In the course of teaching Old Testament to high school freshman for the past few years, several questions will predictably emerge. More often than not these have to do with God’s character and actions, particularly when it comes to the familiar Old Testament stories. I feel fairly comfortable addressing most of these, but I’m always up for reading new explanations. Kregel Academic helped me out on this and sent along a copy of Walter Kaiser’s Tough Questions About God and His Actions in The Old Testament (2015, Paperback, 176 pp). I’ve enjoyed other books by Kaiser that I’ve read and reviewed (Recovering The Unity of The Bible; The Promise-Plan of God) and so looked forward to jumping into this one.
It’s an easy read stylistically, but the questions are some of the tougher ones when it comes to Old Testament study. You know, things like:
- Did the God of peace order a genocide?
- Did the God of truth practice deception?
- Did a just God devalue women’s rights?
- How and why did a good God create the evil Devil?
Kaiser works through a total of 10 questions like this by guiding readers through the relevant biblical and theological considerations. He also provides additional discussion questions at the end of the chapter that would make this an ideal supplemental textbook in class on Old Testament theology or introductions. The questions are most often aimed at going beyond the material Kaiser presents rather than checking to see if you were paying attention while you were reading. On the whole, I’ve found this a helpful volume and would recommend it to anyone who is wrestling with questions about God’s character and actions in the Old Testament.
While we’re talking Old Testament books, another worth mentioning is John Goldingay’s Do We Really Need the New Testament? (2015, Paperback, 184 pp., thanks IVP Academic!). If you want a more in-depth critical review, there was one recently posted at TGC. Goldingay is certainly provocative, in his writing, if you didn’t already gather that from the book’s title. He is not essentially asking if the New Testament is necessary, but is writing to point out and highlight how much continuity there is between the testaments. As he says,
Yes, of course, we need the New Testament Scriptures, but they don’t supersede the earlier Scriptures. We need the First Testament for an understanding of the story of God’s working out his purpose, for its theology, for its spirituality, for its hope, for its understanding of mission, for its understanding of salvation and for its ethics (32).
Subsequent chapters tackles these themes, though under different topical headings. The immediate two chapters following the introduction ask “why is Jesus important?” and “was the Holy Spirit present in First Testament times?” Later, Goldingay will also ask if we have misread Hebrews and if theological interpretation of Scripture is all it’s cracked up to be. Along the way he’ll make some controversial assertions like “In none of the Gospels does Jesus tell his disciples to extend the kingdom, work for the kingdom, build up the kingdom, or further the kingdom” (34) and “nor does any church today look like an embodiment of the new covenant. In this sense, the new covenant has surely not been established” (98).
Much more could be said, and Goldingay takes up some interesting topics in addition his provocations. Though not something he details at length, a big take-away for me came through reflection on an early point in the introduction. Goldingay highlights how Jesus’ crucifixion is the culmination of God’s wrath absorbing character in the Old Testament. I had always mainly thought of it as an end point for the sacrificial system. On further reflection, I realized that throughout the Old Testament you see God disciplining his people, but also absorbing much of his own wrath on their account. It made me think of the way many of the Psalms function as a way for God to further absorb anger. By pouring out our anger to God in prayer we are letting him absorb it on our behalf, rather than trying to manage it on our own. If Christ can absorb God’s anger toward us for our sin, he can certainly absorb our anger toward God as well. Perhaps that is the pattern presented in the Old Testament for our own psychological and spiritual well being.
Lastly, Crossway was gracious enough to send along Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s God’s Kingdom Through God’s Covenants: A Concise Biblical Theology (2015, Paperback, 304 pp.). You may remember seeing my series of posts as well as review of Kingdom Through Covenant a couple of years ago. This book is essentially a book accessible abridgment that was compiled in light of the reception of the previous work. As Gentry and Wellum say,
To make this work more accessible, we have kept the footnotes to a minimum, have mostly eliminated the discussions of how our view differs from that of dispensational and covenant theology, and have not given a detailed defense of our view. For the most part, the view argued in the previous book is assumed, yet now written in such a way that the reader is able more easily to discern what that overall view is and how the biblical covenants serve as the Bible’s own way of unfolding, revealing, and disclosing God’s one, eternal plan of redemption. If the reader desires the warrant and bibliographic discussion for the overall argument of this work, all he needs to do is turn to the previous work and find it there (12).
In addition, they note that “we have read with great care and interest every review of Kingdom Through Covenant know to us…only rarely have reviewers actually engaged the extensive exegesis.” They then note Doug Moo as an exception in regards to “pointing out the problems in the treatment of Ezekiel 16 and the relation of Deuteronomy to the Sinai Covenant” and that “further research has resulted in new proposals, which are incorporated into this abridgment.”
Suprisingly, I found myself involved in this process many months ago when Peter Gentry e-mailed me about my review. We went back and forth a bit and I passed on some papers to him that had led me to dispute the pervasiveness of ancient Near East rituals involving walking between separated animals parts as part of a covenant making ritual. He read them with care and then offered me a response e-mail which I then published. I backed off my rhetoric in light of it, but I think my original point still stands. In this abridged version, the discussion of this point is virtually the same (cp. 110 to 251 in KTC) though I won’t say know that Gentry is “wrong” for how he presents his case.
All of that is just a way of saying, if you were interested in the previous larger work, but didn’t want to commit that much time, here’s a great option. It’s less than half as long and contains essentially the same biblical-theological overview of the covenants in Scripture. If you find it compelling or frustrating, you can always pick up the larger version to see more argumentation.