For my first year teaching Old Testament, I set my sights a little too high for a 9th grade audience. I really liked John Walton, and after looking at A Survey of the Old Testament (co-authored with Andrew Hill), I thought it would be a suitable textbook. I mean, it was glossy, full color pages and everything.
Within the first quarter, I knew I had made a huge mistake. There was simply too much information, and while it might have worked for college freshmen, it wasn’t well suited for high school freshmen. I reduced the reading load and dropped the textbook the following year. Since then, I’ve debating adding a textbook back into the class to supplement the primary reading of the Old Testament.
Though it wasn’t available at the time, I think I might have fared better that first year had the more reduced version of Walton and Hill’s book Old Testament Today been available. Actually it had been, I just missed it, but it came to my attention when the 2nd edition released last year. After getting a review copy, I ultimately opted to not adopt it, but it was more because of how I had structured the class, not that it was still too much information.
In this pared down version, the material is also slightly re-organized. The book is split into six sections:
- Orientation and Fundamentals
- The Pentateuch
- Old Testament Narrative
- Prophets and Prophetic Literature
- Wisdom and Psalms
Within sections 2-5, the authors give a big picture overview of the literature and theology of that section of the Old Testament. Then, they give a book by book survey, followed by a section on relevance and application. The overall effect is that this is an accessible, practical survey of the Old Testament. It is still maybe a bit beyond 9th graders, but if one was teaching in a 5-day a week environment (I’m not), it could probably be used well.
Another resource that looks useful, but that I haven’t integrated yet, is Tremper Longman’s Old Testament Essentials. This book is setup like a guided inductive Bible study. Longman divides the Old Testament into 17 sections:
- Isaac and Jacob
- Wilderness Wanderings
- Priests, Holy Place and Sacrifices
- Saul, David and Solomon
- Divided Monarchy
- Exile and Return
Each section opens with a Bible study guide that offers passages to read and questions to answer. Then, Longman provides an essay that gives more detail about the high points of the texts being considered. This is followed by additional questions to unpack further before moving to some brief reflections and questions that connect the section of the Old Testament to the New. Then, Longman wraps up with a section that looks at practical implications for our lives today and suggests resources for going deeper.
There is much to commend about this format. This is definitely not a book you would just read through since most of the book is questions for you to answer after you’ve read the biblical texts in each section. It is suitable for a class like mine, or even a guided Bible study in a church small group. The only downside is that the overall study is disproportional. On the one hand, this is entirely understandable. My own class spends almost the entire first quarter on Genesis and Exodus, before picking up speed through the next three. Longman’s study devotes 11 sections to Genesis through Judges, and then 6 for the rest of the Old Testament, with only one chapter on the prophets. I think it would have been better to taken 2 or at least 3 chapters to cover the prophets, dividing them either thematically, or my major and minor. Instead, the chapter that is present focuses almost exclusively on Jeremiah and Daniel, with Ezekiel making a brief appearance in the following chapter on exile and return. In terms of capturing the flow of the storyline, this probably works fine. But, the downside is that much of the prophetic material will remain a dark corner in people’s understanding of the Old Testament.
All that being said, I’ve found with the Old Testament you can’t do everything in a single book. What Longman does focus on is excellent, and certainly his study could supplemented with something like Nancy Guthrie’s The Word of The Lord. Small groups or Sunday School classes that really want to study the Old Testament together will greatly benefit from Longman’s guided tour. Though I haven’t done it quite yet, I plan to incorporate some of Bible study into my class or maybe even add it as a textbook for next year. If you’re looking for Old Testament resources that can help raise biblical literacy, this is one to add to your library.
John H. Walton & Andrew E. Hill, Old Testament Today: A Journey from Ancient Context to Contemporary Relevance. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, February, 2014. 480 pp. Hardcover, $44.99.
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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!
Tremper Longman III, Old Testament Essentials: Creation, Conquest, Exile, and Return. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Connect, December, 2013. 215 pp. Paperback, $18.00.
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Read an excerpt
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Thanks to IVP for the review copy!
Last time, we looked the core part of Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell. Now, we’ll go back and hit chapters 3-4 before finishing up with the last chapter. From what I can tell, you can still get the eBook of this for free as a Christ and Pop Culture member. That probably won’t be true forever, so better join and take advantage while you still can!
Chapter 3 in Mike Cosper’s The Stories We Tell covers three interconnected themes. First, Cosper examines stories that look back to an idyllic time now lost. Second, Cosper looks at stories that take place in what seems like an idyllic environment but in reality have a darker underbelly (the Truman Show for instance). Lastly, Cosper looks at stories where humanity tries to play God and it invariably goes wrong. The chapter is aptly titled “The Ghosts of Eden.”
