Tuesday, 27 January 2015

In Gratitude to G. K. Beale

It was 2004; I’d been working on my doctorate on providence for just over a year and was a little unsure of where I was going with my thoughts. I’d reached a point where I wanted to argue for a non-deterministic account of providence but didn’t know how to construct such an argument. My basic presupposition at this point was that God had created the world and left it to run according to its own laws but in such a way that ‘deism’ didn’t become an issue. Deism, for me, implied absence; but God remains present, even if the world is autopoietic (to use Niels Henrik Gregersen’s term). And so I started thinking about how, in Scripture, divine presence is intimately connected with the temple. But I knew next to nothing about the temple beyond the most basic things.

Not long after this, I discovered G. K. Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission. It’s perhaps a cliché to talk about a book being revolutionary, but The Temple was truly this for my research. It opened me to a whole world of ideas – what Margaret Barker calls ‘temple theology’ – that I see as having a potentially enormous impact on the doctrine of providence. My doctorate – now published, of course (plug, plug), as Providence Made Flesh – in large part ended up an attempt to lay a foundation for providence that took into account the eschatological trajectory Beale notes in Scripture: that the garden is to become a city through faithful human action, and that the whole of creation is to become the holy of holies, the place of God’s presence. I could not have achieved what I did without my now well-thumbed copy of The Temple.

The prompt for this post is my awareness that the content of The Temple has been ‘distilled’ into a new, less technical book, God Dwells Among Us. According to the publication blurb, Mitchell Kim, lead pastor at Living Water Alliance Church, preached a series of sermons based on The Temple, and these sermons have themselves been expanded and published as God Dwells. Thus God Dwells appears to be aimed more at Christians who don’t want or need to get into the depth of The Temple. One chapter, entitled ‘Why Haven’t I Seen This Before? Hermeneutical Reflections’, looks particularly interesting. Given the prevalence of the temple theme in Scripture, I’ve often wondered why few theologians and biblical scholars seem to give it a second glance (cf. N. T. Wright’s comments in Paul and the Faithfulness of God), and I’d be interested to read Beale’s own reflections on the possible reasons why.

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