Book Review: Keith Warrington, Discovering the Jesus in the New Testament

Warrington, Keith. Discovering the Jesus in the New Testament. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2009. 226 pages, pb. $24  Link to Hendrickson   Link to Logos

Keith Harrington is the Vice-Principal and Director of Doctoral Studies at Regents Theological College. This book is a follow up to his Discovering the Holy Spirit in the New Testament (Hendricksen, 2005) and follows the same pattern. His goal is to highlight common threads as well as unique contributions from each of the authors of the New Testament.

WarringtonNo New Testament writer said everything there is to be said about Jesus as a person or his mission. In fact, they rarely address theological questions such as Trinity or the Virgin Birth in a way that is theologically satisfying from a modern perspective. The writers of the NT had two main ambitions, according to Warrington’s. First, “they wanted to reveal who Jesus truly was and to explore his mission” and second, “they wanted to relate these facts to their audiences” (3). His method is text-driven, observing what each book says about Jesus. As such, he avoids historical Jesus questions as well as second order theological problems that trouble later readings of the New Testament. In addition, there is minimal interaction with other scholarship. Each section is rich with scripture references as Warrington pays close attention to the voice of the author.

The books of the NT are taken in canonical order, beginning with the Synoptic Gospels. The first chapter takes Matthew, Mark, and Luke as a whole, but does contain a brief section of the Christology of each author. Since John is next, follows by Romans, there is some chronological disorientation. Paul would be the earliest witness, the Synoptic Gospels. In fact, virtually every other book of the NT was written before John (Revelation is the only exception). I would have preferred the chapters to be laid out chronologically so that is trajectory of Christological development could be traced from the earliest books to the last. This method also separates Luke from Acts and John’s Gospel from his Epistles and Revelation. In the case on the Pauline letters, taking them chronologically may have yielded additional insights as the apostle’s view of Jesus develops over the years. (In fairness, there is a single, brief overview of Paul’s letters before his chapter on Romans.) But this criticism is on the order of “this is not the book I would have written”  and should not distract from Warrington’s otherwise fine presentation in this book.

In general, Warrington divides his chapters into units headed by Christological titles (Lord, messiah, foundation, etc.) or actives of Jesus (redeemer, savior, etc.) Some of these are often repeated in many chapters, since there is continuity throughout the New Testament.  Occasionally there are parts of chapters that do not strike me as on topic. For example, in Acts there is a short comment on the shipwreck in chapter 27 that seems extraneous. In Ephesians there is a short note on being sealed with the Spirit which does not strike me as an activity of Christ despite Warrington’s statement that “Jesus has authorized the sealing of believers with the Spirit” (119). That is not exactly what Eph 1:13 says.

Most of the chapters are brief; Titus and Philemon can be read in a few minutes. Again, in my view most of the Pauline letters could have been drawn together to create a more substantial overview of Paul’s understanding of Jesus.  An entire chapter on the Christology of James is ambitious at best! Some books, however, have a great deal more to say about Jesus, such as the Gospels, Hebrews and Revelation. In fact, Warrington’s chapter on Hebrews is one of the highlights of the book.

Conclusion.  This is a very easy to read introduction to what the New Testament says about Jesus. While there is a great deal of theology in the book, some more theologically minded readers may find the brevity of the book dissatisfying. The book is simply not intended to be a theologically nuanced Christology. Yet for the busy pastor or lay person, this book offers insights into how the New Testament presents Jesus.

NB: I read this book on my iPad using the Logos Bible Software app. The book is available as a part of the Baker Jesus Studies collection from Logos. (This book is one of the many Baker acquired from Hendrickson a few years ago.) The Logos version includes real page numbers and the reader can take advantage of the note-taking and highlighting tools in Logos.

NB: Thanks to Logos for kindly providing me with an electronic review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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