Some might argue that I’m a little late to the game on this book, and it’s companion volume on the New Testament (both published in 2016), but a useful resource is a useful resource, and thats why I’m reviewing A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised. This is one of a pair of two books published by Crossway in 2016, featuring essays on each of the biblical books, written predominantly by scholars associated with Reformed Theological Seminary in the USA. Whilst that might put some readers off, it shouldn’t, as this is a winsome set of Reformed voices, clear on what they think, but respectful of those that disagree, and engaging carefully with a range of critical arguments. This review collects my brief comments on each chapter – and closes with some thoughts about the book as a whole. Each chapter follows a similar structure, ending with New Testament links and a select bibliography.
Miles V. Van Pelt’s introduction to the volume and the Old Testament is robust and readable. Clarifying the unity and diversity of scripture, this volume sees Jesus as the theological centre. Currid on Genesis begins with a focus on God, “everything that happens in the cosmos unfolds according to God’s plan”. He notes that the fall is ‘into’ sin (rather than ‘from’ something as per Goldingay). “The theological structure of Genesis 1-3 as creation, fall, and redemption is modified in the eschatological conclusion of the Bible… Revelation reverses the order of the sequence”. Currid continues with Exodus. Again a strong God focus. Emphasis too on the foreshadowing of Jesus in the deliverance of Israel. God “is a God who keeps his word by delivering his people from oppression”. Workmanlike and fairly straightforward. McKelvey opens his essay on Leviticus lamenting common misunderstandings. He goes on to say “with qualifications, no book is more relevant for understanding certain aspects of the New Testament”. Amen! “Leviticus is God’s word given through Moses for his people”. Key theological themes include holiness, sacrifice and time. Again the focus is on God – “the nature and extent of God’s holiness”. Solid. Glodo’s treatment of Numbers rightly suggests that it “would be among the leading candidates for drama among all the Old Testament books”. Emphasis on the faithfulness of God. “Embracing the wilderness setting of the church in exile has empowered the church throughout the ages…”. Strong demonstration of the importance of this often overlooked book of the Pentateuch – I recently appreciated Ashley’s updated NICOT. Redd’s contribution on Deuteronomy is based on an outline “framed largely by covenantal concerns”. His mapping of the Ten Commandments to the content and structure of Deuteronomy is very helpful. A properly biblical-theological contribution – “the book of Deuteronomy is a textual force whose influence is felt throughout the whole of Scripture, and it continues to be felt today”.
Timmer on Joshua is notable for an unexpected emphasis on and brief discussion of ‘rest’. More Biblical-Theological work needed, I think. He deals well with theological questions of ethnicity and violence, etc. The ‘Approaching the New Testament’ section here provides much food for thought. Glodo on judges is helpful. Reminds us of the uncomfortable nature of following God. “The judges were called out from not the very people who went after other Gods”. Helpfully describes Israel’s Judges as having “cycles of apostasy, servitude, supplication and salvation“. Good ironic comment on Ehud. Overall the book “testifies to God’s faithfulness in spite of Israel’s unfaithfulness” in a way that has resonance today. McKelvey concisely and carefully summarizes 1+2 Samuel, describing it as “theologically driven… it highlights the purposes of God in the unfolding of redemptive history”. Helpful short excursus on the Psalms and their relation. Fullilove introduces/outlines 1-2 Kings – I agree with him that “Kings may be described as selective and theological history writing”. One key theme that can help make sense of Kings is to see it as “fundamentally, a story of broken covenant”. Hence Fullilove writes “the focus is not so much on the events themselves but instead on the theological explanation for those events”. A solid contribution. The volume places Chronicles last, but for my review I put it here. Pratt engages 1-2 Chronicles, noting a relative neglect of the books in Reformed thought – suggesting they have much to say. There is A LOT going on – hence Pratt suggests that “Chronicles presents theological emphases that fit easily within New Testament theology”. I hope this chapter is read and encourages a recovery of Chronicles in the life of the church! Futato covers Ezra-Nehemiah in just ten pages – noting scholarly debate on how or if at all they relate. The two books are “history with a purpose”. The three themes of “rebuilding the house of God… the importance of the people of God, and the primacy of the written Word of God” are ultimately consummated in the New Testament – “God has revealed the answer in Christ”. An efficient and helpful chapter. Lee tackles Esther, a complex, comical and enigmatic book. I agree with him that “The presence of God is established in the absence of God. He was there, and he faithfully continued to unfold his divine plan by more implicit means”. Amen! Lee makes good use of Jobes’ work – and I’d be fascinated to know what he’d make of Chloe Song’s recent book, ‘Conspicuous in his absence‘.
