the necessity of the Old Testament for theology

One of the misgivings I have about my seminary experience is that there was no Barth in it. Seriously. I took the "core" academic classes for 10 years (don't ask...), and only in one class, Church Theology, was Barth mentioned in a 1 week unit. Appropriately enough, the unit focused on the Romans commentary and the radical rejection of human pathways to understand God. In the years since I have had to wrestle with Barth's later systematic thinking largely through books and blogs. (and one of these things is not like the others) Seminary taught me some basics, provided information ,but not always how to think about things. Understandably, there are so many basics that must be mastered in seminary, and I sympathize with the position my professors are put in. I mean, 20-somethings coming to seminary because it's extended Bible camp; to "succeed" in the Christian world, or simply stay in school until they figure out what to do, - these things seem to stack the deck against serious theological inquiry. Oh and funding, but I guess the postmodern considerations of outreach that really are not postmodern much at all pay the bills. Looking back, I think the person who most taught me to think theologically, besides Ray Anderson, was my favorite OT professor, J. Butler.

I have always wondered if OT Christian Scholars must think more theologically because their discipline affords them a better perspective of the interaction of God's Word with His people. Despite being Marcionites...I wonder if OT theologians must learn to think theologically because the material is that much more foreign, that much more expansive over time, and they must reason in the face of more mystery. And perhaps their approach to the OT is actually more Christological - they endeavor to understand the OT world and God's revelation in it on its own terms, always knowing that the anchor in the future is coming. Some OT professors, I think, understand eschatology a bit better intuitively, perhaps because they spend their lives studying something incomplete, knowing everything examined is subordinated to something yet to come. I felt there were more tensions that were seen as such in my OT classes and in my experience which allowed professors to decouple their interpretations from so much necessity of how church should run. There is always this idea in the back of everyone's head, "Yeah, but that's the old testament...,"afterall. The sheer awkwardness of the text forces us to think in new ways. Does God endorse genocide? (1 Sam 15:2-3) What about polygamy? War? It forces us to be more responsible with our thinking. Or at least me - who knows what the OT scholars of the world are really like?

I recently looked at an old paper I wrote about Jeremiah. It was bad, really. But I still remember the comments Brueggeman wrote about the subject; how reasonable the temptation to follow the Baals, was and still is. How utterly human the foreign Gods were. There was, writing that paper, such a sense of the existential questions swirling about ancient Israel for me. Survival was at stake, and I had to wrestle later to think about where the Word was in the midst of the struggle, and I heard the prophets answer back that life was in the caring for others.

We assume that the NT is talking about us. The popular hermeneutics of churches today, in order to solidify and construct churches, finds rules and principles and archetypal plans for organization in the NT that seem timeless, as if the NT church is the endgame, instead of the beginning. We read the NT and see ourselves as part of the church simultaneously oppressed and triumphant instead of citizens in an empire that must be corrected, as the prophets bear witness. Not so many people look at the OT and say we must become a kingdom again (though there are some). And so we recognize there is something else going on in the text, something that we must work to understand, or abandon. There is mystery in the Old Testament because they are somehow not completely ours, and we must listen more closely to the other in them.

So thanks, OT professors, for refusing to be just history teachers.


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