Introducing Old Testament Theology
Creation, Covenant, and Prophecy in the Divine-Human Relationship
by W. H. Bellinger Jr.
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Pub Date 17 May 2022 | Archive Date 17 Jul 2022
Baker Academic & Brazos Press, Baker Academic
“For a generation, Bill Bellinger has been at the forefront of our shared scholarship on the book of Psalms. Now, near the end of his teaching-scholarly career, he has moved out to a most ambitious undertaking in this book. The hard work of Old Testament theology is elementally to find a model or paradigm that can account for most of the textual material. Bellinger proposes a model that is not unlike a three-legged stool, offered in the parts of creation, covenant, and prophetic proclamation. It is of special interest that Bellinger finds his three accents in the book of Psalms, the text he knows best. In articulating this three-pronged model, Bellinger brings the wisdom of his many years of study. It is clear from this work that the enterprise of Old Testament theology is well, healthy, and demanding. Bellinger’s discussion is sure to evoke new explorations and focus attention on canonical matters and the mystery of divine-human interaction that is definitional for the scriptural tradition.”—Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary (emeritus)
“Bill Bellinger (who knows his way around the Bible) here presents a shape for Old Testament theology that is founded on, if not centered in, the book of Psalms. ‘The key,’ Bellinger suggests, ‘is to stay as close as is humanly possible to the perspective the Hebrew text articulates about God and divine-human engagement.’ He then proceeds to do exactly that by working through the main units and books of the Old Testament, assessing the parts in light of the whole and its larger structure. In the end, Bellinger identifies a kind of three-legged stool, with creation theology, covenant theology, and prophetic theology all supporting a seat that is nothing less than salvation itself. I am confident that this book will prove eminently useful in a wide range of courses on the Old Testament and its theology.”—Brent A. Strawn, professor of Old Testament and professor of law, Duke University
“In Introducing Old Testament Theology, Bellinger offers an innovative approach to an Old Testament theology. First, the three-legged stool analogy of creation, covenant theology, and prophetic tradition provides readers with tangible ‘hooks’ on which to hang the seemingly myriad theological ideas present in the Older Testament. And second, using the Psalter as a starting point for exploring this ‘stool’ provides a superb contextual focus for beginning the study. This volume will be a valuable resource for professors, students, and pastors.”—Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford, Carolyn Ward Professor of Old Testament and Biblical Languages, McAfee School of Theology, Mercer University
“Just as writing an Old Testament theology has been deemed a futile exercise, Professor Bellinger offers an engaging and elegant introduction that deftly navigates the ‘Older’ Testament’s diversity and interconnections. Bellinger’s judicious exegetical insights are matched by his keen conceptual thinking—a perfect combination for a theological introduction. Bellinger has turned a ‘lost cause’ into a just cause.”—William P. Brown, William Marcellus McPheeters Professor of Old Testament, Columbia Theological Seminary
“Reading with the grain and using text-centered approaches, W. H. Bellinger invites readers to ponder select theological ideas that he draws out from his reading of ‘Older Testament’ texts. The volume reinforces the point that readers, grounded in their social locations, create meanings for biblical texts and that all theological content needs to be assessed critically and hermeneutically. The volume elicits questions: What constitutes Old Testament theology? Whose theology is being presented? How is such theology to be understood in the context of the twenty-first-century globalized world?”—Carol J. Dempsey, professor of theology, University of Portland
“Finding a shape for Old Testament theology without allowing that theology to shape the Old Testament is the present challenge of the discipline. We need ways of doing Old Testament theology that have a sense of their own shape and can enter a dialogue with other aspects of Old Testament study without trying to encompass all of them, and this is what Professor Bellinger’s work offers. His elegant presentation of creation, covenant, and prophecy keeps the movement of the Old Testament’s narrative in view while attending to the complexity and diversity of its literary components. His definition of salvation as ‘integrity of life’ provides an expansive horizon for viewing the ways texts in the Old Testament engage contemporary questions.”—Mark McEntire, professor of biblical studies, Belmont University
“This offering on Old Testament theology is a gift of tradition, of scholarly history, and of current creativity. Dr. Bellinger mines the historic conversation on what the words ‘Old Testament’ and ‘theology’ mean when they are connected by reminding us of the field of study and the way Scripture leads us into a view of God that illuminates faith. His definitions and examples make the book worth the read, even if one believes they already ‘know’ Old Testament theology. Let this book, then, be a reintroduction from different vantage points. I hope professors will take it up, offer it to their students, and lean into his creative thinking and expansive grace as he leads us through the text with a paradigm for how to engage the First Testament’s words about its God. The book is a gift worth exploring.”—Valerie Bridgeman, dean and associate professor of homiletics and Hebrew Bible, Methodist Theological School in Ohio
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Having just completed my own course in the Old Testament, there was a lot here that was very familiar … except this book was done much better than my class text. Written in an accessible style with an obvious scholastic foundation, Bellinger begins by telling the reader how he will construct his argument, before presenting his well thought out discussions and then following all of that with a summary conclusion. The basic approach taken avoided any debate on the details of the Old Testament to focus more on the overall purpose and intent of the early redactors within a paradigm of divine revelation and human response. What I found extremely interesting what his initial disclosure of his religious affiliation with the Baptist church and his recognition that his revealed background would inevitably impact his scholarship and interpretation. Coming from an entirely different confession, that was enough to make me a little more attentive to potential divergence … but I never really found much. This approach to the Old Testament should be welcome to pretty much any Judeo-Christian believer.
The book opens with a survey of the current state of Old Testament theology, and the changing consensus that appears to be underway before proposing in the next chapter three perspectives through which we get a framework to better understand the text … and just as imported, what human response is expected to what was revealed. What Bellinger adds to the discussion is the idea that there is a separate prophetic theology attached to the more obvious creation and covenant theology along with a discussion of how they are interact with each other through the entire scripture along with a brief summary of the context from which they emerged. In chapter 2, he begins to develop this concept with a discussion on how the use of the Psalms as liturgy within the faith community ties it all together. “First, it suggests that the most fruitful context for sharing a theology is a worshiping community. Second, the Psalter most frequently articulates the initiative for God’s engagement with the world coming from the divine side.” It gave me an even greater appreciation for the Psalter. With that in hand, we march through the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures identifying where God is present to Bless and the human response of Wisdom (Creation Theology), where God comes to deliver and the human response of instruction/torah (Covenant Theology) and finally where God speaks and the human response of repentance (Prophetic Theology). Through out the discussion, Bellinger systematically guides the reader in well organized supporting material and interpretations that stay away from any debate or judgement on specific details to present a mile high overview of the entire scripture. Even as a scholastic work, Bellinger uses common language to make this one of the most accessible works on biblical exegesis that I have encountered … so I recommend it for all audiences :-)
Chapter 1 - Beginnings
Chapter 2 - A Shape for Old Testament Theology
Chapter 3 - Pentateuch
Chapter 4 - Historical Books
Chapter 5 - Psalms
Chapter 6 - Wisdom
Chapter 7 - Prophecy
Chapter 8 - Conclusion
I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.