A Review of “40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law” by Tom Schreiner

40questions“One’s understanding of the law determines how one puts the whole Bible together,” says Tom Schreiner, Professor of New Testament Interpretation at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. If that’s true then I suspect that most Christians are in trouble, because we have no clue what to do with the Old Testament law. Attempts to resolve this weakness are often met with confusion, as so much literature has been put out on the subject. The task of understanding the law can feel, quite honestly, like an impossible task at times. That reality is what makes Tom Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law so important. Its simple question and answer approach to the major issues surrounding the understanding of the law bring a great deal of clarity to this significant topic.

As part of the 40 Questions series, edited by Benjamin Merkle the layout of the book is obvious. The book presents 40 questions that Schreiner seeks to answer. This layout lends itself well to focused conversations, relatively short chapters, and an easy to follow progression of thought. The simple lay out, however, should not be confused with a simplistic work. Schreiner understands well the challenges of addressing these issues and is sensitive to the limits of space and the reader’s potentially limited knowledge. He goes into sufficient detail to give us an understanding of the nuances of the answers, the challenges in answering them, and the terminology associated with them. In this way Schreiner evidences his skill not merely as a respected New Testament scholar, but a gifted teacher.

The book is broken down in to five parts, each section containing a list of questions associated with its general topic. The divisions include: The Law in the Old Testament, The Law in Paul, The Law in the Gospel and Acts, The Law in the General Epistles, and The Law and Contemporary Issues. Since the focus of the book is on the relationship of the law to the believer, part one has the least amount of development, and part two the most. The work covers some of the most common questions believers have about the Old Testament law, questions like: does the Old Testament teach salvation by works? What is the law of Christ? Does justification by faith alone lead to moral laxity? Do James and Paul contradict one another on justification by works? Is the Sabbath still required by Christians? Should Christians tithe? Schreiner also answers a host of questions many will not have thought to ask, but which are certainly behind some of our confusion about the Old and New Covenants.

Though the book includes lots of important scholarly conversations it should not be viewed as a purely academic work. Schreiner believes in the importance of understanding, studying, and relating rightly to the Old Testament law. He writes:

To sum up, the study of the law is intellectually challenging, theologically crucial, and practically relevant. It cannot be dismissed as an academic enterprise that is unrelated to the everyday lives of believers. (14)

To help the average Christian navigate this rocky terrain and realize the practical, everyday relevance of this subject, the author has included “reflection questions” at the end of each chapter. The questions help us to narrow down the major points of each chapter into succinct statements. Again, Schreiner’s role as competent teacher shines forth.

In general the book demonstrates how Christ has fulfilled the Old Testament law and how His fulfillment alters our relationship to it. Schreiner does not dismiss the law as completely irrelevant, but he does demonstrate its modified relationship to the believer. Even across 40 questions Schreiner gives a homogenous picture. He is consistent, and is even able to refer readers backwards and forwards in the book to show the interrelated nature of each question. The cogency of the book is impressive considering the nature of its layout.

I really loved this book. It was well written, thorough, and yet concise enough to be worked through in just a few days. It covers all the major issues related to the study of the law and the life of the believer, but it does so in a way that is manageable and accessible for the non-scholarly. I highly recommend picking up this book. It can be read straight through, as I did, or used more as a reference tool, something to consult when a particular question needs thoughtful investigation. In either case, because of the centrality of the law to so many Biblical theological issues this is a topic worthy of our study. Tom Schreiner’s 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law is an incredibly useful tool for engaging in said study.

Trackbacks

  1. […] A friend of mine reviewed a book by Dr. Thomas Schreiner “40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law.” […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: