Things That Keep Me Up At Night: The Old Testament

Monday, April 22, 2019

(This post is part 4 of my 5 part series on things that keep me up at night. You can read the other posts in the series here.)

There are a few things that keep me up into the wee hours of the night, and one of those things is the death of the Old Testament.

You see, I first noticed that the Old Testament was dying when I was in high school.

I'd grown up learning the typical Old Testament stories, like Noah and Jonah. My Sunday school teacher during middle school was obsessed with teaching us about the Pentateuch. We reviewed the story from creation to Moses over and over again, but after the book of Joshua it was bit blurry. I remember wondering what happened after the patriarchs. How do we get to Jesus' arrival in the New Testament? How do we make sense of these strange books in between, like Ezekiel and Ecclesiastes? It wasn't until my pastor spent a year preaching through the entire Old Testament my freshman year that I read this significant portion of Scripture for myself and fell in love with it.

But I felt like I was the only one who loved it. Everyone else seemed to dismiss it entirely or only like very specific stories because of childhood nostalgia. 

Everyone else seemed to bypass the entire Old Testament in favor of the New. There was fixation on Jesus, with good reason, but this fixation seemed to ignore the ways in which Jesus was influenced and understood in light of the Old Testament narrative. Outside of my home church, preaching was centered in the Gospels and Pauline epistles. Bible studies either oversimplified the drama of Genesis-Malachi (usually by focusing just on how literal the creation accounts supposedly are) or ignored it altogether. The label "New Testament church" was adorned by contemporary churches with great pride. During my college and seminary years, very few of the biblical studies students concentrated in Hebrew Bible.

Just recently, a popular preacher claimed that the Old Testament is only a "backstory" for the main story, and that we need to move beyond the old covenant like the early church did (Exhibit A).

Over the years, I've tried to become a champion of the Old Testament. I've become fascinated with how the Old Testament is read, studied, and preached from, however intermittently that may be. I've been confounded by the frequent comments I receive about why I would even want to study the OT in the first place, seeing as how it's irrelevant today (somebody hold me). 

And so I lie awake at night wondering how we got into this mess, and more importantly, how do we find a way out of it?

And honestly, I don't know yet. I'm hoping that this book I only just recently picked up by someone who is way more discerning than me can give me some answers. But I will tell you what has given me some hope.

The Old Testament may be halfway in the grave, but I have seen glimpses of the Old Testament's resurrection (which is ironic, since the Old Testament doesn't talk about resurrection outside of maybe a passage in Daniel...).

The Old Testament is resurrecting through the faithful preachers who discern what God wants to say to us today through the witness of the Old Testament. It's resurrecting through teachers and artists who strive to help the OT make sense to lay people today (Exhibit B). It's resurrecting through the modern day prophets who allow the Spirit to move anew through the OT's beautiful prophetic tradition.

It's clear to me that the Old Testament needs to make a comeback, and there are trends in our postmodern culture that I believe lend itself to this revitalization. Will we be willing to listen to the new things that God has to say to us through this ancient text?

For God's sake, I sure hope so.

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