22/08/2016 by Chris Green
A Mouth Full of Fire: The Word of God in the Words of Jeremiah (New Studies in Biblical Theology) Andrew Shead (Nottingham, IVP: 2012)
OK, this is a cheat, because it sneaks in through the back door. But Shead’s impressive biblical theology work on the book of Jeremiah, along the way also produces a mighty fine doctrine of scripture, and engages with Barth’s doctrine, leaving the Swiss in tatters.
Fundamentally, Shead has seen that Jeremiah is a book about God’s words (not the plural – this is not a hunch or suggestion from God, but a word-by-word message), given to – we could really say ‘incarnated in’ – the prophet, who is then treated by God’s people as badly as they treat the message itself.
I recently had to do some work on Jeremiah, and Shead’s work was more illuminating at the theological level than anyone else, but in addition he has also paid such attention to the details of the text that he actually cracked the structure and themes as well.
But Shead’s real benefit for us is in the two aspects I have already flagged up.
First, he shows that Jeremiah’s awareness of his task means that he would today have signed up for full, plenary and verbal inspiration. His task was to transcribe (several times) God’s words, and they are what we now have. True, this is one of the more complex books of the Bible to make that claim about, because of the questions of tradition and history, but nonetheless it is one the text itself makes. Anyone of the view that verbal inspiration was a view (not just a vocabulary) that arose in the sixteenth or nineteenth centuries now has some serious work to do, to counter the evidence Shead marshalls.
Second, therefore, Shead dismantles Barth’s confusing distinction between ‘the word of God’ and ‘the words of man’. Barth’s theological agenda is well known, and has been dissected by David Gibson, both in his own book and in the Carson collection, but Shead’s exegetical work shows just how untenable Barth’s position is; it can only really be adopted by someone paying more attention to their own agenda than a biblical model.
This is not always an easy read, but those of us who have to preach Jeremiah already know the world of long books – both the prophet’s own, and those who write about it. An excellent starting point for a tough-minded preacher.