a good book on the Hebrew Bible to read

that I think would be pretty interesting is one by Walter Bruegemann: An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Here is a summary (in part) of the book over at Diglots blog:

An Unsettling God is a refinement of a few chapters in Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament. The thesis of this book is stated succinctly in the preface:

“The big idea of this book (that echoes the big idea of the Old Testament) is that the God of ancient Israel (who is the creator of heaven and earth) is a God in relationship, who is ready and able to make commitments and who is impinged by a variety of ‘partners’ who make a difference in the life of God. (pg. xi)”

Instead of seeing God as an impersonal force as in some religious belief systems, or as an unmovable mover as in typical Christian scholastic theology, Brueggemann asserts that the God of the Hebrew Bible is a “fully articulated personal agent” (pg. 2) who is an “available agent who is not only able to act but is available to be acted upon.” (pg. 9) This idea is further explicated by examining Yahweh’s dialogical relationships with four key partners: Israel, the individual human, the nations, and all of creation.

I find this refreshing in some ways – it shows the dynamic aspect of our relationship with God – that in God’s dealing with us, not everything is static (except of course his lovingkindness and covenant faithfulness to us, despite us).   I like knowing our relationship with the Lord is a dynamic one is that there is some give and take and while God has absolute sovereignty over all things, I think he limits himself in someways to include human agency in carrying out his will an purposes in redemptive history.  Some of my thinking about the Bible and how it is to be read and understood has been going through some development lately – its been an interesting journey to say the least!  🙂

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8 responses to “a good book on the Hebrew Bible to read

  1. Brian…you made some good points and insights there. One of the things I have been thinking is our how our eschatology affects our ministry and care of creation.

    Eg, if our sole focus is getting people out of hell, we don’t really have to care for creation…yet if our eschatology is one of God with us in the past, present and future… it means we will start caring for the individual, the nations and creation…

      • Brian, is some of that comment coming as a result of reading the Keller book? The two books I mentioned in the comments to that post certainly developed that theme.

        While I was able to see the importance of relationships early in my Christian walk (all the NT verses on how we are to treat each other and the emphasis on salvation initiating a restored relationship with God), it wasn’t until I read the Myers book that I realized it was actually connected with what I thought was an obscure doctrine on the nature of God – the trinity. I was wondering if you had come across that connection in the books you have read.

  2. Brian,

    Along this “dynamic aspect” you might enjoy Randall Zachman’s book: The Assurance of Faith, Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and John Calvin. I think this book is one of the best I have read in the last ten years or so!

  3. Jean, haven’t read keller’s book just the intro part online, but my thoughts about this have been developing for a while and from various sources and one source has been the minor prophets and Isaiah.

  4. Well that certainly explains things! 🙂 I am in a small group that has been going through the minor prophets (not in order) and we have also noticed the recurring theme of social justice. Often we have cross-referenced verses in Isaiah. I think we hit Isaiah 58 twice.

    Relationship with God and with fellowman are certainly strong themes. The other that strikes me is that God is never content to judge his people and leave it at that. While the first purpose of threatening judgment is to induce repentance (perhaps most clear in Jonah), God still is not done after the judgment takes place. He is always after reconciliation/redemption/restoration. And we wonder why we are so fond of happy endings(?).

    Anyhow, does your lack of comment on the connection of the doctrine of the trinity with the importance of relationships mean you haven’t seen that connection made in books or classes? In addition to the books I mentioned earlier, I have seen it discussed briefly by Timothy George in his DVD series on Islam. I certainly don’t remember it from any Berean courses I took decades ago. I am just curious if you or others reading this have seen much discussion on this topic. It kinda relates back to Craig’s comment above, too.

  5. Jean, I have been studying the Minor Prophets this semester and they are a good read. Interestingly the Jewish cannon had them as one book and not 12 separate books.

    There is 3 main themes
    1) is warning / rebuke pre-exilic
    2)punishment exilic
    3) encouragement post exilic.

    As for the prophet we see that God has to break the prophet to be a prophet of love and not judgement…we see this happening in Isaiah where he happily prophecies judgement and then gets a vision of his own sinfulness… then God can use him with love….

    We see this happening with Jonah… yet Jonah never learnt to have his heart broken with love for people…

    It’s not until we get to Christ that we can work on a doctrine of the Trinity within relationship.

  6. Craig, agreed the prophets are fascinating. With Isaiah, I have often felt like I could hear God weeping from a broken heart as I read much of it. For example, verses 5-9 of the first chapter come across to me as a real tear-jerker. Ironically, when I look at Isaiah’s call in chapter 6, I see his brokenness you mention, but I see it more as for the purpose of convincing him to continue to proclaim the truth despite the fact that no one is listening. Similar with Jeremiah (1:7, 8). As for Jonah, the reason he didn’t want to deliver the message of judgment to Ninevah was that he understood it gave them the chance to repent and he didn’t want that for Israel’s enemies (4:1-3). You are certainly correct that in the book, Jonah never had God’s love for all people. I suspect that breaking the judgmental heart to learn to love people has been a greater problem among Western theologians and Christians in the last several hundred years. I have heard the prophets read in a harsh and condemning manner, but I don’t see it that way when I study them for myself. For the prophets, they were God’s people in the Promised Land and I suspect prophesying judgment was a lot more difficult than we often suspect.

    Regarding the trinity: certainly some aspects of it we won’t understand in this life, but it is taught in Scripture so it must have some relevance that we can comprehend. If God is truine, then by His very nature He is relational. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect loving harmony (cf. Jn 14:31; 15:9; 2 Peter 1:17). This makes sense of the fact that God is love and never changes. There has always been love; there has always been relationship, because God has always been and is truine.

    Reading the Bible can make it clear that relationships are important. But the doctrine of the trinity tells us WHY relationships are important. God is, by his very nature, relational. The world He created reflects Him in this; our world depends on relationships (with applications in science, especially agriculture and ecology). Mankind, created in God’s image, was also created to have relationships. This has a number of significant implications.

    The Fall: one way to look at the Fall is that it broke the harmonious relationships God had created. Obviously sin breaks our relationship with God. It breaks our relationship with others. Less obvious, it breaks our relationship with creation around us (Gen 3:17-19; Rom 8:22).

    The Gospel: The above naturally relates to how we understand the gospel. Is it just saving us from hell? No, as you have pointed out earlier. Brian mentioned God’s shalom to the earth, and I agree. In the context I am discussing here, it means the gospel is to mend what was broken by the Fall, i.e. to bring restoration to all the relationships that sin has broken.

    Craig, does this make sense to you in light of the discussion here?

    I see it as important because of all cultures, our Western culture has historically been one that seriously minimizes the importance of relationships. Understand the WHY of relationships, and that it is tied to the very nature of God, helps deal with this deficiency, I believe.

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