More on Beale’s “We Become What We Worship”

Chapters 4-9 of We Become What We Worship is the application of Beale’s thesis to previous and subsequent OT and NT texts that allude to or cite Isaiah 6.9-13.  By way of reminder (see earlier posts here and here), Beale exegetes and interprets Isaiah 6.9-13 as a reference to the punishment for Israel’s sin of idolatry.  His interpretation and thesis from this text is simply that a person becomes like whatever he/she worships.  He then goes to earlier and later texts that allude to or cite Isaiah 6.9-13.  In these allusions and citations, Beale finds his thesis/interpretation of Isaiah 6.9-13.

Rather than narrate out several observations, I’ll simply list a few to save time and space.

1) The careful reader will notice how many “possibles” and “probables” and “ifs” there are in this book.  This has to do again with methodology: how firm are allusions, and how do we interpret them?  On the one hand, it is good that Beale realizes his thesis is built on many “probables.”  On the other hand, the thesis, in my opinion, is weakened by so many “probables.”  For example, he submits out front that his thesis from Isaiah 6.9-13 is “hardly discernible” in Acts, yet he precedes to discuss Acts 7.46-52, 17.24-5, and 28.25-28 in light of his thesis, even though Isaiah 6.9-13 is cited only in Acts 28.25-28 (p. 184ff).  In my opinion, this was the weakest chapter of the book, especially when he drew in his temple emphasis from another work to cross-reference (better: cross-allude) to discuss his thesis.

2) I think Beale overstates his case.  Beale’s interpretation of Isaiah 6.9-13 seems like a hermeneutical Great White that swallows other concepts of idolatry.  Idolatry is a complex multi-threaded strand that runs through Scripture, which includes themes such as spiritual prostitution, witness, covenant curses, an external display of internal spiritual deadness, and so forth.  When Beale makes statements such as “Israel’s sin was essentially idol worship” and “Paul sees idolatry to be the essence of sin,” he leaves the reader wanting more biblical proof for such sweeping statements (p.36, 203).

3) Hand in hand with #2, the book subtitle (A Biblical Theology of Idolatry) is sort of misleading.  To be sure, Beale himself notes on page 16 that the book is not intended to be a comprehensive book on idolatry, but one aspect of it.  In the subsequent chapters (around 300 pages), he makes the reader think this is the predominant aspect that all of Scripture highlights and emphasizes.  Perhaps in other words, this is not really “Biblical Theology” as the reader might be familiar with in the likes of Geerhardus Vos.  I realize “Biblical Theology” is a broad term, so though there are some similarities with the Vosian type of BT, but this book is not that.   [Side note: speaking of Vos, see Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments for some alternative excellent insights into the nature of idolatry.)

I hate to be so negative about this work of Beale, especially since there are many brilliant biblical insights in this volume.  It is worth getting.  I’m simply exhorting the reader to read with care.   One should be quite careful of making too much of a possible allusion, since we simply don’t know what the author “had in mind” when he possibly used other Scripture (i.e. maybe his “hard drive” was so full of texts that he used them without specific contextual carry over).  I’m not sure what the payoff is for finding so many allusions; one can argue for the unity and clarity of Scripture without leaning so heavily on possible allusions.  One can also show from Scripture the thesis of this book without the allusions.  Still pondering this….

This book has also made me realize that there is a fine line between proof-texting the proper way to make a theological point and finding probable allusions to make a theological point: you err if you cross the line.  Perhaps this is where the BT department and the ST department need to get together and both realize the benefits and limits of each.  Many of the same dangers of proof-texting apply to using allusions.

If/when you read this book, we’d love to hear your comments!

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 thoughts on “More on Beale’s “We Become What We Worship””

  1. I read Dr. Beale’s book two or three months ago. I found it edifying and illuminating. It moved me closer to Christ and showed me how important it is to worship God if we wish to be transformed into his image.

    I thought he built a strong case to show that we become like whatever we worship either for our ruin or restoration. Beale himself admits that some of the allusions he sees won’t be seen by everyone. But this doesn’t negate his overall thesis, which is solid.

    I find that the better I get to know Scripture, the more sensitive I become to allusions. In fact, one might argue that our sight is restored as we see and worship the glory of God which we see in God’s Word, and concentrated in the gospel of his beloved Son.

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  2. Thanks, Bill.

    I agree with your general premise – very much. In earlier posts, I noted how the thesis of Beale’s book was solid and biblical. I learned much from the book and am glad to own it.

    My main concern/question was methodological. Certainly Scripture is a unified book of books with unified themes – allusions are all over the place. The methodological things I pause over are these: 1) can we insist that the human author purposely alluded to other Scripture all the time, including utilizing historical context? 2) When does finding and using allusions cross over into the field of “proof-texting?” In other words, where does Biblical Theology stop and Systematic Theology begin (of course they go hand in hand, but both have limits)? 3) Should we build our biblical theses/doctrines on possible allusions or proof-texts, or both, and how?

    Again, it is a methodological pause I have, not a theological/doctrinal pause per se.

    Thanks again for your comment; I do appreciate it.

    shane lems

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