Review: The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church

The Old Testament Law for the Life of the Church, Richard E. Averbeck. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2022.

Summary: A study of for what God intended the law in its original context, how it was fulfilled in Christ, and its continuing relevance for the church today.

Let’s face it. For many in the church, the Old Testament is more or less unknown territory, especially the parts of the Old Testament concerned with the law.

Richard Averbeck has spent much of his life studying the Old Testament as well as other ancient Near East writings and he is persuaded of the continuing relevance of the law to the church, understood through the ministry of Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit. He contends that this was the scripture Paul asserted to Timothy as being “God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” But how is this so for the church today?

Averbeck asserts three theses that he develops throughout the book:

  1. The law is good. It instructed Israel how to live holy lives under God’s covenant love and it may also instruct us in holiness, particularly how to live under the law of Christ, loving God and neighbor.
  2. The law is weak. It does not have the power to transform the heart; only the Holy Spirit can transform our sinful nature and write the law on our hearts.
  3. The law is one unified whole. Averbeck sees no biblical basis for dividing the law into categories of moral, civil, and ceremonial, and while every law is not simply brought over into the life of the church, there are ways under Christ in which the whole law continues to be relevant to the church’s life.

To develop these theses Averbeck begins with an extensive treatment of the context of Old Testament law. First of all, he charts the covenants, of Abraham, of Moses, and David, each under those that precede, and then their fulfillment in the New Covenant. He follows this with looking at the Mosaic law in context, delineating the law collections, discussing the place of the Sinai narrative and the Decalogue, the book of the covenant and the other parallel collections of law, offering a comparative study of debt slavery as a case study, showing transformations even between collections. He shows how holiness, ceremonial, and civil law together shape Israel as a kingdom of priests oriented around the presence of God in their midst. He discusses in detail the significance of the various offerings and sacrifices and how they sustained the holiness and purity of the people.

He turns to how Jesus fulfills the law in life and teaching, as demonstrated in the antitheses in the Sermon on the Mount. and in his treatment of questions of purity and sabbath. At the same time, he focuses attention on the law of love for God and neighbor in which the whole law is fulfilled. Then he considers the New Testament church and how this was handled, particularly in the incorporation of Gentiles in which Jewish believers continued to observe the law while Gentiles followed the council of Jerusalem, the moral instruction, and the transforming life of worship pointed to in the Old Testament law, made possible by the Spirit of truth. Averbeck then returns in two chapters to show how the law is good, how it is weak but empowered by the Holy Spirit, and remains a unified whole.

He also includes on Jewish Messianic believers and the Torah, offering one of the best defenses I’ve seen for such groups remaining observant Jews while staying gospel focused, citing the practice of the early church.

I appreciated the careful explanation of the contents of the law collections and the importance of these as well as showing how the law continued to be relevant in Christ. The discussion of the law’s weakness and the ministry of the Holy Spirit is much needed. He also shows the arc between offerings and sacrifices, and our calling as a “kingdom of priests” who are “living sacrifices.” Perhaps more needs to be said about the civil aspects of the law and the parallel being, not the secular state, but the church and how it governs itself. What may be gleaned from the law on how the church is ordered and governed under Christ? And to what degree ought the law shape our pursuit of just, though not theocratic, societies?

That said, this is one of the best studies I have seen of Old Testament law and its continuing relevance. His argument that all of the law continues to be relevant, albeit in altered form because of Christ, is a different approach worth considering that avoids explaining how we have dispensed with some aspects and not others. And his love for the Old Testament may encourage readers to explore what in fact were the scriptures for the early New Testament church.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher.

Review: From Judgement to Hope

From Judgment to Hope, Walter Brueggemann. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2019.

Summary: A survey study of the prophets centering on the movement in these books from judgment to hope.

Walter Brueggemann is one of the foremost scholars on the prophetic literature in the Bible. This book represents a distillation of his scholarship, suited for an adult education course in a church or other group. He focuses on a common thread running through the books, a movement from judgment to hope similar to the New Testament movement from cross to resurrection to return in glory. He helps us understand the prophets in their historical context, their canonical context, and our contemporary context.

