The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel

Written by Justo L. González Reviewed By Gregory E. Lamb

The Lukan corpus is unparalleled in its uniqueness and often undervalued by scholars (p. vii), but The Story Luke Tells: Luke’s Unique Witness to the Gospel deftly illustrates the literary artistry and unity of Luke-Acts, and the books’ open-ended invitation to become a part of Luke’s story. This slim volume, which can be read in one sitting, elucidates Luke’s story—both vertically (within each of Luke’s respective works) and horizontally (across Luke-Acts and the rest of the NT). While perhaps an unlikely candidate for penning a Lukan theology (González’s doctoral dissertation at Yale focused on Bonaventure and medieval scholastic theology), González’s background as a professor of historical theology (Evangelical Seminary in Puerto Rico and Candler School of Theology) and United Methodist minister offers a fresh perspective from which to view the Third Gospel.

González opts not to diverge into technical discussions that often obscure, rather than illuminate, Luke’s story. Instead, the purpose of González’s work is to “investigate and expound something of Luke’s theology, underlining both those elements which he shares with the rest of the New Testament authors and those which are unique to him” (p. viii). Whether the author of Luke-Acts is the “beloved physician” (Col 4:14), Lucius of Cyrene (Acts 13:1), or someone else, what ultimately matters for González is that the author “left us two books that help us understand both the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the thought and interest of Luke himself” (p. xi). Luke does not undervalue the work of the other Gospel writers in any way (p. 4), but seeks to write a “new history” of the stories of Jesus and the Church from Luke’s own unique perspective (pp. xi, 4). Luke does this while leaving his unique story (p. vii) unfinished—thus, inviting both Theophilus (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) and the Church to participate (pp. 11–13).

Structurally, González’s work is divided into ten sections. In his introduction, González states his purpose in writing, and offers a brief prolegomenon to Luke-Acts. Chapters 1–8 survey what González feels to be the eight major motifs within Luke-Acts: the history of humankind (ch. 1); the history of Israel (ch. 2); the great reversal (ch. 3); gender (ch. 4); salvation (ch. 5); food and drink (ch. 6); worship (ch. 7); and the Holy Spirit (ch. 8). González concludes his work discussing Luke’s open invitation to become a part of his story (p. 129). González argues that Luke purposefully leaves his story unfinished on at least two levels: chronologically and geographically (pp. 12–13, 128–29). Chronologically, Luke’s story does not end, it just abruptly “stops.” Geographically, the gospel must continue reaching toward the “ends of the earth” as Acts 1:8 demands.

Numerous strengths mark González’s work: it is well written, accessible both in its content and its price, and brief enough for busy pastors or students to digest quickly. Given González’s background as a historian, chapters 1–2 make the strongest contributions to Lukan studies. In chapter 1, González contrasts secular historiography’s focus on information lists that merely satisfy curiosity with Luke’s intentional focus on “invitation” (p. 13). Chapter 2 discusses Luke’s typological interpretation of the OT. González sees two main examples of Luke’s typology: the relationship between God’s redeeming acts in Christ and the Exodus; and the relationship between Christ and Adam (pp. 19–20). The conclusions that González draws (e.g. on p. 67) regarding the implications of Luke’s approach for theological of the New Testament (and the Old) have affinities with Richard Hays’s approach in Reading Backwards: Figural Christology and the Fourfold Gospel Witness (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2014).

Despite its strengths, curious omissions plague an otherwise excellent book. Two such lacunae in González’s discussion of Luke’s themes are wealth and poverty, and eschatology. First, González does briefly discuss wealth and poverty in chapter 3 (pp. 35–38), but his discussion is woefully inadequate given the prominence of this theme in Luke-Acts, as John Szukalski’s monograph, Tormented in Hades (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013), has aptly shown. Second, while González’s discussion of the eschatological reality of heaven in terms of salvation and worship is helpful (pp. 70–73, 100–03), there is no mention of the eschatological reality of hell/judgment/punishment in González’s text. This seems imbalanced, as Luke vividly describes God’s authority to cast unbelievers into Gehenna (Luke 12:5), eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28), suffering in Hades/torments (Luke 16:23, 28), and a God-appointed day in which Christ will judge the world (Acts 17:30–31). However, the major weakness in González’s work is the absence of footnotes/endnotes, author/Scripture/subject indices, and bibliography. The omission of these important elements outweighs any advantage gained in the brevity of this book. Moreover, the absence of citations, indices, and bibliography impedes further research in Luke-Acts.

In sum, The Story Luke Tells would greatly benefit anyone preaching/teaching through Luke-Acts. However, this work would have been improved had González given us, as Paul Harvey would say, “the rest of the story.” Despite these shortcomings, González succinctly summarizes many of the major motifs within Luke-Acts, and chapters 1–2 alone are worth the price of this book.

Gregory E. Lamb

Gregory E. Lamb
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Wake Forest, North Carolina, USA

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