How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth

Written by Christopher J. H. Wright Reviewed By Ray Ortlund

Pastor Andy Stanley in Atlanta recently preached that the New Testament apostles “elected to unhitch the Christian faith from the Jewish Scriptures. And my friends, we must as well.” Why? Because we must not “make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:19 NIV). The faith of the next generation, Stanley said, may depend on our willingness and ability to be liberated from “the whole worldview” of the Old Testament. I disagree. Jesus taught that the Old Testament bears witness about him (John 5:39). Moreover, Christian history has already shown us where churches go, once they diminish the Bible in order to make it less difficult for people to turn to our Lord.

But my purpose in starting this review with a reference to Stanley’s sermon is to highlight the relevance, urgency and timeliness of this excellent book by Christopher Wright, How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. No one who understands and appropriates the wisdom here in Wright’s book could make the assertion that Pastor Stanley made. Instead, any pastor who does receive instruction from this wonderful book will, far from making it more difficult for people to turn to God, make that step of faith more obvious, persuasive and satisfying.

The reasoning throughout this book is consistent with the broader trend we all have been benefiting from in recent decades. Wright, Edmund Clowney, Graeme Goldsworthy, Sidney Greidanus and others have been helping pastors, especially, read the Old Testament in a more Christ-aware and gospel-sensitive way. A properly biblical-theological perception of the Old Testament has finally been established in its authentic and rightful place between the minute scrutinies of exegesis, on the one hand, and the atemporal mega-categories of systematic theology, on the other. What sets this book apart for our special attention is the wisdom Wright shows in making gospel-centered hermeneutics directly useable to anyone who might be new to this way of reading the Bible.

The book is divided into two major parts: “Why should we preach and teach from the Old Testament?” and “How can we preach and teach from the Old Testament?” Within this framework, Wright guides the reader through the unfolding plot of the Old Testament flowing into the New Testament in six stages, the right questions to ask when reading an Old Testament story, the fallacies to avoid when reading an Old Testament story, the perennial question of law and gospel, and the correct hermeneutical strategies for reading the various literary genres found within the Old Testament.

This book is impressive in various ways. But for this review I will point out the one thing I most appreciated. Embedded throughout the book is a wealth of responsible and careful scholarly thinking; but the help it offers is explained, time after time, with remarkable clarity and simplicity. Moreover, the book offers many concrete illustrations of how the reader can put Wright’s proposals to practical use in study, preaching and teaching. Another way to say it is this: How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth is fully prepared and easily ready for the reader’s immediate benefit. The steps that might otherwise have to be taken between this book and your ministry are minimized to a remarkable degree. There is a quality of thoughtfulness and servanthood and usability in this book that stands out, while also upholding high academic standards.

One illustration of such clarity is Wright’s explanation of typology—a topic often made more obscure than it needs to be. Wright puts it this way:

When somebody we know does something that we recognize as the way they always act, something very characteristic of them, we smile and say, “That’s just typical!” Or, “Typical John!” They are acting “true to type.” It’s what we’ve come to expect from that person. Once you get to know somebody well, you can see patterns and similarities in the way they behave…. God certainly acts in typical ways, so that those who knew him well in Bible times began to recognize God’s ways. They saw the patterns and similarities between how God acted at one time and then another…. Now those who encountered Jesus in the New Testament … point out significant correspondences between things in the Old Testament and what God had now done in and through Jesus Christ. And they used those Old Testament things in order to explain many aspects of the meaning of Christ’s birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension. (p. 69)

Any beginner can make a subject difficult to understand. It takes a mature scholar to achieve simplicity and accessibility.

To sum up: How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth has come to us at just the right time. It can both stabilize our confidence in the enduring authority and richness of the Old Testament and, even more, equip us with both the insights and the instincts we preachers of the gospel need in order to help more and more people turn to God.

Ray Ortlund

Ray Ortlund
Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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