Book Notice: God’s Relational Presence: The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology

J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. God’s Relational Presence: The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2019. 416 pages. $34.99 (paperback).

God’s Relational Presence: The Cohesive Center of Biblical Theology is the result of a collaboration between two scholars from Ouachita Baptist University: J. Scott Duvall, professor of New Testament and the J. C. and Mae Fuller Chair of Biblical Studies, and J. Daniel Hays, professor of Biblical Studies and Dean of the Pruet School of Christian Studies. In this book, they propose that the recurring theme of God’s presence among his people ties together the entire message of the Bible.

Duvall and Hays contend that the theme of God’s relational presence should be viewed as the center of biblical theology, using the image of the center of a spider’s web rather than the hub of a wheel. Their argument, in short, is that every theme of the Bible connects to the thickest thread of the web: God’s relational presence. They follow this thread by pointing out the ubiquitous scriptural references to God’s desire to enter into relationship with and dwell among his people. They also support their claim by demonstrating how this theme both drives the storyline of Scripture and connects every major category of systematic theology. They conclude that God’s relational presence is what the Bible is all about—it is the center of biblical theology. 

This book represents a vigorous study of God’s relational presence from a trinitarian, biblical-theological perspective. The authors carefully examine each book of the Bible on its own terms, avoiding any special pleading or generalizations to make their point. After engaging with an individual book, they then show how that book contributes to the larger motif of God’s relational presence. Their commitment to careful exegesis results in a cogent argument, leaving the reader wondering why this theme is so often overlooked.

The authors readily acknowledge that an attempt to identify the center of biblical theology is not without debate or danger. Nevertheless, they contend that the theme of God’s relational presence is neither so broad as to act as a superficial catch-all category nor so narrow that it ignores other vital themes in the Scriptures, making it a viable candidate for the center of biblical theology. However, they only sparingly interact with or distinguish their view from other proposed centers of biblical theology. Furthermore, they only occasionally demonstrate how other significant themes of the Bible are related to God’s presence with his people. As such, it is difficult to conclude that God’s relational presence is the center of biblical theology based on the evidence presented in this book alone.

Still, one does not have to agree with the authors on that particular conclusion to benefit from their work. This book highlights a critical, recurring thread and provides an overview of Scripture that will equip pastors, students, and laypeople to see the bigger story of the Bible more clearly and to grow in one’s appreciation of God’s relentless efforts to reside with his people. Duvall and Hays should be commended for providing a readable, robust treatment of a nearly all-encompassing theme in Scripture.

CBS book notices provide brief descriptive summaries and assessments of new publications in biblical studies and biblical theology. The present book notice was written by Aaron Downs, a Th.M. student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.


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