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.


Jason said...

Hey Scott,

Just followed the link from your Sojourn profile to here. Looks like you have about as many commenters on your blog as I have on mine :)

I've been slowly reading through Augustine's "Confessions" and just recently read about how he saw the Trinity revealed in the first two verses of Genesis: God as Heavenly Father and the Spirit upon the waters are obviously, but I hadn't thought of "In the beginning" as synonymous of "In Christ" for Christ is the Alpha and the Omega.

Was this intended to be a series of posts? I'm curious why you say there's a "heightened externalism" in the OT?

Also, the reason I checked your profile was to send an e-mail regarding the John Chrysostom quote, but I found your blog instead. Since you seem to have read some of the Church Fathers, I was wondering what leads you to accept more of a Reformed/Baptist theology? Maybe you could address that in a future post. Thanks, and have a blessed Easter!

Scott said...

The Confessions of Augustine are awesome. I love the names he uses for God like "my tardy joy."

To answer your question, I had intended this to be a series of posts, but it has been so much "in process" that I'm not ready to "publish" anything yet on the web. I have formulated more than what you see here, and hopefully (now that I know someone actually might read the stuff) I'll try to get it uploaded soon.

Regarding the Church Fathers and the Reformed/Baptist faith, I don't see them as antithetical. There are many things in the first 3-4 centuries of the church that is not helpful (mainly b/c of its influence by Gnosticism), but there is much that is (especially the 4th century, with guys like Augustine & Ambrose, Chrysostom & Jerome). Much of our understanding of grace and justification comes from this period. Does that answer your question?

Jason said...

I'll definitely need to read Confessions again, at least the second half where he gets more philosophical. Seems like there was one part where he speculated on what life is like for babies with their very limited memory, like how hunger pain must a scarier experience for them because it comes from deep inside and it is likely the worst pain they've known. But I can't find where I read that... do you remember anything like that in Confessions?

I'm not very familiar with the 4th century fathers besides Augustine, but just going by "Confessions," he says things about the sacraments, the Church, and Baptism that seem to contradict Reformed theology and point more towards the Catholic or Orthodox view.

Another one is the letter St. Ignatius of Antioch's Letter to the Romans, where he says "I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by [the lions'] teeth so that I may become Christ’s pure bread." I suppose you could say it's symbolic, but I'm not sure that he would write with such strong imagery without believing the Eucharist is truly the "pure bread" of Christ that Christians chew like the lions would chew his flesh. What do you make of those things?