Friday, December 07, 2007

The Rehabilitation of the Old Testament

In the comments on my last post, Matt was wondering if I had run away. . . .

Still here.

So why haven't I been posting anything lately? I started to say that what I'm doing nowadays just isn't that blogable. But then I realized how lame that sounded.

The best I can come up with is that I've been wrestling around with some beastly questions, and I just didn't want to share the confusion or display my cluelessness in public. Maybe I'll get up the nerve to do more of that some day. In the meantime, here's something I've been thinking about a lot:

"[The Old Testament] is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

"I still believe that all I am required to believe and do is contained in the New Testament, and that there is no command or ordinance in the Old Testament binding on a Christian, unless it is in the New Testament, any more than though it had never been commanded." --Elias Smith, The Age of Enquiry: The Christian's Pocket Companion and Daily Assistant (Portsmouth, NH, 1810), p. 23.

rehabilitate -- "to restore to good repute, reestablish the good name of"

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Does the Old Testament have the kind of reputation and regard (and use) that it should have among the Churches of Christ? Let me tell you some of my experience.

Over the past twenty years, I've been seriously asked whether the Old Testament was inspired (in spite of the fact that in 2 Timothy 3:16 the language of inspired scripture refers precisely to the Old Testament).

I've also been asked why Christians should even bother with the Old Testament. "Why do even have it in our Bibles?" a deacon of the church wanted to know.

And, I've been told that the Old Testament was nailed to the cross, something I regard as an unfortunate misunderstanding of Colossians 2:14.

Churches of Christ have a problem. Even in congregations where leaders regard the Old Testament as they should, you might guess that they don't. In the last three months, I have visited four congregations of the Church of Christ. The classes I attended were on Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Hebrews. Sound familiar? The sermon texts were all from the New as well.

We have a problem. And it will be corrected only when preachers and elders and other teachers, not only in schools, at ministers' meetings, and on blogs, but especially in churches, begin to speak and plan their ministries of the Word as though the Old Testament is not only inspired but is, therefore, "useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."

But what if preaching from the Old Testament doesn't turn out to reveal Christ? It's obviously not directly, immediately about Him, right?
My preacher friends, try something. And if this seems too iffy, then do it in the safety zone of Sunday night, or small groups or whatever. Preach through, say, the Book of Judges. See if it doesn't, in every lesson, have you hoping for and reaching forward to Jesus. See if you can end any of those sermons without Christ as the epilogue and exclamation point. (I know, some of you have already done something like this. I'd appreciate hearing about your experiences).
Esau sealed his fate and received an inferior blessing because he disregarded something he should have treasured. We should keep in mind that those things written aforetime were written for our learning, so that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope (Romans 15:4). It's time for us to rehabilitate the Old Testament.
What do you think?


Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

We must be thinking along the same lines because I placed on my blog last night a post titled "Marcion & Churches of Christ or What Value, REALLY, is the Old Testament." This is the first in a series.

Keep on plugging away ... may Yahweh rid us of Marcionism.

Bobby Valentine

Anonymous said...

amen and amen!
i would leave a seven-fold amen if I knew how to type it out.


Bob Bliss said...

Frank, I left a long comment at Bobby's blog. I agree wholeheartedly that we need a better attitude about the OT. For the last 20 years I have never ceased to have sermons from the OT each year. The book of Judges is my favorite OT book. I believe that Judges shows the Grace of God in the OT. Israel was faithless time and time again, yet God always forgave them and took them back. Talk about unmerited favor! If we could only get our people to read the OT with canonical glasses.

I think our preaching from the OT shouldn't just be about moral qualities and leadership traits that we can adopt. It should be about seeing God in all his splendor - gracious, wrathful, jealous, loving, powerful, vulnerable, hurt, determined, demanding, etc. Thanks for your thoughts.

john alan turner said...

Good luck trying to be a "New Testament Church" without a proper understanding of the Old Testament!

What a ridiculous proposition that would be -- trying to understand and apply the Gospel of Matthew or the Book of Hebrews without a solid grasp of the writings to which they refer!