He begins with a chapter on the three major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel offering this summary:

  • Isaiah: Jerusalem lost and renewed
  • Jeremiah: covenant broken and restored
  • Ezekial: temple nullified and revivified

Brueggemann, like many scholars, adheres to a “three Isaiah” approach to Isaiah and devotes a chapter to First Isaiah and one to Second and Third Isaiah. First Isaiah traces the announcements of God’s justice due to the people’s injustices, the temporary salvation and eventual fall of Jerusalem, culminating in that fall and hope for restoration. Second Isaiah begins with the highway for our God and culminates with Israel the Servant. The discussion of Third Isaiah centers on the house of prayer for all peoples, God’s chosen fast, and the Spirit of the Lord speaking through the prophet of the new Jerusalem.

Then Brueggemann reviews the “Minor Prophets” in four groups of three, with correspondence to the major prophets:

  • The eight century BCE prophets (Isaiah)
    • Amos: justice and righteousness
    • Hosea: steadfast love and knowledge of God
    • Micah: justice and kindness
  • The seventh century BCE prophets (Jeremiah) — focusing on punishment, both covenantal and cosmic dimensions
    • Nahum
    • Habakkuk
    • Zephaniah
  • The sixth century BCE prophets (Ezekiel) — focusing on restoration, both covenantal and cosmic dimensions
    • Haggai
    • Zechariah
    • Malachi
  • The outliers
    • Jonah
    • Obadiah
    • Joel

Brueggemann only focuses individual chapters on the eight and sixth century BCE prophets. Patricia K. Tull supplements Brueggemann’s work with an introductory overview and a book by book summary in rough chronological order. In the after matter, you will also find a timeline placing the books along key events, familiar quotations from Isaiah and a brief glossary.

This work does offer an introduction to the major contours of the prophetic books, but aside from reflection questions that seem better suited to individual reading, does not seem well-organized for an adult course. It is a good review, though it seems quite cursory especially in its treatment of the seventh century minor prophets and the “outliers.” Frankly, this was a bit disappointing for a Brueggemann work, and unless you are collecting everything he has written, I would pass this one by.

Review: Enjoying the Old Testament

Enjoying the Old Testament, Eric A. Seibert. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2021.

Summary: Seibert deals with the confusing, troubling, or uninteresting experience of many, suggesting the value of reading the Old Testament, and reading strategies for engagement with the text bring life and interest to the Old Testament scriptures.

Have you ever tried reading through the Old Testament and gotten lost in Leviticus or numbed by Numbers and given up the whole project? Sure, at times you read selected texts, maybe from Psalms and Proverbs, or some narratives like Ruth or Jonah (a kids favorite but with important relevance to the rest of us!). Mostly, you confine yourself to the New Testament, which you consider the most relevant portion of the Bible for Christians. But sadly, when we lose the Old Testament, we lose three-quarters of the Bible.

Until a course with an inspiring professor who helped him enjoy reading the Old Testament, Eric Seibert was in much the same place. And that is the object of this book, to pass along ways of reading the Old Testament that are enjoyable, as well as good for us. Most of what he proposes don’t involve more than a Bible, a comfortable chair, paper and pencil.

He begins by laying the groundwork for reading the Old Testament. He acknowledges that there are parts that are boring, or baffling, or even theologically troubling, and then, given that, why we should bother. He actually discounts the standard answer of needing to read the Old Testament to understand the New. He explores the relevance of the Old Testament on its own terms: fascinating stories, models of gutsy faith, resources for worship and prayer, a revelation of a God of lavish love, and God’s concern for justice. He deals with expectations, both unrealistic ones such as the Old Testament all being readily understandable and more realistic ones like a variety of genres, theological perspectives, a worldview different than our own, passages written for many reasons, and the presence of violence and other troubling texts. He invites us to adopt a mindset of carefully observing, of expectancy, of humility and respect, and honest engagement.

He then turns to our enjoyment of Old Testament texts. He starts by inviting us to read favorite stories all the way through, offering tips to understand their significance. He particularly calls attention to repetition, using the tabernacle instructions as an example. He invites us to be curious and ask lots of questions of the text. He sets aside a chapter to focus on reading the prophets, understanding their roles as God’s messengers, and their use of various persuasive techniques. He draws the distinction between judgement and salvation oracles.

He discusses approaches to the boring parts using Leviticus 1-7 as a case study. He encourages slowing down and looking at laws to see if there is a principle that may apply (e.g. the negligent owner of the ox known to gore). Then he returns to the matter of troubling texts, which he encourages us to be honest about and to hang in with them and bring them into conversation with other texts on the same topic that are not troublesome, observing that skeptics only focus on the former. Seibert also recognizes that one might need to take a break from troubling texts in difficult seasons of life.

