On my other site, I used to regularly review movies and books under this “read and review” heading. I haven’t done that in quite a while so I figured I could do that this week. I read a lot compared to many people. I (used to) watch a lot of movies. I figure I can pass along some of what I’m taking in and reflecting on.
I just got back from a conference with the Center for Pastor Theologians. A few days to talk about theology with other pastors and hear from theologians that I read? Yeah. I’m in on that. It was a great time with great sessions on really challenging and worthwhile topics. But the very delicious icing on the cake was the book tables that had a conference discount of 40% off. I texted my wife on the last day to tell her that I was walking away to stop myself from buying anything. She couldn’t believe that I wouldn’t buy a single book for that kind of discount. I almost laughed out loud. “No, no. I’ve already bought five. I’m trying not to buy MORE.”
One book that I picked up almost on a whim was God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim. I’m roughly familiar with some of Beale’s work, but this was different in size and aim than his normal stuff. It turns out, Kim distilled Beale’s academic work into a series of talks. Those talks were well-received so they decided to turn the content into a book that could be for anyone. I picked it up because I teach Old Testament Survey and some of the dominant themes that were discussed on the back of the book are things I try to bring out to my students and in my preaching. I figured this might be an easy way for me to 1) expand my material and 2) have a resource to pass on to students and people in my church. If they ever asked me, that is. Strangely, people don’t often want to come have theology conversations with me.
Weirdos. You’re all weirdos. Not me.
Anyway, I pretty much read the book in a day. I read the intro and first chapter the day after I got the book and then I read the rest of it yesterday as I traveled back home from Chicago. So I didn’t finish it in a normal day. There was lots of sitting on trains and in airports and in an airplane. But the book is short enough (197 pages with 30 pages of endnotes) and conversational enough that it’s a breeze.
And wow. There is a lot of content packed into those 165 pages of writing. I don’t necessarily mean in density, but if you were to make a list of facts/observations/claims made in the book, it would be a very long list for such a short book. Many times, books are full of fluff because the author is verbose (for which I would judge no one. see: this blog), the editing is poor, or pages are trying to be filled up. This book is superbly written in that it’s very economical. You get a lot of content for your time and money.
Let me tell you, the content is fantastic. Beale is a very smart guy and has a lot of great research, much of which I haven’t even touched. It’s very clear that he has an eye for imagery, detail, and nuance that illuminates connections from the beginning of the Old Testament to the end of the New. I have read and taught some portions of what is in this book (which made me feel better/less crazy), but there were so many more levels of comparison and relationship that I did not see. Beale spots these seemingly small details and I think Kim helps communicate them at a non-academic level.
So what exactly are they communicating? Simple that God’s presence with his people is the primary move of God for all of Scripture. The central image is that of the Temple. This is how we normally think of God dwelling with people in visible terms. The Temple appears relatively late in the Biblical story (you don’t see it until the books of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles). Beale points out Temple-like imagery all the way from Eden to Sinai to the Tabernacle and beyond. The level of details correlation between all the images is truly astounding and convincing. This truly does seem to be the apparent intention of the way those things are talked about. For example, there is a consistent three-part structure at all of these stages of development of God’s presence with people: sort of a close, closer, closest model. You can see it from the way Eden is described to the way Sinai and the allowance for some people up the mountain is described to the Tabernacle and the Temple. And all of these have corresponding similarities to throne rooms. And of course, the way Jesus seems to intentionally destroy and remake Temple imagery is breathtaking.
Altogether, it’s an impressive tapestry that is woven with very vivid imagery. One thing I found very helpful was the usage of small tables/graphics to illustrate what they were talking about. Even though the language is easy to understand, sometimes it’s just more helpful to actually see things side by side. Beale and Kim engage readers that may be trying so hard to keep track of all the things they’re being told that visuals are a necessary support. I really appreciated that.
The book is readable and rich with information without putting you to sleep. It may be a helpful slow reference for some while others may sprint through it. I know I’ll keep it around to reference for teaching my classes and beef up my preaching. I’m sure you would profit from it as well. It’s a short little book that packs quite a punch and can open new vistas of beauty as you mediate on God’s relentless quest to dwell with his people.