Theophanyby Vern Poythress
Length: To read (432 pages).
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The current volume, Theophany, is a biblical theology of the appearances of God. This survey of the many places in Scripture where God appears to communicate with specific people is a resource that the average person or pastor may not even think about. Before I picked up this book, I had not thought much about the appearances of God throughout Scripture in any systematic fashion, let alone the significance of these events. I think this volume can add some interesting nuance to how we understand the ways God interacts with the world.
There are forty-eight chapters in the book, grouped into four sections. The first section covers the biblical theme of God appearing, mostly in the Old Testament. For example, the theme of God appearing in a cloud. The most memorable example is when God appears in the cloud to guide the Israelites through the wilderness in the day time.
In each of these chapters Poythress explains the significance of each them in how it relates to the doctrine of God and how it also foreshadows or shows Christ. In the cloud example, the cloud represents the fact that God is unknowable in the fullest extent of who he is. This is represented by the cloud “hiding” who God is. But, God is also revealed in the cloud. Poythress says the cloud is reminiscent of how God, even in his incomprehensibility, draws near to us.
Christ “fulfills” the theme of the cloud in a few ways. In Christ, God comes down from heaven and communes with his people. He also reveals God because, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). We also remember that Jesus, being God, is still incomprehensible.
Part two is titled, “The Mystery of God Appearing.” This section has a little more theological punch and seeks to demonstrate the theology of knowing God and how his revelation achieves that within the set parameters of what God has done. Chapter 17 concerns the doctrine of the Trinity and starts by explaining the nature of progressive revelation.
It is important not to forget that at the time some of the biblical material was written, the full revelation of certain doctrines, like the Trinity, were unknown to the people; however, this does not mean that God was not trinitarian during this time. Poythress argues that even the theophanies in the Old Testament were shadows of the Trinity in the New Testament revelation.
The third section surveys the instances in Scripture where God appears to people in the Old Testament. Like the sections before this one, Poythress highlights several aspects of each appearance. One, he describes the (usually) narrative events that precipitate God appearing and then explains some of the attributes God is displaying in each specific appearance.
He also connects each instance with how the event contributes to the biblical storyline of redemption by connecting them to the themes of Kingdom, Covenant, and the presence of God.
The concluding section interacts with the appearances of God in the New Testament. The incarnation is the culmination and fulfillment of the appearances of God in the Old Testament. Poythress also has a chapter on the appearances of God in the epistles. These can range from the revelation of God in the gospel (Romans 1:17) to the future references in 2 Thessalonians. Revelation has its own chapter as the book is full of God appearing to his people.
This book can be incredibly helpful for several reasons. I think Poythress material can benefit the pastor and layman in different ways. The layout of this book could easily become a devotional and each chapter is only a few pages in length. The themes are simple enough but elicit enough thought from the biblical text to make meditation on each chapter a reasonable use of this work. The chapters could also be good small group or Sunday School materials for use in larger bodies.
For the pastor, I would recommend this book for several reasons, especially if you are preaching. Each time God appears in the Bible, Poythress has laid out an outline for how that event can be interpreted and integrated into a systematized presentation. The connections to biblical theology and the fulfillment in Christ make the individual chapters a good resource for preaching material, especially if you struggle to find the significance or “bridge” to Christ in a text.
One of my favorite parts in the book is how we can see God “acting out” his attributes while he is appearing.
Theophany will be a helpful resource and guide for the theology of God appearing. The survey of material and the extensive Scriptural index is helpful for finding material and integrating that into other projects and ideas. Some may find the lack of depth a disappointment, but with the comprehensive survey of material, something had to give.
I recommend the book to preachers especially; use the material for Old Testament sermons.