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Thursday, July 27, 2017

"The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology" (Mark J. Boda)

TITLE: The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology: Three Creedal Expressions (Acadia Studies in Bible and Theology)
AUTHOR: Mark J. Boda
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017, (240 pages).

It has always been challenging to tackle the Old Testament. Not only is it of an ancient culture, the language can seem quite primitive when compared to contemporary times. Even if the language barrier can be overcome, there is the challenge of size and contexts. That is why the Old Testament are preached and taught relatively less than the New Testament counterpart. Various approaches have been used to study the 39 books of the first testament. A popular method is the genre approach, which subdivides the books into Law; History; Poetry; the Major and Minor Prophets. Some would use the Christ-centered interpretation, which sees every Old Testament book from the perspective of Christ. More recently, there are books about using the New Testament as a lens to view the Old Testament. There is also the seminary approaches of biblical and systematic theology, albeit used for different purposes. All of them have their merits and weaknesses. Enters the "Three Creedal Expressions" approach by Mark Boda. Before going into his heartbeat framework, he reviews four major approaches to the OT:

  1. The Covenant Approach, where Walther Eichrodt uses covenant as the central theme in understanding the OT. The problem is subjectivity and selectivity.
  2. The Traditions Approach, where Gerhard von Rad uses traditions to identify key streams in OT theology. Such an approach is diachronic which requires an interpretation of events occurring over time. The problem lies also in the subjectivity, further compounded by the different interpreters over each time era.
  3. The Canon Approach, where Brevard Childs uses the canon as a way to see the shape of OT Theology, using the final text as the reference for shaping. This approach has many variants.
  4. The "text-to-reader" approach, where Phyllis Trible advocates the ideological approach.
 Boda jumps into the fray with his "creedal approach" which although is selective, allows one to identify "core expressions of God."  He attempts to bring in the positive features of the above four approaches and makes it intertextual in both the OT and NT. These three expressions are the Narrative Rhythm; the Character Rhythm; and the Relational Rhythm. The Narrative Rhythm is simply about recognizing how God reveals Himself in history and to the people in the Bible. It is an adaptation of the "diachronic approach" that comprises both a historical progressiveness as well as a movement from revelation to resurrection to redemption. He combines the revelation of God (Vos); the actions of God (Wright); and the Creedal acts (von Rad); to become the "triple rhythms" of the heartbeat of OT Theology. This Narrative Creed can be seen via the lens of God's progressive redemption narrative. This rhythm comprises the narratives of ancestors; exodus; the wilderness; the conquest of Canaan; the life in the land; and exile. In contrast to George Ernest Wright's focus on the actions of God, Boda seizes the chance to focus instead on the character of God, and comes up with the Character Creed as the second rhythm in understanding OT Theology. Even as the redemption historical progression is important, understanding the Person of God is equally if not more important. He spends a sizeable chunk of time on hesed, the loving kindness character of God. It shapes the way we see love and discipline, revealing to us the big-hearted nature of God's heart for us. The third rhythm provides a continuous revelation, sustenance, and providence of God through all time: The Relational Rhythm. Here, Boda takes the covenantal approach and the character of God, and blends it into a relationship rhythm. There is reciprocity, identity, and responsibility all rolled into one. All of these three attributes reflect the Relational Creed.  Without making readers do the synthesis themselves, Boda helps us integrate all of these three creeds using Exodus 5:22-6:8 and Nehemiah 9 as examples. He applies it to the creation narrative and highlights how the creation activity of God, the character of God, and the relational pulses that occur throughout the story telling. He also applies the same technique to the study of the New Testament and its relevance to our contemporary Christian life.

Boda has shown us how wonderful to be able to discover and experience the riches of the Old Testament in a unique way. Using three kinds of rhythms as heartbeat, he integrates the historical approaches and brings alive the study of the Old Testament in a very refreshing way. Some might argue that Boda's thesis is simply a rehash of the major OT angles presented at the beginning. If that is true, this book will not get much traction in the OT Theology arena. It may not receive the attention like the ones that Childs, von Rad, Tickle, and Eichrodt already had. However, for students of OT Theology, it is always a refreshing view from the eyes of a contemporary scholar about how to study the Old Testament. Even if critics are right with regard to the lack of significant insights, Boda challenges us to be more integrative in our theology. He also teaches us to look beyond mere acts of God, the attributes of God, or the rhythms of God to sense the overarching kingdom of God that manifests itself in infinite ways. Using the heartbeat metaphor, Boda helps carve open a unique entry point. We can look at the different rates of the heartbeat where certain parts of Scripture are faster or slower. We sense the times in which man's heartbeat flatlines and how God resuscitates the whole human race. We study how God does the bypass surgery, treating cardiac arrests, and all kinds of biological and medical treatments.

There are several threats that readers will do well to heed. First, the power and the abuse of story. Boda does well to highlight the power of story and how it can bring about our understanding of God's revelation in the Old Testament. At the same time, the story paradigm is also the "greatest threat" to our understanding of God's character. We can become so focused on the story that we miss the Story-Teller or the Story-Creator. Second, there is the postmodern secular environment that sees the world without God. They explain life away easily from an atheistic or secular point of view. With each of the three creedal rhythms, we are cautioned about over-emphasing any one part to the detriment of the other. This reminds me of the Person of the Triune Godhead, where God is Father, Son, Holy Spirit, who are co-equal, and co-eternal. We cannot just emphasize one member without diminishing the others. Likewise, we cannot emphasize either Narrative over the rest, or Character over the others, or Relational over all. We must assert them together and in this book, Boda shows us how.

Mark Boda is Professor of Old Testament at McMaster Divinity College and formerly at Ambrose University. He is also ordained minister at Flourtown Alliance Church (PA) and Rexdale Alliance Church (ON).

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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