Preaching the Old Testament

By Scott M. Gibson, ed.
Grand Rapids : Baker (2006). 222 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Keith Essex
18.1 (Spring 2007) : 122-124

Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., is one of the premier evangelical OT scholars of the present generation. For over forty years, he has taught at three major theological institutions, most recently serving also as President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He has written over thirty books, the majority of them dealing with OT issues. Scott M. Gibson, Haddon W. Robinson Professor of Preaching and Ministry at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has enlisted ten former students and/or faculty associates of Kaiser to join him in writing Preaching the Old Testament in honor of their mentor, colleague, and friend.

Both Robinson in his foreword and Gibson in his introduction to this volume affirm that Kaiser is well known for his insistence that the contemporary church desperately needs more preaching from the OT (1 5, 17-19). Thus, the theme of OT preaching has been chosen for this book as a tribute to Kaiser’s passion. Robinson writes, “If the truth of the Old Testament is to sound again in churches, it must be from the pulpits. Perhaps this collection of essays will ignite a spark that causes to blaze again the warm, strong, relevant preaching of the entire Word of God. . . . [N]othing would please W alter Kaiser more” (15). Gibson clearly articulates and reaffirms that the purpose of the present book is to give preachers the tools they need to prepare sermons from the OT. The emphasis is on preparation (17, 27, 198).

The first chapter, “Challenges to Preaching the Old Testament” by Gibson, sets the agenda for this volume. He states the reasons he believes that contemporary pastors do not preach the OT. Five barriers to preaching from the OT that he has discovered in interactions with pastors are the difficulty of using Hebrew, the foreignness of the OT culture, the irrelevance of the OT, the greater familiarity with the NT, and the difficulty of preaching Christ from the OT (22-26). As the years of ministry take a pastor from his foundational biblical training, his neglect of preaching the OT leads to a lack of fervor for and basic knowledge of the OT. Thus, “the purpose of this book is to help preachers cultivate a desire and skill to preach the Old Testament” (26 ). The target audience of this work is the struggling preacher and the following chapters of the book are designed to help “his or her” (26) preparation of OT sermons. The essays, therefore, are in essence a “refresher” and updating of the expositor’s foundational OT seminary courses as the above barriers to preaching the OT are addressed.

The second chapter, “Keeping Your Hebrew Healthy” by Dennis Magary, tackles the first barrier of retaining the Hebrew language skills necessary for effective OT preaching. Magary writes, “Learning Hebrew is a challenge. But learning the language is not the greatest challenge. . . . A challenge far greater than learning Hebrew is keeping it vital and healthy for use in lifelong ministry” (29-30). Therefore, a program for reclaiming (or retaining) biblical Hebrew is the gist of the chapter. Based upon a preacher’s learning style (32), the writer gives hints as to how an expositor can use the resources now available to resurrect and keep his Hebrew skills sharp as the foundation for effective OT preaching. This chapter (29-55) is a “healthy” read for all who wish to preach the OT, from the seminarian now learning Hebrew to the seasoned preacher.

The next five chapters address the issue of what preachers need to know in order to preach from the different genres of the OT. These essays describe the characteristics of the genres and how they were used in the OT. Very little practical information is given in how to use this information in one’s preaching. Chapter seven, “Preaching the Old Testament in Light of Its Culture” by Timothy Laniak, explores the barrier of cultural distance. Though it gives a good survey of contemporary tools available, very little practical direction is given for sermon use.

Chapter eight, “Toward the Effective Preaching of NT Texts that Cite the Old Testament” by Roy Ciama, shows that even a preacher who concentrates on the NT must use the OT in his sermons. The author presents how he believes the NT uses the OT, because, “In order to effectively use a NT text that quotes the Old Testament, a preacher will want to help the embedded Old Testament text play the same role with the audience that it played with the original audience” (152). However, the essay concludes, admitting, “The issues related to understanding the use of the Old Testament in the New are many and complex. It requires wisdom to discern how much a congregation needs to know about these issues in order to reach a maximal understanding of NT text without getting lost in the trees” (167). The final two chapters seek to demonstrate the relevance of preaching the OT. “Preaching the Old Testament Today” by David Larson (171-83) is a good summary of why the O T needs to be preached whatever the perceived contemporary barriers might be.

Preaching the Old Testament Todayis a good reminder of the need for OT preaching today. It also provides a healthy review of OT studies that is the foundation upon which an OT preacher builds. However, it fails to show the OT expositor “how” to prepare sound biblical sermons. For that, the preacher will need to consult two excellent volumes written by the honoree of this book, Walter Kaiser’s Toward an Exegetical Theology: Biblical Exegesis for Preaching and Teaching (Baker, 1981) and Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament: A Guide for the Church (Baker, 2003).