On neglecting the Old Testament

I like to be lazy.

On some level, I think most of us do. If something is hard, most of us would rather have somebody just explain it to us. I do not want to put the effort into figuring out difficult situations or concepts. Just give me the CliffsNotes. While we may get away with that when it comes to Wuthering Heights in our high school English class, it hurts us in most areas of life.

Take our approach to the Bible. I am convinced that most people who sit in a pew on Sunday rarely pick up their Bible at all during the week. After all, we are busy people, and it is not like we are going to get a grade for reading the Bible this week. It has no due date, and we will not receive a promotion at work for doing it.

Furthermore, (and I think this is the real issue) we have a pastor to do that for us. The Bible is big and it was written a long time ago, and our pastor went to school just so he could understand it. Why not let him explain it to us?

Recently, I was reminded of this widespread problem in our churches when reading a book called Gospel and Kingdom, by Graeme Goldsworthy. He is a really smart chap down in Australia who writes a lot of stuff about the Old Testament.

Now, if we are honest, we have problem enough with the New Testament. The gospels and Paul’s letters are confusing enough, but the Old Testament just seems too hard. Think about how many sermons you hear from the New Testament compared to the Old Testament. We are far more comfortable in Luke than we are Haggai.

In this particular book, Goldsworthy talks about the importance of understanding the Old Testament, something that really only comes from reading it. Take note of his conclusion. He makes a very good point about the effect of not knowing the Old Testament.

Here is what he says:

A person may become a Christian without much knowledge of the Old Testament. Conversion does, however, require a basic understanding of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. The Christian cannot be committed to Christ without being committed to his teaching. It follows that Christ’s attitude to the Old Testament will begin to convey itself to the Christian who is carefully studying the New Testament. The more we study the New Testament the more apparent becomes the conviction by Jesus, the apostles and the New Testament writers in general: namely the Old Testament is Scripture and Scripture points to Christ. The manner in which the Old Testament testifies to Christ is a question that has to be resolved on the basis of the New Testament, since it is the New Testament which provides the Christian with an authoritative interpretation of the Old….

Failure to grasp this truth — largely because the proper study of the Old Testament has been neglected, has aided and abetted one of the most unfortunate reversals in evangelical theology. The core of the gospel, the historical facts of what God did in Christ, is often down-graded today in favour of a more mystical emphasis on the private spiritual experience of the individual. Whereas faith in the gospel is essentially acceptance of, and commitment to, the declaration that God acted in Christ some two thousand years ago on our behalf, saving faith is often portrayed nowadays more as trust in what God is doing now. Biblical ideas such as ‘the forgiveness of sins’ or ‘salvation’ are interpreted as primarily describing a Christian’s personal experience. But when we allow the whole bible — Old and New Testaments — to speak to us, we find that those subjective aspects of the Christian life which are undoubtably important — the new birth, faith and sanctification — are the fruits of the gospel. This gospel, while still relating to individual people at their point of need, is rooted and grounded in the history of redemption. It is the good news about Jesus, before it can become good news for sinful men and women. Indeed, it is only as the objective facts are grasped that the subjective experience of the individual Christian can be understood (Goldsworthy, Gospel and Kingdom, 19-20).

Ultimately, when we do not read the Bible, we think the story is about us. We make our life, our faith, and our relationship with Christ all about a personal experience. The focus becomes what we get from it instead of Jesus himself.

However, as we pick up our Bible for ourselves and begin to read the story, we realize our name is nowhere in those pages. The story, while certainly applying to us, is not about us at all. Instead, the whole book, cover to cover, is about a king.

Our king.

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