The final section of the book focuses on a number of different activities that can help one read through books or even the whole Old Testament. He encourages drawing maps, creating simple charts that outline a book or portion, memorizing passages, listening audibly, or reading from a different perspective–for example as a Canaanite the passages about the Israelite invasion. He commends topical, artistic, and reflective approaches. He discusses surveying a book and breaking it into major thought blocks. As he concludes, he invites us to be balanced, use variety and flexibility, to preserve what we learn, and to join with others.

What is delightful about this book is that the author resists the temptation to write an Old Testament introduction but rather gives the reader tools to make his or her own discoveries. Without minimizing the challenges of the Old Testament, Seibert offers lots of hope that we can read through the Old Testament, read whole books of the Old Testament and find substantial enjoyment and spiritual benefit. On the troubling passages, he doesn’t offer easy answers or answers at all, but rather approaches that imply we may live with troubling passages in some cases but this does not need to distract us from other other more enjoyable texts. This is a great resource for an adult class in a church or a college class in a Christian college context.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: The Problem of the Old Testament

The Problem of the Old Testament: Hermeneutical, Schematic & Theological Approaches, Duane A. Garrett. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: An exploration of how and whether Christians ought read the Old Testament, contending that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament and that its material still has authority and edifying value for the Christian.

We Christians have a problem with the Old Testament. We struggle to define what it is. We find it hard to read. And we struggle to reconcile it with the New Testament. How do we understand “Messianic prophecy”? How do we understand the Law in relation to Christ? What is the relationship between Israel and the church? In this work, Duane A. Garrett attempts to chart a way through this thicket of problems, proposing that the Old Testament remains authoritative for the church and edifying for the believer.

Garrett begins by surveying how the post-apostolic Fathers approached this question. While much remained unresolved, they identified the Old Testament as canonical, identified a core of texts that were fulfilled in Christ while seeing some passages as allegories of Christ, saw it as a source of moral instruction and a theological authority in their polemic efforts. He then explores two hermeneutical approaches that began early and have had continued influence at various points in church history: the allegorical approach of Alexandria and the literal approach of Antioch. The allegorical approach was uncontrolled; the literal could be argued to say nothing beyond the immediate context of the text (e.g Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled in Isaiah’s own day and that is it).

He then turns to the schematic approaches used to connect the two testaments. He considers Covenant Theology, noting the difficulty of finding the language of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace in scripture. In opposition is Dispensationalism, often problematic as historic events unravel prophetic schema and because it excludes large parts of the Old Testament from the effective canon, even while it remains in the formal canon. He follows this discussion with one of conceptual solutions considering the meaning of the canon, the meaning and focus of biblical theology, and models for organizing Old Testament theology. He concludes that no single approach is adequate and believes only a hybrid model is sufficient.

The third part of the book is Garrett’s articulation of his own approach. He contends for an approach that is neither supercessionist nor dispensationalist with regard to Israel, rooted in the promise to Abraham that includes the blessing of the nations through Israel fulfilled in Christ for Israel but also including the Gentiles. He also considers the Old Testament under the two headings of Election Literature and Wisdom Literature. He focuses the remainder of this volume to Election Literature (alluding to future volumes where I assume he will discuss Wisdom Literature).

He starts with the successive covenants of the Old Testament and the developing understanding of how Israel is chosen to bring blessing and redemption to the world, chosen in Abraham, given the pedagogue of the Sinai covenant to teach, and the Davidic Covenant of an everlasting future Davidic king. These all point to a fulfillment beyond the Old Testament horizon, found in the New Covenant in Christ. Garrett turns to the Law and traditional understandings, particularly of the divisions of civil, ceremonial, and moral law–a division made nowhere in the Law itself. Garrett sees the law as part of a covenant document at the same time demonstrating a need for a new covenant, fully realized in Christ. It is both an ideal of righteousness and basis of judgement. Finally, for the believer, the law is a teacher that in Christ leads those who meditate upon it into the righteousness which is theirs in Christ.

Garrett discusses narrative, and particularly allusive patterns in narrative, where later material alludes to earlier material. He notes that we ought read such material backward, to prior texts and not forward to future ones. Finally, Garrett discusses prophecy, looking at Hosea and Joel as case studies. Considering Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I called my son.”) Garrett argues that Hosea is using representative recapitulation and that while this is not a prediction of Jesus time in Egypt, Matthew uses the same method of representative recapitulation in his account of Jesus. Hosea doesn’t predict Jesus, but Jesus fulfills Hosea, or is the culmination of this allusive material. Garrett, in an appendix, applies a similar approach to Isaiah 7:14.

