The title on my business card reads Local Theologian. Carrying that title means that I try to be an ongoing student of both theology and the local cultures of Austin. Theology comes in all forms, but one of my personal commitments is to continue reading books written at an academic level. Academic books can be thick, and they often aren’t high on the readability scale. I only read a section or two a day, meaning I only work my way through a handful every year.
All of this means I try to be choosy, while also reading theology from a variety of backgrounds. As I looked through the Intervarsity Press catalog last fall, I took notice of The Indelible Image, by Ben Witherington. Witherington teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary and comes from a conservative Evangelical perspective. I hadn’t read any of his books, but from the handful of writings I’d read on his blog, I knew him to be a true scholar in that he was fair and engaging with other perspectives than his own.
What drew my interest to The Indelible Image was the subtitle: The Theological and Ethical World of the New Testament. While this book is only volume one, with a second volumne on the way, Witherington goes to great length to show that the theological concerns of the New Testament writers were not only a proper understanding of God, but a shaping of behavior as well. Withering puts it this way in the intro:
To sum it up succintly: God wants his moral and spiritual character (and behavior) replicated in his people. As God is holy, just, righteous, loving, compassionate, merciful, and so on, so also he expects his people to be.
A book like this is not going to be for everyone. You have to be interested or motivated to work your way through it. Admittedly, sometimes it was discipline and intention to finish that pushed me onward. Witherington is readable, but as you’d expect in an academic work, he’s also very thorough. Very.
But in the end, it was a helpful book for me. If theology is to shape behavior, which I think it must, then this will be more evident at a local level than at any other. I’m left to consider asking…how can the understanding of a transcendant God shape the way our church community lives in our neighborhoods?
If 800+ plus pages can be neatly tidied up into a few sentences, than Witherington does it here:
Salvation then involves both belief and behavior, both cognitive content and character. As God is loving, holy, just and good, so he intends to renovate for himself a people who are holy, just and good. Ethics is the working out of the saving activity which God’s Spirit has been working in and into us, to will and to do.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”