Review: Old Testament Ethics for the People of God

1413493Christopher J. H. Wright is International Ministries Director of the Langham Partnership, which provides literature, scholarships, and homiletical training for pastors in Majority World churches and seminaries. Wright received a PhD from the University of Cambridge and is internationally recognized as one of the most influential Old Testament scholars today. Wright is a committed Anglican clergyman and the author of several books, including The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Salvation Belongs to Our God: Celebrating the Bible’s Central Story, and The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission.

Old Testament Ethics for the People of God is the distilled reflection of several decades. Wright has comprehensively revised, updated and expanded his previous work An Eye for an Eye: The Place of Old Testament Ethics Today and included additional material from Walking in the Ways of the Lord: The Ethical Authority of the Old Testament. For Wright, the Old Testament occupies meaningful space in the Christian life for the purposes of informing ethical engagement, and Old Testament Ethics for the People of God demonstrates an innovative approach that examines a theological, social and economic framework for Old Testament ethics.    

Old Testament Ethics for the People of God is comprised of three major parts: (1) A Structure for Old Testament Ethics, (2) Themes in Old Testament Ethics, and (3) Studying Old Testament Ethics. In Part One, Wright explores three distinct angles for approaching Old Testament ethics, including theological (“the LORD, as the God of Israel”), social (“Israel themselves as an elect people in unique relation to the LORD”), and economical (“the land of believed the LORD had promised and given to them” [p. 19]). The three chapters in Part One are absolutely foundation for the exploration that follows in Part Two, and readers will do well to spend as much time as needed here before moving into the heart of the book. In Part Two, the foundational structure of Part One is applied to various ethically related themes in the Old Testament. As the heartbeat of the book, Part Two is where most readers will spend their time excavating the riches that Wright has presented. In Part Three, Wright concludes the volume with a historical survey of approaches to Old Testament ethics, a chapter on contemporary scholarship, and a crucial chapter on the hermeneutical implications of the Old Testament as authoritative Scripture for the purpose of Christian ethics.

The strengths of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God are plenty and readers familiar with Wright’s work will anticipate much of the same. Where I found Old Testament Ethics for the People of God to shines is in Wright’s ability to demonstrate the useful, indeed the imperative nature of the Old Testament for developing a holistic vision of Christian ethics. Wright does a tremendous job upholding the relevance and authority of Old Testament as Christian Scripture and readers will appreciate the accessibility associated with the application therein. Not only will Wright’s audience begin to understand the Old Testament more faithfully, but they will begin to see how approachable it is for modern ethical conversations. The weaknesses of Old Testament Ethics for the People of God are few and far between. That said, I think that some readers may desire more than Wright offers at times. For example, there seems to be a looming question about the relevance of the Old Testament for ethical consideration due to the violent portraits caricatured therein. Wright does tackle these concerns throughout the volume in brief and offers an appendix concerning the Canaanites, but the question may still seem to loom over the content of the book. I think Wright made a good decision not to comment more on this particular issue, as it has been and is better addressed in a separate treatment with more dedicated space to the peripheral issues.

Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J. H. Wright is one of the most rewarding and well-written books on the subject. Wright offers fresh insight in an illuminating fashion, and readers will reap the rewards of his labor on every page. For those interested in the Old Testament and its relevance to the Christian life, you will not find a more comprehensive and engaging book on the market. Its pages are rich with exegetical and theological treasure!

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