"You'll find our text this morning in the Old Testament…" I know this is a rare announcement on a Sunday morning, but when you heard it last, what did you think?
- "Oh no! Not another historical lecture."
- "We're going to get a whipping with the law today."
- "Why? I came to church to hear about Jesus."
- "What's Israel and Babylon got to do with my family struggles?"
Or maybe you didn't just think it. You said it or emailed it to the pastor afterwards. And pastors are feeling the pressure. Some surveys put the ratio of Old Testament to New Testament sermons at 1 to 10. Some would like it nearer 0 to 10.
But might this imbalance in the spiritual diet of most Christians explain many of the spiritual problems in the modern Church and in modern Christians? Or as Gleason Archer put it: "How can Christian pastors hope to feed their flock on a well-balanced spiritual diet if they completely neglect the 39 books of Holy Scripture on which Christ and all the New Testament authors received their own spiritual nourishment?"
Where did the Old Testament go?
It wasn't always like this. The Church used to have a much more balanced diet. So how did we get here?
1. Liberalism: The sustained attack on the Old Testament by liberal scholars has shaken many Christians' confidence in this part of the Bible.
2. Ignorance: It is almost impossible to understand large parts of the Old Testament without knowledge of the historical context and geographical setting. But, while this knowledge was once widespread, many now know little or nothing of biblical history.
3. Irrelevance: Some look at the historical and geographical details of the Old Testament and wonder what possible relevance can events and places from thousands of years ago have for me? And anyway, the New Testament teaches that many Old Testament practices have stopped. So, why study them?
4. Dispensationalism: Although unintended, the dispensational division of Scripture into different eras tends to relegate the Old Testament to a minor role in the life of the Church, and of the individual Christian.
5. Bad Examples: Bad examples of Old Testament preaching and teaching are easy to find and even easier to ridicule. The malpractice of some, however, should not lead to the non-practice of others.
6. Laziness: Studying the Old Testament is often more intellectually demanding than the New Testament. The familiar paths of the Gospels seem much more inviting than Leviticus, 2 Chronicles, or Nahum!
7. Christ-less preaching: Perhaps the greatest reason for so little interest in the Old Testament is that there has been so much Christ-less teaching from the Old Testament. At a popular level, Old Testament preaching has often degenerated into mere moralism (e.g. "Ten lessons from the life of Moses"). At an academic level, there seems to be a determination to downplay and even remove any possibility of Christ-centeredness in the Old Testament. Little surprise then that many turn away from the Old Testament and towards the New in order to find and enjoy Jesus.
How do we get the Old Testament back?
How can we fight and even reverse these trends? Well, we must combat liberal theology by treating the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God. We must patiently study biblical history and geography, and learn how to profitably connect the past to the present. We must avoid the weaknesses of dispensationalism. We must identify and avoid bad practice, as well as search for, value, and learn from good preaching and teaching models. And we must be willing to put in the hours, the sweat, the toil, and the tears, as we break up the long-untilled ground of the Old Testament.
Above all, despite the prevalence of Christ-less moralism and the pressures of Christ-less academia, we must strive to find and enjoy Christ in the Old Testament. That alone is what makes Old Testament study profitable and enjoyable. It also produces the wonderful blessing of Christ-centered spiritual heartburn (Luke 24:32).