Ben Witherington is one of those rare theologians who, while solidly ‘orthodox’, is refreshingly adventurous, tackling huge ranges of subjects, and even (gently) treading on some toes (such as his paper exploring the possibility of Larazus being the ‘beloved’ disciple).
This is shown with this first of two volumes, The Indelible Image: The Theological And Ethical Thought World Of The New Testament. Remarkably this 800 page book is really an introduction to the second volume (which I have not yet read).
Witherington lays the ground work in his thesis that New Testament Theology cannot be separated from New Testament Ethics. Indeed, they are irrevocably intertwined. Here in volume 1, he demonstrates how each of the New Testament figures and authors did their ‘theologizing and ethicizing’. Volume 2 will examine the subject from the perspective of the whole New Testament.
In a nut shell, Witherington argues that God wants his moral and spiritual character (and behavior) replicated in his people. Witherington writes:
The goal [of salvation, knowing God] is that the indelible and perfect character of God be indelibly stamped on his creatures such that God’s image is perfectly reflected in those creatures.
Theology and ethics should NEVER have been separated and this is the underlining point of the whole book. The words repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand meant a change in moral and spiritual behavior. Two of the many challenging and insightful statements in this book, for me at least, were;
Both [Jesus and Paul] believed that the new eschatological situation called for, demanded and through the Spirit enabled one to behave according a higher standard of ethics than even Moses or the Pharisees could have endorsed… (pg 272)
One must go through all three tenses of salvation – I have been saved, I am being saved and I will be saved – in order to enter the dominion.
Salvation is an ongoing process; new birth, progressive sanctification and finally glorification. Witherington argues that this process is not perfect or complete until it has reached its terminus.
Witherington hits you between the eyes demanding us to wrestle with and realize that it is not acceptable to just be theological – theological thinking, for it to be TRULY theological must involve the ethical – belief, without any doubt, demands change in our behavior and character. Such a change is done primarily through the power of the spirit, but also with our cooperation and participation.
A hallmark of Witherington is that his books are steeped in scholarship and yet he is wonderfully readable. But this is a big book. It is thorough. At 800 pages there are only seven chapters, and so patience is required in reading. Read steadily, and carefully, knowing that you will in this book for quite a while – it is not one to be skimmed.
I HIGHLY recommend this work.