Book Review: From Eden to the New Jerusalem

From_Eden_to_the_New_Jerusalem-_An_Introduction_to_Biblical_Theology

Alexander, T. Desmond. From Eden to the New Jerusalem. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2008.

Introduction

“Why does the earth exist? What is the purpose of human life?  Arrogant as it may seem, this short book attempts to answer both of these questions.  It does so by exploring a unique story” (9). In his work, From Eden to the New Jerusalem, T. Desmond Alexander jumps right in by asking two of the biggest questions that humans have wrestled with for centuries.  These two questions become the foundation of building a biblical worldview.  Alexander’s work gives us a fresh look at the beautiful plan of God’s creation by starting at the end of the story.  His commitment to helping the reader look in the rearview mirror while also viewing the story through the windshield allows us to experience the metanarrative of creation through the new creation via the lens of reading Revelation by starting in Genesis.

Alexander’s text is rooted in both Scripture and solid biblical theology.  He is a senior lecturer in biblical studies at Union Theological College in Ireland and has been on staff at the Queen’s University in Belfast as well while helping shape the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. His thesis in this work is to help the reader understand why the earth exists and the role that human beings play in that story.  My goal is always to explore ways to help both the believer and unbeliever become more familiar with Scripture in a way that causes them to either grow in their relationship with Christ or to fall in love with the gospel for the very first time.  I believe that Alexander achieves both of those goals through this work as it is both scholarly and enjoyable to read.­  The book would be a wonderful tool in the hand of a seminarian as well as enlightening for a skeptic attempting to connect the dots of Creation.

Summary

In order to thoroughly expose the reader to the meta-story of creation, Alexander explores 6 major themes.  He spends the majority of his writing on the theme of God’s presence on Earth beginning in chapter 2 and lasting for 61 pages.  His purpose in this chapter is to help the reader see the similarities between the Garden of Eden, the tabernacle, and the new city described in Revelation (21).  Ephesians 2:19-22 points to Christ Jesus as the Cornerstone for the house of God that was “built on the foundation of apostles and prophets.”  This theme starts with the perfect Creation of the Garden of Eden, carries through the attempt at the tower of Babel, the building of the tabernacle, the destruction of the walls of Jerusalem, to the coming of Christ, and the looking forward to the new city of Jerusalem.  By understanding the presence of God and His faithfulness throughout the entire narrative of Scripture, we are able to see both His sovereignty and His provision.

Chapter 3 leads us to a discussion of kingship.  Now that a foundation has been laid for God as Creator, we are able to build on the introductory questions that Alexander offered by adding “How will God’s kingdom be established throughout the world?  How will his throne be set up in the holy garden-city that is to fill the earth?  How will human beings be rescued from the control of the enemy and be enabled to fulfill the purpose for which God created them?” (79).  Reading through the book of Daniel, known for it’s prophecy as well as the hope that we have in the Lord, we are reminded in Daniel 2 and 7 that Christians look forward to the day when divine kingdoms replace the earthly kingdoms that will wear out and not stand the test of time (89).

Continuing on through the themes of creation, we encounter Genesis 3:1 “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made” (102).  This introduces us to Chapter 4 and the discussion of dealing with conflict through the person of the devil or Satan.  In order to fully appreciate the story of Creation and to understand the gospel itself, the reader must have an understanding of evil and what it means to be separated from God as a result of that evil.  Studying Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrated His love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” is a sweet truth in and of itself, but it is so much sweeter in light of an understanding of Genesis 3 and what the fall really meant as far as putting humanity in conflict with our loving Heavenly Father that Created us.  By studying Creation from the perspective of Revelation, the reader has a chance to look forward to the triumph of Jesus over evil, death, hell, and the grave.  Christians should take great hope in the truth of Revelation 21:4 “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (ESV).

2 Corinthians 5:21 reminds us, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him, we might become the righteousness of God.” (ESV).  Chapter 5 introduces the reader to the Cross and the picture of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb who was sent for the redemption of Creation.  There is great relief in the comprehension that “our hope rests not on what we can do to please God, but rather on what the Lamb has done for us” (136).   The Passover is explained thoroughly in this chapter to help the reader see the sacrifice made on behalf of humanity.

