Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Old Testament: Our Family History

And [God] brought [Abraham] outside and said, "Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be."
Genesis 15:5

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham...There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if your are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Galatians 3:7, 28, 29
The Old Testament contains much that seems trivial to the modern Christian. That is because we fail to understand the function of these texts. Aside from teaching us about God, sin, and the need for redemption, a significant portion of the Old Testament recounts the history of the people of God. These are the narratives that constitute the memories of the Christian community. These memories inform our identity as Christians. Thus, Abraham is our spiritual father. His story becomes part of our past. The exodus, the monarchy of Israel and Judah, and the exile cease to be ancient tales of a distant people, but the triumphs and tragedies of our own history. Moreover, its ceremonial laws, such as abstaining from "unclean" foods are "visual aids" to instruct God's people of all ages to be pure.

Our baptism into the community of faith is a proclamation that our true identity lies within this community. It is shaped by the collective memories recorded in the Bible; it is motivated by the destiny of being with Jesus Christ when he comes again. Not surprisingly, a large part of spiritual strength, of being rooted and grounded in the faith, is knowing our history, knowing who we are. Moreover, the history of "our forefathers" is given to us as "examples" (see 1 Cor. 10:6). George Santayana's line--"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"--is much repeated but is no less true for that.

Furthermore, a commitment to this community may demand that we disown other allegiances. This involves rejecting other histories and cultures that oppose the Christian faith. We cannot be neutral. We have to follow Abraham's example, leaving the land of our culture and family to enter a new land.

In this fashion the stories of the Old Testament communicate at a level beyond cognitive propositions. They challenge us to identify with Abraham as our father, to share his faith that rejoices to see the day of Jesus Christ, and to look forward to a heavenly city whose builder and maker is God. They engender a transformed self-perception and an altered worldview. This is one of the most powerful functions of the Old Testament; unfortunately, it is also one of the least understood among the community of faith. In sum, a goal of this theology is to help the covenant community understand their identity as the people of God within the context of the memories and hopes proclaimed in the Old Testament. In short, biblical theology "is that learning by which a human being is made whole."

--Bruce Waltke, An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach, p. 14.
Amazing. I'm excited for this study.

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