Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis

Written by R. B. Jamieson and Tyler R. Wittman Reviewed By Thomas Haviland-Pabst

Jamieson, associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and Tyler Wittman, assistant professor of theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, present one of the clearest expositions of theological exegesis to date. Jamieson, writes the introduction and the last four chapters of part two, while Wittman is the author of the first six chapters and the conclusion. Part 1 gives attention to biblical reasoning and part two establishes the Christological and Trinitarian rules for exegesis.

Jamieson states that the goal of this book is “to assemble a toolkit for biblical reasoning” (p. xvii). Hence, “the body of the book articulates a set of theological principles and their corresponding exegetical rules” (p. xx). The focus is on the Trinity and Christology for two reasons: (1) these two foci lie at the heart of the gospel, and (2) the “breach between theology and exegesis” (p. xxi) is most keenly perceived when considering these two foci.

Drawing from his doctoral supervisor John Webster, Wittman notes that “biblical reasoning” denotes two modes of reasoning: “exegetical and dogmatic” (p. xviii). Exegetical reasoning gives attention to the contours of the biblical text, whereas dogmatic reasoning “attends to the theological claims of the text” (p. xviii). He describes the relationship between these forms of reasoning as an exchange whereby each aspect is made more complete by the other. In other words, “theology thinks from Scripture, with Scripture, and to Scripture” (p. xviii).

The first three chapters explore the end, context, and source/practice of biblical reasoning, respectively. Wittman rightly notes that the goal of biblical reasoning, which is at the same time the goal of Scripture, is “the vision of Christ’s glory, and therein eternal life” (p. 4). In his discussion of Scripture as the source of said reasoning, Wittman helpfully notes two essential exegetical rules: (1) the analogy of faith, i.e., reading “Scripture as a unity, interpreting its parts in light of the whole” (p. 41), and (2) reading “Scripture in such a way that you learn how its various discourses both form and presuppose a larger theological vision” (p. 41).

In chapters 4–6, Wittman draws theological principles and exegetical rules from the theological foundation of God’s attributes and triune nature. In chapters 7–8, Jamieson explores the relevance of the full humanity and divinity of Christ for understanding Scripture. Chapter 9 argues for the importance of the taxis or ordering of the three persons of the Trinity for biblical reasoning and chapter 10 applies the ten exegetical rules to John 5:17–30.

Given the stellar quality of this book, a few highlights should suffice to demonstrate its usefulness. Wittman helpfully discusses the role of faith as a form of contemplative sight through which we perceive God. He beautifully states, “Contemplation is a spiritual perception of Scripture’s deepest truths relating to Christ’s glory, in a manner that stirs up delight and conforms us to Christ” (p. 21). He later argues that the unity of Scripture found in both testaments asserts a “pressure to acknowledge” God speaking to and thus teaching us (p. 55, drawing from C. Kavin Rowe). In discussing the nature of Scripture, he walks the reader through the “God-fittingness rule” (p. 65), i.e., language about God ought to conform to what is worthy of God when one considers God’s aseity and holiness as the creator of everything. Using statements that imply a change occurring in God (e.g., Jer. 18:1–11; Hos 11:8–9), he concludes, based on this rule, that these texts describe God responding to changing human attitudes or circumstances, not changing who he is. Moreover, drawing from Psalm 110 and 1 Corinthians 8:4–6, Wittman persuasively argues that God speaks “of himself in two ways … as God is one, and … as God is three” (p. 105). It is clear then from these four examples that the coupling of exegetical and dogmatic reasoning is necessary for sound biblical reasoning.

This book is truly a breath of fresh air. The authors are not afraid to take a traditional approach to who God is by affirming divine impassibility, the ontological (and thus economic) Trinity, and the person of Christ, since they show how these doctrines support and are true to a sound reading of Scripture. Furthermore, they write clearly about complex theological concepts, and it is evident that their aim with this book is to honor God and magnify Christ in their reading of Scripture and to encourage their readers to do the same.

The sophistication and thoroughness of the authors’ argumentation makes clear that theology is not something irrelevant to the study of the biblical text, nor can Scripture be truly understood and applied by reading it in a neutral, theologically disinterested manner. The authors have succeeded in building a bridge between the disciplines of dogmatic theology and exegesis and that alone makes this book worth consulting. Additionally, Biblical Reasoning will serve as an excellent refresher for the busy pastor or student as they seek to read Scripture in a manner that gives due honor to the dual mysteries of the Trinity and the person of Christ.

Thomas Haviland-Pabst

Thomas Haviland-Pabst
One Family Ministries
Asheville, North Carolina, USA

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