Beale for Dummies

In the casual chatter that precedes a Westminster faculty meeting, Greg Beale once commented that a certain person ‘often gives me good advice on my work.’  'What?  Make it shorter?’ was my response.  Cue silence, death stare, and a perceptible atmospheric shift from the feeling one has at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life to that at the opening of The Seventh Seal.

Anyway, I am pleased to announce that my beloved colleague does seem to have taken my advice and produced  (with Mitchell Kim) a book that might easily have been entitled ‘Beale for Dummies’: God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth (InterVarsity).  Indeed, he seems to have truly repented, for next month sees the launch of a shorter commentary on Revelation which, at just over 500 pages, is a mere  25 times the size of the rather diminutive canonical book.

God Dwells Among Us is exceptionally good.  As it is essentially a summary of Greg’s earlier volume, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, anyone wanting to know the detailed exegetical arguments underlying this work will want to consult that volume.  But if you are looking for a succinct statement of Greg’s biblical theology, packed full of provocative statements, contemporary allusions, and practical applications, then this is the book is ideal.  It could also work well as a book for Bible study or devotions.

The central thesis is that God’s purpose in creation was exhibited in his designing the Garden of Eden as a temple, the place of God's presence.  The task of Adam and Eve was to expand this temple, this place of God’s presence, to the ends of the earth.  The Fall shattered that but the Lord worked through the establishment of shrines, then the Temple in Jerusalem, the incarnation of Christ and now, finally, the church, to carry forward this original purpose.  As such, the temple theme allows us to understand the whole Bible as a coherent whole, with the God of mission -- the God wanting to expand his special temple presence -- right at its core.  

Although the authors only manage to sketch out some of the implications of this thesis, it clearly has significance for Christology, for justification and sanctification, for ecclesiology and for our understanding of the end times.    For those unfamiliar with Greg's work, reading this book will transform and enrich how you read the Bible and how you think about the Christian faith.

I have one or two questions.   First, it is worth noting that not all scholars are persuaded by the ‘Eden as Temple’ idea, perhaps most notably in evangelical circles Dan Block.  I am not qualified to adjudicate on the issue but am always a little perturbed when two scholars I trust are in such disagreement.  

The second concerns a statement made almost in passing on p. 129: ‘God moved out of the Holy of Holies at the inception of the Babylonian exile (Ezek. 10:18; 11:22-23)., and does not appear to have dwelt in the second temple that was rebuilt after the return from Babylon.’   Yet Christ cleansing the Temple and, perhaps even more so, verses like Lk. 2:49 and Matt. 23:21, seem to point to the fact that God is dwelling in his Temple at that point.  I lack the biblical theological insight to know the extent to which this would alter the overall thesis but it is surely significant in some way, even if only at the level of detail.

I close with a quotation (p. 109), one of many pithy moments I could have chosen.  It gives a taste of the beauty and practical wisdom contained in this wonderfully concise yet rich theology of the whole of the Bible, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22:

While the means of growth is the word of God, the context of our growth is often suffering…. Suffering is not an automatic lever to release the life of Christ in us, but suffering is the occasion that we look for Christ’s life to flow in us (2Cor. 4:10, 11).  When we are comfortable, we too easily trust in the adequacy of our resources.  When we are afflicted, we realize the inadequacy of our resources and look to Christ so that his life is released in us.  The life flows not only in us but through us to bless others…. The life of Christ not only strengthens us in weakness but also renews us in glory through suffering.