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Two Old Testament Books (or Preach More from the Old Testament)

Two Old Testament Books (or Preach More from the Old Testament)

My company is offering special prices on all our books related to the Old Testament. I decided to blog a bit about the books we’re offering. So if you don’t want to hear about books that are for sale, this one isn’t for you. On the other hand, I promise to be wordy, tell stories, and fail to get to the point for paragraphs at a time. As usual! And by the way, this got started because we’ve put Ecclesiastes: A Participatory Study Guide, the first in the series on an Old Testament book, on pre-order. Look for it in mid-November. I’ll talk about it later in the week.

This morning I was thinking about two books, because they relate so closely to my own Christian experience and to a weakness I see in the church and the way we teach the Bible. The first is by one of my college professors, Dr. Alden Thompson. He guided me through my second and third year of Hebrew as well as any number of questions that arose. I never did take an introduction to the Old Testament, though I took several Old Testament courses other than Hebrew, but I did dig into the theology enough to keep the discussion lively.

Alden is primarily concerned with getting Christians to study the Old Testament more, and with letting people know that you can find God’s story of grace there as well as in the New Testament. His book, Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, was released after I graduated, but I read it with great interest, and when I was invited to teach later in a Methodist church, I found it was no longer in print. I got some remaindered copies from him, and then later got permission to issue two different comb bound editions. These got me through a number of classes, but we referred to one of them as the “unfortunate edition.” This was also before Energion Publications had come into existence.

We issued a fourth edition, properly printed and bound, though the printer did not produce the best quality work. I purchased several thousand of those books from another organization I’d been working with and used that as the starting point for Energion Publications. So Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God? (now in its fifth edition) is a key part of the history of the company.

Alden’s focus can be found in two stories, I think. When I first contacted him about his book, some 20 years after we had last talked, his first question, before he wanted to talk about books, was this: “How are things with your soul?” Authors tend to care about their books, especially if there’s an opportunity to get them reprinted. But that was his first thought. Later, when he came to teach at Pine Forest United Methodist Church here in Pensacola, he told the group that the measure of his success as a teacher would be whether he left them loving God and one another more than when he came. I like that.

The book itself can be mildly (or more than mildly) controversial, as one would expect of a book that has chapters covering Judges 19-21 (read it if you don’t understand why), and another on the Messianic prophecies. It’s easy to generate an argument on those topics. But I’ve seen a lot of people spending more time with their Old Testaments after hearing Alden speak about it. If nothing else, his enthusiasm for the topic draws people in.

The second book is related, though it comes more from my present than my past. It’s written by Methodist pastor and seminary professor Allan R. Bevere. It’s based on sermons he preached from the Old Testament. Now there are those who are turned off by collections of sermons. I like them, provided they are good sermons that serve a purpose, and that they apply to a broad audience. The book is The Character of Our Discontent, I think this book has not gotten the attention it deserves. The vast majority of times that I hear sermons from the lectionary, the text is from the gospel lesson. Now I don’t have any problem preaching from the gospels. But I don’t think people will understand the whole story if they don’t get the background to the gospels by learning from the Bible Jesus used.

So I’d see two purposes to this book. First, it can be read for devotional reading. I’d take an essay at a time. You’ll find your spiritual life growing when your devotionals don’t just come from the Sermon on the Mount, but also take in characters like Samson and texts from books such as Leviticus or Ezekiel. But second, if you’re a pastor, consider looking at this pattern of presenting material from the Old Testament.

And unlike Alden Thompson, Allan Bevere is a New Testament scholar. Just because you specialize in the New Testament doesn’t mean you can’t include preaching from the Old. You may even have some special perspective.



On Character, Discontent, and the Old Testament

On Character, Discontent, and the Old Testament

I have somewhat of a tradition of reflecting somewhere on my blogs about books I am about to publish. So today I want to look at Allan R. Bevere’s new book The Character of Our Discontent.

Allan is a primarily New Testament trained preacher who has decided to take on some major passages in the Old Testament in preaching to his congregation. In turn, he has collected them to share with others.

My friend Alden Thompson, who is author of Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God?, also from my company, generally leads off weekends of discussion of the Old Testament with a litany of the reasons that people don’t like the Old Testament. He then takes a look at the Old Testament in the New, and especially in the teachings of Jesus and then he’ll say something like: “So you may not like the Old Testament, but Jesus did!” Now he says it so nicely that nobody is offended, but he certainly catches people’s attention.

I specialized in Hebrew and ancient near eastern literature, so I tend to lean toward the Old Testament in my own study and teaching. But amongst those who teach outside the seminary, that is all too rare.

I had a conversation just days before I accepted this manuscript for publication. A pastor with many years of experience lamented the lack of collections of good sermons, sermons that could provide an example to new preachers. I had to agree with him. In my experience, many people end up as pastors with much too limited knowledge and experience in some of the basics. I think preaching is better taught in most seminaries than subjects such as prayer, spiritual gifts, or even church management, but nonetheless there is a great value in having more material that covers some of the basics. So I found this combination irresistible, even though sermon collections often have poor track records for sales.

There are two values in this collection that I want to emphasize. First, these sermons introduce some Old Testament characters and situations in a way that is easy to understand. They are worth reading on their own. This book isn’t heavy reading. You could read one of these sermons for a quite reasonable devotional. Second, they provide examples for people who may be afraid to start preaching from the Old Testament because they didn’t specialize in it. Now these are not sermons that come from hasty or light preparation. What they are is solid sermons that come from a non-specialist who put in the time to produce a good sermon on each topic.

The presentation is easy to follow. The illustrations are good and to the point. You’ll find yourself directed to some good resources as you read. Allan doesn’t try to solve all the problems of Old Testament interpretation. What he does is apply some of the principles and lessons of these passages to the people found in the pews today.

I’ve mentioned some books that I agonized over before publishing. I’ve even had some I expected would offend some folks. I didn’t have to agonize over this one. I was certain almost from the start that I was going to publish it. Oh, it might offend you in some places, though if so I’d take it as conviction. Some of those Old Testament characters provide quite a challenge to our very un-heavenly way of life here in the American church.

So if you’ve been neglecting the Old Testament, here’s a chance to remedy that situation. My wife tells me that she feels that before she started getting involved in reading and studying the Old Testament she feels she was missing out on half the power God had for her in his Word.

Or, as Dave Black said in commenting on the release of The Character of Our Discontent:

An Old Testament-neglecting Christian is a contradiction in terms.