Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible
Stephen G. Dempster. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003. 267 pages.
Here is a fresh approach to biblical theology. Dempster, professor of religious studies at Atlantic Baptist University in New Brunswick, Canada, synthesizes the Old Testament (OT) message around story and canon.
He traces the story beginning with Genesis through to Kings following the Hebrew ordering of books, that is from the Torah through the Former Prophets. The storyline is then suspended for the “commentary” as found in the Latter Prophets and part of the Writings (Ruth to Lamentations). The story resumes with Daniel and the rest of the Writings, concluding with Chronicles. Genesis and Chronicles bracket the story, to follow the Hebrew canon. “[T]his Story is about the reclamation of a lost human dominion over the world through a Davidic dynasty. In short, it is about the coming of the kingdom of God, and it is unfinished” (231). The twin themes of dominion and dynasty, geography and genealogy (Dempster likes alliteration) govern the story.
The advantages of a narrative approach are several. Much of the OT is narrative and links easily with the New Testament (NT). A story approach offers easy access to the OT for a culture increasingly biblically illiterate. Postmoderns have limited tolerance for dogma but are open to story. The story approach is a corrective, perhaps, to theologies which lingered long over “doctrine.”
While the stories are briefly summarized, there is more here than a retelling. Dempster, a good linguist, includes brief word studies, but also charts. Refreshing and definitely enriching is his attention to intertextuality. The story is told with a twist, extended commentary is interspersed after 2 Kings (the midpoint of the OT collection in the Hebrew canon), before the story is resumed with Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah.
“Dominion” offers continuity to the story, but the word has imperialistic overtones. How is such an emphasis to be coordinated with the servanthood models, so strong in Isaiah and the NT? The stress on dynasty, notably David’s, to Dempster’s credit, is interlaced with social justice issues and links easily via the Messiah with the New Testament. Yet is “dynasty” with overtones of hierarchy, an adequate descriptor of the people whom God is calling out and shaping?
An underlying question is, How does one derive theology from narrative? I could wish that the author might have treated this methodological question. From the Egyptian point of view, the God of the Hebrews is more like a terrorist than a liberator. Might there be other equally significant themes in the story, apart from dominion and dynasty? What about balance? The nonstory parts of the OT (prophets and poetry) make up more than half of the OT material, but proportionately Dempster devotes thirty percent (sixty pages) to them. Finally, is “typology” the strongest bridge between the testaments? A good OT theology, like this one with its new angle of vision, raises provocative questions.
In sum, the treatment is stimulating and highlights a neglected genre, narrative. All can be thankful for Dempster’s evangelical commitment and his clarity of exposition. The book is recommended as a college level text, perhaps to supplant or at least supplement courses on OT introduction. Dempster interacts significantly and helpfully with a wide range of scholars; the book belongs, as one of the texts, on seminary syllabi.