Chapter 6 continues with good news as Alexander explores holiness and what it means to be restored into a right relationship with God. “Central to the redemptive activity of God is the cross of Christ, for through it Satan is defeated and human beings are enabled to regain the holy, royal status Adam and Eve lost” (138).  This chapter is spent talking about wholeness in restoration to God through the sacrifice of His son while explaining further some of the intricacies of Old Testament law regarding the status of being clean or unclean.  He also addresses the picture in Revelation where the nations will be restored as the people of God finally shedding the dividing lines that our culture has created.

The final theme Alexander addresses is community in the New Jerusalem.  Chapter 6 helps the reader understand the idea of what it will look like to live amongst the people of God in the way that He originally intended.  When God puts all things back together in the new city that we read about in Revelation, His people will be gathered to spend eternity worshipping our Savior.

Critique

Alexander’s thesis claims that he will address the major questions of life.  He does a remarkable job weaving together a narrative that reads much like something you might expect from C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien.  In fact, this book might make for a good movie!  Alexander’s vivid word pictures and clear connections to Scripture make this book a great resource for pastors and Bible scholars as well as an interesting read for something that is interested in learning more about Christianity.  His creativity captivates the reader in a way that encourages page turning, both forwards and backwards as he investigates the metanarrative of the biblical account of creation from Revelation looking back and Genesis looking forward.

One suggestion as this book will likely have further editions would be to more evenly distribute the information in the book.  Based on the hundreds of footnotes and equally as much Scripture, it is clear that Alexander has thoroughly researched his material.  It is so easy to get bogged down in Chapter 2 which encompasses 61 pages of the 192 page book.  Obviously the presence of God is an important theme, but it might be more reader friendly to consider breaking the chapter up into smaller readings or redistributing some of the material.

As you consider the possible reading audience of this book, the one drawback to offering it for non-believers would be the fact that there is not a lot in the book that directly points to Jesus or clearly conveys the gospel.  There is a lot that is alluded to in regards to both the Cross and the “sacrificial Lamb” particularly in chapter 5, but not a lot of specifics directing a person clearly to the person of Jesus Christ.  Could this book stand alone as a way to point someone to the gospel?  Probably not, but through Alexander’s keen use of storytelling, our hope would be that the book would leave a non-believer wanting to learn more and choosing to study even beyond this text.  If they took the time to more fully consider any of the works listed in the footnotes or to specifically read the Scripture, they would definitely find their way to the gospel and to the person of Jesus Christ.

In his focus on making the connection between the Garden of Eden and the New Jerusalem, Alexander seems to have chosen not to include discussion about heaven.  While this book addresses what believers have to look forward to in the future, he doesn’t engage the conversation about what happens to believers who die now before the formation of the new city that we read about in Revelation.  The hope we have in Christ as it relates to eternal life considers the present time as well as the time to come.  It’s the theological basis of the “already, but not yet” that we consider in a variety of situations related to the gospel and our time both here on earth, in heaven before the Second Coming, and in the new city described in Revelation.

One of the most outstanding qualities of this book is the way that that Alexander uses the art of questioning to make connections.  He addresses so many of the big questions of life that are contemplated by believers and non-believers alike.  By addressing those questions and making their pursuit one of the main focuses of the book, he is able to draw the reader in and keep them reading to find out more.  The questions he poses are those that every human should be asking in order to form their worldview and inform their decision-making and relationship building as they go throughout their life.

Conclusion

In From Eden to the New Jerusalem, T. Desmond Alexander aims to help the reader understand why the earth exists and the role that human beings play in that story. My goal in reading this work is to help add to my toolbox of resources that I can use to help believers grow in their faith and non-believers begin their journey to follow Christ and for both groups to be encouraged to ultimately spend their life for the sake of the gospel.  Alexander’s book reads like a magnificent story that takes us on a tour of history connecting the dots of creation.  He answers many questions that the reader might have while inspiring further questions inviting the reader to dive more deeply into God’s Word.

“One day this present age will give way to another, when the earth will be rejuvenated and the sovereignty of God will finally become an undisputed reality in the New Jerusalem.  Until then, we are taught by Jesus to pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’” (97).   Until the day that we see the Lord face to face and take up our eternal residence in the holy city, may we keep our mind’s attention and our heart’s affection focused on following Christ and living out the gospel in all that we say and do.  We will see the glory of the Lord in His holy dwelling as we live together in gospel community with the nations.

 

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