Book Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology

Alexander, T. Desmond. From Eden to the New Jerusalem An Introduction to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Kregal, 2009.

Introduction

Why does the earth exist? What is the purpose of human life? T. Desmond Alexander believes that these questions can be answered through the biblical meta-narrative.  Holding a PhD from Queen’s University, Alexander is the senior lecturer in biblical studies and director of postgraduate studies at Union Theological College. In his book, From Eden to the New Jerusalem: An Introduction to Biblical Theology, Alexander observes the links between Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 20-22 revealing the framework for the meta-narrative (10). This approach, while limited, explains the existence of earth and the purpose of human life through selective themes (10). Alexander thoughtfully presents his case and, in the end, gives a clear theological comprehension of how the Biblical meta-narrative answers why the earth exists and humanities’ purpose in life.

Summary

For earth and humanity, Alexander argues that themes seen in the framework is the earth being God’s dwelling place and humanity being his vicegerents. God’s presence on earth would be especially significant theme found throughout the meta-narrative (15). The garden would be the original place God would construct as a dwelling among His creation. Understanding God’s sovereignty, humanity would be his vicegerents “to govern the earth on His behalf” (76).  Because of sin, though, God does not permanently dwell on earth. Yet the theme of the garden, Alexander would argue, can be found in the temporary dwellings. The tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple were the dwellings of God in the Old Testament. The New Testament reveals that the church is the temple of God, in other words, His dwelling place. Alexander states that while God dwelt among His people in the Old, God dwells within His people in the New (69). In each of these places, the role of humanity was and is still to be vicegerents under the sovereignty of God.

Alexander argues that themes of the Dragon and the Passover Lamb shows what hinders from fulfilling the purposes and what allows them to be fulfilled. Alexander denotes the arch-enemy of God, the Dragon is the serpent of old (99). This arch-enemy is also known as the Devil. He has been understood as the ruler of this world and has been an influential problem since the garden. Alexander notes that the establishment of God’s kingdom in the face of sustained and violent opposition is a major theme (110). While Satan may ruler of this world, he will be defeated. God has been working to reclaim the earth and His people through Israel and the church. Currently, one of the roles of humanity is to resist the devil. Yet, the only way that humanity can fulfill their purposes is through Jesus the Passover lamb who atones, purifies and sanctifies.

With this understanding of Jesus, Alexander now argues that Revelation anticipates a holy, abundant life for humanity and the coming of the New Jerusalem as an earthly dwelling. For a holy God to dwell on earth, what has been created must be holy. The new Jerusalem resembles the Holy of Holies found in the Old Testament. The vicegerents had to be clean both physically and morally to be in the presence of God. Because of the work of Jesus, everything will be holy and therefore whole physically, morally, ecologically, and socially. This and the new Jerusalem in Revelation are part of the hope of restoration. These themes seen in Revelation and found throughout the meta-narrative, Alexander argues, answers why the earth exists and what is the purpose of humanity.

Critique

Alexander does well at presenting the meta-narrative before he begins to argue more of the details. This is helpful for the layperson that may begin this work with no previous understanding of the big picture found in the Bible. Also, because Alexander lays down this foundation so clearly, a person who has a basic knowledge of the Word can begin putting the pieces into one big story. This helps prepare the reader to understand where he is going in proving his thesis. Alexander lays out the flow of thought beginning with Genesis. He lets the readers know right away that the earth was meant to God’s dwelling place and how God’s dwelling place becomes the tabernacle and temple (15-16). After the temple, Alexander ushers in the next significant idea that Jesus was dwelling among men and made it possible for God to dwell in men (16-17). Finally, he states that John’s revelation reveals God’s plan to bring out the rejuvenated earth where God and man will dwell together again (19). Alexander reveals the meta-narrative succinctly to prepare the readers for his main points.

Alexander does a good job at showing the motif of the temple at a canonical level to argue his thesis. He shows how the dimensions of the New Jerusalem discussed in Revelation 21:15-18 are a perfect cube (20). These dimensions are proportional to the dimensions of the Holy of Holies found in 1 Kings 6:20 (20). The dimensions of the New Jerusalem could be representative of the Holy of Holies, which is the dwelling place of God in the Old Testament. While the end may show that it is a finished city where God will dwell, Genesis lays the foundation for God dwelling on earth. It is this foundation that Alexander begins to connect the other dwelling places as well. He states that striking parallels that exist between the gar and later Israelite sanctuaries (21). The tabernacle is laced with imagery of the garden as well as the temple that Solomon would later build. Later, Alexander does well in noting that the Psalms give readers the image of God building a temple. He uses Psalms 104:2 saying that God stretches out the heavens like a tent (41). Job is another good example that Alexander uses to show this imagery as well. God uses words such as “foundations”, “measurements”, and “cornerstone” (41). These passages allow Alexander’s reader to link to the idea that God built the original dwelling place while man built the temporary; yet, God works to restore a permanent dwelling.

Alexander argues well for humanity’s purpose as God’s vicegerent. He takes a good portion to establish the idea that God is a sovereign king. This is a theme that he states can be seen in Revelation (75). He uses Old Testament scripture to show how different humans throughout the covenantal level had priest-king relationship with God. Examples included Adam and Eve, Abraham, and Israel (76-79). Yet Alexander shows that, in the present world, Jesus is the true human vicegerent using a variety of Old and New Testament scripture. He uses 1 Corinthians 15:24-28 to show that all things were put under his subjection (90).  He states that Paul would show that God delegated authority to another using Psalm 8:6 (91). He argues that with Jesus fulfilling this role anticipates the extension of this vicegerency to other human beings as well (93). This connection was helpful to understand what Scripture meant when it says that we will be co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8). This had always been a phrase that was hard to understand but, in the context that Alexander lays out, it makes sense.

Alexander does a great job explaining prophecy to prove his thesis as well. He discusses ecological and social transformation. Using the books of Joel, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, it was helpful to see how these passages showed the antithesis of Adam’s curse found in Genesis (157-163). The problems that humanity and earth face today were not originally part of their purpose. It is a good reminder to see how one day that transformation will come. This is true for social transformation as well. He shows how social justice will one day be renewed and that all the nations will be coming before the Lord (163-169). The purpose was to live a life that was perfect and whole. Alexander states that life will be different as we experience it now and that we will inherit a world that will have perfect harmony.

Conclusion

This book was helpful in connecting the purpose of the whole Bible to the purpose of existence. It is easier to read through sections of the Bible rather than reading through the Bible. Therefore, the message of the Bible can be lost. Interpretation of passages apart from the whole story can be ambiguous. Therefore, the searcher who is looking for meaning in life may well become frustrated. Alexander shows the whole picture and guides readers to a better understanding. His flow of thought was efficacious as it showed a purpose of the earth, humanity, presented a problem, solution, humanity again, and ends with another purpose of earth.  It was helpful to view it this way to see how each were connected and not separate issues. He does well showing how earth was meant to be a dwelling place for God, humanity was to be God’s viceregents, and how God redeems both through His Son in defeating evil.

For future ministry, this book helps in communicating with others where humanity has come from and where humanity is headed. It will allow for thoughtful conversation. Alexander clearly communicates the meta-narrative of the Bible to reveal to his readers a general understanding of why they and the earth exist. He does so with a strategic structure and backing his claims with Scripture. The person who is looking for purpose is encouraged to read this work to gain a biblical worldview of life. It will be a resource that greatly affects the way I interpret God’s Word.

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