In 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law, Professor Schreiner very concisely offers a wealth of useful information. The book is laid out in five sections:
Part 1: The Law in the Old TestamentThe first and fourth parts are shortest (three questions each), and the second the longest (twenty-two questions, divided into three parts). Schreiner tackles the big ones, such as:
Part 2: The Law in Paul
Part 3: The Law in the Gospel and Acts
Part 4: The Law in the General Epistles
Part 5: The Law and Contemporary Issues
- What Does the Word Law Mean in the Scriptures?
- Was the Mosaic Covenant Legalistic?
- Does the Old Testament Teach That Salvation Is by Works?
- What Does the Expression “Works of Law” Mean in Paul?
- Is Perfect Obedience to the Law Mandatory for Salvation?
- How Should We Understand the Use of Leviticus 18:5 in the Scriptures?
- Does Paul Teach That the Old Testament Law Is Now Abolished?
- According to Paul, What Was the Purpose of the Law?
- Does Paul Distinguish Between the Moral, Ceremonial, and Civil Law?
- What Is the “Law of Christ”?
- How Should We Understand the Antitheses in Matthew 5:21–48?
- Why Did Paul Circumcise Timothy When He Refused to Circumcise Titus?
- What Does John Mean by Keeping God’s Commands in 1 and 2 John?
- Is the Sabbath Still Required for Christians?
- Should Christians Tithe?
- What Is Theonomy, or Christian Reconstructionism, and How Should It Be Evaluated?
- What Role Does the Law Have in Preaching?
Readability. Schreiner is, in the overused phrase, a "world-class scholar," yet I find his tone engaging, candid and conversational. He admits to having changed his view from time to time (e.g 67, footnote 7). Schreiner works hard to keep the reader on the page, not assuming an understanding that may not exist. For instance, before discussing "legalism," Schreiner defines it (25), which can be dicey. The prose of the text is also broken up with a number of contentful, helpful tables and charts.
I think many will find the "summary" at the end of each chapter particularly useful. The discussion can be complex, but Schreiner always returns and nicely boils it down for us. A series of "Reflection Questions" also enhances usefulness in study group contexts.
A number of critical truths are excellently-put. For instance, "Faith looks to God's promises and his supernatural work, but law finds blessing through what human beings accomplish" (49). Also, in the context of Christian living, Schreiner emphasizes the dynamic of love — and adds "love also is defined by the content of the commandments so that love does not devolve into sentimentality" (197). Earlier, Schreiner had well said,
Love is like a river that replenishes the human spirit, but moral norms provide boundaries so that the river is not dispersed abroad but retains its strength and power. Because human beings are sinners, they are prone to deceit and may identify as righteous a course of action that is contrary to love. Moral norms stipulate the nature of love, clarifying what is righteous and what is unrighteous. (106)Good writing and good teaching at the same time. Not as common as one could wish.
Substance. Schreiner isn't at all averse to running athwart common scholarly opinion. For instance, it has been common for decades to say that the Hebrew word tôrâ (commonly "law") means instruction, rather than commands. Schreiner demurs, noting that the term "usually refers to what human beings are commanded to do," though not denying that it can mean more than "commands and prescriptions" (19). I think that hits it right, as I see it as well. In an appendix to the Proverbs book, I say that tôrâ refers to "authoritative instruction that was meant to bring God’s own perspective to bear on daily living" (349). Schreiner's entire chapter on this question (19-23) provides an excellent survey of the meaning of common terms used, packed with plenty of useful citations and specifics.
Unlike the recent reissue of the ZPEB, Schreiner tackles the "New Perspective" at some length (35-64), concluding that its foundation "is not nearly as secure as some claim," and faulting it for being "overly simplistic" in some of its readings of the original documents (39), and noting that "The problem is with what the New Perspective brackets out of Paul's theology" (42).
An annotated bibliography adds to the value, as do indices and (of course, because after all this is a serious book) footnotes.
Sidenote: I notice that Schreiner addresses a number of issues by appealing to "a redemptive-historical standpoint" (175) — that is, to the location of a text within the flow of redemptive history. In other words, without meaning to put words in Prof. Schreiner's mouth, it is essential to relate a text to its administrative context, to where it falls in the unfolding of God's plan for the ages. Is it in the context of the Mosaic Law, for instance, or of the Law of Christ?
Of course I think that Schreiner is right, and to ignore this is to flatten the text of Scripture and, however unintentionally, to do it violence. Far lesser lights have also argued and developed the hermeneutical importance of this point at some length, though they use another term than "redemptive-historical standpoint." One wonders whether it may not be time to give that (here unnamed) school of thought a little deserved credit for enduring many slings and arrows for arguing for what every bacon-loving Christian has tacitly admitted for millennia.
This is a terrific book and and terrific help. I heartily recommend 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law to all, and expect to return to it repeatedly in years to come.