Otherwise entitled, “39 Reasons You Want to Attend an Old Testament Church”.
If you spend any time online in the Evangelical Blogosphere, you might have seen that Andy Stanley has drawn some ire over his comments about the Old Testament. Specifically, he says that churches had better unhitch themselves from the Old Testament and live in the new covenant, under Christ. Other at Patheos, blogger Josh Daffern asks if you are attending an Old Testament church rather than a New Testament church. He lists six criterion for us to evaluate in order to answer his question:
1. Your church sounds a lot less like the Sermon on the Mount and a lot more like the Ten Commandments.
2. Your church is more interested in defending against the outsiders than finding lost sheep.
3. Your church is predominately known for its judgement and condemnation rather than its love and mercy.
4. Church is a location rather than a movement.
5. Your church is more defined by ritual towards God than a relationship with Jesus.
6. If your church is defined more by exclusion than inclusion.
I don’t necessarily think that we need to turn to each of these points, answering each one. It’s fairly easy to show that this is a gross misreading of the Hebrew Scriptures.
For example, I want to address Daffern’s view that the Old Testament was a religion focused on defending against outsiders rather than welcoming the stranger. One doesn’t need to go very far in the Old Testament to see that this simply isn’t the case: from Abram on, Yahweh had plans for his people to interact with the nations in a positive manner. (Of course, those who stood as enemies to God’s people would be cursed as they curse Israel.) As the Abrahamic family grew (in a trajectory aiming at being “more numerous than the stars”, already suggesting a worldwide family, the Israelite people came into a lot of contact with the nations. In Egypt, many joined themselves to the nations in the Exodus (Exodus 12:38). Because so many foreigners joined themselves to Israel, Yahweh’s Torah had extensive protections and litigation regarding the outsider.
As Israel continues to interact with the nations, Yahweh’s mission to bless the world took a global turn. Isaiah, prophet of Judah and Israel, foretold a day when all of the nations would stream to Yahweh’s holy mountain to hear his Torah and live in light of that. Micah, a contemporary prophet, had the same worldwide vision of the incoming nations. Isaiah’s later prophecies foretold of the influx of Gentiles, who would come to see Israel after the work of the Servant had been completed. The later prophet Zechariah’s prophecies showed the nations coming together to bring a Tribute offering to Yahweh in light of what happens to Israel, when they see “the one whom they had pierced”.
As I said, I don’t think it would be a wise use of my time to respond to every comment made here. Who knows how lasting of an impact this blog will make? How many people really need to dunk on this post before it becomes old hat, not operating out of love, but rather a need to “win arguments” on the Internet? And besides, I’m sure many theologians far finer than I will comment and repudiate the worst of these ideas. I simply want to call you, my readers, to careful reconsider the first 60% of your Bibles.
The whole Bible serves as a revelation of God in Christ. Paul reminds Timothy of this explicitly in II Timothy 3, wherein the holy writings would probably only refer to the Old Testament. They are all necessary for guidance, for instruction, for reproof, and for instructions. The New Testament doesn’t repeat everything that the Old says. As James Jordan helpfully asks, why would God need to repeat himself in the New if he had already spoken so clearly in the Old?
If anything, more churches need the Old Testament in their churches. Otherwise, we are simply not listening to everything that God has to say to us. More importantly, if it’s vital for us to be a so-called “New Testament church”, we simply must understand the Old Testament. As John Starke says on Twitter: “One of the main ways the New Testament authors communicate their message is through themes, figures, types of the Old Testament. Their imaginations were filled with OT stories. One of the best ways to understand the NT is to fill your imagination with OT stories too.”
This is a helpful reminder when we consider that the gospel is the climax of the story of Israel. The gospel is the news of what Israel’s God, Yahweh, has done in his Son, Jesus of Nazareth the Judahite, to remain faithful to his promises to Abraham, as told by the Jewish prophets. The ascension of Jesus is the denouement of the history of what God was doing in Israel, which has now extended to the entire world and anyone who would have faith in him. The New Testament epistles deal with contextual issues, such as the relationship between Jew and Gentile in the New Covenant, the Jewish sacrificial system, and more. Trying to understand the New Testament without Old Testament referents is asking for misunderstanding at best or dangerous, quasi-Marcionism at worst.
For those who are interested in learning more about the Old Testament, here are some resources I’ve found extremely helpful. Crossway is releasing an entire line of Old Testament Scripture Journals at the end of January. These are helpful ways to interact extremely closely with the text. I’ve also loved two new translations of the Hebrew Scriptures, both done by single authors. John Goldingay has created a wonderful single volume translation in The First Testament. Robert Alter has created a beautiful three-volume translation over the course of a few decades, which I have been absolutely loving lately. Goldingay has written a provocative book in Do We Need the New Testament, addressing the fullness of the Old Testament narrative and its relation with the New. Pressingly, Brent Strawn has written on the need for Christians to re-embrace the Old Testament by showing how few Christians are familiar with it in The Old Testament is Dying.
All of these are wonderful ways to understand the Old Testament and see it in a new light. But nothing replaces the importance of simply reading it! Read it prayerfully, devotionally, academically, and more. It is part of our Scriptures and part of our revelation of Christ – ignore it, and you’ll be working on a deficient understanding of our faith. But as you grow in a love for the entirety of the Bible, maybe we’ll start praying that we do, in fact, start seeing Old Testament informed churches.