I think many of us have reached similar conclusions, if we are dissatisfied with the traditional schema. What Garrett does is help us think more deliberately about the “problem” of reading the Old Testament, the different kinds of material we find there, and how we read the narrative arc where so much allusive material occurs. He brings discipline to intuition as well as an approach that avoids supercessionism or artificial constructions not grounded in scripture. Most of all, he grounds a vision of the fulfillment of the Old Testament in Christ in a way faithful to good interpretive practice rather than forced or undisciplined approaches. I look forward to seeing how Garrett continues to develop this approach.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric?

bloody, brutal and barbaric

Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric?, William J. Webb and Gordon K. Oeste. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2019.

Summary: Using an incremental, redemptive ethic approach, and careful textual study, the authors argue for assessing the Old Testament warfare and war rape narratives against the Ancient Near East cultural context, the constraints on warfare for Israel, and evidence in the arc of biblical narrative that God both grieves warfare and redemptively works for the end of it.

Since 9/11, there has been an increasing focus on religiously-motivated violence including renewed attention not only to the sometimes violent history of the church, but also to the violence in the Old Testament, commanded or allowed by God. The authors of this work recognize the very real difficulties in these texts, particularly in light of our Geneva Convention ethics.

They begin by arguing that the argument of divine commands rooted in divine holiness and the evil of the Canaanites is a round peg into the square hole of modern ethics. The authors advocate instead that war be understood in terms of the biblical storyline in the Ancient Near East (ANE) context. Key is understanding God’s intention to restore the sacred space where God relates with his people lost in Eden, foreshadowed in Israel, decisively inaugurated through the death and resurrection of Jesus, looking forward to the peaceable kingdom of the new heaven and new earth, where evil is vanquished not by violence but by the word of the lamb.

The authors also develop the idea and show evidence that much of the “total kill” rhetoric of scripture reflects hyperbole, and that actually, death was most focused on military, and the kings who led them, where the general population may have been driven out of their homes. Often passages talk about “total” victories, only for subsequent passages to report continuing Canaanite presence.

Additionally, they contend that God accommodates the existing ethical practices of Israel. Perhaps the most significant argument for this “weeping God” portrayal is that unlike other victorious kings who often built temples, God banned David the warrior king from doing so, deferring the temple construction to Solomon (“shalom), the peaceful son.

It’s also striking that by ANE standards, Israel’s warfare practices are constrained. One chapter describes graphically an extensive list of atrocities common among the nations that were prohibited, as was battlefield rape. While warriors were permitted to take virgins who were attractives, they could not rape them on the battlefield. They were to be allowed 30 days to grieve during which they shaved their hair, and exchanged their clothing before the men could take them as wives (not slaves), who, if not pleasing, were not to be kept but released. None of this would be wholly acceptable by modern ethics (though often actual warfare still is accompanied by these atrocities) but these represented incremental improvements on a redemptive trajectory.

Ultimately, in Christ, God’s kingdom comes, not by the exercise of violence, but by the incarnate Son taking violence upon himself, standing with the victims of violence through history. In the end, the Lion who is the Lamb who was slain comes to set things right, not through indiscriminate slaughter, no ethnic genocide, no real battle but conquest by the Lamb’s word.

The writers admit the warfare accounts in scripture will always be troubling. We should be troubled. What the authors propose is a God who was troubled with a fallen world, who rather than remaining aloof, accommodated to the human conditions of war, but also instituted a redemptive process that will ultimately end all war atrocities and injustices in his peaceable kingdom.

I suspect we want a God who would wave a magic wand and make it all go away, pacifying warriors into peace-loving automatons. That’s not what’s on offer here, but rather a God who mixes it up with our sorry mess, and works slowly through history and sacrificially through his Son to set things to rights.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Inexpressible


InexpressibleMichael Card. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: A study of the Hebrew word hesed, exploring what this says about God, about the objects of hesed, the incarnation of hesed in Jesus, and how then we should live.

“When the person from which I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.”

After studying all the uses of the Hebrew word hesed, this is how Michael Card ended up defining this word. This whole book is about one amazing word. Translators have groped for words to express in one or a few words the inexpressible wonder of this word, particularly because it most often is used to describe God in his action toward humanity. At the beginning of Card’s book, Card lists over a hundred words or phrases the translators have come up with for this word. The King James Version came up with a compound word, loving-kindness, to try to capture its essence.

