Review: Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament

30259211Gary A. Anderson is Hesburgh Professor of Catholic Theology at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana. He received an M.Div. from Duke University and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. Anderson is a past president of the Catholic Biblical Association and is the author of numerous books, including Charity: The Place of the Poor in Biblical Tradition (Yale University Press, 2013), Sin: A History (Yale University Press, 2009) and Genesis of Perfection: Adam and Eve in Jewish and Christian Imagination (Westminster John Knox, 2001). Most recently, Baker Academic has published a fascinating collection of articles from some of Anderson’s previously published (with the exception of chapter 3) work on Christian theology and its intersection with the Old Testament.

Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis is made up of ten articles thematically organized into four sections: (1) Who Is a God Like You?, (2) In the Beginning, (3) The Word Became Flesh, and (4) Conformed to the Image of His Son. Each of the sections contains 2-3 essays, which seek to examine a doctrine and demonstrates how it is able to illuminate the intent of a biblical author. This approach may feel exegetically backward for most readers. But, as Anderson acknowledges and argues in the book, “theological doctrines need not be a hindrance to exegesis but, when properly deployed, play a key role in uncovering a text’s meaning” (p. xi).

The initial two chapters are concerned with the doctrine of God and uniquely approach the topic theological, as one would expect. Chapter one looks at Leviticus 10 through lenses of apophatic theology. Chapter two discusses the impassibility of God. Anderson takes a unique approach to the subject that might cause angst to many readers. Chapters three to five address creation, sin, and election. Chapters six and seven focus on the tabernacle from a Christological perspective and a Mariological perspective. Chapter eight returns to the theme of Christology but uses the deuterocanonical book of Tobit as a foundation for its examination of “suffering servant” figure. Chapters nine and ten draw attention to matters of Catholic theology (and one could argue that chapter seven on Mariology does the same), including the treasury of merits and purgatory. Most Protestant readers will lose interest here, although they are encouraged to remain alert. These last two chapters are chiefly important if readers are interested in observing Anderson’s methodology at work—allowing doctrine to illuminate the usefulness of biblical exegesis.

Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis offers a service to the Christian community in the inherent value that is observed in the Old Testament. I am grateful that Anderson takes the Old Testament seriously. Moreover, it is clear that Anderson is uniquely familiar with broader Jewish and Christian scholarship, especially those approaching the Old Testament from a canonical interpretative position. That said, where I think many readers will find Anderson’s approach difficult is in the seemingly backward nature of taking developed doctrine to the text to illuminate its intent. In many ways, it feels like Anderson is searching for something that he already found. I think Anderson’s perspective is helpful and needs to be taken seriously, but I’m not convinced that his approach is more important or methodologically sound than other interpretive approaches. Honestly, I left unsatisfied more times than not, though this may be more of a reflection of myself than Anderson.

Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament: Theology in the Service of Biblical Exegesis by Gary A. Anderson is well-written and intellectually engaging. Anderson is a brilliant thinker and his work suggests decades of thoughtful reflection. Anderson will make you think long and hard about theological topics that you thought you knew front and back. For sure, many readers will leave Christian Doctrine and the Old Testament unsatisfied with its sometimes-reaching conclusions. However, forfeiting engagement with a thinker like Anderson is not worth passing this volume up if you are interested in biblical interpretation or the Old Testament and its place in the Church today.

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