“Return to me, says the LORD of hosts, and I will return to you” (Zechariah 1:3). Repentance concerns the repair of a relationship with God disrupted by human sin. All the major phases of church history have seen diversity and controversy over the doctrine of repentance. The first of Luther’s famous ninety-five theses nailed to the church door in Wittenburg in 1517 stated that “the entire life of believers should be one of repentance.” In recent times, two divisive debates within evangelicalism over “lordship salvation” and “hypergrace” have had repentance at their core. The theme of repentance is evident in almost every Old and New Testament corpus. However, it has received little sustained attention over the past half-century of scholarship, which has been largely restricted to word studies or focused on a particular text or genre. Studies of the overall theology of the Bible have typically given the theme only passing mention.
Mark Boda, in response, offers a comprehensive overview of the theological witness of Scripture to the theme of repentance. The key to understanding is not simply to be found in word studies, but also in the broader meaning of texts as these communicate through a variety of words, images, and stories. The importance of repentance in redemptive history is emphasized. It is fundamentally a return to intimate fellowship with the triune God, our Creator and Redeemer. This relational return arises from the human heart, and impacts attitudes, words, and actions.
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“Repentance may be expressed orally through confession of sin and intention to change, but this must be accompanied by sincerity of heart and a change in behaviour.” (Page 37)
“Repentance is not just the gateway into relationship with the triune God; it is the pathway for that continuing relationship, as Luther wrote: ‘the entire life of believers should be one of repentance’.4 The Christian life involves a lifelong relationship, and as long as we are in this fallen world repentance will be an enduring part of our lives.” (Page 194)
“‘To assume that sinners can turn to the Righteous One without turning from their own unrighteousness is the height of theological nonsense.’” (Page 193)
“He exhorts them to ‘put away’ (sûr, hiphil) their foreign gods, ‘purify’ themselves (ṭhr, hiphil) and ‘change’ (ḥlp, hiphil) their garments (35:2). Here we see penitential activity that precedes worship, that is, repentance as preparatory to an encounter with God.” (Page 36)
“Repentance is fundamentally a return to intimate fellowship with the triune God. This is made possible because of the gracious act of this God through the gift of the Son and the Spirit who invite us into the fellowship of the Trinity. This relational return to our Creator and Redeemer arises from the depth of the human heart, enabled by the work of the Spirit. Such Christian repentance will often be expressed through oral confession and necessarily entails turning from the sinful attitudes and actions that frustrate the intimacy we as humans can enjoy with our Creator and Redeemer.” (Page 198)
Mark Boda has shown himself to be a master of exegetical analysis and theological reflection. He traces repentance in both its relational and behavioral dimensions, both of which call for faith and trust. As he unfolds the richness of biblical teaching about repentance and its significance, we are called again to ‘return to the Lord.’ Pastors will be motivated by this book to engage their congregations in a study of repentance and a recommitment to it.
—John H. Walton, professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College and Graduate School
In Return to Me Mark Boda does an outstanding job of explicating the oft-neglected theme of repentance, moving across the canon as he demonstrates the important role of this theme within biblical theology. A welcome new addition to the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. I recommend it heartily.
—J. Daniel Hays, dean of the Pruet School of Christian Studies and professor of biblical studies, Ouachita Baptist University
In Return to Me Mark Boda has made his immense scholarship on repentance and penitential prayer accessible to all who want to study this critical biblical-theological concept in Scripture. As he moves from Genesis to Revelation, his stimulating study is exhaustive and demonstrates the richness and extensive scope of the theme. All serious students of the Bible, but particularly pastors and seminarians, will benefit from his impressive work.
—Tremper Longman III, Robert H. Gundry Professor of Biblical Studies, Westmont College
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