that sin is a terrible, defiling uncleanness, and those who do not turn away from it will experience eschatological wrath.
Faith and Obedience
The proper response that people should have towards God can be summarized by the words “faith” and “obedience”. The Synoptics show that faith recognizes spiritual poverty and looks to God for salvation and righteousness. People are healed according to their faith, but these physical healings point to deeper spiritual realities. Genuine faith is accompanied by repentance. Those with real faith will work for the Lord in obedience. This obedience does not earn salvation, but where obedience is absent it is proof that there is no saving faith. Like Luke’s Gospel, Acts holds faith, repentance, and obedience together.
The verb “believe” is a critical word in John’s Gospel. It is an active, vibrant believing faith that is necessary for receiving eternal life. This faith is Christ-centered. Those who believe in Jesus receive him, see him as he is, feed on him, come to him, abide and remain in him. Some people profess to believe in Jesus, but saving faith is public and perseveres to the end. John’s First Epistle very strongly communicates that genuine belief transforms lives. People who truly know God will obey him, forsake evil, and love God and others. John is not saying that believers will be perfect and without sin, but that their lives will show an orientation to holiness and righteousness.
In Paul’s letters, sinners are only justified through faith in Christ. Sinners must trust in what Christ has done and not in their own works. Genuine faith will generate the fruit of good works, which are the evidence of faith. Hebrews was written to call people to faith and obedience. Strong warnings are issued against falling away from faith. There is no possible atonement if Jesus’ atonement is spurned. Hebrews 11 reveals that God’s people did their great works because of faith. James does not contradict Paul in regards to works, faith, and justification, but he does approach the subject from a different angle. James insists that those who give intellectual assent to certain doctrines but who do not have works are not justified before God. God will only justify those who have works, but those works are produced by faith. This agrees with Paul. Revelation calls for repentance, obedience, and perseverance to the very end.
The Law and Salvation History
There is both continuity and discontinuity between the OT law and the NT. In Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of the OT promises and the law. As a result, the law does not apply to believers exactly like it did before Jesus came. Jesus teaches that some laws have lost their force now that he is present, but others continue. The entire law must be interpreted through Jesus. In Luke-Acts the same tension between continuity and discontinuity is present. Certain laws are no longer in force, but the law is not simply written off. Gentiles are accepted into the covenant people of God without needing to conform to all of the regulations of the law. The law must be read in terms of salvation-history and the era of fulfillment that is inaugurated by Jesus.
Paul is explicit that the old covenant structure has come to an end. For Paul, the Abrahamic covenant is foundational, and the old covenant did not overturn it. On the contrary, the old covenant was a guardian that watched over the child until the child reached the age of maturity where they could handle their inheritance. The law pointed forward to Jesus, and now believers are under the law of Christ. Love is the key, but love has moral content and is not reducible to feelings. Hebrews presents the law as the shadow and Christ as the substance. Christ is a new priest, new sacrifice, and brings the new covenant. The law was typological and is now fulfilled.
The People of the Promise
The church is the community of people that are Abraham’s spiritual descendants who are a blessing to the world. Matthew records that the church will include all nationalities, and that the gates of hell cannot overcome it. Acts shows the growth of the church and describes its early life in the Spirit. John does not discuss the church to the same degree as Matthew or Luke, but he does describe the church’s mission and the necessity of love. Paul presents the church as the new Israel. It is an organism with Christ as the head, existing for his glory and to proclaim his glory. Peter concurs that the church is the true Israel, and he also describes it as the true temple. The church as the true Israel is also a major category in Revelation, but this true Israel is comprised of an innumerable people from all over the world. The church is persecuted now and tempted to compromise, but she is to persevere in anticipation of her wedding feast with the Lamb.
The Consummation of God’s Promises
The Synoptic Gospels teach that Jesus is coming back in a great, public event (the imagery and language of the Olivet Discourse is not completely fulfilled by the events of AD 70). Jesus’ coming is relatively soon, but nobody knows exactly when it will be. Jesus’ disciples are to watch and be prepared. John focuses more on inaugurated eschatology, but he still refers to the eschaton, and Revelation depicts the return of Jesus and the final judgment. Paul also emphasizes eschatological judgment and reward. Believers are to look forward to Jesus’ return. Other NT writers communicate the same general points with emphases on the certainty of Christ’s return, the necessity of being ready, eschatological rewards or punishments, and the glory of the consummation.
The theme of judgment is pervasive in the Synoptics and Acts. On that day the sheep and the goats will be separated, with some going to eternal destruction and some going to eternal life. Revelation is filled with the theme of judgment. The righteous go into the wonders of the new heavens and new earth, while the wicked are cast into the lake of fire. Paul describes the personal wrath of God that the wicked will experience. God judges all people perfectly, knowing all that they have done. Second Peter and Jude are filled with the theme of eschatological judgment. Some were denying it, but it is a sure thing. God has acted in judgment in the past, continues to judge in the present, and will certainly judge in the future.
The theme of reward is presented in a variety of images in the NT. The Synoptics use different pictures and articulate various blessings, but the general point is that believers are rewarded with eternal life in glory. “Eternal life” is a dominant idea in John’s Gospel. Revelation—as much as it describes punishments—beautifully describes the rewards and eternal home of believers. All the promises are summed up in the reality that believers will dwell in the presence of God. This state is experienced after the resurrection. Paul is very focused on the resurrection and future state. It is a glorious reality that should be anticipated eagerly. The General Epistles also express these major ideas, but with their unique accents and emphases. The NT vision of the future life of believers is indescribably rich.
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Magnifying God in Christ: A Summary of New Testament Theology