Review: The Old Testament is Dying

17321403Brent A. Strawn is Professor of Old Testament and Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. Strawn received an M.Div. and Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of What is Stronger Than a Lion? Leonine Image and Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East, and the co-editor of several important works related to OT and ANE studies, such as The World Around the Old Testament: The People and Places of the Ancient Near East and The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Bible and Law. Most recently, Strawn has released a blockbuster book focused on the nature of the Old Testament in contemporary Christianity—a book that should both cause concern and promote change in its readers.

The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment is a straightforward and clear examination of the state of Christianity in North America. Strawn exposes exactly what an observant Christian has likely been pondering for some time now: what’s happening to the Old Testament? As Strawn observes, “the Old Testament has ceased to function in healthy ways in . . . lives as sacred, authoritative, canonical literature. These individuals . . . do not regard the Old Testament in the same way (or as highly) as the New Testament, don’t understand the Old Testament, would prefer to do without the Old Testament, and for all practical purposes do exactly that by means of their neglect and ignorance of it, whether in private devotion or public worship or both” (p. 4-5). Strawn skillfully frames the investigation in terms of linguistic analogy to provide explanatory impact for the reader. Strawn rightly notes, “the Old Testament, like any other piece of literature or art—like any other way of figuring the world—is, or at least can be, a way of constructing reality, a way of understanding the world, and way of perceiving all that is, including ourselves” (p. 8).

The initial section of the book, The Old Testament as a Dying Language, is primarily focused on orienting the reader towards the diagnosis. Strawn overviews the case, provides initial testing by way of Pew Research surveys and the examination of ecclesiastical expressions, and further adds to the linguistic analogy—applying characteristics of pidginized and creolized languages to the modern landscape of Old Testament awareness. The second section, Signs of Morbidity, directs focus upon three groups: (1) New Atheists, (2) Marcionites Old and New, and (3) Happiologists. The interaction in this section is illuminating and telling. There is a clear and variegated problem that Strawn uncovers in these three groups and the reader will do well to observe the discussion therein. The third section, Path to Recovery, brings the recommended treatment to the table and offers readers a clear and detailed way forward, including a renewed passion for Hebrew and the aim to push past a pidginized or creole dialect towards a fully developed linguistic expression.

The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment is timely and important. Strawn combines a unique and observable understanding of both culture and Christian faith in North America, and he makes the symptomatic manifestation of a dying or dead Old Testament is visible on almost every street corner and pew. The diagnosis is soundly established and the recommendation provides a hope for the future. In my opinion, Strawn has rightly identified a problem that deserves immediate and full attention, because once a language dies an identity soon follows. Thus, not only is the book readable and engaging, but the content of the message and the establishment of the thesis are perfectly positioned for readers to engage and act accordingly. If you are looking for a book that will likely challenge and expose some of your own frailties concerning the function of the Old Testament in your daily life, while also offering a feasible solution, then The Old Testament is Dying: A Diagnosis and Recommended Treatment is a perfect next read. It comes highly recommended and could easily be tagged as one of the most important books of the last year!

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