Theology of the New Testament

Article excerpt

Theology of the New Testament. By Georg Strecker. Edited and completed by Friedrich Wilhelm Horn and translated by M. Eugene Boring. New York/Berlin: Walter De Gruyter; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000, xvii + 758 pp., $54.95 paper.

In Georg Strecker's 1975 essay entitled "Das Problem der Theologie des Neuen Testaments" (in a volume by the same title edited by Strecker), this noted University of Gottingen professor of NT sketched out the basic ideas of his treatment of NT theology. With a serious illness drawing his life to a close (he died at age 65 in 1994), Strecker asked F. W. Horn to take the largely completed-but still unfinished-work and to bring the project to completion for him. The German edition appeared in 1996, and four years later Strecker's long-time friend, M. Eugene Boring, translated the work into English.

Strecker's homage to Rudolf Bultmann is noticeable on page 1 (and elsewhere) in his definition of "theology." With reference to Plato's use of the word, Strecker remarks that "theology has to do with myths; to it is assigned the task of bringing out the deeper meaning of the stories about the gods.... Accordingly, theology has the goal of laying bare the structures on which the myth is based" (p. 1). Thus, regarding the theology of earliest Christianity, Strecker seeks to explain the structures of belief that brought forth the expressions of religious experience embodied in the NT documents. He does not presume to outline the theology of the NT, nor does he intend to trace a history of early Christian theology or practice from Jesus through the Palestinian believers, to the Hellenistic believers, to Paul, and to later Christian writers. Rather, Strecker's work takes a redaction-critical approach to the NT documents so as to find, developed over time (diachronically), a variety of NT theologies that can be arranged according to authorial distinctiveness (synchronically). While the history-of-religions school of thought clearly impacted him (e.g. see part A. I. entitled "History-of Religion Presuppositions-- Prepauline Elements in Pauline Theology," pp. 19-78), Strecker is sometimes careful not to overstress the parallels he notes between early Christianity and other ancient faith systems. By and large, however, Strecker is often distracted so much by theories of redaction and the critical approach(es) of analyzing historical development that the message of the NT text as it stands takes second place. (See e.g. Strecker's insightful inquiries about the prologue of John reflecting theologically upon Gen 1:1, which he then immediately discounts, p. 473.)

Some evangelical readers may feel only minor discomfort over Strecker's history-of-- religions presuppositions, but most will register immediate unease with Strecker's disregard for viewing the NT as God-inspired. "The unity of the Old and New Testaments," "The integrity of the biblical canon," and "The identity of biblical teaching and dogmatic theology" form Strecker's threefold summary of a pre-Enlightenment approach to biblical theology. He proposes that this volume "be understood as the history of the criticism and dissolution of the previous idea of a `biblical theology"' (p. 5). In this he displays a naively simply (mis)understanding of the orthodox view of inspiration. Of course, many evangelicals have put forth similar, naively simple (mis)understandings, and Strecker's critical-albeit extreme-response is then no surprise. This may serve as a call for evangelicals to engage the issues with more sophistication.

Despite his general disregard for the NT as a canon of literature, on practical grounds Strecker limits his inquiry to the canonical documents, which he clearly sees "as a historically-conditioned construct that participates in all the relativities of history, including the phenomena involved in the history of literature" (p. …