Neglecting the Old Testament


Joshua Heavin, “The danger of neglecting the Old Testament” at Mere Orthodoxy = Heavin lives in Dallas and is a PhD candidate at Trinity College Bristol, University of Aberdeen. (I find it interesting how many scholars  in the United States are graduates of institutions in England or Scotland.) Heavin offers a somewhat general essay on how “literacy of and love for the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament among North American Protestants is in decline”. The article is divided into several sections including:

  • The functional marginalizing of the Old Testament. He quotes Brent Strawn (whom I have come across in the last few weeks) and explains that churches (pastors) spend much of their time teaching and preaching from the New Testament rather than the Old. And when the Old Testament does receive attention it seems to be in service to interpreting the New. This is a characteristic of the Revised Common Lectionary that some people – including those who support using the lectionary – point out. That is one reason for the alternate lections that show up during “ordinary time”.
  • Some scholarship seems to imply the Old Testament is theologically unreliable. What surprised me is that here Heavin mentions scholarship on the writings of Paul. Here Heavin touches briefly on Marcionism.

The integrity of Israel’s Scriptures as a theological witness is sometimes called into question. Although the apostle Paul understood Israel’s Scriptures through the prism of the Christ-event, we should note that Paul continued re-reading Israel’s Scriptures in light of the Messiah’s death and resurrection, as Paul made abundant use of the Scriptures pastorally in his epistles to the churches.

  • Heavin devotes some space to discussing the recent controversy surrounding the preaching and writings of Andy Stanley. In a recent book Stanley argued that Christians need to “un-hitch” their faith from the Old Testament. In subsequent statements Stanley has qualified or modified this. Heavin gives Stanley credit for this but goes on to point out the problem this creates for such speeches as one given by Martin Luther King Jr that drew strongly upon Old Testament language and message. This is something proponents of the New Marcionism do not adequately take into account. They think getting rid of the Old Testament solves all sorts of theological and hermeneutical problems. They do not consider what is lost when we take the Old Testament off the playing field of human history.

In this section Heavin shares a quote from New Testament scholar Wesley Hill that should give us pause.

According to Doris L. Bergen, the Nazis were able to enjoy success among German Christian groups in part because of widespread biblical – and here one should be specific: Old Testament illiteracy. The Nazi movement succeeded, at least to some degree, among German Christians because they didn’t know their Bibles, especially their Old Testaments. Bergen has chronicled the Nazi’s systematic elimination of the Old Testament – how that began with denying the canonicity of the Old Testament and then moved censorship of liturgical elements and church hymnody. This type of censorship is nothing if not forced language death, executed (literally) within a linguistic community wherein the language is supposed to be practiced and so flourish in worship…. In the light of Marcion – both the Old and New varieties, from the secondary century to the Holocaust in the twentieth, even up to the present day – the repugnization of the Old Testament and its movement toward death become even more ominous and far more deadly…

In the final sections of the article Heavin tries to offer a more positive approach. (If neglect of the Old Testament is the problem then what is the cure?) This begins with a theological account of Scripture itself. What is Scripture and why do we have it. Here Heavin cites especially the work of John Webster. Heavin then advances an interpretive principle from Augustine.

A totalizing demand of any genuinely Christian interpretation must be regard for one’s neighbor… Although we should be cautious of how our arbitrary desires and sinful impulses towards expediency can unhelpfully pre-determine our conclusions, we can nonetheless love our neighbors by paying attention to how our use of Holy Writ affects our neighbor.

Heavin discusses the need to rearticulate how the Old and New Testaments are related. Yes. And concludes by urging the Christian community to immerse itself in the Old Testament. Which echoes Psalm 1.

Blessed is the person who has not… has not… has not… But instead his delight is in the torah of the Lord and on his torah he ruminates day and night.


About Rickwright67

I am the pastor of a Methodist church, spent 18 years ministering with internationals, as an adjunct taught Hebrew Bible and Biblical Hebrew, husband and dad, love astronomy, space exploration, science-fiction, computers, animals, cinema, and more.
This entry was posted in Academia, Bible, Ethics and Morality, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics (Interpretation), Language, Law and Justice, New Testament, Old Testament / Hebrew Bible, Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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