Bret James Stewart's Reviews > Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament: A Guide for the Church

Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament by Walter C. Kaiser Jr.
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it was amazing

Brief Summary
This book deals with preaching and teaching from the Old Testament. The introduction points out that the Old Testament provides certain challenges for our contemporary culture due to its perceived archaic nature, its supposed superseded status versus the New Testament, and the force of habit due to the church’s general tendency to focus on the New Testament. The first part of the book, chapters one through four, focusses upon the need for the church to preach the Old Testament, dealing with issues such as its abiding value, the need to holistically view Scripture, and enacting proper exegetical methods. The second part of the book, chapters five through eleven, provides strategies for actually preaching from the text, with the material grouped by literary type. There are various aids and appendices as back matter.

Chapter by Chapter Summary
The introduction, as expected, introduces the perceived need this book addresses. Churches want pastors who know how to preach. Many today are not skilled in preaching the Old Testament due to a combination of factors, including an emphasis in seminaries on the New Testament, a cultural bias toward the same, and a general dearth of preaching classes at some schools. Kaiser aims to rectify the issues with the Old Testament, which will also provide preaching strategies and examples to aid the pastor.

Part One begins with Chapter One, “The Value of the Old Testament for Today,” which promotes contemporary application of this biblical book. According to this portion of Scripture, it is relevant for four reasons. First, it is the powerful Word of God. It is inspired and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. Second, it leads the reader to Jesus the Messiah. The role of Christ is the main thrust of the Old Testament, with 456 passages referring directly to Jesus or indirectly to His times. Both Jesus and the disciples claimed that proof of Jesus as the Messiah is present in what we today call the Old Testament. Third, the Old Testament deals with the problems of life for all times, including ethics, practical issues, and moral values. Fourth, it was used as the exclusive authority in the early church. The Old Testament was the canon early on in church history. The New Testament writers frequently allude to it or base doctrine and concepts upon it. For all these reasons and more, not preaching from the Old Testament creates a vacuum in the Word as this portion of Scripture represents around seventy-five percent of the biblical record.

Chapter Two, “The Problem of the Old Testament for Today,” acknowledges that many people view the book as antiquated, non-normative, and insignificant. This is inaccurate, and Kaiser argues correctly that the Old Testament is a unified whole, and he promotes the primary theological thread as the “promise-plan” of God (sort of a blend, in my opinion, of covenant theology and salvation history). Due to progressive revelation, it is sometimes more difficult to tease this out of the Old Testament, but this does not mean it is not present. This portion of Scripture is also often considered to promote the law over grace. This, however, is a false dichotomy as the law functions much the same way as works today, theologically-speaking. Also, there is plenty of evidence of grace in the Old Testament as exemplified by, among other things, Judges 2:1 wherein God affirms, “I will never break my covenant with you.” This promise is full of grace. Finally, the Old Testament is part of a unified plan of God for all people in all times. Understanding all of God’s Word is vital for proper preaching and teaching of the Bible.

Chapter Three, “The Task of Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament,” provides four reasons why this book is valuable to the contemporary church: doctrine, ethics, practical living, and preaching. A number of doctrines begin and/or reach their fullest expression in the Old Testament, such as the doctrine of creation in Genesis 1-2. Ethics is exemplified in the material about the Law, though it is not confined to this. Practical living is promoted in the daily-life material in the wisdom books such as Proverbs. As the focus of Kaiser’s book is about preaching, most of the chapter deals with the last of the four. The Old Testament should be preached because it is Christ-centred, the largest portion of Scripture, and is addressed to modern Christians as much as it was to Israel. Kaiser also covers the primary reasons many do not preach the Old Testament any longer: heretical attacks on it by those who felt it was incorrect in some fashion (Marcion, for example), allegorical readings, rampant typological errors, and, most recently, the effects of postmodernism such as the Bible often being treated in a reader-response manner resulting in a loss or limiting of the authority of Scripture (affecting both Testaments). Kaiser points out that the Old Testament should be preached according to literary type, and he provides some resources for this.

