Preaching OT Narratives

The Simeon Trust is offering a 6-session workshop by John Woodhouse (Principal of Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia) on preaching Old Testament narratives. Woodhouse says in the first session: “I’ll be arguing that we should take the time and trouble to study and appreciate the brilliance of these stories [OT narratives]. They should be part of our sermons. And I’ll be trying to develop some insights into how we should do this. That’s the journey we’ve embarked upon.”

Looks excellent. Click here for more information and full access to the MP3 audio downloads.


An Old Testament Theology by Bruce K. Waltke

tsslogo.jpgAlthough I rarely purchase books at conferences, I spend a lot of time in conference bookstores. Part of this is purely because I’ve got some strains of N-E-R-D in my DNA. But I also linger around conference bookstores to watch and listen to what titles excite pastors. Which books get the most play? Which books sell out? Which books go untouched?

Focusing a bit of attention on a conference bookstore can prove revealing.

At Together for the Gospel ’06 in Louisville I noted Mark Dever’s two volumes of sermons throughout the entire Bible were recently released and both were on sale. One volume contained the sermons through the New Testament [The Message of the New Testament (Crossway: 2006)] and the other volume contained his sermons through the Old Testament [The Message of the Old Testament (Crossway: 2006)]. They were about the same size, price, format, and design — presented at the conference in equally tall stacks, sitting side-by-side. But despite these similarities, I noticed the Old Testament volume was selling much quicker than the New Testament. In fact, I had planned to make a rare conference purchase, only to be surprised the Old Testament volumes were soon gone! A pile of New Testament volumes remained on much later in the conference.

Both volumes were well received (as they should have). Mark Dever’s gift of overview sermons is obvious and a great blessing to the Church. But also obvious was a pronounced interest in young, Reformed pastors to understand the theology and storyline of the Old Testament.

I think it’s fair to say that for many pastors, the theology and storyline of the Old Testament is veiled in the shadows. Sure, we understand the first Adam and the second Adam, the first David and the second David, and the contours of the Abrahamic covenant. But do we truly understand how all those (sometimes very odd) Old Testament details fit together?

I’ll be the first to say, No. My understanding of the Old Testament narratives and theology is woefully inadequate.

One new book has set out to help — An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Zondervan: 2007) by Bruce Waltke. At 1,040 pages and 67-ounces, it’s not the biggest volume published this year (the Banner of Truth just unleashed a 100-ounce volume!), but it’s one of the most useful. I would argue this is one of the top-five most important books published in 2007.

Among reformed Old Testament scholars, Waltke is among the best. Just a glance through his biography at the Reformed Theological Seminary website and it becomes apparent his career has been fruitful. This new work is billed as the culmination of his lifelong work.

An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach provides a detailed walk through the Old Testament narratives and theology. Waltke provides exceptional outlines to help the reader follow the flow of events and view the theological value at each step.

I would suggest the best way to familiarize yourself with the content is to browse the book at the Zondervan website here.

Identity Crisis?

With my theological background I lean towards premillenial dispensationalism. Waltke, however, is no dispensationalist, and thinks “classical dispensationalism” – by dividing God’s relationship between Israel, Gentiles, and the Church – has been partly to blame in the contemporary ignorance of the Old Testament (pp. 42-43). I think that’s a fair critique. But Waltke has also learned from dispensational theology and carefully appreciates the continuity and discontinuity with the Old Testament (p. 21). His presentation is sensitive to schools of differing theology.

But even a dispensationalist can appreciate Waltke’s emphasis on the Old Testament and its value in helping us to understand our identity as God’s children.

Our church culture is in a bit of an identity crisis. How do we relate to culture? Where do we fit? What identifies us as the Church? Add this to the Emergent emphasis on embarking on a journey — and that journey being presented as an end in itself — and I think it’s possible for some to say the Church is struggling with an identity crisis.

