Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Do We Need the New Testament?

John Goldingay (JG) is one of my favorite Old Testament teachers. He has a number of short commentaries on Old Testament books that are accessible for daily reading of the Scripture with comment by JG. He has written many other larger works, as well. He is sort of the NT Wright of Old Testament studies. Or the First Testament as JG prefers to call the Old Testament. He believes the OT has been neglected by the Christians. Ever since Marcion (influential leader of the early Church who didn't think we needed the OT) gave it a bad review the OT has had a hard time gaining traction among Christians. It remains like a very poor cousin of the New Testament. In JG's latest book, Do We Need the New Testament?, (how's that for a provocative title?) he wants the OT to get the respect it deserves. It should have been entitled, Why We Really, Really Need the Old Testament because right on page one of the text he admits we do, of course, need the New Testament! Of course, we do. But in the process of coming to that conclusion, he argues that we need the Old Testament just as much as we need the New. In fact, he says, we neglect the OT to our peril.

He makes the case that most Christians are closet Marcionites. We have the NT and we don't really know why we still need to read the OT except to mine it for Sunday School stories about the heroes of the faith. We may not admit it but we probably believe that the God of the OT is a god of wrath and we need the NT Jesus to balance that account as the God of Love. We probably believe the OT has examples of God's people hating their enemies (and killing them) while the NT teaches us to love our enemies. Most likely we believe the NT teaches us grace whereas the OT is all about the law. The OT used animal sacrifice to pay for our sins and set us right with God over against the NT which shows us Jesus paying for our sins. There is no more need for sacrifice, or the law or a priesthood. Isn't the what the book of Hebrews teaches? We may think the OT is mostly for ethnic Jews while the mission of the NT is take the gospel to all people. Most importantly, now we know we have direct access to God through Jesus instead of going through that whole OT religious system.

If we believe any of those things, we need to read this book because JG will prove us wrong.

And additionally, he will show us how our worship, prayers, social justice ministries, mission enterprises, and politics need to be informed by the OT. In a word, JG believes Christians have misread the OT (if indeed they have read it) and it shows.

There are some points I would argue with JG about but I think it is mostly a matter of semantics and where he puts the emphasis. JG's passion for the OT comes across in this book and I hope it rubs off on many of us in the Church.

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