Chapter 4 looks at the search for love through the lens of shows like How I Met Your Mother and 30 Rock. the former of which would have been more interesting had Cosper written his analysis in light of the show’s series finale. Cosper also examines reality dating shows, specifically, Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?
While his analysis is thought provoking, I came away feeling like much more could have been done with the topic of both of these chapters. Specifically in chapter 4, the point could be made that the Gospel itself is a romantic comedy and our desire to watch essentially the same story over and over again shows an innate longing within us. Cosper examines this longing well, and in the end does foreshadow the Gospel (90), but he could have taken his analysis deeper by pointing out all these stories teach us ultimate fulfillment is found in another person and from the Christian point of view, that person is Christ. Romantic comedies aren’t wrong in the essence of their story, just the object of their affections.
When it comes to final chapter, provocatively titled “Honey Boo Boo and The Weight of Glory,” Cosper offers some keen cultural analysis. Especially now in the wake of the show’s cancellation, his insights are worthy of our attention. Before getting to Honey Boo Boo, Cosper examines the connection between reality TV and narcissism. Predictably, Kim Kardashian figures prominently. At the opposite end of the Kardashian family sits Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a show which “thrives on featuring the saddest elements of this family’s life” (202). What Cosper picks up in his analysis is savagely satirized in a recent Onion article. We have a “vulture-like attitude” in consuming and ridiculing the life of this backward family from the Deep South. We look. We laugh. We move on.
Cosper then shifts the discussion by connecting our fascination with reality TV to our obsession with social media. We’re fascinated with self-broadcasting and the rise of reality TV stars is just one way that facet of our culture manifests itself. We have the opportunity to glory in ourselves and bring an audience along for the ride. Cosper then notes that “Christian and non-Christian alike feel the dull ache of faded glory” (209). Our drive for glory isn’t wrong, merely misplaced, as C. S. Lewis has helped many understand.
This provides, I think, a fitting conclusion to the book. Cosper does offer a brief epilogue that includes a word to aspiring Christian filmmakers. But, by closing on a topic that other books on TV and movies might overlook, I think he shows that something that seems banal and not worthy of a second thought can be a pointer to deeper spiritual truth. In essence, Cosper’s book throughout is taking the everyday stories we encounter and probing their foundations to see what they provide evidence that the world we live in is the kind of world we would expect with Christian presuppositions. It provides a powerful case for what we believe but also models a way to open conversations with the wider culture about things that count.
Graham Cole is Anglican Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School. Before that, he was Professor of Biblical and Systematic Theology at TEDS. He has written several books, and now with with The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of Incarnation, he has two published within the New Studies in Biblical Theology series.
Although I had been aware of Cole as a theologian and writer, this was actually the first book of his I read. But, it was such an enjoyable experience, before I knew it, I had also worked my way through God The Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom (excellent) and He Who Gives Life in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology series (likewise).
A big part of the enjoyability is Cole’s clarity of writing. He does this both from chapter to chapter, but often in making clear his assumptions that undergird his study. He does this in the introduction, and then says that
My hope is that by the time the reader closes this study he or she will have a deeper sense of the astonishing providence of God that subtly prepared the way for the mystery of the incarnation, a great appreciation of the magnitude of the divine stooping that in the incarnation saw God weep human tears, and a profounder joy at the depth of the love of God that sent no surrogate as the final revelation but the beloved Son who became flesh (25).
To accomplish all this, in chapter 1 Cole starts with Genesis and God’s preparations that would make the incarnation possible. In chapter 2, Cole traces the idea of an “embodied” God from Abraham on through Moses, Judges, and the former and latter prophets. In chapter 3, maps out the hope of Israel for a Messiah, including some intertestamental reflections. Chapter 4 moves into the New Testament material and chapter 5 takes up Anselm’s question of why God became man. The final full chapter explores the theological as well as existential significance of the incarnation. A conclusion ties all the threads together and then a brief appendix treats the relationship of theological interpretation of Scripture and biblical theology.
Like most all the volumes in this series I have read, this book was richly biblical, theological insightful, and pastorally relevant. Those dimensions are not always present in even proportions, but they are present here nonetheless. Cole takes a significant, yet perhaps overlooked theme and traces it from Genesis to Revelation. He tackles some thorny theological issues, one of which I still wrestle with. In discussing whether or not the appearances of the Angel of The Lord or other theophanies (appearances of God) in the Old Testament are the pre-incarnate Christ, Cole says (after quoting Calvin along similar lines):
The suggestion that the anthropomorphic theophanies were actually appearances were actually appearances of the pre-incarnate Son of God is plausible and the idea is defensible. However, it must be observed that even though this proposition is consistent with the biblical testimony it is not demanded by it (120).
That’s more or less where I land at the moment, though David Murray almost convinced me otherwise. It would seem to diminish the significance of the incarnation in the Gospels if it happened at times in the Old Testament. Also “pre-incarnate” almost doesn’t make sense (think about it for a minute). Christ is either incarnate in his appearance to humans or not, there isn’t really an in-between ethereal state.
