Luke: A Challenge to Present Theology

Written by E. Schweizer Reviewed By Andrew Kirk

This is the written text of a series of lectures given at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in the USA. The title in some ways is strange: the book is not wholly about Luke’s writings in the New Testament; it is also hard to see how Luke, as handled by Schweizer, is a challenge to theology today.

The first chapter deals with the positive gains to understanding the Bible brought by the historico-critical method. Schweizer gives examples from the crucifixion and resurrection narratives to support his argument for a critical approach. He takes the usual position of scholars that this method is the most objective one available, able to correct itself when shown to be wrong. He does not consider the objection that the method is not critical enough (of its own assumptions), or that it has in fact succeeded in weakening the authority of the text, driving a wedge between academic study and the pastoral and missionary appropriation of its message.

The second chapter takes a brief tour through the landscape provided by some well-known twentieth century Continental theologians. Apart, however, from a very brief mention indeed of two Frenchmen and one Dutchman the analysis is confined to Germans: from Harnack through Barth, Bultmann to the post-Bultmannians, Pannenberg and Moltmann. Schweizer deals particularly with their views of God and faith.

The third chapter looks at the meaning of history, the New Testament as history and how Luke relates salvation to history. It is at this latter point that Schweizer begins to study the Lucan writings. About one third of the book has already gone. This chapter gives a good summary of a long-standing debate.

The final three chapters then take one theme each and compare modern views with those which may be deduced from Luke-Acts. The first concerns the living presence of the crucified and risen Christ; the second deals with Protestant and Catholic views of the Word and Sacraments; the third investigates the meaning of God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

Schweizer sums up his conclusions by saying: ‘… it is the wealth of stories about Jesus and his work in the church provided by Luke’s Gospel and Acts which is of first importance, just because it is impossible to misunderstand it as a final definition of who Jesus Christ and, therefore, who God is’.

I am bound to say that I think this study is, on the whole, rather insubstantial. It does not fulfil the promise of the title, for Schweizer never allows Luke to escape from the perspective imposed precisely by modern theological methodology and interests. There are, it is true, here and there some helpful insights which might aid those having to write a general introductory essay on Luke. The groundwork which is laid before coming to the Lucan material is laborious and somewhat parochial. The price seems to reflect the publisher’s lack of confidence in selling many copies.

Andrew Kirk

Andrew Kirk is Dean and Head of the Department of Mission in the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham UK.