Tuesday, April 21, 2015

This Strange and Sacred Scripture by Matthew Richard Schlimm

Do you have trouble reading the Old Testament? Do you find it contains strange behavior, harsh laws, and apparent contradictions? Maybe you have trouble reconciling a vengeful God in the Old Testament with a nonviolent Jesus in the New Testament.

This book, written by a Christian for Christians, aims at helping us see that God has incredible things to say to us in the Old Testament. We should not ignore it. It is three quarters of the Bible. Schlimm says the Old Testament is our friend in faith. It has much to teach us but it does require a little extra work to bridge the cultural barriers.

Beginning at the beginning, Schlimm advocates balancing a firm commitment to Scripture with scientific evidence. He explores identifying genres and notes that what we think the genre is determines our interpretation of the passage. He takes Adam and Eve symbolically.

He next addresses the passage describing creation in seven days. He then looks at the messy stories describing the troublesome behavior of Old Testament characters. He goes on to look at violence, noting that this is the most challenging issue. His identification of flawed assumptions is great. He also addresses the treatment of women, strange laws, apparent contradictions, laments and raging at God, the wrath of God, and biblical authority.

I like the way Schlimm gives options in each of the areas he explores and then defends his own view. He encourages us to think deeply and reflect theologically on Scripture passages.

I really liked his insight on Numbers. If we are disgusted with the characters and their constant complaining and want to stop reading, we are reading it well, he says. We begin to understand how things were for the Israelites - and for God. We are challenged to think about our own complaining.

Schlimm's thesis is, “The Old Testament is our friend in faith.” I like that model. Friends are sometimes brutally honest, may sometimes act illogically, may be argumentative one moment but helpful the next. It takes frequent and deep dialog to understand a friend and reap all that the friendship offers.

I recommend this book for pastors and church leaders, not for all the conclusions Schlimm reaches (I disagree with some of them), but for the way he deals with the troublesome aspects of the Old Testament. The way he takes readers through a difficult aspect of the Old Testament is insightful and is a good model. His way of approaching Scripture is thoughtful and allows for constructive dialog.

He has included lots of footnotes, blocks of information and quotes, and a section at the end of each chapter For Further Study. There are also several indexes at the end of the book. Schlimm has also provided discussion questions, artwork, quotes, and other resources at http://www.matthewschlimm.com/resources.html.

Food for thought: “People who associate the Old Testament with wrath and the New Testament with grace have not spent much time carefully reading either Testament.”

Matthew Richard Schlimm (PhD, Duke University) is assistant professor of Old Testament at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. He is the author of From Fratricide to Forgiveness: The Language and Ethics of Anger in Genesis and coeditor of the CEB Study Bible. He and his family lives in Dubuque, Iowa. You can find out more at http://www.matthewschlimm.com/.

Baker Academic, 272 pages.

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