Does the Bible have a main point? Is there an overarching unity—or a center—which binds Scripture together? Those are the types of questions that Jim Hamilton seeks to answer in God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment. In short, Hamilton argues that—you guessed it—the main point of the Bible is God’s glory in salvation through judgment.
But what does that actually mean? In such a short phrase, Hamilton packs into a load of Scriptural truth. This is what I think Hamilton is getting at:
First, everything God does is ultimately to glorify Himself (This is the God’s Glory part in the title). As John Piper puts it: God is uppermost in His own affections.Second, God’s glory is primarily shown through His acts of saving sinful people (in Salvation). Finally, God’s salvation comes through, or by means of, judgment (through Judgment). In other words, God’s salvation comes to His people by judgment falling upon something or someone else. For example, God’s people Israel are saved through the exodus in which judgment fell upon the Egyptians. The cross is the supreme example of God’s glory in salvation through judgment, for God’s glory is demonstrated in the cross by God saving sinners by judging Jesus in their stead.
What is Hamilton’s method? He walks through the whole Bible, moving book by book, attempting to discern its core, center, main point. Predictably, its God’s glory in salvation through judgment.
The Center of No Center
I don’t really want to spend much time summarizing the contents of the book, because what Hamilton does is walk book by book, section by section, of Scripture showing how each book contributes to the theme of God’s glory in salvation through judgment. What I want to spend my time on is looking at how Hamilton interacts with objections, and how his work can help forge a healthy path forward for the church.
At the beginning and end of the book, Hamilton explores the most common objection to his type of work: it seems as if finding a center of the Bible is impossible. Many scholars have proposed different “centers,” yet none have taken hold as the consensus view. Therefore, “some conclude that the very fact of so many ‘centers’ have been proposed proves that there is no center” (52).
In chapter 8, Hamilton responds to objections given against his thesis that the center of the Bible is God’s glory in salvation through judgment. I.H. Marshall criticizes Hamilton’s work for merely stating his conclusion, rather than proving it (556). In other words, what Hamilton has done is taken his “center” as a preconceived grid and imposed it on the Bible.
I find arguments like Marshall’s exhausting, because they get thrown around every single time someone proposes an overarching motif for the Bible. It’s exhausting because how else can you do theology? You come up with a (hypo)thesis and then test it against what the Bible actually says. If postmodernism has taught us anything, it’s that no one comes to the text as a completely blank slate. Well and good. What Hamilton has done is come to the text with an idea: maybe the Bible’s center is God’s glory in salvation through judgment. So what does he do? He goes through the text and sees if that theme is there.
Sure, Hamilton may have imposed his thesis on the text. But on the other hand, maybe he didn’t! You can’t criticize a proposed center until you can find concrete and tangible examples where “override” has happened. Because everyone believes the Bible has a center, even if it is the belief that the Bible has no center! Maybe that center is being imposed on the text!
How His Work Helps Your Ministry
Hamilton’s work can help your ministry by enabling you to find the meaning of the biblical text easier, especially in the narrative portions of the Bible. Here’s what I mean. Commentaries are usually very good at telling you what the biblical text says but not very good at explaining what it means.
For example, let’s take a look at Jonah 1. Some commentaries merely summarize the story, while giving certain background features and explaining difficult phrases, but they don’t really tell you the significance of the chapter. Unfortunately, although T.D. Alexander has written some very helpful works on biblical theology, I found his commentary on Jonah not very helpful. His outline is merely descriptive of the plot:
I. Jonah at sea (1:1-2:10)
A. Jonah’s initial call (1:1-3)
B. Jonah and the sailors (1:4-16)
If you read his comments on each verse, he usually just summarizes what they say. But what does this chapter mean? Why is it written this way? What is the significance of Jonah fleeing God and God hurling a storm on the sea?
I think 1:16 is the key verse which unlocks the meaning of chapter 1: “The men feared the Lord greatly and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows.” The reason why God hurled a great wind upon the sea is not only so that Jonah would be cast overboard and swallowed by a big fish, but for the praise and glory of His name! God desires to be worshipped by all people, and will stop at nothing to have His name glorified. He brings judgment upon Jonah (and consequently the sailors on the boat) so that they might acknowledge His glory and worship Him! So the narrative is not merely recounting one man’s attempt to outrun God, but revealing God to us as He really is: a God who demonstrates His glory in salvation (which comes through a big fish in 1:17 and chapter 2) through judgment (1:1-16).
Hamilton’s work, then, helps provide a framework for understanding stories like Jonah 1.
Buy, Borrow or Bypass: This book is not for the faint of heart. Clocking in at 571 pages and over 1,000 footnotes, it’s really like an academic book. But it is an important book for pastors to buy, because of all the valuable insights covering the whole Bible. But, to be quite frank, I’m not sure who else in my church would buy and read a book like this. I think that most people in my congregation should start off reading lighter biblical theologies, such as T.D. Alexander’s work From Eden to New Jerusalem or Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew’s work, The True Story of the Whole World.