Ask me about the Christian faith, and I am just as likely to draw from the Old Testament as I am from the New Testament. Christ may be the cornerstone of the church, but the mortar between every brick is the Old Testament, filling in-between every word of the New. True Christ-followers are from a Judeo-Christian heritage. Just as English literacy is a prerequisite to be successful in an American society, so Old Testament literacy is required for believers to understand what they believe. So I could not pass up a book titled Christian Faith in the Old Testament, written by Gareth Lee Cockerill.
Cockerill is certainly not new to this subject matter. I could tell by the way he flowed through the information, page after page, chapter after chapter, like a well-rehearsed teacher. Of course, when you’re too well rehearsed in a presentation you tend to fly through the facts a bit arbitrarily, as was sometimes the case. Not that his points were ever irrelevant, but he wouldn’t always guide you through his thought process with introductions or transitions between his thoughts until you arrived at a critical juncture later on.
This is especially evident in the first chapter, which quickly felt like a straight up expository lesson on the Genesis narrative. Again, not that it was irrelevant, as it begins his explanation of the overarching story-line that extends through the entire Old Testament and into the New. This story line is an essential component of relating the relevance of the Pentateuch. But I am afraid the purpose of this abbreviated exposition deserved a grander anticipatory set for the benefit of its readers. But I would say this is the type of book that builds up as you read further, gaining momentum as you gather the essential facts, and culminates as it bridges the gap between the OT and NT. Because of this, it would be the kind of book you wouldn’t mind reading again, like a good movie with so many twists and turns you could watch it ten times before you catch everything. It will help to connect the dots that might not have been clear the first time around.
One item is of lasting importance, and, quite possibly, the most important question addressed for many critics and seekers, is that of God’s seemingly prevalent tendency toward judgment in the Old Testament. Too often the perception is of a God with dual natures; that of capriciousness in the OT and that of benevolence in the NT. But let us be clear: both testaments recount the same God in all his fullness. There is no duality. Cockerill first helps us to see this continuity when he quips that “judgment is also a mercy that restrains sin” (29). In the context of Genesis he is referring to the preventative measures God implemented to save mankind from utterly alienating themselves from God. But in the broader perspective of the OT, as the book continues to extrapolate later on, all the actions which God performed that involved punishment and death was, in effect and in purpose, His means of restraining the utterly pervasive and deleterious infection of sin.
Why else would the Psalmist refer to such things as the overtly strict Law of Moses or to the slaughters of holy war in the context of God’s praise? Not because the Hebrews inherently enjoyed rigid restrictions or relished in spilling blood, I assure you. They were overflowing with gratitude for the blessings their nation enjoyed by being removed from the evils of sin. The law explains, in very practical terms, how to avoid the effect of sin, whether it be sin from human depravity or sin’s curse in nature. Herem, or holy war, removed the effect of sin that encroached in the form of utterly depraved and base nations of men who worshiped idols and relished in the suffering of others. God’s judgment is always just, and believe it or not, it actually makes the world a better place because it mercifully, albeit temporarily, cuts back the weeds of sin.
In a way, God removed this mercy somewhat during the NT by not restraining sin, so that His Son would be crucified. I don’t say this to dampen the mostly positive tone of the NT, but merely to balance our perspective between the Testaments.
I will end my commentary of this book at that, as I do not wish to rehash too much of what is already covered in Cockerill’s careful work. I will even omit the rest of the unspoken praises and criticisms, for the details are yours to judge. In affect, I hope this has whetted your appetite enough to read it, as I am thoroughly convinced this is the type of book, and this type of holistic understanding of the biblical story, that every Christian needs (and every seeker seeks).
I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLookbloggers.com® book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.