Messiah Jesus: Christology in His Day and Ours

12.01.07 | Denver Journal, New Testament, Craig L. Blomberg | by Douglas W. Kennard

    Dr. Craig Blomberg's review of, "Messiah Jesus: Christology in His Day and Ours," by Douglas W. Kennard.

    Douglas W. Kennard, Messiah Jesus: Christology in His Day and Ours.  American University Studies, Series 7: Theology and Religion, vol. 263; New York: Peter Lang, 2008.  $99.95.  xi + 605 pp.  ISBN 978-0-8204-9739-6.

    Doug Kennard is a veteran professor of New Testament at Bryan College in Tennessee about whose classroom skills students rave, an active conference speaker especially within the Evangelical Theological Society, and a fine scholar as demonstrated by his previously published books.  The announcement of a major work of his on the historical Jesus, therefore, raised great interest and keen expectations on my part, especially when I heard that it was based to a substantial degree on his years of teaching on the topic.  Kennard explains in his introduction that he has had to cut large parts of his manuscript, however, which included Jesus' "reflection through the variety of Biblical voices and then reflected by literature and art" (p. 9).  This is too bad, for one imagines that here lay the real distinctive and potential contribution of the volume.

    What remains is divided into eighteen chapters of very different lengths.  Although they are arranged in a reasonably logical order with a modicum of coherence among them, their origin as discrete papers, essays and expansions of class notes remains clear.  Several treat different stages of Christ's life or key elements of his ministry (e.g., kingdom teaching, miracles, relationship to the Law), others look at Jesus from a particular angle (e.g., prophet, sage, king), and a few focus on the distinctive presentations of certain Gospels (e.g., Mark on the controversy of Jewish traditions, Luke and John on the extension of the Spirit to the Gentiles).  Succinct but very accurate, summarizing conclusions appear at the end of most chapters, and the volume overall is concluded by an extensive bibliography along with detailed Scripture, subject, and author indexes.

    If there is both a unifying theme as well as a distinctive to Kennard's numerous self-contained chapters, it involves his copious references to Jewish backgrounds.  The most relevant of these are discussed in the text itself, but the endnotes after each chapter are a gold mine of additional information with countless references to both Second Temple Jewish and post-Christian rabbinic literature.  If anything, one could wish that the contents of more of these could have been spelled out in the chapters themselves.

    Some of the stronger treatments in the book include Kennard's studies on faith in the Synoptic Gospels, the ways in which Jesus made clean the unclean rather than contracting impurity from them, the distinctively Hebraic style and form of numerous teachings of Christ  (especially his ethical injunctions), the intentional devices by which Jesus trained his disciples, the interpenetration of the various persons of the Trinity in the Johannine Farewell Discourse and Jesus' final prayer and their implications for believers' relationship with the Godhead, a via media in interpreting the parables (between detailed allegorizing and none at all) based on what the original audiences would have most likely understood, Jesus' emphasis on the relationship between God forgiving us and our forgiving others, a preterist-futurist approach to the eschatological discourse, the intertestamental developments of the concept of sacrifice, the centrality of Jesus' role as King in the Passion narratives, the impossibility of fairly excising final judgment from the message and mission of Jesus, the unity and diversity in Acts in the various speeches that present Jesus himself as the Gospel, and the evidence for Jesus as the God-man (still within a fully Jewish context) that would prepare the way for expanded Christological affirmations among the Patristic writers without distorting earlier generations' less elaborate beliefs.

    Weaker sections include the relationship between Jesus' teaching and the Law (or between Luke's understanding of its application to the next generation as evidenced in Acts).  Kennard simply does not do adequate justice to the discontinuities between Jesus and traditional Judaism, so that he winds up affirming that the Law remains in force for Jewish Christians.  It seems odd that he takes his view on parables as an alternative to mine, when in fact we are extremely close in our methods.  He strongly resists seeing any substitutionary atonement in the Gospel materials, without a sufficiently detailed treatment of the specific grammar and diction, particularly in Mark 10:45 and 14:24, which lead many to think it is present there.  And in most chapters, a surprising percentage of Kennard's material simply retells the key Gospel stories relevant to his topic-no doubt important in some classroom contexts, but not necessarily to be printed in full in textbooks, per se.

    The biggest problem with Messiah Jesus involves the proofreading.  Whatever was undertaken prior to publication proved drastically inadequate.  Countless words, especially names of people and places and foreign words, are misspelled, some of them repeatedly, punctuation is misplaced, endnote entries are highly inconsistent in form, accent marks are frequently missing from Greek words, the wrong inflectional form of a Greek or Hebrew word appears, and apostrophes are wrongly placed or lacking where they are needed in almost every conceivable permutation-some times a half a dozen errors in this category alone on a single page. 

    Could this book make a competent textbook for advanced undergraduates or beginning graduate students on the topics of Jesus and the Gospels?  Most assuredly, especially if a subsequent print run cleans up the hundreds of typographical errors that currently appear.  But the price, typical for a press that mostly publishes minimally revised doctoral dissertations, will discourage most students.  Does Kennard's volume break new ground, in convincing ways, for fellow scholars?  No, it doesn't, nor is it really even a state-of-the-art survey of scholarship on each topic.  I confess that in this respect my initially high expectations remain rather unmet.

    Craig L. Blomberg, Ph.D.
    Distinguished Professor of New Testament
    Denver Seminary
    December 2007

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