Crossway ISBN 9781433555749
Adult Rating: 4
T. Desmond Alexander opens the concluding chapter of his book The City of God and the Goal of Creation (in Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology series) with this redemptive-historical summary statement: “God’s purpose in creating this world is to establish a resplendent metropolis that will fill the earth, where God will reside in harmony with humans. Progress toward the construction of this city, however, is not straightforward” (163).
In eight chapters, Alexander traces that progress and that construction, drawing together contributions to the theme from both testaments. Alexander is a recognized leader in the field of biblical theology, and this short, workmanlike book shows why: he is skilled in drawing together the entire Bible’s teaching on a given theme. In this case, that theme is the city of God—the one whose builder and maker is God, the one which ends Revelation, the one which God has already begun to establish (it is already and not-yet) in Jerusalem but will one day build to massive size.
Alexander’s book is not about “the city of God” in the Augustinian sense, but rather the more literal sense. Alexander is not so much contrasting the “two kingdoms” (except in a portion of the penultimate chapter, in which he contrasts eschatological Babylon and the New Jerusalem) as focusing on the geographical center of one of those kingdoms. He shows how Zion fulfills God’s plans for creation:
New Jerusalem brings to completion what God intended when he first created the earth.… The situation described in New Jerusalem involves the restoration of [the divine-human] relationship. Only in the garden of Eden and New Jerusalem do God and humanity coexist in perfect harmony. (16–17)
One theme Alexander made more clear for me was the role “the mountain of God” plays in the development of the city of God theme in Scripture. He quotes Gowan helpfully:
By predicting that “the mountain of the house of the Lord” will become “the highest of the mountains,” Isaiah anticipates a time when God’s sovereignty over all the earth will be fully acknowledged by all the nations. As Gowan remarks, “This is a theological, not a topographical, statement.” (45)
Another insight Alexander’s work produced was that it was not an accident that Babylon was God’s tool for conquering Jerusalem and deporting his people away from it. In this key moment in redemptive history—the time when things seem to go backwards—Babel/Babylon shows itself again to be the “prototypical Godless city,” the one that “typifies every proud human enterprise that seeks to exalt the creature over the creator.” (25–26) It is the height of irony that Babylon is chosen to be Jerusalem’s conqueror. But at the same time, it was God who did the choosing.
As always happens in biblical theology books—precisely when they are good and worthwhile—a few of Alexander’s highly educated guesses at thematic connections were more speculative and less persuasive.
The link between Mount Sinai and the portable sanctuary is highly significant; it enables the Israelites symbolically to transport “the mountain of God” to the Promised Land. Consequently, “the tabernacle becomes an important way of carrying the Sinai experience forward during the subsequent wanderings.” (53, quoting Larsson)
But this reviewer wishes for his biblical theologians to err on the side of faith-fueled creativity (Iain Provan is known for this; Alastair Roberts, too). We may find when we reach that City, ruled by its “servant King” (114), that there were more types and hints and significances in the Old Testament than we now perceive.
The New Testament draws some of these connections: Christians are a “spiritual temple”; we are part of a “kingdom.” And we become so by the sacrificial love of that same servant King.
Alexander’s final words are drawn from John Newton. He quotes five full stanzas of Newton’s amazingly perceptive and beautiful “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, Zion City of Our God”—a fitting end to a worshipful, insightful book.
Mark L. Ward, Jr., CLJ