There has been no shortage of narrative theologies written in the past five years. Books such as Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne, Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell, and The God Who is There by D.A. Carson are just a few of the many titles that rehearse the narrative of the Old and New Testament, thus providing a panoramic view of the totality of Scripture.
I'll admit...it has gotten a bit tiring.
Enter Jim Thompson's A King and a Kingdom: A Narrative Theology of Grace and Truth. I will admit that I was hesitant to read yet another narrative theology. I mean, after all, haven't we read enough? Do we need yet another spin on how the Bible fits together?
Here is the simple fact about Thompson's book: you NEED to read this book.
The structure of the book itself is straightforward enough. The first two chapters lay the groundwork for the rest of the book by establishing both the Bible's authority and the total aim (or chief ends) of theology and man. Both chapters, while not revolutionary, are eloquently written and set the tone for the rest of the book.
Chapters 3-7 are the meat and potatoes of the book (sort of!). Here is where the narrative theology begins. Without detailing everything, I will state that Thompson's Kingdom-Covenant-Gospel motif is as convincing as any other concerning the overarching structure of the Bible. In some ways this paradigm is broad enough to encompass many other views as well. As a result, Thompson's reading of the text is both fluid, flexible and accessible.
It is also coherent. Whereas some narrative theologies lose the reader or fail to show how each part of the unfolding drama relates to the larger theme, Thompson continually hammers upon the Kingdom-Covenant-Gospel theme--somehow without getting repetitive!
I will also say this--most narrative theologies get bogged down in their selection of which stories to highlight and how much depth to go into each section. However, Thompson thankfully avoids this issue. I felt that he dealt with the appropriate sections with both conciseness and yet with enough detail to satisfy most. Perhaps one of the reasons Thompson succeeds here is because he actually employs footnotes, which allow him to both clarify and expound without getting the reader bogged down in the main text. Also, throughout the book are numerous charts which keep the actual flow of the text moving nicely.
As excellent as chapters 3-7 were, however, I felt that the latter half of the book is what separated A King and A Kingdom from the rest. Here, Thompson takes an extra step and merges his narrative theology to four issues in systematic theology (soteriology, pneumatology, ecclesiology and eschatology). Each chapter expounded on how the Kingdom-Covenant-Gospel motif fits into the larger whole of Christian theology and into the believers' daily life. Doxological, practical and intriguing, each chapter was drenched in fascinating insights on how narrative and systematic theology merge together. To me, these chapters really set apart Thompson's book and brought the whole thing home for me.
There are small issues, but nothing substantial. First, Thompson adopts a somewhat common view that the gospel message is "that [Jesus] came, he lived, he died, he rose, he ascended, he sent the Spirit, and he will return" (100). Focusing exclusively on 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 and Romans 1:2-4, many such as N.T. Wright have stated that Paul's gospel is focused exclusively on the life, death and resurrection of Christ. While true in some respects, in Acts 13:26-47 Paul explicitly states that justification is a vital part of the Gospel proclamation. This may be a case of just not being able to say everything all the time (something that theologians love to pick at one another about). Since Thompson relies on Wright so much, however, it would be interesting to see exactly how justification works in Thompson's overall scheme--something spelled out a bit more clearly in one location within the book.
Second, and this has less to do with Thompson's book and more to do with my own understanding of Scripture, I still remain largely unconvinced that there is one central, dominant theme throughout the entire Bible. Perhaps it is my multiperspectivalism showing through but I lean more towards the idea that there are many themes that cohere together to simply show us God (wait...did I just make a dominant theme?). That said, if any theme is right, it would likely be Thompson's proposal of Kingdom-Covenant-Gospel. However, these are extremely minor quibbles for an otherwise outstanding book.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay A King and A Kingdom is that it made me want to open my Bible and read it. There were times I wanted just to dive into the text and worship God. This is a Gospel-centered and saturated book that ignites both the heart and mind. Thompson has a gift of taking hard concepts and boiling them down efficiently yet in a way that maintains the concept's majesty.
Thompson reminds us what sort of God we serve and does so with passion. I found myself engaged in worship and falling more in love with God as I read each chapter. Simply put, do not miss A King and a Kingdom: A Narrative Theology of Grace and Truth!