Even though it is a kind of side issue to the main study, I was intrigued by Cole’s appendix on theological interpretation of Scripture.He begins by explaining his understanding of the relationship of biblical and systematic theology. Systematic theology functions as a kind of shorthand for theological expressions, and often uses proof texts. As Cole sees it, “systematic theology’s proof texts, however, need to be derived from the application of a sound biblical theology method” (172). Likewise, biblical theology “helps systematic theology get the proportions right in its accents” (173). Cole suggests that “this is an exceedingly important contribution. In my opinion there is a crying need for a systematic theology text to be written that does just that.” Michael Bird has taken this to heart and tried to do just that.
After clarifying all this, Cole then asks how biblical theology and theological interpretation of Scripture are related. He distinguishes them as separate tasks, unlike Brian Rosner who sees them as synonymous. Cole explains, “biblical theology on the one hand helps me to know what I see, whereas the theological interpretation of Scripture helps me to know how to serve the church with what I see as I endeavour to bring the text and the present together in a meaningful fashion” (173). He thus sees the disciplines as complementary and indispensable. Ultimately he says, “when systematic theology uses biblical theology to connect text and present in a normative fashion, we are engaged in the theological interpretation of Scripture” (174).
The upshot of all this is that Cole, in the span of several short pages, explains how to connect systematic theology, biblical theology, and theological interpretation of Scripture in a way that affirms the place of each without eradicating the need for the others. I’ve seen people get burned out on systematic theology and opt to move to biblical theology as their new bread and butter reading. Often, I think this is because they grow weary of the proof texting and want to see more substantial exegetical interactions. And so they should. However, biblical theology isn’t aimed at offering summary statements, and also isn’t aimed at taking those summaries and connecting them to the present like theological interpretation of Scripture should be doing. If you really want to see this all done well, get Peter Leithart’s commentary on 1 & 2 Kings in the Brazos Theological Commentary on The Bible. Daniel Treier called it the best one in the series at the Southeast Regional ETS meeting. To paraphrase, he more or less said if you want to see theological interpretation done well, read Leithart’s volume. I did that in my quiet time during 1 & 2 Kings this fall, and I would have to agree.
All of this also illustrates why you should pick up every copy of a book in the New Studies in Biblical Theology series. Though Cole’s book was focused on a biblical theology of the incarnation, there is always more involved. There are side roads along the way that prove to be fruitful explorations and that only strengthens the overall value of the book. Especially with Christmas right around the corner, you might want to look into adding Cole’s fine study to your library, and maybe even put several more volumes in this series on your Amazon Christmas list that I know you have.
Graham A. Cole, The God Who Became Human: A Biblical Theology of Incarnation, (New Studies in Biblical Theology). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, May, 2013. 240 pp. Paperback, $22.00.
Visit the publisher’s page
Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!
The other day I decided to rock an older album from my iTunes library, For Today’s Ekklesia. It was one of my go-to albums in the fall of 2008. They are thankfully still around making music and here is their most popular video off their most recent album Fight The Silence:
Also, here’s an interview with the vocalist:
And, while we’re at it, here’s the music video for the song using The Shema that I mentioned in an article over at Christ and Pop Culture:
I know we usually do philosophy on Fridays, but the Wisecrack channel that brought us 8-Bit Philosophy have a new show. Earthling Cinema is, in brief, film criticism done by an alien after humanity has been wiped out in a galactic civil war. The first film under consideration is Fight Club. If you haven’t seen the movie, this has a key spoiler in it. But, if you don’t plan to ever watch the movie, I guess that’s not a problem. If you have seen the movie, this is a good introduction to some of the issues and concepts the movie is offering commentary on.
Preston Sprinkle is associate professor of biblical studies at Eternity Bible College. He co-authored Erasing Hell (remember that?) with Francis Chan and co-edited The Faith of Jesus Christ with Michael Bird. His doctoral dissertation was published as Law and Life: The Interpretation of Leviticus 18:5 in Early Judaism and in Paul. The present book, Paul & Judaism: A Study of Divine and Human Agency in Salvation is the outworking of an “educated hunch” Sprinkle had during his doctoral studies.
Specifically this hunch was derived from noticing “aspects of discontinuity that were either not detected or not emphasized among scholars” when it came to comparisons of the writings of Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls (13). While the latter are the Jewish writings most similar to Paul, Sprinkle grew to see more discontinuity in terms of the their respective soteriological structures while doing his Ph.D. This book is an attempt to explain and explore that more fully.
