I love the Bible, all of it. I think the Old Testament is fantastic. Not everyone feels that way about it. Some people find the Bible overwhelming, challenging and big, they don’t know where to begin. Others like bits of it but not all of it. In particular they think the Old Testament is irrelevant to now, belongs to a different age with shocking ethics and presents a foreign, angry, scary and distant God.
So, I’m pleased to see that my friend Alistair Chalmers has written a book helping introduce people to the Bible, to its storyline and how it is all meant to point to Jesus. Alistair starts from the perspective of the Emmaus Road (and later he will bring us full circle back there). He shows that when the risen Jesus wanted to show his disciples why he had to die and rise again, that he went back to Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament). We don’t know which specific bits of the Law and the Prophets he selected but there is a good chance that he went to the same passages that Alistair does.
Alistair then takes us on a whistle stop tour of the Old Testament, right back to Genesis 1-3 and the story of creation and fall. He then alights on different examples from the history of God’s people and from the prophets. He is unafraid to take us to the bits of the Old Testament that frequently get overlooked. He engages some of the more challenging bits of Scripture.
Each chapter gives a short overview of the chosen bit of Scripture, it then shows how this relies directly to Christ, his life, death and resurrection. Alistair then gently and graciously applies the chapter to the readers and there is a particular Gospel dynamic to this.
The book is easy to read, especially due to it being broken down into short chapters. This means someone who is not a confident reader could pick up a chapter and look at it each day without it being too taxing for them. The language is accessible too. It would also lend itself to 1-1 discipleship or even a small group where people could talk through their reaction to each chapter. A little study guide would be a brilliant addition.
I have a couple of questions/challenges concerning it. I don’t think these are major though. First, I’m not sure that the pitching of the book is quite as clear as it needs to be. Is it primarily intended as a discipleship tool for newer believers? If so, there are some additions it might benefit from (see below). Or is it intended as an evangelistic tool. We might in that case want to think carefully about how to use it as I’m not sure that this would be an easy or obvious starting point for many if coming from a non-Christian background. I also think this needs to be made more explicit in the publishers’ publicity.
The second challenge is that if this is a road map for use in discipleship, then I wonder whether we might not benefit from a few additions to the map. One of the reasons why I believe Jesus took the disciples to Moses and started there, is that not only do individual stories point to and predict him but also the whole shape of the story does something that points us to him and the Gospel. So, I think we need a few more connections within the Old Testament text. This would include a little bit of simple Old Testament Biblical Theology, some explanation about things like type and typology, demonstrating how certain story lines are echoed such as the Exile and Exodus narrative and most of all, showing how it is all to do with death and resurrection.
Having said that, my biggest concern is to get people reading the whole Bible and seeing Jesus through it. This book will help them to do it so I’d encourage you not only to buy the book for yourself but to give it to others and better still, study it with them.
To attempt to answer my own first question, my gut feel is that this will work best with people where you have a Gospel focused relationship. They are likely to be on the road already in terms of thinking about Jesus but probably aren’t there yet in terms of professing faith. They may have a level of awareness of the Bible and perhaps have grown up in church or been engaging for a while but still find the Old Testament bewildering or even off putting. Showing how the whole Bible fits together and points to Jesus will be a crucial apologetic step for them.
I hope that this book will be well used by many for God’s glory.