Saturday, October 22, 2011

Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus Book Review

Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus: Luke’s Account of God’s Unfolding Plan is the 27th book of the “New Studies in Biblical Theology Series” and in my opinion is one of the best.  Author Alan J. Thompson doesn’t get bogged down in ridiculous debates about tongues or methods of baptism. Rather, he steers a clear line to focus in on the heart of Acts—that it is a continuation of Luke’s Gospel and is a proclamation of the acts of the risen Lord Jesus.
Because of the nature of Thompson’s approach (and the approach of the entire series), he focuses a good bit on redemptive history. Thompson also argues for an already-not-yet interpretation of the book of Acts. While I doubt many classical dispensationalist will be thrilled with Thompson’s book, I think his argument for an already-not-yet hermeneutic applied to Acts is convincing.
Thompson’s book is divided into six main chapters (excluding the introduction and the conclusion) and each chapter provides an in-depth look at how Acts main theme (Jesus’s continuing acts) plays out. In chapter one, Thompson argues for an already-not- yet approach to the kingdom. In chapter two (my personal favorite), he argues that Acts takes place in the “last days” (which we are living in now) which was inaugurated at Christ’s resurrection. This brilliant chapter captures the heart of apostolic preaching and is particularly timely in light of Scot McKnight’s The King Jesus Gospel.

In chapter three, the author argues that God’s promises for Israel were already being fulfilled in Acts. Israel is being regathered together. In other words, God’s future saving purposes for Israel were already instituted at Christ’s death and resurrection. Here, while I appreciate Thompson’s clear pose, I have disagree with his overall argument. There was nothing in his exegesis that convinced me that Israel’s future promises have already begun to be fulfilled.  In this case, I cannot help but feel that Thompson places too much emphasis on the already nature of the kingdom, thereby over-spiritualizing the nature of the kingdom.

In chapter four, the author again focuses on how the Holy Spirit relates to the acts of Jesus. Here, I found Thompson’s argument, that the Spirit acts as a sign for the inaugurated new age and as one who shows that Jesus’s works will still be carried out, both brilliant and exciting. Again, this chapter was amongst my favorite.

Chapter five, however, was a bit disappointing. Thompson spends a good bit of time arguing that in Acts, there exists an indictment against the temple and its leaders. He argues that Jesus is now the temple and there was a certain shift away from the physical temple.  Here is my complaint: it is one thing to say Jesus is the new temple and so our worship is toward him. In other words, it doesn’t really matter now where we worship. I think that much is clear. However, it is another thing to say that there was an underlying hostility toward the temple. Did the leaders fail? Yes and they are rightly called to the floor for it as Thompson shows. But it is difficult for me to see how the temple is somehow pushed to the side as irrelevant when Paul himself still submits to some of the rituals (such as circumcision) and will even worship within the temple itself (Acts 21:27ff.). Thompson argues that the first few chapters center on the temple and show a movement beyond it. However, could it not also show that the temple was now just another location where people could meet to worship? By slightly shifting the question we remove any necessary argument that the temple is somehow condemned. In other words, I don’t think Thompson’s argument is a necessary reading of the text and seems more driven by his presuppositions. Nevertheless, it is a well written chapter and is very clear.

The final chapter, chapter six, deals with the issue of the law. Thompson argues that the law is no longer the direct authority but rather, it is submission to God and to his delegates, the apostles. This chapter is brilliant, if for no other reason than Thompson takes an incredibly difficult subject and brings and argues persuasively that the law is not so much replaced but that its focus is now on Christ. This was a great way to round out an incredibly well written book.

Perhaps the best thing I can say about the book was its lack of unnecessary technical discussions. I can’t always say that about the NSBT series but Thompson writes with clarity and ease. He makes difficult arguments easy to understand. As a testimony to this, one of my 10th grade students picked up the book and started reading a chapter about the inaugurated new age. Apart from a few technical theological words, she said she really understood what was being said. More impressive (and again a testimony to Thompson’s ability to write), she was excited about what Acts was saying and wanted me to explain more to her!
So in conclusion, I cannot recommend Acts of the Risen Lord Jesus enough. It was both engaging and extremely helpful. Thompson has some great charts in the book and there is an absolute waterfall of preaching material and excellent quotes in this book. As a youth pastor, it sparked my passion to see God’s full story proclaimed. Combined with The King Jesus Gospel, I think the book of Acts is getting the attention it finally deserves in formulating what the Gospel really is. Make sure to buy this book!

Thanks to IVP Academic for the free review copy of this book.

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