Chapter Four, “The Art and Science of Expository Preaching,” promotes this method of preaching as the most accurate due to its use of the plain sense of the biblical passages and its focus upon determining what the text meant when it was originally written. Kaiser also recommends ending with a final appeal to the hearers to apply what has been heard to that the information of the preaching event is not left at only the cognitive level. Both of these concepts are biblically-supported and move the church to be all that the Lord wants them to experience, and, therefore, to be.

Part Two begins with Chapter Five, so all the following except end matter deal with strategies for preaching from the Old Testament. This chapter is entitled “Preaching and Teaching Narrative Texts of the Old Testament.” Narrative is the most common genre, accounting for about half the script. It includes scenes, representing something that occurred in a particular time and place. It also includes sequencing called plot, which functions in the regular sense of the term. Point of view is the perspective from which a story is told. Characterization is present, but it is rarely explicitly stated; the characters must by analyzed according to their speech and actions. The setting is the location of the story and is part of the scene. Dialogue occurs between two or more speakers and is a common element of Old Testament narrative. Leitwort (key-wording) utilizes the repetition of key words and/or phrases to carry the narrative along or to indicate an important idea. Structure involves the various elements of the story in a specific order that can be analyzed. It is also important to recognize stylistic and rhetorical devices such as repetition, omission, chiasm, and irony as these impact the interpretation of the story. Finally, Kaiser provides a chunky example of a narrative sermon based upon I Samuel 3:1-4a, which helps bring home all the elements of the chapter.

Chapter Six is “Preaching and Teaching the Wisdom Books of the Old Testament.” The genre of the proverb is explained along with strategies for proper interpretation and preaching methods. Also included is the same for non-proverb wisdom literature in the text: Ecclesiastes, Job, and Song of Solomon. An example sermon is provided for Proverbs 5:15-23.

Chapter Seven is “Preaching and Teaching the Prophets of the Old Testament.” Prophetical utterance is not always difficult to approach, especially if it has been fulfilled later in Scripture or is otherwise explained in the text. However, the difficult prophecies are challenging; this is not a sufficient reason to ignore them as all Scripture is important, and God expects us to sometimes grapple with the text. Kaiser provides a thematic approach, dealing with prophecies of judgment, salvation, woe oracles, the prophetic lawsuit, and oracles against foreign nations. He offers aids for dealing with all the above and includes several sermon examples in this chapter.

Chapter Eight, “Preaching and Teaching the Laments of the Old Testament,” recognizes two different types of lament: the personal and community. Laments are considered a poetic genre. Individual examples vary, but there are generally seven components to the typical lament: an invocation, a plea to God for help, one or more complaints, a confession of sin or claim of innocence, an imprecation upon one’s enemies, confidence God will respond, and a hymn or blessing, usually in this order. Biblical lamentations should be taught because portraying only the happy and positive makes God and the Bible lop-sided. The human experience involves sorrow as well as joy, and to avoid this fact is to ignore truth. Further, God has included them so that people in the world who are suffering can draw comfort from the similar scriptural pleas. Kaiser concludes with several lamentation sermon examples.

Chapter Nine is “Preaching and Teaching the Torah of the Old Testament.” The Torah includes, but is not limited to, the Law. Instruction is a better term, and the concept applies to right-living as well as explicit laws, though these laws are designed to depict and encourage proper lifestyle. The Torah relates to the promise-plan by including blessings as a result of righteous living. In regard to biblical genre, the Torah is typically narrative. It is designed to demonstrate faith in God and His grace and love. The Torah portions of the Bible are to be exegeted according to the genre it represents. Thematically, it can be grouped together according to ethical and moral precepts. A sermon example is provided for Leviticus 16:1-34.

Chapter Ten, “Preaching and Teaching Old Testament Praise,” recognizes that praise is a literary genre for exegetical purposes. It is divided into the categories of descriptive praise and declarative praise. The descriptive refers to the attributes or qualities of God; they have three main points, including a call to praise, the reason for the praise, and a conclusion or recapitulation often involving a call for repeated praise. The declarative refers to the acts of God. They also usually have a three-tiered structure including an announcement of what God has done, the distress of the psalmist and his cry for help, and testifying to God’s response and prayer for the future (the last sometimes replaced with thanksgiving). Psalms 84:1-12 is the sermon example.

