02 October 2013

Initial Observations About "Law and the Bible"

Law and the Bible
The folks at Inter-Varsity Press were kind enough to send me a review copy of their recently published book, Law and the Bible: Justice, Mercy and Legal Institutions (Robert Cochran and David VanDrunen, eds. 2013). I've finished the first of nine chapters and thought it would be useful to post some comments as I read.

The nine chapter build sequentially from "The Biblical Foundations of Law" subtitled Creation, Fall and the Patriarchs through "Expectation and Consummation" otherwise known as Law in Eschatological Perspective. Inter-Varsity has paired two authors for each chapter, one a theologian and the other a law professor. This approach, as John Witte observes in the Foreword, allows "theologians to keep the lawyers canonically honest and forces the theologians to address close legal questions." From the start, one of the first chapter's co-authors (and book editors) David VanDrunen qualifies from both professions as a law graduate and professor of theology.

While professional pairing is an excellent idea, and while manuscript versions of all chapters were shared among all authors before drafts were final, there are bound to be some inconsistencies. Far from being a problem, the variations among presentations illustrate the complexity and tentative nature of conclusions that can be drawn as Christians drill down to the details of what the Bible has to say about contemporary civil law. Or, at least it should. As I observed in Consideration in the Common Law of Contract: A Biblical-Theological Critique, far too many Christians simply pick and chose among the plethora of Bible verses to pluck those that support their preconceived political or social opinions.

Drawing from the book of Genesis, the first chapter of "Law and the Bible" shows the strong influence of the "two-kingdoms" approach of David VanDrunen whose book "Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought" I reviewed here. Suffice it to say that whatever reservations one might have about some aspects of two-kingdoms theology need not keep one from drawing a trove of valuable insights from this chapter. Questions of authority (distinguished from power), the nature of "the good" (distinguished from desires), and the place of law both before and after the fall into sin are caught, filleted, and presented for our consumption. All parts of the chapter are worth the read for what we can learn about God, law, human beings, and the relationship among them: the careful parsing of the creation account, analysis of the implications of sin, exegesis of the Noachic covenant, and careful attention to the patterns of patriarchal life are all put to good and instructive use.

Based on what I've read so far, I can heartily commend "Law and the Bible" to the attention of Christian lawyers, pastors and other church leaders, as well as informed laypersons who are interested to learn more about what the book they profess to love has to say about an exceptionally important aspect of modern life--the law.

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