Friday, November 14, 2008

Review: Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel

This volume, by Köstenberger and Swain, as part of the NSBT series of publications, attempts to summarise and synthesise the doctrine of the trinity within John's Gospel. It falls into three parts. The first of these, and shortest, deal with Historical Context, and specifically Jewish monotheism. Much of the groundwork in this section builds on work by Hurtado and Bauckham, both of whom I was reasonably familiar with, and so I gained little personally from this section. Nonetheless, given contemporary debates over 2nd Temple Judaism, it forms an important preliminary element to the book.

The second part is slightly more substantive, treating the biblical data, in turn, for God, Father, Son, and Spirit, in the gospel. There was nothing stunning about these chapters, but they are clear and well-formulated, and save one from doing this kind of digging through the text oneself. Insofar as that is the goal, Part 2 deals admirably with the four subjects. I was pleased to see distinct treatments of Son, Son of God, and Son of Man elements in the Sonship chapter, since these are unhelpfully collapsed in some studies. Understanding 'Son of God' as a messianic designation roughly equivalent to 'king of Israel' (p81) is an important step, though one that is not always maintained throughout the work. The final chapter of this section, ch 6, seems wasted paper - 2 pages of what you have just read, and each of those chapters has a summary and conclusion of its own. This is a tendency throughout the book, to over-summarise in conclusion.

The real worth of this book comes through in the weightier third section, Theological Reflections. Ch 7 shares some very insightful elements of Trinitarian Christology from John (including excellent treatment of the persons of the Trinity, and how John works on the unity of essence and distinction of persons, in relationship to the Son), Ch 8 then does an equally helpful extension of the same kind of thinking to the Spirit. Ch 9 relates a trinitarian theology of mission in John's gospel, and involves elements of Köstenberger's earlier work on both biblical theology of mission as well as John's gospel itself. The main argument here is that John's missiology is deeply trinitarian, and his trinitarian theology emerges as a result of his trinitarian missiology, though this is about the order of knowing, not of being, as they carefully note (well, in a footnote). Their almost two page critique of Yong seemed a little out of place here (p162-3). Ch 10 concludes the bulk of the study with a detailed treatment of ch 17, and engages the contemporary debate concerning the immanent and economic Trinity. I found their account of a pactum salutis revealed in ch 17 far more convincing than speculative constructions of inner-trinitarian covenant theology I have encountered elsewhere, precisely because they did the work to show that the Triune God works in salvation characteristically as each person of the Trinity, and this is revealed as a pre-temporal plan and work that is centered on the glorification of the Son in his death, resurrection and ascension.

Like others, I found the foot-noting a real problem. Footnotes refer to Author and Year, but leave the reader to refer to the bibliography to note the exact work; this is a real hassle, especially for authors with multiple works. It would hardly have increased the length to provide fuller bibliographic details in the footnotes. The regular summaries and conclusions are a little painful, especially for a straight-through read, though they may well be useful for a quick referencing or locating of relevant passages. The first two sections of the book are largely groundwork, but will provide a quick overview of their subject. The real value of this work certainly lies in its third section, and I expect to be making some real profit from it when turning to both patristic trinitarian theology, and Johannine Christology, over the next 12 months.

A fine work, 4 stars.

Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel (New Studies in Biblical Theology)

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