For the sake of simplicity, let’s suppose there are basically three types of books: 1) Excellent, 2) Mediocre, and 3) Terrible. Although representing extreme positions on a continuum of quality, the former and the latter are equally beneficial in at least one respect. For they each provide all the necessary material for a tantalizing book review. The ‘Excellent’ tend to challenge, stimulate, and rouse one’s emotions (whether in favor of or in opposition to the authors thesis), while the ‘Terrible’ fail tremendously in at least two of these. Both provide the needed inspiration to fuel the perspiration, resulting in a provocative appraisal. Unfortunately, the book which I am reviewing, “The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross,” (or Kingdom) falls short (but not miserably so) in each of these categories: it’s not particularly challenging, it’s hardly stimulating, and it barely disturbs one’s passions. It is simply mediocre.
“The Kingdom of God and the Glory of the Cross” is a recent installment of the Crossway series, ‘Short Studies in Biblical Theology’, and is written by Dr. Patrick Schreiner, Assistant Professor of New Testament at Western Seminary. Its purpose is to “help readers to see the whole Bible as a unified story culminating in Jesus Christ.” Adding to the enormity of synthesizing the entirety of Scripture under minimal themes, the books in this series tend to be no longer than 150 pages or so. The type setting is comfortably presented with ample spacing between words, lines, and margins. The presentation of themes and topics is accessible for even the most general audience, it tends to resist unnecessary jargon and esoteric categories, making for an over-all pleasurable and quick read. All of these fine qualities are present also in Kingdom. Moreover, P. Schreiner does an exceptional job communicating his thesis in the introduction (p. 18) and often refers back to it, encouraging the reader to follow his arguments to the end. On a macro-level, the book is well-structured, unfolding his thesis through each of the major parts of Scripture: The Law, The Prophets, The Writings, The Gospels, Acts and the Epistles, and Revelation. Interestingly, the author’s use of the Hebrew ordering of OT books provides thought-provoking insight into the theme of Kingdom anticipation of Jews near the close of canon, highlighting the provocative introduction in Matthew in an exceptional way. To be sure, the material in this book could be of great service to lay preachers and bible study teachers alike.
In looking at the list above, one might ask, “How can one appraise Kingdom as ‘simply mediocre’?” To that question, I would submit at least two areas where Kingdom misses the mark. First, the critical reader will note several instances where the theological grid is a bit forced. For example, the author alludes to mention of trees in the Scriptures (pp. 16-18) as metaphors for the overarching Kingdom motif, and continually applies the symbol to portions of Scripture where it is not altogether apparent. There may, in fact, be some substance to his assertion, however, the author hardly defends this presupposition and even admits that it could simply be a local metaphor without any canonical allusion. The theme hardly deserves to be accepted axiomatically, and, therefore, begs for a more thoughtful justification. Second, and this could simply be a matter of taste, it is my opinion that the book suffers from poor writing. I acknowledge that I prefer a more academic style; perhaps, that is the reason I found myself irritated by the author’s tremendous propensity to repeat himself. Chapters and sections of chapters are overly summarized, regularly giving the sense that one has read the exact same sentence at least twice prior. Repetition is invaluable in public speaking where the audience does not have the ability to rewind, but repetition in a book of this sort (see qualities in paragraph above) is only useful if the adjustment of phrase brings nuance to the surface. Moreover, an 8-10 page chapter does not normally need a summary unless the material is exceptionally dense. Together, these issues tend to make the reading experience somewhat dull.
All things being considered, this book provides a helpful lens through which any student of the Bible may find the grand narrative of Scripture especially transparent. It would be most appropriate and helpful for the young lay minister or bible study teacher who endeavors to better see and communicate the “Big Picture” of God’s Word—in fact, it could prove especially valuable as required reading for young ministers’ classes. With regard to the Apostolic tradition, wherein one typically finds Dispensational leanings, this book could offer a useful supplement, providing a more unified theme of the canon. However, in both cases, Kingdom should be appraised as an introductory text. Therefore, for the more serious student of Scripture, I would probably recommend a more extensive work.