Belcher’s contribution on Job is solid and workmanlike as I’d expect. I’ll need to follow up on his allusions to various positions on authorship – fascinating, and fairly new to me. Closes the essay with the hopeful truth: “The coming restoration for the followers of Jesus will be so much greater than Job’s restoration… Even so, come quickly Lord. Amen.” Futato has to cover the 150 Psalms in 15 pages! He sums up the message of the book as ‘our God reigns’, tying that to learning live in the life of God. He expands it to ‘God is our King’ and ‘our King is coming’. Argues that “it is fair to say that all the Psalms are messianic” – which I think is based on a false premise of all or none. VanGemeren tackles Proverbs, seeing it fairly non-controversially as “an invitation to pursue the path of godly wisdom”. The ‘Approaching the New Testament’ section in my view dealt more with wisdom than the content of Proverbs specifically. Belcher explores Ecclesiastes – where “we are pointed back to the true fountain of wisdom”. The book is rightly seen as a paragon of the truth that “the problems of life can be overwhelming but the Bible teaches that God brings comfort and relief”. Van Pelt sees the Song of Songs as “a poetic wisdom song” which I agree with, and highlights it’s unusual centring of a woman as the hero. Themes of commitment and intimacy are helpfully drawn out, as well as this being a key affirmation of the biblical view of the good-ness of sexuality and the human body.
VanGemeren carefully engages Isaiah. A fair and calmly conservative overview of authorship/composition is much appreciated. “Isaiah is full of surprises”. Lee’s chapter on Jeremiah continues a hallmark of this volume – covenant – “the overarching unity of the book is based largely upon the ways in which Jeremiah administers the various divine covenants that are in play during his days”. I felt that Lee captures the prophet’s passion well too. Lee covers Lamentations sensitively – not eisegeting something else into it. He notes the acrostic structure as something that “clearly demonstrates an intentional design and purpose… a literary stability”. A helpful reminder of the way that Lamentations reminds us of God’s glorious coming, and coming again. McKelvey authors the entry on Ezekiel. “The structure clearly shows a pattern – from calamity to redemption, from cursing to blessing”. A particular focus/highlight is rightly on God’s holiness. “The book of Ezekiel presents challenges for every reader, it’s overall presentation delivers a glorious statement of God’s work in redemptive history”. Amen! Belcher engages with Daniel – “complex and challenging. It is a combination of historical narrative and apocalyptic vision”. I was encouraged by the reminder inherent in the summary that “God will defeat every foe, and his people will participate with him in their victory”. Closes his chapter with the challenge “that we would imitate the faithfulness of Daniel in light of our own current exile”. Timmer on The Twelve gives good overview of shape but doesn’t over-dwell on it. Helpful emphasis on consistent divine authorship. Sin is a key theme – and repentance. It is in the latter that Timmer links it to the New Testament and the new people of God that Jesus is calling into being. I’d observe perhaps that the weakness of this volume (perhaps in an attempt to keep it a similar size to the NT volume) is that it doesn’t give as much space to the Minor Prophets as they perhaps deserve!
This is a really helpful resource, particularly perhaps for a pastor at the start of their ministry, or an occasional preacher (someone like me, preaching a couple of places a couple of times a year) looking to expand outwards from, say a one volume bible dictionary and commentary. In both use cases the volume serves by giving a robust introduction to the book, with key theological themes, and a helpful select bibliography – I’d argue that using a resource like this would be a good way to start building a library of commentaries. For my rather niche needs – I’m the in-house editor on a few Bible commentary series, this is a useful resource for orienting the reader to the shape, content and canonical location of the book. I’d recommend it strongly. The New Testament volume has slightly more room to breathe, and this makes it a slightly stronger resource, however.