Does the New Testament Have a Theology?

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Mark Keown is the author of Discovering the New Testament. He sat down with Scott Corbin of Lexham Press to talk about this recently completed three-volume work.

What was it like to do a full New Testament theology?

Writing Discovering the New Testament has been an amazing and thrilling experience. When I was blessed to be called to be NT lecturer at Laidlaw College in 2005, I resolved that I would write full notes for all my classes for two reasons. First, so that I would teach what I’ve learned of God with passion, owning the material and speaking from my mind and heart. Second, so that my students would have a resource to take with them. The material developed over some 15 years, and it is such a blessing to be used by God to share aspects of his glorious word to the world.

What did you do to celebrate turning in your manuscript for the final volume? 

I have not celebrated yet, but I believe that the publication of volume three will be a great time to gather with my family and friends and rejoice the completion of the project. This will be more a time of worship than anything, for God is our all in all and it is he who enables his servants to do what they do. 

It is such a blessing to be used by God to share aspects of his glorious word to the world. … God is our all in all and it is he who enables his servants to do what they do.

What separates your New Testament theology from others?

It is the voice of a New Zealander situated in a nation that has become increasingly secular and multicultural. I have also tried to add touches challenging us devotionally. It is written from someone who has a passionate belief in the Triune God with an evangelistic heart and who has led churches for many years—hence, it has a practical edge and challenges Christians to be evangelistic and truly intercultural.

I think the thematic work across each NT book adds to the usual things in a NT introduction or theology. It is also three volumes and has real depth. While it is voluminous, I also know it is readable for those beginning theological study, as it is field tested over nearly two decades.

Some scholars question the very concept of a New Testament theology. Why is it still valuable?

God, in his wisdom, used his church to form his written word to the world. He led his people to gather the writings of Israel that point forward to the coming of his redemption. Then, he led followers of Jesus to form the NT. Yet the NT is made up of 27 individual documents. They must be studied individually—their setting, content, and message.

However, because God has formed his word, we cannot stop there. Luke-Acts forms a unit, as do the letters to Corinth, those to Thessalonica, and the two to Timothy. Then we have the common authorship of multiple works by Luke, Paul, Peter, and John.

And because God has formed these books into a unit, it should also be studied as an overall theology, to hear God’s voice in and through these documents. It must read also as a continuing narrative, with the whole corpus speaking into the church. New Testament theology is a critical aspect of this. For the good news of Jesus is precious to us, and the writings of the early church take us deeper into his summons to humankind to believe, love, and always hope. 

How would you summarize the theology of the New Testament in one paragraph? 

The NT tells us of the climax of the triune God’s redemptive plan and our place in it. In God’s story, recorded in the writings of Israel (the NT) through his prophets, God pointed Israel and humankind to the hope of his redemptive figure—“The Expected One.”

The Gospels of the NT tell us of his coming, who he was, the in-breaking of the kingdom, the hope of eternal life, and what we are required to do. Acts tells us how those with him and the first converts responded, and we are inspired to continue that story. The letters are snippets of conversations through which God calls us to be his people. Revelation and other passages excite us with the next great moment we yearn for, painting a picture of eternal life with him in his renewed creation.

What is your prayer for this project?

My prayer is that Discovering the New Testament is a tool God uses to renew his church and extend his gospel into the world through disciples deeply embedded in God’s word and desires.

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This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue of Bible Study Magazine. Slight adjustments, such as title and subheadings, may be the addition of an editor.

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