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Confronting Old Testament Controversies

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Whilst I certainly could appreciate the high level of scholarly work in this, of which there is no doubt; Longman being one of the most recognised OT scholars, i did find that this work was definitely pitched perhaps for a higher readership - seminarians perhaps.

I appreciate that there are schools of thought and scope within the bounds of orthodoxy but it did feel that Longman - certainly in relation to the creation debate - was almost dismissive and somewhat high-brow towards those of a literal creation persuasion.  If anything there were perhaps even elements of his own thoughts that would nearly add fuel to the controversies which he sought to discuss. 

I found the work labouring and tiresome, and not entirely engaging.  That is not a critique of the author or the content; perhaps just the delivery.

All the same the content and the subject matter is certainly worthy of being published.
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My review of “Confronting Old Testament Controversies” by Tremeper Longman III.

Goals of the Book:
It’s no secret that the Christian Church struggles to handle the Old Testament in its worship, day to day life, or liturgy. Brent Strawn has written an engaging and important book called “The Old Testament is Dying”, a fascinating look at the decline of the Old Testament in Christian circles. In light of this claim, biblical scholar Tremper Longman III writes “Confronting Old Testament Controversies” with an eye toward helping Christians re-examine their view of the Old Testament and reclaim it as part of their life and worship.

One of the biggest hang-ups for Christians today are some controveries that swirl around either the text of the Old Testament itself, or over some of the teachings related to the text. The primary topics he deals with are creation and evolution; historicity; divine violence; and sexuality. 

What does this book have to offer the Church?
In part, it offers the Church part of her Bible back. A lot of Christians avoid the Old Testament for basic reasons: they can’t find Jesus in the text, it’s hard to follow, or its too foreign. There are definitely Christians who shy away from the text because of bigger controversies. I know, with my Old Testament emphasis in my Master’s program, we talked about the problem of divine violence and how it related to Jesus all the time. It came up in, oh, honestly, about six classes. How I would have liked to have this information available when we were having the discussions!

That being said, I think this book is very helpful as Dr. Longman is not afraid to tackle these subjects head on, despite how unpopular they are. Lay people and pastors alike will be challenged by his points of view, but they will be challenged more to think through these topics thoughtfully and slowly. You don’t have to agree with his points to learn a lot from this work. 

How effectively does it meet those goals?
This book is the first that Dr. Longman has written since retiring. This means that he has decades of teaching and academic experience behind him. This shows in the book, as decades of research, of thinking through the topic, and of careful academic vigor show in the text. Thankfully, the text rarely becomes too technical to follow (and if it is technical, you don’t need an advanced theology degree to follow it, either), allowing it to reach a wider audience.

So, if you’re afraid to tackle the OT because of difficult questions, this is the book for you. Even if the answers aren’t satisfactory, the work done to arrive at them is and the book is helpful in framing questions better than you might on your own. You can get info at Baker’s website or order it on Amazon now!
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Longman tackles four controversial issues in the Old Testament, evolution (creation), history (exodus), violence (God's), and sexuality (homosexuality). He is clear that this is a book written for Christians, people who believe the Bible is the Word of God. His focus is on how people within the evangelical church have reinterpreted texts to be more culturally acceptable. These are not issues of salvation, he says, but ones open to discussion. 

He says his book is for a broad audience. I found his review of some of the literature tedious. Many of the authors I did not know, had not heard of their arguments, and was not really interested in having their views refuted. I felt that part of the book was aimed at scholars, rather than laypeople. 

With respect to creation and evolution, Longman firmly believes evolution is a proven science and interprets the creation account in such a way that allows for it. He reminds readers of genre and uses that concept heavily. I was surprised by his understanding of “image of God” and how it applies to humans. He proposes humans in a broad sense and that not all humans are image bearers of God. (1178/5874) He can even explain Paul's seemingly reference to a real Adam individual in Romans 5. Here's his understanding of image of God:

“Here it is important to realize that the image of God is not a quality or an attribute of human beings but rather a status that comes with responsibilities.” (1178/5874) He consults extra-biblical uses of image to conclude, “At a certain point, then, when humans became capable of moral choice and were morally innocent, God conferred on them the status of being his representatives.” (1190/5874) Along with it came the responsibility of caring for the earth, etc. He also presents a few other possibilities. He is firm in saying it is important to understand “what the Bible does teach is not undermined nor contradicted by the findings of modern biology.” (1209/5874)

I was surprised at his comments about original sin but upon thought, they did make sense to me. I appreciated his argument that the exodus has to be an historical event, considering other truths in the Bible hanging on that event. I liked his comments on divine violence. He confesses that he has a sense of unease when he thinks of children being killed in the conquest but notes that his unease does not make him reject the consistent account of God's actions. (3453/5874) I appreciate that Longman says we cannot make God into an image we like (only loving) but must rather recognize the mystery of God's ways. (3463/5874)

I found his discussion on sexuality in the Bible compassionate yet holding true to what Christians have held for centuries.

The issues Longman covered are controversial. There has been much discussion and many books written about them. I found many of his ideas new and worthy of consideration. I must admit that I skimmed over some of his critiques of other authors, especially those unfamiliar to me.

Longman has included discussion questions on the topics so this book could be used in a group setting.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.
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It seems that there are a lot of controversies that we face day in and day out. We can tell someone what we believe in and why we believe in it. But what if that belief was challenged? That is one reason why I wanted to read this book. So many issues have come up in life that I wanted to see if there was a right or wrong way to answer the most common questions about the Bible.

When reading this book, you'll notice that you are reading from the author's point of view. I love how the he is able to compare science with what is laid out in the Bible. I feel this is an interesting book to read. It can help Christians grow and understand how some others might think of the views in the Bible.

Please note that I received this book from Baker Books Blog. All views in this review are my own and I was not swayed in I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
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