Review: Old Testament Theology for Christians

36436636John H. Walton is Professor of Old Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School. Walton received a Masters in Old Testament Studies from Wheaton and a PhD in Hebrew Bible and Cognate Studies from Hebrew Union College. Walton is a household name in the arena of Old Testament studies and a respected voice on the ancient Near Eastern context of the biblical world, contributing to several influential reference works and authoring over two dozen books. Most recently, Walton has provided readers a theological exploration of the Old Testament which embodies a lifetime of reflection and unites the scholarly engagement and scope characteristic of his previous works.

Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief offers a fresh and unique theological exploration of the Old Testament that is both contextually informed by the environment of the ancient Near East and hermeneutically sensitive to the authorial intent of the biblical authors. Walton is convinced that the Old Testament is both relevant and useful for Christians today, though rightly recognizing that a massive chasm exists between contemporary readers and the ancient world. Walton develops a persuasive portrait of the Old Testament which presents itself as more than a Christological precursor centered on the person and work of Jesus. Rather, the Old Testament is revealed as a contextual expression of an enduring theological worldview ever capable of penetrating the hearts and minds of readers today.

Old Testament Theology for Christians appropriately begins with an introduction that provides a detailed discussion of Walton’s hermeneutical consideration, which becomes the foundation for the entire book. Walton is understandably clear about his approach and readers are encouraged to evaluate the presuppositions therein. The book is ordered thematically around six corresponding concepts: (1) Yahweh and the gods, (2) Cosmos and Humanity, (3) Covenant and Kingdom, (4) Temple and Torah, (5) Sin and Evil, and (6) Salvation and Afterlife. Each chapter is saturated in comparative analysis of the ancient Near Eastern thought as it relates to these biblical concepts, and Walton does a tremendous service to the reader by bridging such gaps with both clarity and precision.

My overall impression of the book is favorable. I admit that Walton has challenged my thinking on several occasions in the past, and Old Testament Theology for Christians was no exception. It is quintessential Walton in every respect—engaging, readable, and occasionally controversial—and each chapter overflows with an intentional goal of understanding the Old Testament as an ancient person. It can be theologically uncomfortable to follow at times because it is so different than our contemporary context of a developed Christian theology, but Walton does an excellent job synthesizing the content into a theologically timeless and meaningful package. Throughout Old Testament Theology for Christians readers will discover numerous sidebar discussions and excursus sections, as well as several tables displaying comparative material across the cultural divide. In short, Walton has effectively brought the Old Testament to life by breathing a fresh sense of worth upon its seemingly devalued theological bones, and readers emerge with a new appreciation for the God revealed therein.

Old Testament Theology for Christians: From Ancient Context to Enduring Belief by John H. Walton is the culmination of a lifetime of reflection on the ancient Near East as the contextual backdrop to the Old Testament. Walton is readable, engaging, and controversial enough to keep your interest captive. I honestly couldn’t put it down. If you are looking for an Old Testament theology that takes the Old Testament seriously, then Old Testament Theology for Christians is the next book to set on your nightstand.

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