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God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

James M. Hamilton Jr. God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010. 640 pp.

God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment by James M. Hamilton Jr. argues that the center of biblical theology, the main idea of all Scripture, is that God glorifies himself in salvation through judgment. He saves some by judging others, and this dual action of saving and judging gets him glory. It may seem odd to say that salvation comes through judgment, but Dr. Hamilton rightly notes:

When God judges, he enforces standards he himself has set, showing steadfast love to himself and the demands of his character. Further, when God judges, he shows steadfast love to his people. They are saved from their enemies when he judges those enemies. They are saved from their sins when God judges their sins. And they are saved from self-centered thinking when God’s judgment crashes in upon the idolatry of the self and crushes it. (54-55, emphasis original)

Furthermore,

salvation and judgment balance one another. The reality of salvation should likewise keep us from thinking of God in purely sentimental terms as though he were a grandfatherly buddy who just lets things go. The reality of salvation should likewise keep us from thinking of God as merely a terrifying, vengeful judge. Those who flee to him will be saved, but those who do not fear him will be judged. Paradoxically, it is the reality of his terrifying judgment that is meant to send us fleeing to him. (57)

Hamilton ably defends his central thesis throughout the remainder of the book, which he arranges canonically, by the order of the books of the Bible. Interestingly, Hamilton adopts a tripartite division for the Old Testament. Basing his argument upon such passages as Luke 24:44 and the evidence from Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible, Hamilton addresses the Old Testament in the divisions of Law, Prophets, and Writings. Thus, Hamilton’s ordering of the OT as he progresses through it in this book is as follows (as in Table 1.2, p. 60):

  1. The Law (Genesis-Deuteronomy)
  2. The Prophets
    1. Former Prophets (Joshua-Judges, 1 Samuel-2 Kings)
    2. Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, The Minor Prophets)
  3. The Writings
    1. Psalms-Proverbs
    2. Job
    3. Song of Songs
    4. Ruth
    5. Lamentations
    6. Ecclesiastes
    7. Esther
    8. Daniel
    9. Ezra-Nehemiah
    10. 1-2 Chronicles

(His ordering of the New Testament follows standard English Bibles.) By following the tripartite order of the Old Testament and the traditional order of the New Testament, Hamilton maps out the rest of his book and is able to conclude: “Viewed this way, the Bible is seen to be a unified metanarrative that begins at creation and ends with the consummation of all things” (64).

Thus, the bulk of Hamilton’s book (chs. 2-7) argues that God’s glory in salvation through judgment is prominent in each and every book of the Bible. These chapters consistently prove that God does, in fact, glorify himself in saving some while judging others throughout biblical and redemptive history. Also helpful in these chapters are numerous outlines of many books of the Bible and helpful charts that follow certain themes in each book. Hamilton also cites scores of other books and articles to which I will gladly turn in future years, Lord willing.

In chapter 8, Hamilton defends his thesis against the counter-arguments of respected New Testament scholars I. Howard Marshall and Ben Witherington III. This chapter was interesting and helped me better to understand clearly Hamilton’s thesis. His concluding argument in defending the fact that God seeks his own glory throughout Scripture (and throughout all history!) to Witherington is particularly clear, concise, and helpful:

it is evil and sinful for fallen human beings to seek their own glory. The reason this is evil is that fallen humans do not deserve glory, and if they were to attain their own glory, it would not be what is best for others. By contrast, it is neither evil nor sinful for God to seek his own glory. In fact, it is righteous for God to seek his own glory. He is God and has no other gods before himself. He deserves glory. Humans were created to see and savor his glory. There is nothing better that God could give to humans than his glory—which consists in his display of self-giving love and truth-maintaining justice. (562)

Thus, chapter 8 defends Hamilton’s thesis against those Christians and theologians who would argue against the truth of God’s self-glorification (both Marshall and Witherington lean more heavily toward human responsibility than divine sovereignty). Personally, I wish that Hamilton could have interacted with the objections of theologians who agree with him about God’s self-glorification but who disagree with him that there can be a single, defining center to biblical theology (e.g., Carson and Köstenberger).

Chapter 9 concludes the book with how this center of biblical theology applies to Christians (and pastors, in particular) in practical terms. He specifically addresses how God’s glory in salvation through judgment applies to matters of evangelism, discipleship, corrective church discipline, personal Bible reading, and personal prayer. Hamilton’s statement is spot-on: “Embracing the center of biblical theology as a disciple of Jesus means recognizing that we are on a lifelong pilgrimage whose starting point was a moment of salvation through judgment for God’s glory, and the pattern of growth will be the same” (567). Our sanctification is a continual process of needed pruning and necessary fruit-bearing (John 15:1-11): in other words, our life on earth as Christians is a continual process of salvation through judgment. But it applies corporately as well as individually:

Churches full of people who understand and embrace the glory of God in salvation through judgment will want to see God’s holiness displayed in their congregation so that God’s mercy will have meaning. Members of such churches will take God and his holiness more seriously when they see his holiness applied to the unrepentant. They will live in fear of God and in gratitude for his mercy, and they will press on to holiness, without which no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). God is glorified in salvation through judgment in individual lives in evangelism and discipleship, and he is glorified in salvation through judgment in the lives of churches that obey Jesus and embrace church discipline. (568)

And I could not agree more with Dr. Hamilton’s conclusion to his book, with which I conclude this book review, as well:

From creation to new creation, at the fall and at the flood, in the exodus and the exile, in the new exodus and the return from exile accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in the church’s pilgrimage through the world, and on the last day: God gets glory in salvation through judgment. His praise endures forever. (570)

What’s the Bible about? God glorifies himself in saving some through judging others … and ultimately saving those he saves by judging One Other, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I highly recommend this book to any Christian. Despite its length, I recommend it more strongly than either Radical or Just Do Something. This book will help you grow in the knowledge of God’s Word, will whet your appetite for ever increasing amounts of God’s Word, and will help you “behold wondrous things” (Ps. 119:18) not only in God’s “law” but also in the Prophets, the Writings, and the New Testament.

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  1. July 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm

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