Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Toward a Spirituality of the Old Testament (1)

I'm preparing to teach an OT survey course at our church, and it's causing me to think through in new ways what I see as important to teach in a short amount of time. Of course, there must be basic overviews of the books, the literature forms and characters within the story.

But what about the Old Testament (better: "First Testament") is "authoritative and useful" for the Christian (2 Tim. 3:16)? How should we use the Old Testament as Christians? How is it to function in our lives? How does it affect our apprenticeship to Jesus? How does it form and shape our souls to make us more like the Christ to whom it points?

In terms of spirituality and Christian application of the Old Testament, two primary ways of application seem to have dominated recent times for evangelicals:
1) Pointing out all the direct predictions and prophecies that are in the OT that are fulfilled in Christ (there are a variety of ways that this is done, some legitimate and some not so legitimate). For example, Micah 5:2 says that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, etc.
2) The characters of the OT are presented to us as models to follow in virtue development (e.g., we should be a leader like Nehemiah, a wife like Abigail, a warrior-lover like David, etc.). There is a place for this as it has some definite value, if the OT has a voice of its own apart from the NT (and it does, to a degree).

Neither of these approaches, I think, is organically linked to Christ. The first approach takes prediction-fulfillment out of the context of the story of Scripture, like gathering facts for a legal case. The nature and form of the Scriptures as primarily narrative speaks against this kind of shallow Christology. The second approach highly values morality and sees the OT as providing examples of how moral virtue can be formed. This too is shallow Christology that sees Christ as an afterthought or circuitous to virtue. There is an externalism to both these approaches that can leave the heart unchanged by the revelation of God that it is dealing with.

What is needed is an approach to the Old Testament that is:
  • STORY-FOCUSED, that is, allowing the story of Scripture to read us as we read it, paying attention to the context it puts us in as we read. It presents itself to us in particular forms all under the rubric of story - this should determine how we read.
  • ORGANICALLY CHRIST-CENTERED; i.e., the fullness that Christ brings to all Scripture is not forced upon the OT text, and neither is it ignored. The OT continues to have a voice of its own in a symphony of witness to Christ.
  • ORGANICALLY RELEVANT FOR TODAY; directly linked to the disciple's response to Christ today, at this moment, through the various voices by which it speaks.
  • INCARNATIONAL; earthy, human; not abstract in its understanding of godliness or Christ. Not focused on externals, rather using the heightened externalism of the OT to lead us to Christ.