Friday, March 16, 2012

Review - OT Ethics for the People of God by Chris Wright

I used to dream of one day writing a book about how Christians should understand the Old Testament Law. It wouldn't make the mistake of saying the OT Law was a covenant of works rather than grace, nor would it make the mistake of assuming either that we should obey the OT Law or that we could ignore it. Instead, it would see what it meant for the OT Law to be Israel's response to God saving them by grace, and then apply it to us today. Only I'm not going to bother now, because I've discovered that Chris Wright did it years ago and did it much better than I could ever do.

Wright goes beyond the usual bounds of thinking about OT ethics. He stresses the importance of understanding the society and community as a whole (rather than just the rather Western individualism) and of understanding the ethics not just from the statute law but also from the more theological and narrative sections.

The distinctiveness of Old Testament ethics is ... the distinctiveness of a whole community's ethical response to unique historical events in which they saw the hand of their God.

Wright is superb on so many topics - the politics and economics of OT Israel, the role of family life, the implications for fellowship in the Church, attitudes to slavery, etc.

If I were to criticise the book, I would say that it is too short at (only!) 500-odd pages. He doesn't have space to think about how the New Testament handles the OT Law, or to go into much detail in areas like sexual ethics, feminist critiques of Israel, the implications of the OT village elders for church eldership, ... Having established his principles, he only has the space to pick a few examples and apply them. But given all that, this is a magnificent place to start to think on a deeper level about the ethical implications of the Old Testament for the church, and to engage with more academic scholarship on the issue.

The most fun (and encouragement, and challenge, and encounter with God) I've had reading an academic book for years!

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