For the purpose of forming our identity as God’s children, Waltke is especially helpful. Take this one excerpt:

“The Old Testament contains much that seems trivial to the modern Christian. That is because we fail to understand the functions of these texts. Aside from teaching us about God, sin, and the need for redemption, a significant portion of the Old Testament recounts the history of the people of God. These are the narratives that constitute the memories of the Christian community. These memories inform our identity as Christians. Thus, Abraham is our spiritual father. His story becomes part of our past. The exodus, the monarchy of Israel and Judah, and the exile cease to be ancient tales of a distant people, but the triumphs and tragedies of our own history. Moreover, its ceremonial laws, such as abstaining from ‘unclean’ foods are ‘visual aids’ to instruct God’s people of all ages to be pure. …

… the stories of the Old Testament communicate at a level beyond cognitive propositions. They challenge us to identify with Abraham as our father, to share his faith that rejoices to see the day of Jesus Christ, and to look forward to a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. They engender a transformed self-perception and an altered worldview. This is one of the most powerful functions of the Old Testament; unfortunately, it is also one of the least understood among the community of faith. In sum, a goal of this theology is to help the covenant community understand their identity as the people of God within the context of the memories and hopes proclaimed in the Old Testament. In short, biblical theology ‘is that learning by which a human being is made whole’” (p. 14).

And earlier, Waltke wrote:

“In the Bible we sail on the clouds to heaven, submarine down to the depths of our hearts, and are transported back to ancient kingdoms that serve as paradigms for interpreting the present. The Bible explores and answers with authority the most fundamental issues facing human beings: Who are we? What is the world and our place in it? How can we find happiness in this conflicted world? How do we deal with choices that confront us, and what happens as a result? This is the stuff of great literature, and the Bible is the greatest expression of it. This book is a profession of faith – a reasoning faith, I hope, and reasonable: what Saint Anselm called ‘faith out on a quest to know’” (p. 10).

This emphasis on helping the Church find Her identity – on a journey to understand – is perhaps the great strength of Waltke’s new work. This will happen as An Old Testament Theology equips expositors to grow more comfortable in the Old Testament narratives and encourages them to work through large sections of the Old Testament. Unashamedly, it’s an Old Testament theology for the Church.

“Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that the Bible is the fount of life, the source of identity, and the supreme arbiter of ethics. Therefore, it makes sense that a book written about the theology of the Old Testament should be written for the church. After all, this people has more at stake in understanding the Bible’s message than anybody else – they are the ones committed to live out fully the implications of that message to the point of dying for its truth” (p. 19).


On my shelf An Old Testament Theology will sit next to The Message of the Old Testament by Mark Dever (Crossway: 2006) and Old Testament Theology by Paul House (IVP: 1998). All three are good but I think Waltke will best serve expositors and theologians as they help the Church define Her identity.

J.I. Packer calls this volume “pure gold.” I would certainly agree that Waltke’s new book is excellent. And if I’m reading you correctly, Waltke is one volume that many pastors and Christian readers will find timely and necessary.

Title: An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach
Author: Bruce K. Waltke
Reading level: 3.0/5.0 > moderately difficult
Boards: hardcover
Pages: 1,040
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue (not sewn)
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: yes (extensive)
Scriptural index: yes (extensive)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Zondervan
Year: 2007
Price USD: $29.24 from Westminster; $29.95 from MB
ISBNs: 0310218977, 9780310218975

Exploring the Bible: A Guide to the Old and New Testaments, 1581348649

Book Announcement
Exploring the Bible: A Guide to the Old and New Testaments
by R. Laird Harris, Samuel J. Schultz
Gary V. Smith and Walter M. Dunnett

I confess I have a weakness for books that provide broad sweeping overviews of the biblical storyline because I never get tired of reading authors who tie the various biblical threads together into one comprehensive picture of God’s redemptive plan. (This explains why one of my favorite books of 2006 was Mark Dever’s, Promises Made.) So I was especially excited to receive my copy of Exploring the Bible: A Guide to the Old and New Testaments (Crossway).

