Cover Image: Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament

Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament:
A Guide for the Church

Walter C. Kaiser (Baker, 2003)

Blurb Review by Rupert Standring

Review by Rupert Standring

The value and purpose of preaching and teaching the OT in the church have never been more seriously called into question than they are today. In response to this Walter Kaiser's latest book is both an impassioned plea not only to preach the OT once again as Christian Scripture essential to the spiritual life of the Church but also a practical manual as to how to go about that task.

The book is divided into two parts: Part One - The Need to Preach and Teach from the OT and Part 2 - How to Preach and Teach from the OT.

Part One, where Kaiser delivers his plea for a return to preaching and teaching the OT, deals with both the positives - what the church will gain if it does return, and the negatives - answering the reasons that are often given for ignoring the OT as Christians. On the positives, Kaiser cites the OT's authoritative position in the Early Church; its practical, down-to-earth teaching on living the life of faith; its revelation of the Messiah which gives greater significance to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth; but above all, its own repeated claim to being nothing less than the revealed, powerful Word of God. On the negatives, he briefly answers the critics who question the unity of the OT or those who over-emphasise the discontinuity between Old and New:

"Our teaching and preaching will always remain stunted if we fail to see that God has a wholeness to his Word that embraces both testaments in one unified, single plan."

Part One concludes with a chapter entitled "The Art and Science of Expository Preaching" that lays out very clearly the principles both for interpreting the Biblical text and then for constructing an expository sermon. These general principles are then applied in greater detail in Part Two to the various different genres of literature found within the OT.

The seven chapters that make up Part Two--How to Preach and Teach from the OT--each tackle a different genre: narrative, the wisdom books, the prophets, the laments, Torah, praise and apocalyptic. They follow the same pattern whereby Kaiser first works through the main interpretative issues thrown up by the specific genre (e.g. with narrative: plot, characterisation, setting, dialogue, structure) and then illustrates his methodology with an example sermon on a particular text.

Part Two is essentially a popular re-working of Kaiser's previous work, "Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching" and its practical value for the preacher or teacher is added to by the inclusion from that work of a "Suggested Worksheet for Doing Syntactical-Theological Exegesis" in the appendices.

Overall, Kaiser has produced a practical and accessible guide to preaching and teaching the OT as Christian Scripture which I will use and recommend to others, with only two reservations.

i. Inevitably a book of this scope, only giving one brief chapter to each literary genre in the OT, feels inadequate; but that said, it certainly re-kindled my desire not just to work harder at the text but to preach more OT to Christians.

ii. One of Kaiser's foundational principles of interpretation is that: "The Bible was meant to be read forward, not backward". What this seems to mean in practice is that whilst rightly rejecting an approach to the Bible that subordinates the OT to the NT (whereby the OT becomes little more than a preamble to the "real" message of the NT), Kaiser never quite gives full weight to the element of fulfilment. His own example sermons at the end of each chapter illustrate this tendency: of the seven sermons from OT texts, in only two is Jesus explicitly mentioned or identified as the Messiah. Of course, all Scripture, Old and New Testaments, is Christian Scripture; and of course the mere mention of Jesus in a sermon doesn't transform it into a "Christian" sermon; and of course to explain OT texts on their own terms is a "Christian" endeavour, but perhaps Kaiser's own preaching demonstrates the dangers, or better - limitations, of only reading the Bible forwards? To make sure we don't silence or ignore the OT and to make sure we don't forget to show explicitly and appropriately how Jesus is the fulfilment of the OT, we need to read the Bible in both directions: forwards and backwards!

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