by Pieter J. Lalleman
Here is the review for the first book on my pre-course reading list. I’m not sure if I’m meant to declare that I have met the author (he taught my first semester of Greek) but it’s pretty irrelevant in terms of the review, because most authors tend to meet/know other authors. The only real difference from a personal perspective is that I did read the entire book with his accent.
I don’t usually read the Introduction of books, but I did this time, and I would recommend you do the same. It made me really want to read the book! Many of the issues about the relevance or otherwise of reading the Old Testament were addressed, and we were also introduced to Marcion—who said the Old Testament is no longer relevant and should be discarded. He pops up again later, and had I not read the Introduction I would have been confused, so take note!
The book then explores whether or not the Old Testament is relevant for today, and which parts should be firmly contextualised and which parts stand as unchangeable truths. As a non-theologian, I wasn’t sure how accessible the book would be, but actually everything was presented very simply, and even ordinary people like me could understand it.
There were two parts that made me laugh out loud (though I’m not sure they were meant to!) One was when Sarah and Abraham were described as a “giggly couple,” which I thought was a lovely phrase. Inappropriate laughing is something I also suffer with. The other was about church notices (the information about members and future dates for the diary that most churches list during a service). The author describes: “that someone is terminally ill, that a murder has been committed, when a case of adultery becomes public…” I have to say, the church notices in his church are way more exciting than in any church I have ever attended, where they tend to be about needing more leaders for the children’s work and someone to make a flower rota!
I was pleased that the book of Ecclesiastes was mentioned. As rather a cynical person, this is a book I have always related to. I also enjoyed the section about modern-day laments, and how most churches prefer to sing nothing but worship songs. (As I pretty much loathe the style of most contemporary church music, I possibly liked this section for the wrong reasons.)
I wasn’t sure if I agreed with the section about the book of Job—though as the author is a theologian and I am not, I assume that this means I am wrong. He writes that Job is about the meaning of suffering, and I don’t think it is. I love the book of Job, because I think it shows that God is worth following, simply because he is God. Everything is removed from Job, and he suffers horribly, yet still God is worth following. Being a Christian is not (for me) about the possibility that life will be easy or free of pain or unfair things happening—because I have known some tough times. Being a Christian is about God being worth following, whatever happens. Maybe the book is trying to show both things.
I did however, enjoy pondering his point about Esther. He says: “It shows us that God works in inconspicuous details and through people who simply do their duty without deep emotions or powerful experiences.” Our churches tend to be in awe of the people who do have big emotions and who proclaim their big experiences. We tend to ignore those who simply quietly plod on with the work behind the scene—perhaps we shouldn’t.
The only part that I didn’t understand was an interesting section about how the books of the Bible were ordered. He writes that the Jews collected the books that they wanted to be in their Bible, and “recognised them as canonical—that is, authoritative and normative—” I’m not quite sure what that expression means. I’m also not familiar with the names of theologians who are quoted, and I don’t know whether they are alive or from the distant past; but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.
My only other thought concerns those sections which the author suggests are now redundant in the light of the New Testament. This includes things like priests, and tithes and the Sabbath. Whilst I understand the point that they are no longer necessary, I wonder whether they might still be helpful. For example, I believe it is true that Jesus taught that we can all approach God directly, that we don’t need a priest as a go-between. However, for some people, in some situations, it might be easier/better to confess to a priest than in prayer, and perhaps the priest can facilitate approaching God—even if not strictly necessary. The same is true of tithes, which again should not be needed if people are generously giving so that everyone’s needs are met. But perhaps the general principle is a good one, and helpful for people (especially children as they are learning good practice) as it ensures that gifts are part of the structure of life.
In short, I enjoyed this little book (it was surprisingly little!) If you are interested in whether or not the Old Testament is relevant today, I recommend that you buy a copy. The language is easy to understand, and the concepts are interesting and worth considering. The Amazon link is below.
Thanks for reading. I hope you have a good week.
Love, Anne x