Card takes us through his own extensive study of every use of the word in the Hebrew Bible. He takes us through passages that have to do with the God of hesed, explores what it is like to be an object of hesed, considers how Jesus incarnates and teaches hesed, and what hesed meant for the Jews after the destruction of the second temple, and what this says for us. Appendices give us a list of every text with the word hesed, the words used in different translations, the words associated with hesed, and ideas for further study.

Card tells memorable stories to illustrate hesed such as that of Keshia Thomas, a black demonstrator at a Klan rally who saw a Klansman who had wandered mistakenly into her group of protesters, and was being attacked until she shielded him with her own body, possibly saving his life. Card speaks of his first visit to a black church, and a black woman, Dinah, who held his hand, and extended welcome. He develops the argument of Moses with God that he is slow to anger and abounding with hesed, a refrain recurring throughout scripture. God may deal with Israel’s sin, but he never gives up on her.

One of his most striking reflections is on Jesus with the Roman centurion, who is described as deserving by the people, but describes himself as undeserving and yet, out of love for his servant, and faith, the like Jesus had not seen in Israel, asks for what he does not deserve. He found the hesed he believed in. Eventually, at the cross, Jesus would give to all humanity what we did not deserve, making peace between God and us.

His concluding reflections challenge us to live in this world. He begins with how the followers of Hillel in Judaism dealt with the fall of the temple, drawing on the statement of Hosea 6:6 which says, “For I desire hesed and not sacrifice.” The doing and living of hesed, along with the idea of tikkun olam (“repairing the world”) have become central to modern Judaism. Card invites us to live into that same reality:

“The final challenge to you and me is to take whatever understanding we have in our heads of hesed and allow the Spirit to move it into our hearts. We must enter into the world of the word hesed and then take that world into our world, back to our families, to our churches and towns–to our enemies. The Scriptures are offering us an unimaginable opportunity to make Jesus believable and beautiful by offering everything (even our lives) to those who have a right to expect nothing from us.” (p. 135)

To read this book was to allow God to thaw my heart, reminding me of the everything I have so undeservingly received. To read this book was to clear the fog from my eyes, to give me at least a glimpse of the inexpressible beauty of the God of hesed. Finally, to read this book was to stir my will, my hands, my feet, to think about the places where I might repair the world through the loving-kindness of hesed. 


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Interpreting the Prophetic Books

Prophetic BooksInterpreting the Prophetic Books, Gary V. Smith. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2014.

Summary: This is a concise guide for those preaching from Old Testament prophetic texts covering issues of genre, themes, interpretation, preaching, and contemporary application.

This summer, I’ve been part of a preaching team covering a number of the shorter books in the Bible one book per Sunday, including the Minor Prophets. My assignment has been the books of Nahum and Habakkuk. This is a challenging task if you are not a specialist in this area and some distance from your seminary classes! Distinguishing between near and distant fulfillment, understanding the setting, recognizing different genres within prophecy, and moving from the meaning of the text to relevant application for an audience separated by over two millenia and a cultural gap are all issues that face anyone working with these biblical texts.

Gary V. Smith’s book, part of Kregel’s series of Handbooks for Old Testament Interpretation, is a concise and helpful guide for all these issues and more. In six chapters coming in at under 200 pages, Smith covers the following:

Chapter 1. The Nature of Prophetic Literature: Temporal categories of present, future, and apocalyptic, genres of prophecy, and poetic elements including parallelism and imagery.

Chapter 2. Major Themes in the Prophetic Books: Themes running through the prophets, and themes by specific books.

Chapter 3. Preparing for Interpretation: Knowing the setting of the pre-exilic prophets to Israel and Judah, the exilic prophets, and the post-exilic prophets, issues to be aware of in Ancient Near East Prophecy, textual criticism, and the use of commentaries, including recommendations of commentaries by book (conservative to mainstream Western scholarship).

Chapter 4. Interpretive issues in Prophetic Texts: Literal vs. metaphorical, contextual limits, conditional or unconditional, near or far future, and prophecy and its New Testament fulfillment.

Chapter 5. Proclaiming Prophetic Texts: Getting oriented, shaping the presentation, determining the principle, and reflecting on the application.

Chapter 6. From Text to Application: Offers examples of the steps of Chapter 5 with reference to near future and distant future prophecy.

