James K. Mead’s Biblical Theology: Issues, Methods, Themes (WJK, 2007), is a wonderful critical introduction to this very important subject. In many ways, it acts as a history of the study of BT as Mead synthesizes and compares the work of dozens of scholars interested in BT. Mead leaves no stone unturned when it comes to problems and approaches to the subject. His exploration of themes in BT is interesting as well, but he finds nothing ‘new’ that has not already been discussed by other scholars.
As a note, some scholars approach NT theology by going through the NT book-by-book (like Thielman and Marshall). I appreciate, in these approaches, careful attention to the historical background and contextual significance of each book of the NT. However, this can also lead to a very disjointed approach that does not help the reader to connect the dots. Others try to trace certain themes throughout the NT. This is what Mead does (with both OT + NT) in his chapter on themes in BT. He has three master categories: ‘The God attested in BT’ (character of God, words of God, works of God), ‘Living in relationship with God’ (history and story, creation and covenant, worship and life), and ‘Living in relationship with human beings’ (Nation and nations, need and justice, community and calling). Again, not unique, but a solid approach.
As a beginner in the area of BT, I learned a lot from Mead’s book. What becomes clear is that he is a great teacher – wonderful charts, helpful titles and subtitles, and very clear illustrations and historical discussions. He has put a lot of work and thought into this book and I will turn to it whenever I need to get a sense of those who are movers-and-shakers in this discipline and what they thought and stood for.
If I have one critique, which may have been beyond Mead’s control, it is that it is an ‘endnotes’ book. Personally, I see no need for any academic book to have endnotes. I am so often loathe to ever bother to look any notes up and when I do want to, it takes me a very long time.
This is a small issue, though, and I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in BT, especially newbies.