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A Mouth Full of Fire

By Andrew G Shead
March 2013 | Review by Alan Wells

Synopsis

In the book of Jeremiah, the vocabulary of 'word' and 'words' is not only uniquely prevalent, but formulae marking divine speech also play an unprecedented role in giving the book's final form its narrative and theological shape. Indeed, 'the word of the Lord' is arguably the main character, and a theology that is both distinctive and powerful can be seen to emerge from the unfolding narrative. In this stimulating study, Andrew Shead examines Jeremiah's use of word language; the prophet's formation as an embodiment of the Word of God; his covenant preaching and the crisis it precipitates concerning the recognition of true prophecy; and, in the 'oracles of hope', how the power of the Word of God is finally made manifest. Shead then brings this reading of Jeremiah to bear on some issues in contemporary theology, including the problem of divine agency and the doctrine of Scripture, and concludes by engaging Jeremiah's doctrine of the Word of God in conversation with Karl Barth. The prophet's major contribution emerges from his careful differentiation of 'word' and 'words'.

  • Publisher: Apollos (IVP)
  • ISBN: 978-1-84474-596-8
  • Pages: 328
  • Price: 14.99
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Book Review

A Mouth Full of Fire

Andrew G Shead

Apollos (IVP)

328 pages, £14.99

ISBN: 978-1-84474-596-8

Star Rating: 2

 

In this book Andrew Shead seeks to build a theology of the Word of God from the many references in the book of Jeremiah both to the Word and (for Shead, an important distinction) to the words of God. A cursory reading of Jeremiah would identify these recurring themes, and indicate a promising and important line of enquiry. Shead takes the Word of God as the ‘protagonist’ of the book of Jeremiah, and considers how this Word is conveyed to and through the prophet.

      While not a commentary as such, this book helps to clarify the underlying structure and thought of Jeremiah. As a volume in Apollos’ New Studies in Biblical Theology, it is written  for the world of scholarship and readers unfamiliar with academic and technical works will find it demanding. There is much interaction with non-evangelical writers, and objections to the author’s approach are considered in detail. On one occasion (p66) the author acknowledges that readers who are happy to accept his approach may skip part of a chapter while losing little of the wider argument. A similar note could have been inserted at other points in the book.

      Shead understands the ‘Word’ of God in Jeremiah as the divine message, which is entrusted to the prophet in such a way that his own preached words can be described as the ‘words’ of God. In line with his calling, Jeremiah’s whole person, his deeds, his anguished prayers to God, are employed to convey God’s Word, foreshadowing the Word made flesh. The words of Jeremiah, as written down by Baruch and as read by successive generations of readers, remain the words of God. Shead notes how the power of God’s Word (and words) is repeatedly emphasised, even as its message is almost universally rejected, for the Word is effective in judgment even where it is not received in obedient trust.

      From his overview of the Word in Jeremiah, Shead develops a doctrine of verbal inspiration, tentatively applied to other parts of Scripture, and contrasts it with the word theology of Karl Barth. Shead’s thesis boils down to 2 Peter 1 v 21 — ‘Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’. Arguably, in re-establishing this doctrine from the text of Jeremiah, too many concessions are made to conflicting views of Scripture.

 

Alan Wells

Bromsgrove

 

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