The book concludes with a glossary of terms relevant to interpreting the prophetic books.

The organization of the book follows good principles of biblical exegesis and provides pointers to the most common exegetical and interpretive issues that arise in handling the prophetic material. There is a brief and then more detailed table of contents that allows one to consult material relevant to a particular prophetic text. The author provides examples from scripture throughout to illustrate points. And the examples in Chapter 6 illustrate the process and care involved in putting together a message that is both exegetically sound and appropriate for one’s audience.

If there was any criticism that could be made of this book, it would be the very limited attention (six pages) given to prophecy and New Testament fulfillment, and particularly, to Christological interpretation. It may be that the author decided to defer to other texts that give greater attention to these matters but given that this is written for use by pastors of Christian churches, a fuller treatment might have been helpful.

On the whole, however, this is a valuable work that serves as a helpful review for those who have had seminary-level training in prophetic exegesis, and a valuable and accessible primer for those without such training.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Review: Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem

Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem
Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem by Heath A. Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Your God, if he exists, is a genocidal monster, and even if I believed there were such a God, I could never put my faith in him.” This is what atheist students have said to me in discussions. More than this, it is one of the leading critiques of Christianity from the New Atheist movement. What this critique focuses on are the mostly Old Testament texts, especially in Deuteronomy and Joshua in which the total destruction of Canaanites is commanded. This is often cited as part of a larger critique of Christianity and monotheistic religion as inherently violent because they have no room in the world for those who differ from them, with the Crusades serving as case in point.

This is an important critique to answer not only in public dialogue but personal conversation. Indeed, for many Christians of conscious, this raises doubts. This volume, then, is a valuable resource both for personal exploration and theological and apologetic resources for answering this challenge. The book consists of a series of chapters by different authors that were presentations at a conference on this issue. Given this format, the reader will find that not all authors make the same arguments or interpret biblical texts in the same way.

The book is organized into six parts. The first speaks of the challenge of “Holy War” for Christian morality and consists of an introductory essay, and an illuminating exploration of documentary evidence in the Crusades and the lack of biblical citations of the “divine war” texts (most authors in this volume prefer this term, or “Yahweh war” to the term “holy war”). There is nothing holy about war, and also, the wars in question are in fact initiated by and fought by Yahweh, with Israel accompanying.

The second part explores the Old Testament texts including an illuminating essay about “divine war” in the writings, an area not often referenced in discussing this issue. Part three turns to the New Testament, with an interesting essay on divine warfare in Ephesians, which clearly situates warfare for the church in the spiritual realm, and divine warfare as representing divine justice in John’s Apocalypse.

Part four explores biblical-theological perspectives. David Lamb observes how both compassion and wrath are evident in the wars of Yahweh, and Israel, as well as her enemies may be subject to both, depending on whether they repent and trust, or rebel and pursue wickedness. Douglas Earl’s second essay in this volume pursues the question of herem, the devotion to destruction of people, livestock and city structures.

Part five consists of four chapters focused on ethical and philosophical perspectives. Most helpful to me was Glen Stassen’s chapter which focused on the neglected theme of “peacemaking” in the prophets. While we often notice war-making, we do not often notice the language of the land enjoying rest from wars. In Judges there are 40 to 80 year stretches where this is true (something our own country has not known). Robert Stewart also focuses helpfully on the polemical strategies of the new atheists and the problematic elements in these.

The book closes with theological perspectives. One of the things evident here and throughout the volume is that none of the authors sees any warrants in the “divine wars” of the Old Testament for any form of holy war today. The authors warn against alliances of Christians with political powers of state supporting war efforts in language that make these seem like holy or religious wars.

The authors also point out the biblical work still to be done–indeed the differing, though not conflicting perspectives evidence this additionally needed work. Some writers in this selection lean more toward considering the OT texts in question stylized hyperbole. Others emphasize that most of the Canaanite wars (as supported by archaeological evidence) suggest that Israel displaced the Canaanites rather than obliterated them, apart from a few instances. Still others justify these acts as the just, and delayed (by 400 years) judgment of God against idolatrous cultures engaged in child sacrifice and other morally repugnant atrocities. My own hunch is that a nuanced apologetic will probably include all of these elements.

All told, this is a valuable resource that also includes an extensive bibliography for those who would pursue this at greater length. Anyone engaging with those who have been exposed to the polemics of the New Atheists will find much of help here.

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