Chapter Eleven is “Preaching and Teaching Old Testament Apocalyptic.” The term apocalyptic refers to a specialized version of prophecy, and it often more difficult to exegete than other genres. It deals with the Second Coming of Christ and the eschatological things the Lord will do before ushering in His eternal state. It does not possess a special formatte and is determined by topic or theme. Not surprisingly, it shares many of the features of prophecy and should be exegeted in a similar manner. The five typical elements of apocalyptic include an announcement about the Last Days, an explanation and reason for the announced action, a declaration of war on evil and a summons for the enemies of God to present themselves for a final showdown, the horrors of the Day of the Lord described, and a listing of the final blessings of the Lord to His people. Daniel 9:20-27 is the provided sermon example.

Kaiser ends the book proper with a conclusion entitled “Changing the World with the Word of God.” In it, he describes that the work of preaching and teaching is no avail without the powerful Spirit of God infusing it. The Word, Old and New Testaments, offer the ultimate authority to Christians, including the individualistic society of America and the West. Further, the Word is applicable in this pluralistic society by retaining what the text meant to the original audience while applying the concepts to the contemporary world. Kaiser finishes out the conclusion with a summary call for men to preach the whole Word of God with integrity, power, and authority.

The back matter of the book is helpful and well-done. Appendix A is a suggested worksheet for performing syntactical-theological exegesis with a step-by-step outline. Appendix B addresses the issue of biblical integrity in an age of theological pluralism, adding an expansion of the ideas dealt with in the conclusion segment. In it, the author provides information with pluralism’s effects on proper exegesis, the preaching event, seminaries, and the church. A notes section contains the in-text citations. Following is a glossary and indices for subjects, authors, and scripture references.

Make Take: This is a Needed Book
I love this book. I agree with Kaiser’s premises that the Old Testament is a vital part of Scripture, and, therefore, every bit as much God’s Word as the New Testament. Christians cannot fully understand God’s plan if they avoid the Old, and it is particularly necessary for understanding core doctrines, especially Creation. Redemption history (also known as salvation history) begins in the Old Testament, shining like a golden thread through the text. Also, knowledge of the Old Testament is needed to be able to fully understand the New as much of the New is a continuation or fulfillment of the Old.

The older material and settings are further removed from our time than the New Testament writings, but this does not make them less important or unapproachable. I generally like ancient history, the older the better, so I naturally gravitate toward the Old Testament, and all pastors should be well-versed in using aids such as commentaries when studying the text (this is also required for the New).

Relatively little of the Old Testament is superseded by the New, and, even the material that is outmoded is helpful for Christians to know so as to be better informed about the Bible in general and to understand how God operated in a particular time and place. Even parts of the New Testament are timebound, so the argument that, because parts of the Old are no longer applicable, the entire section of Scripture should be ignored is not convincing. Much of the material in the Old can be fully applied to daily living as it is the underlying concepts that are important. Also, much praise and worship would be lost—all of the (Book of) Psalms, for example. Further, the Old Testament is predominantly historical narrative, and knowledge of this account is beneficial in all the usual ways of history. Well, except for one quality: all of Scripture (both testaments) are inspired by God; this alone makes study of the Old Testament valuable to Christians. The study of Scripture should be the regular practice of all believers, and this should include both testaments. Lastly, I would point out, as has Kaiser, that the Old Testament represents around ¾ of the Scriptural record, and to ignore it is a failing of major proportion.

Kaiser's book is great. The cover is attractive, and the interior layout is fantastic. He uses headings and other markers so it is easy to find the material you are seeking. I prefer on-page footnotes to a collection in an appendix, but this is the only thing I didn't like, and that's a personal preference--others prefer it the way it is. I highly recommend this book to all preachers and anyone else interested in teaching from the Old Testament or a brief apology for the relevance of this portion of Scripture.

Kaiser does not go into great detail about expository preaching as he does not have the space to do so; also, this book is not about that topic. I highly recommend Anointed Expository Preaching by Stephen Olford. See my review. For anyone interested in a more in-depth treatment of the Christological elements of the Old Testament, I also highly recommend Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament: A Decision-Maker's Guide to Shaping Your Church. See my review.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
February 5, 2016 – Shelved

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