Monday, December 12, 2016

BookPastor >> "How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth" (Christopher J.H. Wright)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on April 16th, 2016.


TITLE: How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth
AUTHOR: Christopher J.H. Wright
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (288 pages).

Christians who believe in the authority of the Bible will have no problem about the importance of the Old Testament. However, when it comes to communicating the truths and the nuances of the biblical texts for the general audience, it becomes more challenging because of the ancient contexts, the archaic languages used, and how it is relevant for contemporary cultures. Author Christopher Wright has seen it all. He knows how infrequent preachers use the Old Testament for their Sunday sermons. Even those who teach prefer to use the New Testament as it involves less work for the teacher and less intense for the students. Yet, the difficulty should not be the reason for not studying the Old Testament. Despite the title of the book, there is a progression of why first before the how. This is important.

Part One of the book is about the WHY we need to preach and teach the Old Testament. Part Two reveals the HOW.

In Part One, Wright gives us three reasons why we need to preach and teach the Old Testament.
  1. It is God's Word
  2. The Old Testament is foundational to our Christian faith
  3. It is the Bible of Jesus Christ
He shows us the big biblical story, the journey of Israel, and the promise of God revealed throughout the generations through His servants. This journey is important so that students will not get lost in the maze of narratives, poetry, and prophecies. The Old Testament is more about promises rather than predictions. The drama is depicted in six stages: 1) Creation; 2) Fall; 3) Promise; 4) Gospel; 5) Mission; and 6) New Creation. Seen in this light, we can better situate the Old Testament within the fuller context of the whole Bible. In fact, there are lots of references back and forth between the Old and the New testaments. Wright also deals with the person of Jesus Christ, aware that many believers will be quite uncomfortable if Jesus was not mentioned when teaching the Old Testament. Here, I feel that Wright does a good job in connecting the two. On the one hand, we need to teach and preach the Old Testament texts in a way that honours the original meaning, the ancient people's understanding, and God's intent for the people at that time. On the other hand, we cannot separate the centrality of Jesus in the Bible. In "Don't Just Give Me Jesus," Wright says that while the Old Testament points to Jesus, the Old Testament is not "all about Jesus." The main concern is exegesis and original meanings. If we make the premature insertion of Jesus into every Old Testament text, we are in danger of making the Bible say things beyond what the Bible is truly saying. When that happens, people will be doing eisegesis (reading meaning into the text) rather than exegesis (reading meaning out of the text). Thankfully, Wright shows us the way to connect with Christ even as we study the Old Testament for all its worth.

Part Two of the book deals with the actual title proper. After explaining the importance of teaching and preaching from the Old Testament, we are now ready to enter into the nitty-gritty of actually teaching and preaching it. There are lots of wonderful techniques and methodologies here which really brings out the excitement of a teacher and preacher. We connect the story of God and our own stories with a single big story. This is also known as the bible metanarrative, the story above all other stories. When we do that, we locate our own stories within the context of the Bible. From here, we learn to ask about what kind of world we live in; what it means to be human; what's wrong with the world; what's the solution; and what hope looks like. We learn about zooming into the biblical narratives and then zooming out to see the metanarrative. Through these stories, we discover our identities. We hold our communities together with a common story. We pass down moral values and hope. We challenge the worldly views with the biblical worldview. We learn to use the five questions of when, what, who, why, and so-what. Other powerful ways include:
  • Seven dangers to avoid
  • Checklist to make sure we preach the Old Testament on the foundation of God's grace
  • How the Laws show the holiness as well as the mercy of God
  • The scale of values from the OT laws
  • Teaching from the Prophets on the basis of Mouth; Ears; Eyes; Head; Heart; and Hands
  • Spot the methods used by the prophets
  • How to Outline a sermon
  • Learning the features of OT Poetry (Parallelism; Contrasts; Supplementing; Lament; Praise; Thanksgiving; Cursing; and so on)
  • Distinguishing the Wisdom literature and the Prophets
So What?
Let me share three thoughts about this book. First, it is a good book to kickstart any attempt to share from the Old Testament, whether for teaching or for preaching. Sometimes, we fail to understand the metanarrative before embarking on the OT book. When that happens, we are tempted to cut down a OT book on the basis of personal familiarity of selected verses rather than the actual content. When choice verses take precedence over the actual flow of the Bible, not only will the teachers and preachers not learn anything new, the audience will be deprived of potentially important lessons the Holy Spirit wants to teach. With this book, just understanding the metanarrative will dispel any sense of fear that we exclude the New Testament teachings. Far from that. With this awareness of the big biblical story, we can remind our hearers that when we preach from the OT, we are essentially expounding on the promise of God that was helpful to the hearers of old and also relevant to our people in present times. Second, I really appreciate Wright for putting together the roles of teaching AND preaching. Personally, I believe that the two are not separate. They are essentially two sides of the same coin. A good preacher must also be ready to teach and to learn. A good teacher must learn to communicate effectively to a wide range of believers. Teachings can go from elementary to advanced. Preaching needs to be directed toward the average age of any audience. While both are different, they both carry lots of common features. From experience, I have learned that the best teachers have a pastoral heart and preaching experience. In the same way, the best preachers are also good teachers. Both are important and both skills are essential for any work with the Word of God. Third, I want to emphasize the importance of the heart of the teacher/preacher. This If knowing the WHY and the WHAT are steps 1 and 2, then having the heart of love for the Word is Step 0. If one knows the WHY, they will be motivated to look for the WHAT and the HOW-TO in doing anything. However, without the LOVE, the WHY will eventually fizzle out. The WHAT will then fall aside. Anyone desiring to teach or to preach from the Old Testament must cultivate the love for the Word because they love God and they recognize that God loves them. Many hearers have that sense of discernment. They can hear the content being preached or taught. They may appreciate the lessons and stories shared. More importantly, they can discern whether the person doing the teaching or preaching is a genuine believer and lover of the Word or not. Such attitudes are not taught but caught. For that to happen, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate Teacher and Preacher. 

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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