A Review of Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers. By John Goldingay.
Baker, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)
Prolific Old Testament scholar John Goldingay here offers us the fruit of his many years of thinking, studying and writing about the OT. He offers 25 important questions which Christians often have, answering them mainly from the revelation of God as found in the Hebrew Scriptures.
While many of these have appeared earlier, all have been revised and included in this quite helpful volume. All the tough issues one might ask about are addressed here: who is God, what is the image of God, what is sin, what is a covenant, what about election, why circumcision, what is family, how does prayer work, what is the ongoing role of Israel, etc.
His opening chapter on ‘Who is God?’ is a good place to begin. Yahweh is a personal God, an involved God, a holy God, and one God. As to his holiness, Goldingay reminds us that this is the First Testament’s “fundamental way of referring to God’s distinctiveness”.
In his discussion of God’s holiness we are rightly informed that “God is not a person to be trifled with”. This is a timely reminder to so many believers today who regard God as their celestial buddy. Sure, God is also known for his love, but it is never divorced from his justice.
Says Goldingay, “love and justice are two ways of speaking of the same reality”. But there is also tension between them as well, depending on whether God acts “in love or justice for you or against you”. Indeed, in the OT we see Yahweh both fighting for his people and sometimes fighting against them.
His second chapter looks further at the relationship between God’s love and wrath. He quickly dismisses the myth that the OT God is a God of wrath, while the NT God is a God of love. Both features are found in full measure in both Testaments.
For those tempted to think of the OT God as predominantly tough, he notes that a soft or positive side to Yahweh is actually found throughout the First Testament. He states that there are many acts both of grace and roughness found in the OT, although his dominant side is that of love and mercy.
He also weighs into the contemporary debate about open theism, and God’s knowledge of future events. Asking if God has surprises, Goldingay looks more closely at the issue of God’s omniscience, specifically, God’s foreknowledge. This debate of course has to look at the relationship between God and time.
He says that while God is not outside time, he is nonetheless omni-temporal, and thus all time is simultaneously present to him. He finds the biblical data support aspects of both classical theists and open theists, but concludes by stating that “God has some innate knowledge and also has access to all knowledge about everything past, present, and future”.
These various hardcore theological debates of course don’t just exist in the abstract. They have very real bearings on all sorts of more practical matters, such as the nature of prayer. That we are told – constantly – to pray, is a given. So too is the fact that God moves in response to prayer.
But how these two go together is not always so clear. Goldingay reminds us that God has for some reason chosen to accomplish his purposes with our involvement. We are told to intercede, and this presupposes the truth that God makes use of us and our prayers in his working in the world.
The OT prophetic activity heavily involved intercession and prayer. Consider Moses or Samuel for example. But every one of us has this incredible role as intercessor, not just the prophets. We “take a share in the making of decisions concerning what happens in the world”.
Yahweh is indeed a sovereign king, yet incredibly he brings us into his purposes and plans, and we have a role to play in the outworking of his will. Thus Scripture can speak of God changing his mind in response to human choices, although this does not indicate fickleness or inconsistency or capriciousness on his part.
Other chapters – some shorter, some longer – explore a whole range of Christian concerns which can be thoroughly investigated through the lens of the OT. Any number of topics arise, including such matters as whether God is concerned with animals, and how we should understand sexuality as seen in the Song of Songs.
The extended discussion on the nature and role of Israel in God’s ongoing purposes may alone be worth the price of the book. A number of complex and nuanced issues have to be addressed under this topic, and Goldingay does a good job of integrating the various strands of biblical data here.
Both Testaments are clear that God has not and will not totally abandon his people, and the detailed discussion of Paul in Romans 9-11 must be carefully taken into consideration. The relationship with the Jews and the land is another contentious aspect to this whole debate, and the various pros and cons are carefully laid out.
The Jewish people still have a claim to a homeland in Palestine, but we must not forget Yahweh’s promises made about Ishmael and his seed. And not every decision made by the modern secular Jewish state is necessarily something Christians can bless. But we must continue to pray for them and seek God’s will to be fulfilled.
As always, Goldingay brings a lifetime of knowledge and a wealth of wisdom to bear on these various questions. He is always stimulating, engaging and incisive, if not on occasion provocative, even controversial. Indeed, he will not please everyone, and may ruffle some feathers along the way.
As with all of Goldingay’s works, there is plenty of insight, learning and scholarship here to be feasted on. That does not mean one will necessarily agree with everything he says. I often find myself questioning or even rejecting certain things he discusses. But he can always be counted on to stimulate thought, provoke questions, and offer incisive and profound commentary.
Thus this is a very worthwhile volume to add to your library, not just for its OT insights and understanding, but its NT Christian application as well.
4 Replies to “A Review of Key Questions about Christian Faith: Old Testament Answers. By John Goldingay.”
Thanks for the review Bill. I never quite know what I’m going to get from Goldingay beyond the “plenty of insight, learning and scholarship here to be feasted on”. Some of his stuff I have been very impressed with indeed, and a couple of others I’ve been scratching my head wondering where he got that from. This one looks very interesting.
Yes as I say he can often be a mixed bag: he is often very profound and offers much of great value, but plenty of times I find myself unhappy with a direction he is heading in. But as with all reading, one must expect some mixed material, and treat it as a fish dinner: eat the meat but leave aside the bones.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I’ll have to look out for this when my reading pile is a bit lower.
You are teaching us to know and study the whole word of God – to be a voice for the Lord in our generation.
Dr Ted Gibson, former Australian Baptist president often spoke of the term ‘chesed’. He would define it, God’s mercy, loving-kindness, tender heartedness. He drew from the entire Old Testament in these teaching affrays.
248 references (Strongs) in the Old Testament.
He delighted that no English term could capture fully the truth which our Lord had injected into this one word.
Let’s hide God’s Word in our hearts, that we might not sin against You.