Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching: Chris Wright and the Law

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Christopher J.H. Wright writes,

So then, we should preach the OT law for human benefit. We should highlight the law’s own priorities for the weak and needy and ask our people to reflect on what these could mean in today’s society – not least within the church itself. There is plenty of material in the law that shows the heart of God for the needs of human beings, especially the vulnerable, those who are socially, economically, ethnically, or sexually disadvantaged in our fallen world. Such material can be preached with powerful ethical impact – so long as (to repeat) it is connected to the character and saving grace of God, so that it does not merely become an exercise in legalistic guilt or sentimental idealism (p57)

This entire section is eye-opening and reflective. Wright is detailing how – and why – to preach from what I would consider the most boring parts of the entire bible – the Law. I mean, next to Leviticus, even a book on learning Hebrew is like an action packed novel. Except he is using Deuteronomy, the better law book, which, as he points out, included the reasons of the law before the law is given.  As the title of the book suggests, he is connecting it – or maybe showing that the connection already, readily, exists – between the Law and the New Testament and not in a system of legalistic codes but a real example of Grace.

I liked what he says about sentimental idealism. Liberals are well known for their moral crusades to help the down trodden in life, but I have to wonder if some of it is not exactly that – sentimental idealism. Do we not strive help those who are without in order to maybe make ourselves feel better? And in doing so, to what end are we really helping the poor and otherwise disadvantaged out? Do we know them? Do we give them the tools to help themselves? Or is it that we take a little time and do things for them, thereby keeping them relying upon us? The Law was not about oppression – Year of Jubilees to name one example – but about lifting people out of the human condition. It gave them the tools to respond to God in holiness. I wonder why we don’t do the same?

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6 Replies to “Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching: Chris Wright and the Law”

    1. I’m about a fourth of the way through and have already found it great. This one on the Law is not just about preaching but about a theologians overall view of the OT.

  1. The last paragraph of this post is among the best observations you have ever made. The godly solution to poverty is so much more than a handout–although it is that at times too. Such a complex issue. I will be placing my order for this book as we are currently teaching through Deuteronomy in our church. Thanks.

  2. Very true! Many times, when social conservatives think about “justice” in the OT, they think about fairness and impartiality. For example, the prohibition against moving a boundry stone. However, God’s version of justice is much broader than mere impartiality and fairness–it includes mercy and grace towards those who acknowledge their need and cry out to Him. Look at what Moses explains God’s justice in Deuteronomy 10: “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the case of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.”

    If we think about the OT only in terms of “an eye for an eye,” then we miss what it teaches us about the merciful and gracious character of God.

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