God Dwells Among Us, G. K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.
Summary: A study of the theology of the Eden-temple of creation as an expression of God’s purpose to have a dwelling place with humanity and the development of this theme throughout scripture, under-girding the mission of the church.
Good biblical theology works up from the data of particular books of scripture to develop themes that run through the whole of scripture. It helps us both hear the testimony of particular writers to a particular time, and the harmony of witness through time, and calls us to join the chorus with the worship and service of our lives. This book is good biblical theology that does all of these things.
The book arises from Mitchell Kim’s pastoral ministry, particularly a seven week sermon series based on the work of G.K. Beale in The Temple and the Church’s Mission in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Kim, with Beale’s co-authorship, expand this series into a survey of this theme suitable for an adult lay audience. They begin with the idea of the garden of Eden as God’s dwelling place with his image-bearers, and his intention that they would expand Eden to fill the whole earth through their offspring. Although the fall of the first couple means this purpose to extend the Eden-temple to the whole earth could not be fulfilled in the way God originally intended, we see this working out in the patriarchs with Noah once again being fruitful and multiplying after the flood, God dispersing the nations at Babel and the promise to Abraham and the response of Abraham and later Jacob in building altars throughout Canaan as types of “sanctuaries” as God begins to make a great nation.
After the deliverance of the nation from slavery in Egypt, God establishes a “tabernacle” in the wilderness, which Kim and Beale call the Eden dwelling place “remixed in the context of sin.” There is both the Holy of Holies, and provision for sin by which the people of God may approach and live in God’s Holy presence. The tabernacle, and the later temple image the cosmic temple, and the restoration of the temple, the future temple that will fill the earth.
The second Jerusalem temple never fulfills these purposes in itself, which only the coming of Jesus does; the temple that will be destroyed and raised up, signalling the coming of God’s new creation extending to the nations. This is accomplished in and through the church, the body of Christ and the temple of his Spirit, extending the new Eden-creation to the ends of the earth, even as it looks for the consummation of this purpose in the return of Jesus, establishing the new heavens and the new earth.
The penultimate chapter asks the telling question, “Why Haven’t I Seen This Before?” The authors cite four reasons. One is that very different cosmology of the biblical writers from our naturalistic cosmos disconnected from any spiritual realities. Second is that rarely is the Bible treated as a unity, a canonical whole. We look at particular books but rarely at the witness of the whole (and some who do only emphasize the discontinuities). Third is that we are unfamiliar with the use of typology. Finally, we think of “literal” fulfillment only in physical terms, when in scripture, the “true” temple is the heavenly one of which the earthly temple is only a shadow.
The final chapter returns to the idea of the mission of the church as those through whom the new creation Eden-temple is being extended to the ends of the earth. This is a call to sacrifice, and to ministry empowered by the word of God and prayer. It was here, even as I found myself saying “Amen” to these foundational aspects of the church’s life and witness, that I also found myself struggling with the very “spiritual” feel that seemed to ignore how the church’s social witness and care for creation also herald the coming Eden-temple of the new creation, portrayed in Revelation as a garden-city.
Aside from this quibble, I appreciated this book as a model of the kind of teaching that can, and I think, ought to be done in the setting of the church that helps people grasp the Big Story of which we are a part, and how we in fact have a part in advancing the plot that is life-affirming and embracing. Such teaching is rich fare that fuels both worship and work in a way that the “fast food” diets of many of our churches cannot sustain, as many of our most vibrant churches are learning.