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Placing God: From Garden to ‘Arboreal City-Temple’

A review of God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth, by G.K. Beale and Mitchell Kim (IVP, 2014), the early form of material submitted to The Expository Times.

This book is the result of promising collaboration between a biblical scholar and a preacher. Its ‘substance and basic thesis’ come from Beale’s The Temple and the Church’s Mission (IVP, 2004), which became a sermon series delivered by Alliance pastor Mitchell Kim and was then ‘translated’ back into written form. In its current iteration, the authors aim to introduce a broad church audience to the ‘richly textured interconnectedness of scripture’ with a focus on fascinating portrayals of God’s dwelling place.

The work is structured by depictions of a ‘Garden-like temple’ in Genesis 2 and Revelation 21-22, which are said to form an ‘inclusio’ around the canon. Other chapters present a series of biblical links between the ‘architecture’ of creation and temple construction, leading Beale and Kim to retrieve ancient testimony to how cosmology was interwoven with material worship. These effective treatments help the reader to appreciate astonishing future developments, including that the eschatological city has the same dimensions not as the entire temple complex, with its gradated access, but as the holy of holies itself (pp.136-40). The authors’ wide-ranging biblical theology is grounded in skilful expositions: key terms are introduced in the original languages, allusive texts are arranged in parallel columns, and scholarly references are provided in a lengthy footnote section.

Unfortunately, the redaction history of Beale’s original work has resulted in uneven treatments and visible seams: the main text is encumbered by frequent, lengthy sets of parenthetical verse references, while only some chapters close with ‘practical implications.’ The latter sections often retreat to further exposition rather than the kind of ethical reflection that could reconfigure how biblical material is presented or trouble the title’s reference to ‘us.’ Moreover, vibrant biblical portrayals can be diminished by homely similes, such as when an evocative treatment on humanity as the Creator’s living ‘icons,’ whom the authors claim are ‘fueled’ for mission through their worship, ends by comparison to how a child’s glow-in-the-dark lizard is ‘charged’ (pp.30-34).

Beale and Kim’s eager call for ‘expansion’ is rightly tempered by an emphasis that growth only occurs through suffering and prayer. Their work in the Pauline Epistles through Revelation, enlivened by reflections from the life of missionary Adoniram Judson, marks their departure from American church growth models or reductively ‘therapeutic’ forms of faith. May such important challenges continue through future associations between lecture hall and sanctuary.

© David Robinson, 2017