The Gospel Coalition

 

Darrell L. Bock. A Theology of Luke and Acts: God’s Promised Program, Realized for All Nations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012. 495 pp. $ 39.99.



There are different scholarly views about the way to construct a theology of Luke and Acts. Some would insist on viewing the evidence of these two volumes separately. Darrell Bock, who has written notable commentaries on both, sets out "to reconnect the volumes to each other and to tell Luke's theological story in which one cannot see Jesus without understanding the story of the community he was responsible for launching" (p. 28). Bock argues that the key actor in Luke's theology is God himself, whose plan Jesus came to fulfil. "The inauguration of this fulfilment came through Jesus and through the church, which consists of both Jew and Gentile. The completion of this fulfilment will come when Jesus returns (Acts 3:18-26)." Bock further observes the enablement of the Spirit as a central theme and provides an "outline of Trinitarian activity".

Luke wrote to Theophilus to give him assurance about the things he had been taught by showing how God was at work in recent events fulfilling his promises (Luke 1:1-4). Bock asserts that two aspects of that claimed fulfillment are likely to have been troubling to Theophilus: "a dead Saviour and a persecuted community of God that included Gentiles, when Israel held the hope of the promise" (p. 29). So the resurrection-ascension of Jesus and the particular role of Paul in the outworking of God's plan for the nations are the focus of attention in Acts.

Before he launches into a full-scale analysis of Luke's theology, Bock provides a brief introduction to the study of Luke-Acts, examining issues such as authorship and date, provenance and genre. He devotes a whole chapter to exploring the case for the unity of Luke and Acts, which is critical to his whole approach. Then he provides an outline and narrative survey of Luke's two volumes. Given his method in the following chapters, I am not sure that this adds much to the book.

Bock's declared intention is "to present the theology in steps, looking at the major topics Luke treats" (p. 29). He then proposes to synthesize the results in a separate chapter, where occasionally he will stop to "take a closer look at specific verses and the exegetical issues tied to the theme at that point." For example, the plan, activity, and character of God are surveyed in chapter 5 as these themes emerge in narrative order. Then in chapter 6 there is a synthesis of texts on the plan of God under the heading "the God of Promise, Fulfillment, and Salvation", with the same bibliography applied to both chapters.

Taking these two chapters together, I am not sure that Bock's approach is as integrated as he intends. Chapter 5 surveys the use of the word "God" in Luke-Acts with a brief commentary on the significance of each context for understanding God's character and plan. Rather than being a synthesis of these findings, chapter 6 explores related issues, such as the way promise and fulfilment function in Luke-Acts or the way the theme of the kingdom of God unfolds. In my view, it would have been better to combine the material in these chapters, with the first focussing on the evidence in the Gospel and the second showing how these themes develop in Acts.

However, I certainly agree with the idea of exploring and expounding theological themes as they are progressively revealed in the narrative of Luke-Acts and only then attempting a synthesis. I am also persuaded that Bock is right to portray God and his plan of salvation as the foundational theme. Christology is next in importance, with chapter 7 devoted to a narrative exploration of "Jesus the Messiah who is Lord and Bringer of the New Era" and chapter 8 attempting "a synthesis on the person and work of Jesus" under the heading "Messiah, Servant, Prophet, Savior, Son of Man, and Lord."

The Holy Spirit in Luke-Acts is treated in a single chapter, as Bock both notices narrative sequence in references to the Spirit and attempts synthetic work. Considering the controversy over this topic, this chapter is surprisingly brief. Bock returns to his pattern of "narrative order" in chapter 10 and "synthetic analysis" in chapter 11, as he deals with the theme of salvation through Christ: how it is achieved, authenticated, propagated, and received.

In the next few chapters, Bock works in narrative order with several topics involving Israel, the Gentiles, the church, discipleship and ethics, women, the poor, and Luke's view of the law. These findings are synthesized in chapter 19 under the heading "Ecclesiology in Luke-Acts", where there is also a section on "the shining examples that come from that new community" since "Luke often reveals his theology through the examples of the individuals he discusses" (p. 371). But this last section is somewhat unbalanced, with only a brief reference to some key events and sayings involving these characters. Again, there is a surprisingly brief treatment of "Structure, Activity and Worship in the Church". Bock's final chapters are titled "Eschatology, Judgment and Hope for the Future in Luke-Acts", "The Scriptures in Luke-Acts", and "Luke-Acts in the Canon".

In conclusion, I would say that Bock's method needs some refining. He attempts to cover too much ground in matters of introduction and in providing a commentary on issues that are not really central to his theological analysis. I appreciate the order in which he has examined themes but feel that there is a lack of attention to some important matters (e.g., magic and the demonic), while others are treated unevenly in his schematic approach.


David Peterson
Moore Theological College,
Newtown, New South Wales, Australia



blog comments powered by Disqus