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Excellent! A passionate introductory work showcasing the unity of the OT
on December 3, 2007
Why get too excited about an Old Testament Survey textbook? I am excited, and here is why.
Paul House and Eric Mitchell combine to write this new second edition (first one published about fifteen years ago) of a text designed for use by "beginning students". In other words, this will be a required text for seminary and Christian college students for at least the next ten years!
But don't let the words "required text" fool you into thinking that this is a dry volume of facts and figures. House and Mitchell write with passion and purpose.
The passion comes from their solid belief in what the text of Scripture is:
"...the authors of this text want to make clear they affirm the inerrancy and infallibility of God's Word. Therefore, they also believe that the Bible's historical writing is based on solid historical principles. They believe there are good reasons to affirm what the Bible says on historical matters and that there are good reasons for using sound historical research when studying the Bible."
And what is their purpose? Stated in many ways, the goal of the book is to "help students learn and appreciate the UNITY of the Old Testament" (emphasis mine). They want students to delight in and learn about both the trees and the forest, breaking through to a level of understanding and appreciation for the unity of the Old Testament and hence an appreciation for the unity of the entire Bible.
"For centuries Christians and Jews alike considered the Old Testament a unified work. Jewish readers viewed the Hebrew Scriptures as a thorough account of their faith and history. Christians treated the Old Testament as the natural introduction to their New Testament. Neither group failed to acknowledge the many types of literature in the books, but both communities of faith found underlying themes and characters that bound the whole together.
In the last two centuries, however, the diversity of the Old Testament has been stressed. Children are taught that the Bible is not a book but many books. College and seminary students often analyze each biblical book in isolation from other Scripture. Few people can fit specific stories into a larger biblical picture. Lacking a grasp of the overall Old Testament plot and purpose, Bible students struggle to understand particular passages. This book attempts to chart some elements that unify the Old Testament.
They are men on a mission, and they accomplish their mission well.
They write as men who know the difference between wishy-washy preaching and bold proclamation, and they seem to be men who would prefer to hear and preach the latter. The language of the Bible is more sublime than Shakespeare, but at the end of the day we must remember we are not plowing the fields of literary criticism when we handle the Word of God. No, we are taking a living Word from a living God and bringing it as faithfully and forcefully as we can to a church of saints and a world of sinners.
So, for example, when the authors come to the introduction to "Joshua-Kings", they set the context as such:
"Deuteronomy leaves readers in suspense. Israel has set up camp just outside the Promised Land, poised to complete God's promises to Abraham. Moses has said they will succeed, but he is dead. Israel was at a similar pivotal position in numbers and failed to conquer. Will the people waste a second chance to claim their homeland? God has promised to fight for them. Will this second generation of Israelites believe Yahweh or be as rebellious as their parents?"
A resounding pastoral heartbeat beats throughout this text.
But the pastors are wondering how they would use the book outside personal study. Well, don't think for a minute that you couldn't use this within the local church. You can and you should! Wherever you might find some pastoral interns or men and women who want to dig deeper, or perhaps some mature highschoolers or homeschoolers. Ask around and see if there are even a few who will take you up on the offer to teach them the Old Testament at this level.
And don't miss out on the student guide, sold separately. Pastors, take a look at the student guide and all the fill-in-the-blank quizzes and maps and drills. In so doing you will realize that you did in fact sleep through much of your own Old Testament survey courses. You will be drawing blanks left and right as you try to answer the challenging drill sheets. This will prompt you to go through the textbook and guide for your own benefit too!
This book and the corresponding student workbook come highly recommended. Professional scholarship and pastoral sensitivity unite in a compelling textbook "for beginners"... and count me in that group because I am profiting from this one!