Review: Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach (Routledge)

Robin Routledge, Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach
(Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008), 334 pages.

Overview

As the subtitle indicates, Routledge’s Old Testament theology takes a thematic approach, as opposed to going book by book (e.g., Dumbrell’s The Faith of Israel) or centering around a single idea such as covenant (e.g., Williamson’s Sealed with an Oath, which I hope to review soon). I was eager to read it, since I am particularly fond of the thematic approach, and I was not disappointed. After a lengthy introductory chapter (64 pages), Routledge has nine chapter, each on a broad “theme” (“topic” might be a better term) of the OT. It’s obvious that systematic categories are influencing his organization of the material to a certain extent, which I think is both natural and appropriate, if done carefully. His first thematic chapter (chapter two) deals with the identity and nature of God and with the other “gods” in the OT (Baal, etc.). The second chapter discusses creation (the act and the product); the third through the seventh concern “God and his people,” which is subdivided into the topics of “election and covenant,” “worship and sacrifice,” “receiving instruction” (i.e., prophecy, wisdom, etc.), “kingship in Israel,” and “ethics and ethical questions.” “The future” is the subject of chapter nine, which includes eschatology, messianism, and the afterlife. Finally, the last chapter presents the OT teaching on “the nations,” that is, God’s sovereignty over history and his purposes for the nations (i.e., the mission of God and the missionary calling of Israel).

Response

I was pleasantly surprised in a number of places to see him take positions that are often avoided in OT scholarship. For instance, he includes the NT in his discussion, albeit to a limited extent (9, 80), which is rare in an OT theology; he argues for a (cautious) use of typology (45–47); he seeks to make his work theologically relevant and rich (9, 39); and he argues that “there is an essential unity and coherence within the OT” (72). Furthermore, on most issues of debate between traditional evangelicals and critical scholars (who are more and more joined by “progressive” evangelicals) he makes the case for fairly conservative traditional conclusions.

Although it is over 300 pages, it is a quick read, due largely to the substantial footnotes, most of which just list the corresponding discussions in other OT theologies and other sources. This is helpful for further research purposes but means that many of Routledge’s discussions are much shorter than one would like. Furthermore, as noted above, Routledge often comes to conservative conclusions, which is gratifying, but only after lengthy interaction with the standard critical opinions. This detracts from the main purpose of the book, in my opinion, which is to present an OT theology, not an introduction and response to OT critical ideas. For instance, he gives far too much attention to the Documentary Hypothesis. I would have preferred to see him extend his discussion of the theology of Genesis and of the theme of creation, which seemed far too short.

That being said, when he does make theological points, they are rich and edifying. His material is well organized and well written. It was a pleasure to read, even if it left me wanting more.

Conclusion

I would recommend this book to pastors, especially as a reference for Bible studies and Sunday school classes on particular themes or topics, and to seminary students. Interested lay readers will find it helpful as well, though the lengthy footnotes and the discussion of critical issues will detract from the book as a whole. I give this book four stars and would recommend it for purchase. It would be helpfully supplemented by the two other OT theologies mentioned above (Dumbrell and Williamson).

I would like to thank IVP for providing me a review copy.

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About Peter Green

I am a doctoral student at Wheaton College. My dissertation is on vineyard imagery in the Old Testament, particularly as it is used to convey the theme of Creation to New Creation. My interests are (in no particular order): biblical ethics, epistemology, apologetics, sacramentology, science and faith, biblical theology, OT theology, biblical political philosophy, and intertextuality. I consider myself to be in the historic Reformed tradition, and attend a PCA church. I graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary--the PCA's denominational seminary--and hope work for Reformed University Fellowship, which is the PCA's campus ministry, following my PhD studies.
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