Monday, May 20, 2013

Review: A Theology of Luke and Acts, by: Darrell Bock

Note: I wrote this review about 8 months ago, but never got around to publishing it.  Better late than never, I guess! Enjoy.


Darrell Bock, A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations.  Biblical Theology of the New Testament.  General Editor: Andreas J. K√∂stenberger.  Downers Grove, IL: Zondervan, 2012.  496 pp. $39.99 hardcover.  

Darrell Bock nearly every decade since the writing of his dissertation, as noted in his preface, produces major work of scholarship in the area of Luke-Acts.  This decade we receive with open arms A Theology of Luke and Acts. 
With this work, it should be first noted that Bock fills a need for a complete and updated theology of the two volume Lukan work.  Since the 1950s much in the way of Lukan studies has been published, but in view of proper theologies committed to the entire body of Lukan material, Bock is correct in noting the gap of scholarship (27). 
In A Theology of Luke and Acts there are two guides for the structure of Bocks overall study.  First, he understands Luke-Acts to share literary and authorial unity, thus treating the theology of Luke and Acts as one unified work, Luke-Acts (55-62).  Second, Bock let’s Luke guide the study.  He says, thus, “we will precede to present theology in steps, looking for major topics Luke treats” (29). 
From such an approach, Bock’s theology of Luke-Acts comes in three broad sections.  He begins with “Introductory Matters,” which contains typical introductory material such as authorship, genre, and date, but a helpful discussion on philosophy of history, and updated discussion on the unity of Luke-Acts, and a literary survey of Luke-Acts set Bock’s intro apart from others one will find in any current commentary.  Next, in section two, Bock spends the majority of his theology, 329 of his 424 pages (there is 496 pages in this work, but I am on counting pages in the body of the work here) on “The Major Theological Themes”. Here Bock, as the section title insinuates, takes a closer look at classic issues in Lukan theology, such as issues of promise and fulfillment in the plan of God, the person and work of Jesus; some others that are typically controversial: “The Law in Luke-Acts” and “Eschatology, Judgment, and Hope for the Future in Luke-Acts,” among others; but Bock also updates Lukan theology with some more recent cares such as, “Women, the Poor, and the Social Dimensions in Luke-Acts,” and “Discipleship and Ethics in the New Community.”  Finally in his third and smallest section, Bock considers the Lukan dual-narrative in light of its reception into the NT canon, contribution to this canon, and relation to other writings in the NT canon. 
As the structure of this volumes goes, the major sections addressed above are supported by chapters that consist of a tapestry of subsections that develop the larger theological topic at hand.  Helpfully, each chapter begins with a select bibliography and a brief orientation to question the chapter is answering.  At the end of each chapter, the conclusion is as brief and simply serves to tie together in a few sentences the topic covered. The actual synthesis of the study does not come until the “Conclusion,” where Bock as a recap probes many questions already raised and sums them together. 
The reader of this volume will benefit from many aspects of this theology, two of which are salient to this reviewer.  First, Bock's writing is, as always, organized and marked with clarity, but not lacking thoroughness that would miss treating a subject in a fashion relevant to academia. 
One example of this is Bock’s “Conclusion”. Here he summarizes his theology in these seemingly implicit questions (I list a few for illustration), all of which are very controversial, especially in the past 60 years of Lukan scholarship. (447-451):

Was eschatology replaced with salvation-history? No.  According to Luke, Jesus came to inaugurate and culminate the plan of God established in the covenant with Abraham, then David: “Luke-Acts is a Missiongeschichte” (448).

Is Luke-Acts anti-Semitic? No.  Bock calls the Lukan Doppelwerk an “in-house debate about legitimacy” just as the prophets engaged in in the Hebrew Scriptures.  In sum, a new community of “the Nations” alongside of, yet distinct from, Israel now exists, which is not new according Scripture.

Is the Holy Spirit merely a spirit of prophesy? No.  The Spirit manifold in its work.  It is the sign of the new age; the evidence that Jesus is resurrected, is justified, and is the Messiah-Lord; and the Spirit is given to the community of believers as a sign that Jesus is in session with the Father and is co-executioner of the divine plan.

Is salvation according to Luke-Acts monolithic? No.  Salvation is illustrated in multifaceted examples.  God saves is a central theme to Luke-Acts, consistent with Marshall (1970).  God, after all is the main actor.

Is the faith of the new community itself new? No.  Bock simply states, “The new community is really an old faith.”  The suffering and glory of Jesus the Messiah is a foretold prophesy known in the Hebrew Scriptures as the vehicle of blessing to the nations promised to Abraham.  

Second, Bock writes as a believing Christian.  Even still in a climate where Bock’s final paragraphs of this work may seem awkward or unscholarly, he states the conclusions of his study in what reads like an erudite benediction.  He notes here that God “cares for his own daily…desires to reach those who are lost…visits His people in Jesus Christ…[and His] Word reveals that, through Jesus Christ, God is mighty, saving, and compassionate.  His arms are open to any who turn to Him” (451).  Bock’s associations and involvement at the highest levels of academia speak for themselves against any thought that his tact may be signs of a tendentious study.  Rather, from this reviewer’s vantage point, this is a study that sets the example for Christian scholars who will follow Bock in coming generations.  
So finally, how then is theology of Luke-Acts summarized according to Bock?  Continuity and legitimation.  Continuity of the new community of faith with the story and faith of Israel.  And legitimation that this new community of Jesus-followers participate in the program of God even “in the face of doubt that others have about it” (448).  Bock gives Jesus primary place, while showing according to the theology found in Luke, that God’s is the major actor in His program and the Holy Spirit is the one who forms the new community of believers in continuity to Israel of the past. 
                One small criticism of the work is that it is a bit ‘text-book-ish’.  How this will affect its influence on the church and academia, and its reach more broadly, is still yet to be seen.  But as a way of publishing Bock’s work, Zondervan may have stifled some of its success by the overly organized, outlined form the book takes.  However, I still believer that in A Theology of Luke and Acts Bock offers without a doubt an instant classic to the NT discipline and a work that comes from a career of diligent study and passion.  As noted earlier, a work such as this was sorely needed, and will be well appreciated and received due to its many virtues by a broad audience interested in Lucan theology.  The benefits from this work will be reaped by many.  

My appreciation to Zondervan for the opportunity to review this book with the expectation of an objective review.

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