Review: Reclaiming the Old Testament for Christian Preaching

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Intervaristy Press Academic provides the pastoral and thinking Christian with not only a small commentary on the sections of the Old Testament but an in-depth and substance packed preaching manual. It is not just about preaching the Old Testament, but about preaching the Old Testament in a Christian church both to the critical and the uncritical ear, always pointing to Christ and the mysteries which He made known to the Church. Much like the Old Testament itself, each section is handled by different authors with different Faith backgrounds. This helps to take the monotone voice of most commentaries and place the Old Testament in stereo.

The writers do not expect the reader (and by the reader I mean the audience on Sunday morning) to fully know current scholarship nor to completely interact with it in every sermon. Some even go so far as to say that bringing up modern scholarship will do more harm than good to the preaching of these books. Yet, as a whole they do not shy away from higher criticism (and, some use it to modify modern opinions about those rough passages) including the redactional takes on Isaiah. H.G.M. Williamson makes a solid point that even with the various takes on Isaiah’s composition, one can still draw together the unity of it in a sermon without undermining intellectual honesty. The same goes with other authors who note various critical aspects of certain books (the Pentateuch for one) and yet shows how the Old Testament can be preached as a substantial whole to a Christian audience who are only familiar on the surface with the stories of our childhood. Of particular note is ]]’s approach to reading the Minor Prophets. Her contention, which should be explored in a much longer book, is that the Minor Prophets should be read as one book, drawing together various thematic elements which start in one book, answered in another, watching the process come to fruition by Malachi. (She cites Joel 3.16 and Amos 1.12 as an example of thematic answering scheme.) By seeing the Old Testament, sometimes with fresh eyes, these books become more about merely pointing to Christ, but applicable to the everyday Christian in the pew.

Chapters 3 through 9 cover various books and sections of the Old Testament independently, with many notable features and insights. Chapters 1 and 2 cover the most basic steps in preaching the Old Testament – preaching it as a grand narrative both in plot (chapter 1) and characters (chapter 2). It is not about ignoring portions of the text, but actually digging into the passages to examine not so much how they were formed, but their ultimate outcome and what the final author was trying to say. Too often, even with learned preachers, preaching by the verse seems to occur; however, ]] argues that it is important to examine not only the passage itself but how it fits into the wider narrative which surrounds it. He takes as his example 2nd Samuel 11 which is about the great sin of David. He believes that by understanding plot as a major element in ‘understanding of the OT narrative’ that ‘it will enhance homiletical exposition’ (p26). He is mirrored by]] who insists that we have made the men and women of Scripture into mere hollow characters of the narrator’s mind. He tackles this by reminding us that these characters, whether they are Abraham, David, or others such as Ezekiel (see chapter 9), were living, breathing devices long before we belittled them to serve as bed time stories to our children, eventually coming to see them the same way. Chapters 10-13, likewise, handle various issues relating to preaching the Old Testament from various larger sections or themes, such as the apocalyptic (ch10), the Minor Prophets (ch11), the difficult texts (ch12) and the final chapters, ]]’s Preaching Christ from the Old Testament. In each section, not only present is care and concern for the Church in hearing the Old Testament, but so too the historical reality of the texts themselves. Each section is neither overly academic nor too base as to mimic a Sunday School curriculum, and is accompanied by some form of a sermon outline or suggesting for preaching.

To sum, we know that the Old Testament is regularly abused. Either it is neglected and seen as too ancient or incompatible with our post-modern sense and sensibilities, or abused to justify internal and social prejudices as well as to create an eschatological expectation foreign to Scripture overall. Yet, these authors present the Old Testament as Christian Scripture in such as way to make them valid in of themselves as well as texts relevant to the Christian on the pew. Books like these are important as Christianity gets further and further away from a real grounding in Scripture.

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