Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in The Old Testament (2nd ed.). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers, August, 2013. 224 pp. Paperback, $12.99
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Thanks to P&R Publishers for the review copy!
For the most part, I have been reviewing new books since I started posting book reviews online. Even if not a new release per se, I’ve pretty much stuck to books released in the last 5 years (some exceptions to that though if you dig through the archive).
I’ve actually wanted to start going back on commenting on older books for a while. Specifically, I wanted to “review” books that have been very pivotal in my intellectual and spiritual development. That might start in the new year, but we’ll see.
In the meantime, though this is a new release, Edmund Clowney’s The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in The Old Testament isn’t a new book. Originally released in 1988, this is the 25th anniversary re-release. Clowney passed away in 2005, so he didn’t have a hand in updating anything about this edition. However, it does now have study and application questions put together by his granddaughter, which makes it more accessible for small group study.
Other than those questions appended to the end of each chapter, the text is the same as the 1988 edition. Then as now, the purpose of the book is “to follow the line of the plot, to touch on key episodes, and to offer a guide to the underlying story of all the stories, so that we may see the Lord of the Word in the Word of the Lord” (17).
Clowney aims to do this over the course of 9 chapters. The first picks up the story with Adam, and traces the theme of the “new man,” forward into the New Testament connecting it to Christ. The second chapter picks up just after Adam with the seed of the woman, and then traces that theme through Genesis, the Old Testament and onto Christ. Chapter 3 brings readers to Abraham, and specifically to his promised son, his only son, whom he loved. Chapter 4 moves onward to Jacob using his story as lens to further focus anticipations on Christ. The fact that the 4 of the 9 chapters take root in Genesis underscores the importance of that book in understanding the overall storyline of Scripture, as well as its pivotal use in biblical theology.
In chapter 5, we move on to Moses, who sets the template for a mediator between God and man. Likewise, he is archetypal servant of the Lord who is also the leader of the people. As expected, Moses’ pivotal role cannot be confined to single chapter, so his role in the story is further explored in chapter 6. Here the focus is on Sinai and the subsequent wilderness journey. Chapter 7 picks up with Joshua, but within the chapter itself a transition is made into Judges, and the bulk of the chapter is actually focused on David as “warrior king.” Chapter 8 begins with David as well, but transitions to Solomon, the original “prince of peace.” Chapter 9 picks the final days of the story of Israel’s descent into exile to demonstrate the longing that arose for a Messiah/King who was still to come.
All in all, this book is a book introduction to a) biblical theology done well and b) seeing Christ in the Old Testament stories. Much like my review Tuesday, this is a book for people who want to understand the Old Testament better. This book is probably more accessible though both because of its length and because of its scope. Clowney isn’t trying to cover every Old Testament book or relevant story. Instead, he is focusing in closely on some very key themes and very key figures and tracing them to their fulfillment in Christ. He models careful exposition and attentiveness to motifs woven into the text.
Though I didn’t make use of the study questions personally, they are rather extensive (sometimes 20+ for a chapter), and if taken seriously, could provide more in-depth insights into the figures and stories Clowney covers in the main text. Additionally, there are application questions to hopefully ensure that studying the Old Testament in this way isn’t just an abstract exercise.
I would recommend this book then for anyone who is unfamiliar with the way the Old Testament story connects to the New. In under 200 pages, and in clear prose, Clowney will help novice readers make the connections. Likewise, this book would be a good resource for a group of college students or young adults who wanted to dig into the Old Testament together and see its riches in application and insight into the Christian life. They may even come away with a deeper and better appreciation of the New Testament in the process. Regardless, this is a fine introductory book on seeing Christ in the Old Testament, and hopefully many will benefit from the visibility it gets by a republished 25th anniversary edition.