And God Spoke to Abraham: Preaching from the Old Testament
421 pp., $30.00
Lauren F. Winner
Preaching the Old Testament
In parsing the politics and diction of Christian preaching, Rutledge passes on an insight from Calvin: Calvin understood every reference to "God" to be a reference to the Trinity—if we take the Trinity seriously, every time we mention "God" we are talking about Jesus Christ. Because of this, Rutledge does not feel compelled to "refer explicitly to God the Son in every sermon."
That said, she does frequently make the terms of Christian theology explicit. Most of these sermons not incidentally but crucially quote the New Testament, invoke the Cross, or name the Trinity or Jesus. So a sermon on "The God of Hurricanes" moves from the Psalter and Job to Mark 4; the call of Samuel leads ultimately to the claim that "the story of Samuel is the story of Israel, and the story of Israel is your story and mine, and ours—the story of salvation through The Child Who Was to Come, of whom St. Luke says, he 'increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man.'" There is nothing wrong with this statement—indeed, there is a great deal right about helping Christian auditors connect their story with the story of Samuel and the story of Israel. Yet on my reading, only eight of the sermons could, arguably, be described as remaining squarely in the landscape of the Old Testament, and I would have appreciated the inclusion of more sermons that allowed us to linger in the Old Testament text without an explicit Christological move. Such inclusion would, I think, have more fully opened up the multiplicity of ways that Christians can receive the Old Testament as Christian Scripture.
For Christians, says Rutledge, there can be no speaking of "the God of the Old Testament" as though that God is somehow different from "the God of the New Testament." In a sermon on Isaiah 28, she reminds us that "There is just as much good news in the Old Testament as in the New Testament, and a lot of it has the additional advantage of being written in poetry." In another sermon on the same text, (Rutledge admits to "being fascinated" by the prophet's words about evil and suffering), she insists that "a wrathful Old Testament God has not been replaced by a loving New Testament God." Jesus, after all, was known to strike the occasional note of judgment—and God is seen doing much loving in the Old Testament. The God of the Old Testament, Rutledge makes plain, is not the God of caricatures of the Old Testament. Rather, it is precisely "the Old Testament God" who has "come down from his throne on high into the world of sinful human flesh and of his own free will and decision has come under his own judgment in order to deliver us from everlasting condemnation and bring us into eternal life." Since the God of Abraham is the Father of Jesus Christ, "the witness of the entire Scripture is a seamless garment. No change within God occurred in the intertestamental period; there is no break in the revelation of God's self, as though there had been an alteration in God."
At the same time, "there are intrinsic, inalienable features of God in the Old Testament which we would not be able to extract from the New Testament taken by itself." Without Old Testament preaching, how will we know about the election of Israel, "the righteousness of God as both noun and verb," God's jealousy, and God's "aseity (being-from himself)"?
If you, like me, have a nagging feeling that you are not paying enough attention to the Old Testament—if you, like me, feel inadequately acquainted with the biblical testimony to God's jealousy; God's righteousness; God's freedom, testified to in election; or indeed God's love—consider taking up Rutledge's sermons. (They are not an endpoint; as Rutledge surely hopes they will do, these sermons will likely inspire you to further reading—including, I dare suggest, reading more of the Old Testament itself.)
For nourishing the church's biblical imagination for over 30 years, and for offering us now this challenging and inspiring collection, we owe Rutledge deep thanks.
Lauren F. Winner is an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School. She is the author most recently of Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis (HarperOne).
Copyright © 2012 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
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