This is the first in a monthly series on John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, volume 1: Israel’s Gospel. We’ll look at one chp per month — on the first day of the month, unless that falls on a weekend. So, today, we get it started.
My questions for the day: What role does the Old Testament/First Testament/Hebrew Bible play in your own theology and faith? What role does that sprawling history of Israel play in your own understanding of what theology is? Do you tend to synthesize its messages or do you let all those diverse themes bang up against one another in a kind of clash of ideas that are evoked by the underlying story? Do you seek for the “mind of God” behind the text — that gave rise to that text — or do you tend to see the mind of God in the unfolding of that OT story? How important is all that political governing and family history and orderly worship and international relations to how we perceive what God is doing in this world? If you are tempted to skip from Genesis 3 (fall) to Romans 3 (atonement), then you might need to think about what role the OT has in the life of the Christian.
Goldingay has four central questions in chp 1: what is theology? OT theology? OT gospel? OT story?
1. Theology seeks to give a greater whole that encompasses the sheer diversity of the OT. And this theology still speaks. Many of us omit so much of Scripture when we theologize that we are essentially saying parts have got it wrong — and Goldingay wants to avoid that. (John Goldingay [JG] is known for his robust affirmation of the delightful oddities of the OT.)
Testimony tells us you know the OT; preaching invites people to the OT; theology reflects on the OT.
2. OT theology — JG will call it First Testament soon — differs from NT faith. He gives a list worth pondering:
more interested in creation;
the world of politics and the nations;
more accepting of death and ambiguities;
lacks a theory of life after death or a stress on Messiah;
understands sinfulness differently;
we are more free to complain and doubt;
emphasizes enjoyment of everyday life and family;
values sacramental worship;
and enjoins detailed obedience to divine commands.
How about this one? Not until we are clear in OT are we to be entrusted with the New Testament.
He wants to give the OT its own say to see if (and how) it leads to Christ. Here’s one of my favorite lines: “The NT is then a series of Christian and ecclesial footnotes to the OT, and one cannot produce a theology out of footnotes” (24).
He does not focus his work in the OT as a “witness” to Christ, or how it “points to Christ” [the theme here is that it becomes such retrospectively], or on prophecy, or on its concealment that is revealed in Christ, or foreshadowing or that the law is succeeded by gospel.
3. The way the OT tells Israel’s faith is by way of story. Israel is a people with a story; the en-storied people. Here’s one of the so-called false dichotomies: “The biblical gospel is not a collection of timeless statements such as God is love. It is a narrative about things God has done” (31). The good news is that the bad news has neither the last word nor the first word.
And I liked this: the biblical story is incomplete; there are indicators of what is to happen; there are dynamic moments that propel one forward in the story; but the storyline remains. It is incomplete. Think about that some.
4. The OT story:sprawling, uneven, discursive. Three themes:
1. It takes humans seriously.
2. It portrays the specificity — individual lives — of life with God.
3. It means theology is done by narrative.
The OT narratives “represent a series of semi-independent but complementary discussions of the way God, leaders and people may handle the problem of the rebelliousness of leaders and people, with the series also interweaving reflection on what we mean by talking about God’s presence with us” (40).
Next month: God Began — Creation.
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