The Law, the Gospel and the Modern Christian: Five Views

By Wayne Strickland, ed.
Grand Rapids : Zondervan (1993). 416 Pages.

Reviewed by
5.1 (Spring 1994) : 116-118

Theological discussions relating to the general topic of continuity and/or discontinuity are "in." Both historically and currently, the debate over Law/Gospel has been among the "top ten" theological "tunes." As a matter of fact, it has quite consistently been the number one "hit" (especially since 1980). It is not difficult to see why, because anyone's perspective on this issue relates vitally to his theology of salvation and sanctification.

Consequently, the time seemed right for a contemporary "view book" on this multifaceted debate. The present work with its contributions by Van Gemeren ("The Non-Theonomic Reformed View"), Bahnsen ("The Theonomic Reformed View"), Kaiser ("The Law as God's Gracious Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness"), Strickland ("A Dispensational View"), and Moo ("A Modified Lutheran View") fills that bill.

As "view books" go, this one ranks among the best. For example, the bibliographical resources supplied by its five contributors are invaluable. Furthermore, most volumes of this kind contain extremist representations at their respective poles, but that is not true here. For example, Bahnsen on the continuity side is not as theonomic as others in his camp, and Strickland in the discontinuity camp is not as radical as some from the classically dispensational school have been. This "evening out" of the positions is perhaps an indication that iron has been sharpening iron in this arena of exegesis and theology recently.

Though view books sometimes do not address key issues and sketch out various perspectives, this one does. No contribution is void of noteworthy exegetical observations and key affirmations. A degree of predictability does mark the basic methodology of each contributor, however. Van Gemeren relies heavily on historical theology from the Reformed tradition, Bahnsen on logical constructs, Kaiser on exegetical/ theological presentations of his key passages, Strickland on discontinuity texts, and Moo on a dialectical approach which at times reflects the diversity of biblical data.

The essays are generally good, but the responses are particularly excellent. Van Gemeren's historical responses and Bahnsen's logical responses to the essays by Strickland and Moo are full of insight. Yet Kaiser's critiques are especially perceptive, and his exegetical and polemical pursuits of the two discontinuity models are relentless. Unlike most view books that all too frequently make some general and rather superficial observations about the other perspectives before rehashing their own views, this compendium's greatest strength lies in its intense critiques.

This interchange has not led to a decisive victory of one of the "combatants," not too surprising in light of the exegetical and theological complexity of the issue. Moo's introductory words to his own article would have served as a good preface for the whole volume:

Christians disagree about the place of the Mosaic law in the life of the believer because the New Testament itself contains statements that appear to support opposite conclusions. . . . Such diverse statements [i.e., previously cited samples of texts emphasizing continuity and others discontinuity] about the Mosaic law have both fascinated and frustrated theologians since the inception of the church. And at no time has this been more the case than in the last two decades, which have witnessed a remarkable resurgence of interest in the theology of the Mosaic law. A deluge of books and articles has examined virtually every bit of evidence and from almost every conceivable perspective.

Yet nothing even approaching a consensus has emerged. Several factors account for the radically different conclusions reached by biblical scholars and theologians, the most important of which is the diverse theological and hermeneutical frameworks that are used to order and arrange the various texts. Theological and confessional allegiances -Lutheran, Reformed, dispensational, etc.- thus dictate which texts are given precedence and used to interpret others (319-20).

For these reasons (some of which are virtually inescapable realities), not one of these contributors has thrown the knock-out punch, even though one or two of them may have accumulated more exegetical and theological points in their sparrings. Nevertheless, this book will help clarify the salient texts and sub-issues, thereby both moderating extremism and advancing theological precision.