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Jeffrey Niehaus: Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology

Admittedly, part of the problem appears to be Niehaus’ a priori commitment to the categorical construct of common grace. Common grace, at its best, recognizes God’s goodness in creation and kindness toward all humanity. At its worst, it denies any genuine epistemological or soteriological implications of God’s gracious presence and influence, even arguing it only intensifies damnable inevitability, which is, of course, quite contrary to the biblical (e.g., Rom 2:4) and theological understanding of the “grace that goes before” conversion, or “prevenient grace.” Accordingly, confusion about the divine and the demonic in “extra-biblical revelation,” as Niehaus terms it, becomes common place. Much more clear is that demonic distortions in false religions must be discerned or distinguished (cf. 1 Co 12:10) from the divine light graciously given to all human beings (John 1:9). Of course, there are both divine and demonic elements in many non-Christian religions. The key is for us to learn to discern the difference. Amos Yong has taught us that much in Discerning of the Spirit(s): A Pentecostal-Charismatic Contribution to the Christian Theology of Religions (Sheffield Academic, 2000).

Fortunately, the preceding remarks do not detract from the otherwise excellent features of Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology. Mostly, it is probably indicative of a sincere struggle when the parallels of pagan and Christian truth confronts one so squarely, not only in today’s pluralistic society, but even within the inspired pages of the Bible itself. Also, it suggests the unexpected complications that may arise from attempting to superimpose certain theological presuppositions on biblical interpretation. For the most part, especially as far as concerns sound biblical theology, Niehaus admirably analyzes the important parallels of the ancient Near East and the biblical revelation while stoutly maintaining the utter distinctiveness of the biblical testimony. In any case, his study is certainly a commendable contribution to a greater understanding of the world of the Bible and its reality for today.

Reviewed by Reviewed by Tony Richie

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Category: Biblical Studies, Pneuma Review, Winter 2010

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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