(a review of chapter 13 for A Theology of Luke and Acts by Darrell Bock in the Zondervan series ‘A Biblical Theology of the New Testament)
Reviewing a theology text can be tricky as people come with different filters and lenses through which their own world makes sense. With that said, Bock’s volume serves to help the reader connect the big dots when reading the Biblical texts of Luke and Acts. Why is this important? Because in our world of tweets and sound bites, we can lose sight of some pretty important ideas in an ocean of details.
The second reason Bock’s volume is important is not just that it connects the dots, but that it does in two of the New Testament’s most pivotal books. The gospel of Luke, with the Christmas narratives, the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son, and the Crucifixion account stands as one of the most quoted and referenced books in the Bible as well as world history. Think about the impact of the Good Samaritan which has even influenced the passing of laws mandating that first responders stop at the scene of an accident. And think about how many times a parent has rehearsed the story of the Prodigal Son, praying that their wayward child would return. Bock, in chapter 13, takes on an amazing subject entitled, “Gentiles and Nations in the Gospel of Luke”. In other words, it’s Luke’s account of ‘those other people’ who are not Jews and who are not chosen.
Bock, going through Psalm 2, demonstrates how the Gentiles are portrayed as out of touch with God’s plan, out of sorts with the Jews, but not out of the sight of Jesus, who will articulate clearly that the gospel is not just for Israel’s people, but for all nations. Bock writes, “the scope of salvation extending to the nations and those on the fringe in Luke’s gospel is seen in a series of ideas, some connected to Luke’s treatment of other groups on the fringe in Jewish eyes,” (p. 296).
Think about the implication of that. A proper theological understanding of Luke and Acts includes engaging with God’s plan for those ‘on the fringe’. Those other people of other ‘nations’ who are not like us. Being a Gentile myself, it’s humbling to recall that I was one of those outside the fold, but in a world that is politically charged where there are a myriad of discussions concerning who is in and who is out, Bock reminds us that some of the pivotal themes of Scripture include a plan for those on the outside looking in.
And this is one of the strengths of Bock’s entire work. At over 400 pages, many people will not pick this up because it seems to be aimed at students or academics, but that would be a mistake to relegate it to only that crowd. In a world of e-books, Bock may consider a smaller series of booklets dealing with the social implications of the theology of Luke and Acts. In this volume, Bock deals with many of the broader themes (ie: Women and the Poor in ch. 17) and does so in a way that is fair in scholarship, faithful in its devotional aspect.
Bock aptly states that the nations are “divided about Jesus” in their response. Interestingly, so is Israel and so Bock continues, “the key note is that God has taken the initiative to bring the nations the message of forgiveness and hope that Jesus first had brought to Israel,” (p. 300).
And so, both those inside and those on the fringe are faced with a Jesus who is both divisive, but also their deliverer. Seeing this major theme come to life in Bock’s work is exciting as we see that God’s plans are not, sometimes, first then second, but often God is working across cultures, nations, people groups, the in crowd, and the fringe simultaneously.
Theology really does matter and Bock’s text, particularly his treatment of the social implications of Luke and Acts, fuels this idea. In a world fighting over immigration, equal pay, political strife, and social justice, Luke and Acts wouldn’t be a bad place to start or restart some important discussions and in this regard, Bock is quite helpful.