James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010).
Seasoned readers know that some books you work through while other books work through you, and the better books do both. I feel that God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment falls into this final category. I had actually hoped to complete this review several months ago, but I found that the present work was defying a more rushed examination. In many ways this review is inadequate. There is more in Hamilton's work than I have the time to address. That being said, I hope that my remarks will be of some value, brevity notwithstanding.
Let me begin with some observations. First, the search for a center or overriding theme to either the Old Testament or New Testament has proven elusive. The proposed centers have been judged to be either too narrow and, consequently, unable to cover all the material, or so broad as to be of little value. But if one were able to solve this Gordian knot, then one could identify a metanarrative that would aid in the interpretation and application of individual books in light of its place within the larger story. Second, Hamilton’s work is a fairly comprehensive introduction/survey of the biblical books. It is probably as good, if not better at this level, as many other introductory/survey books. This book is valuable for this fact alone. Third, the argument of the book is generally easy to follow. This is a necessity when you are trying to maintain am argument over such a broad sweep of material. While some readers may tire of seeing the phrase “God’s glory in salvation through judgment,” one cannot accuse the author of failing to keep his thesis at the forefront.
That being said, the heart of the matter is whether Hamilton has demonstrated that God’s glory in salvation through judgment is the basic storyline that runs through the Bible. I am not sure that he has. There are, of course, some books which lend themselves to this theme quite well (e.g., Isaiah). There are other books which might support part but not all of the proposed storyline. For example, some biblical books emphasize judgment (e.g. Lamentations) but not salvation and vice versa (e.g., Philemon). Then there are books where the elements God's glory, judgment, and salvation are present, but only at a secondary or implicit level. Consider the book of Proverbs. Does Proverbs really lends itself to Hamilton's proposal? I am not sure that most readers would identify God’s glory, salvation, or judgment as major themes in the book. I admit that these ideas are present in Proverbs at some level, but they appear to be more secondary or tertiary, rather than primary concepts, and/or at the implicit rather than the explicit level. For example, fearing YHWH is a major emphasis in Proverbs, but fearing YHWH is not synonymous with God’s glory. To be clear Hamilton does not argue they are synonymous, but to make such a connection Hamilton seeks to tie Proverbs back to Exodus and Deuteronomy (pp. 292–3). But even if this linkage is accepted, the idea of God’s glory is still derivative, implicit rather than explicit. The same point could be raised about the Song of Solomon as well. Here Hamilton reads Songs in light of Genesis 3 and suggests that,
“The Song of Solomon shows the Solomonic king who is seed of the woman, seed of Abraham, seed of Judah, seed of David, overcoming the alienation of the fall and renewing the intimacy of Eden. One of the main features of the Song is the persistence of alienation between the man and the woman. This alienation is a result of the judgment announced in Genesis 3:16. The intimacy lost at the fall (judgment) is renewed (salvation), and the beauty of God’s intention is celebrated (glory)” (pp. 307–8).
But again, even if this reading were correct, and that could certainly be debated, I am not convinced Hamilton’s proposed storyline of God’s glory in salvation through judgment is altogether clear in Songs. This raises a methodological concern. Namely, what controls are in place to keep the reader from allowing a proposed storyline from exercising inordinate control over a book's storyline?
Perhaps I am setting the bar too high. But if one is proposing a center, I think that this center must work two ways. First, the proposed center must be central to the Bible as a whole. Second, the proposed center should also be central, or at least of primary significance, to the individual books that make up the whole. I am skeptical that God’s glory in salvation through judgment can meet this second criteria.
That being said, I conclude with my great appreciation for this book. I appreciate the depth and breadth of the work and the ambitious scope of the thesis. Perhaps greater reflection on my part, or additional argumentation on the author’s part, will convince me to change my mind. But while I affirm the idea of God’s glory in salvation through judgment, I am at this time unconvinced that this is the metanarrative of the Bible.