This new book extends far beyond a general overview of the biblical storyline because Exploring the Bible is really three books in one. The first of three books is “Exploring the Basics of the Bible” (pp. 9-114) which includes a helpful introduction to the Bible. Among other things this section includes an overview of inspiration, OT and NT authorship, how the bible was preserved, a primer on higher criticism, difficult bible questions, how to use commentaries, lexicons and the best methods of bible study.

The second book, “Exploring the Old Testament” (pp. 115-336), traces the OT narrative chronologically and later addresses the wisdom literature and prophets. The final book, “Exploring the New Testament” (pp. 337-440), progresses through the NT books generally in the order they appear in Scripture, pointing out broad topical themes.

Throughout this volume, the authors incorporate helpful charts and graphs to help the reader grasp the big picture. Discussion questions are printed at the end of each chapter to facilitate group discussion. Exploring the Bible will prove to be very valuable if you want bible study help, an intro to Scripture and overviews of the OT/NT storyline and themes.

Title: Exploring the Bible: A Guide to the Old and New Testaments
Authors: by R. Laird Harris, Samuel J. Schultz, Gary V. Smith and Walter M. Dunnett
Reading level: 2.4/5.0 > moderately easy
Boards: paperback
Pages: 448
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: no
Binding: glue
Paper: normal
Topical index: no
Scriptural index: no
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Crossway (see excerpts here)
Year: 2001, 2002; printed together 2007
Price USD: $19.99 / $14.99 at CBD
ISBNs: 1581348649, 9781581348644

Book review: Mark Dever, The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made (1581347170)

I doubt I’m alone when I say the Old Testament in my Bible is largely unknown to me. This is probably due to the fact that it’s not chronologically structured and many overlaps and gaps make things confusing. Such prospects can be despairing for a big-picture reader like myself.

Typically before I begin a book I question the themes and overall direction of what I’m about to read. It’s the basic ABCs of critical thinking, really. However the historical big-picture of the Old Testament is often hard to discern and so the details are often disconnected.

Enter Mark Dever.

I remember my introduction to Mark Dever four years ago as a carpenter finishing a basement drywall project. I was somewhat new to drywalling myself, usually opting to hire an expert (the wise choice). So like an amateur, I made the mistake of applying too much drywall mud on the walls. Thus I sanded and sanded for several painful winter days while me and my .mp3 player were both covered in several layers of fine white dust. Audible amidst the white fog, however, Mark Dever preached on.

Over those days I listened to (and was sustained by) Dever’s entire sermon series on New Testament (now also in print). I was amazed at the clarity of his messages and his uncanny ability to summarize whole NT books into nice packages. And I anticipated a survey of the Old Testament.

At Together for the Gospel in Louisville Dever’s Old Testament survey was available for purchase and I jumped at the chance. Although several hundred of you jumped sooner I guess because they were sold out before I could get my hands on a copy. As soon as I returned home I ordered a copy and have not regretted it!

The book is simply a 960-page collection of sermon manuscripts. But don’t be intimidated by its size. Dever’s summary of the message of the Old Testament is terse and clear. With a broad brush he paints the major movements of the Old Testament to highlight the history of God’s chosen nation. In fact, early in the book he summarizes the history of the Old Testament in about 2 pages! Very helpful for big-picture readers like myself.

This is one of the most helpful and (in a world of redundant publishing) truly original books. This volume will provide great help for preachers and laypersons wanting to unlock the message of the Old Testament.

As an unexpected bonus, wonderful reflection questions conclude each chapter perfectly suited for group study and personal meditation.

The Message of the Old Testament is the perfect balance of two worlds – letting the biblical storyline come alive for readers today AND addressing the pressing issues of our lives from the application of the ancient text. Buy it, read it, cherish it and some day pass it on to your children. It’s one of those rare and priceless volumes that will bless your heart and your ministry.