Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Boring, irrelevant and untrue: How OT scholarship has been a disaster for the church

You really must read this Ralph Davis article over at Ref 21 ("Why is the Old Testament shut out of the church?"). That's the same Dale Ralph Davis who writes the OT commentaries that are worth their weight in gold. And "Boring, irrelevant and untrue" is a fair summary of the last two hundred years of unbelieving, church emptying, soul destroying, OT scholarship.

Here's a snippet to what your appetite:
Scholarly Barrenness

I don't care if many beg to differ, professional study and teaching of the Old Testament has largely killed the Old Testament for the church and wrecked it for hundreds of theological students. I speak especially of the so-called higher critical position regarding the OT. (Now don't accuse me of being anti-intellectual; in fact, I think that any MDiv grad from an evangelical seminary should know the critical position(s) regarding especially the Pentateuch, should know--and be able to refute--the criteria scholars have used to carve up the canonical text. A little time with Kenneth Kitchen or R. K. Harrison is time well-spent).

We have had about 150 years of this anti-supernaturalist scholarly study of the OT and it has produced results as cold as concrete and as appetizing as stewed okra.

Let me give examples.
Here's a commentary on Exodus 14:5--the first part of the verse speaks of 'the king of Egypt,' while the 2nd part refers to him as 'Pharaoh' and so 'there can be no doubt' that the verse is 'composed of two different sources.' Naturally, we find that very moving. Or go to Exodus 34:6-7; this commentary says that Yahweh's self-proclamation here ('Yahweh, Yahweh, a God compassionate and gracious...') is 'out of place' and is 'an addition which is made up of customary, stereotyped phrases.' Here is the crucial, climactic, consoling self-revelation of Yahweh, brimming with theological profundity and devotional power--and Martin Noth never heard it. The Fountain of living waters overflows and Noth spends eight lines of critical hogwash on him.

Or here is a commentator on 1-2 Kings. At 2 Kings 2:23 we read of Elisha going up to Bethel, where apparently the incident of the bears tearing up 42 lads occurs. But this commentator says there is nothing in the narrative itself to suggest that this happened at Bethel except that introductory comment that Elisha had gone up to Bethel. This amounts to saying that the text says this occurred in Bethel but we can't be sure because the next two and a half verses don't mention Bethel--no landmarks like the Bethel Moose Lodge, I suppose--so we really can't be sure it happened in Bethel. One could forgive such nonsense were it not for worse stuff.

The same commentator, writing on 1 Kings 8:27 (where Solomon prays, 'But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain thee; how much less this house which I have built!'), tells us this verse must be deleted as 'secondary' and that it looks like a 'marginal comment which later found its way into the text.' Leave aside the critical issue. Even if he were right on that (and he's not), how can he ignore, how can he pass by without any comment the massive, head-throbbing theology of that verse?

On and on it can go. You can find out, for example, that 1 Samuel 3 may not be a prophetic call but an 'auditory message dream theophany,' and then like Lucy in Peanuts you think: Now that I know that, what do I do?

And so theologs tend to give up on the Old Testament. If it involves such complex, intricate analysis by the high priests of whatever the reigning German-geschichte is, then surely it is 'too complicated for me for bother with.' Use a psalm or two for funerals and a quote from Amos for Social Justice Awareness Sunday, but otherwise forget the OT. Mainstream critics may mock evangelical use of the OT, but they have not given us any help.

Unbelieving biblical interpretation cannot nurture life--it cannot even arouse interest. It is worse than lethal--it is boring.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for link. The comment on "evangelical sloppiness" especially pertinent..

Marcus said...

Thanks for the pointer, Martin. Amen and amen.

(I especially liked: "The Fountain of living waters overflows and Noth spends eight lines of critical hogwash on him."!)

I think there is another thing that is destroying the OT for believers, as well as stupid so-called (non-Christian) "scholarship", and that is preachers not dealing with the OT Christologically. If we don't search the scriptures for the glory of Christ, then it may thrill in a historical "see what God did for those people all those years ago" kind of way, but it won't impact discipleship in any lasting sense.

This happens for the best of reasons: people wanting to teach that the immediate context for OT passages is the most important context to preach. And it never is. Christ is always the most important context of any OT passage, a fact that is crucially lacking in the works DRD rails against, but is also lacking in a lot of contemporary preaching.

Blessings on your day


PS any chance of a link on your blog list?? :-)