David A. DeSilva
An Introduction to the New Testament: Contexts, Methods, & Ministry Formation. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2004. 975 pgs.
Over the past year, I have had the opportunity to read a great deal of David DeSilva’s introduction to the New Testament. In this book DeSilva seeks to equip Christian leaders to
(1) more fully engage the critical and prayerful study of the New Testament, and (2) more reliably discern the direction the Spirit would give through these texts for nurturing disciples and building communities of faith that reflect the heart and character of their Lord .
DeSilva seeks to achieve these two goals through by (1) taking a text-centered approach (as opposed to primarily pursuing early church history and Christian origins), (2) presenting numerous interpretative strategies that cut across ideological boundaries, and (3) by reflecting on the spiritual and pastoral implications of each book of the New Testament [20-21].
Each chapter begins with the standard questions of New Testament scholarship, attending to matters of authorship, date, genre and the like. DeSilva usually does an admirable job of giving the reader an ample survey of the salient points without getting bogged down in the finer minutiae that consumes the professional scholar. Further, the language of this section is understandable for the beginner.
Following this, DeSilva begins to expound the message and theology of the NT book in question. What makes this section invaluable is that you can never quite “label” or pin him down: as soon as you think he is simply a theological conservative, he will write something that would make many conservatives bristle, and visa-versa. At times DeSilva’s most impassioned arguments will be for a view he rejects. Sometimes you end a chapter not completely sure what he thinks about certain features of a NT book. Much like his subject matter, DeSilva’s views cannot be fit into one mold, and that makes for more engaging reading.
As DeSilva builds his case for his interpretation, there are occasional inserts that allow eager readers to receive fuller treatments of certain themes or issues surrounding the NT [eg “The New Perspective on Paul and Early Judaism (500-1),” “Wisdom Christology in Colossians 1:15-20 (695),” and “Sources and Stages in the Composition of Revelation (892),” to name a few]. These sidebars, while giving more detail, do not depart from the overall readability of the volume for the novice.
Usually near the end of the chapter, DeSilva includes at least one section focused on exegetical techniques . This “Exegetical Skill” section introduces the reader to a wide array of exegetical techniques, and like the sidebars mentioned above contains its own bibliography. These sections are usually between 5-10 pages, include practical exercises to begin applying the technique, and are usually placed within a study of a book where the technique is especially relevant (ex: Feminist Criticism in the chapter on the Pastoral Epistles). These techniques span across the theological and idealogical spectrum, and there will be likely a section or two in DeSilva’s work that will make the reader uneasy, to his/her benefit . While it is clear that DeSilva favors some techniques over others (Rhetorical Criticism receives treatment at least four separate times), each technique is explicated with charity, extolling the value of it for if nothing else the questions it raises (see 757-70).
At the conclusion of each chapter is a “Ministry Formation” section, similar in length and format to the “Exegetical Skill” section. Here DeSilva attempts to tie the exegetical work done in the chapter to the life of ministry. At times i was convicted reading this section, as it challenged me to wrestle with all the information i had just gathered in relationship to my concrete life as a minister.
In this ambitious introduction DeSilva has attempted combine the disciplines of hermeneutics, exegesis, and spiritual and ministry formation. It is little wonder that at nearly 1000 pages DeSilva readily admits that “the study of the New Testament is a broad field with many questions” and that he “does not pretend to write as an expert on every topic .” Nevertheless, each chapter in essence is a “mini-commentary,” a great place to begin one’s research of a given book and text. In my humble opinion, DeSilva has, as much as it is possible in one book, achieved his goal of providing an invaluable resource for thoughtful and prayerful study of the NT with the furtherance of the Gospel firmly in view.