Though not necessarily beach reading, that’s exactly how I read it. I didn’t intend to, but I had a whole afternoon with appropriate shade and hydration and found that I just couldn’t put it down. The opening chapter revisits E. P. Sanders monumental work Paul and Palestinian Judaism which suggested more continuity between Paul and Jewish thought than was previously imagined. Sprinkle pushes back on some of Sanders’ conclusions by examining soteriological motifs in Paul and the writings of the Jewish sect at Qumran (known as the Dead Sea Scrolls).
Before really getting to that, in chapter 2, Sprinkle compares two streams of Old Testament restoration theology. First, we see the conditional promises of restoration in Deuteronomy (which are also in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Chronicles). Second, we see unconditional promises of restoration in the prophets. The point here is to demonstrate that the Old Testament presents “diverse paradigms of restoration” rather than show which stream is more Pauline or Jewish (67). The resultant streams will be “heuristic lenses to understand and compare the soteriological structures of Paul and Qumran” (67).
In chapter 3, Sprinkle looks at how Paul and the Qumran community handle the promise of restoration from the curse of the law. While both argue along similar redemptive-historical lines, Qumran tends to have a more Deuteronomic view of the restoration (conditional on obedience), whereas Paul is radically Prophetic, to the point of discarding the need of works of the law altogether (94).
In chapter 4, Sprinkle examines the motif of the eschatological spirit. Here, he notes there is an even spread of discontinuity and continuity rather than the radical disjunction of the previous chapter (120). The main difference is that for Paul, the eschatological spirit is a divine agent that effects obedience in the restored people, and for Qumran, it is not (121). Sprinkle sees this as a major point of disconinuity.
After a brief excursus on Moses, Paul and the glory of the Old and New Covenants, Sprinkle turns to anthropological pessimim in chapter 5. The specific question is “does humanity possess the unaided ability to initiate a return to God and obey his laws?” According to didactic text the answer is yes and according to some hymnic texts, the answer is no (144). Qumran doesn’t offer a uniform portrait, but Paul does. For Paul, humanity is in desparate need of divine rescue, and though Qumran offers something close to this portrait in the hymnic texts, Paul is much more radical in his assesment.
This becomes more apparent in chapter 6 which focuses on justification. Here, Sprinkle shows that contra N. T. Wright, it is hard to sustain the argument that “Paul’s doctrine has exactly the same shape as that of MMT” (this is Wright’s quote). As Sprinkle says, “Paul’s emphasis on God’s initial act of justification of the ungodly through grace is unparalleled – even rebutted – in the Scrolls” (170). From Sprinkle’s perspective then, there is further radical discontinuity between Paul and Qumran on this issue, whereas for New Perpective advocates like Wright, there is considerable continuity. Having read both, I think Sprinkle has a better case in this argument.
Chapter 7 brings an even more contentious issue into focus. Comparing Paul and Qumran on judgment according to works, Sprinkle sees both affirming future judgment on the basis of works. However, for Paul, epeically in his didactic letters, “the source and ultimate cause of all human obedience” is God (201). In hymns from Qumran, we see some continuity with this emphasis, but never in the didactic writings. Further, Sprinkle says, “it is more than just divinely empowered obedience that will push the believer through the pearly gates, but the unilateral act of God on Calvary and in the vacant tomb that secures both the initial and final verdict for those in Christ” (203). As Sprinkle then concludes, “I have not seen anything in Qumran – not even in the Hodayot – which parallel Paul’s thinking on this.”
After another brief excursus on justification by grace now and in the future, Sprinkle’s final motif is divine and human agency, though here he is providing a survey of early Judaism on the subject. This is done to help situate Paul and Qumran on the map so to speak in his conclusion. He sees similar concerns shared with other Jewish writers, but in the end, Paul “seems to push the envelope of God’s role in salvation with a complexity and precision that is unparalleled in the literature of early Judaism” (238).
Sprinkle provides a brief concluding chapter that summarizes the findings of his study. Overall, I found his case compelling. It helps that, much like Wright, Sprinkle has an ability to make what could otherwise be an impenetrable technical discussion into something you could read at the beach. I particularly enjoy whenever a writer offers lens and organizational categories to make sense of a broad array of texts. In this case, Sprinkle brings interpretive insight into an on-going discussion on Paul’s relationship to Jewish thought. Although he ultimately comes out in a position that would be more or less a classical approach (or Old Perspective) to Paul, he ends up there via a very nuanced path. He has wrestled well with the evidence, and you’ll find that his writing is worth the read.
Preston M. Sprinkle, Paul & Judaism Revisited: A Study of Divine and Human Agency In Salvation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, August, 2013. 256 pp. Paperback, $24.00.
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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!
Thanks to Matt Perman posting this, you can now watch a 10 minutes animated run-down on Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. It’s a book that is helpful if your job involves working with people, and I regularly return to it for insight. If you don’t have time to read it, you’re probably too busy (it’s a quick read or even scan). But, if you’ve got 10 minutes, this is well worth your time.