Previous | Next

Spring 2002 · Vol. 31 No. 1 · pp. 122–24 

Book Review

Reclaiming the Old Testament

ed. Gordon Zerbe. Winnipeg, MB: CMBC Publications, 2001. 260 pages.

Reviewed by Lynn Jost

In the Festschrift that honors him, Waldemar Janzen provides the lead chapter that establishes the theme for the volume. Janzen, in an article first published in the 1990 volume honoring David Schroeder, argues that Mennonites have joined sixteenth-century Anabaptists in privileging the New Testament to the neglect of the Old. Janzen’s article identifies the supercessionist hermeneutic of the Mennonite community, interprets its modern adoption as a development of individualism, privatization, and internalization, and itemizes the losses for theological reflection. Janzen finds in canonical criticism—as practiced by James A. Sanders and Brevard S. Childs—the appropriate methodology for recovering the Old Testament for the contemporary Mennonite hermeneutical community.

Disapproving both creedalism and salvation history approaches as variations on the supercessionism he has rejected, Janzen argues for a hermeneutic that recognizes both Old Testament and New as the Word of God. Janzen’s method involves identifying theological themes, collecting texts which address the themes, and giving the biblical interpreter within the hermeneutical community the responsibility to “adjudicate the relative weight of the texts interfaced in discussions of a given topic” (19). Janzen anticipates that not only themes of land and family will find improved understanding, but also those of creation, political society, and economic society.

Janzen’s students and colleagues respond with articles first published in this volume, replying implicitly or explicitly to his hermeneutical concern. The book is organized in two sections. The first, entitled “Freeing the Old Testament to Speak,” contains five additional essays addressing Mennonite use of the Old Testament in preaching, confessions, and biblical theology. The second part of the book, “The Old Testament Speaks,” is composed of eleven essays, most of them interpreting an Old Testament text, image, or theme for use in the Mennonite church today.

The section “Freeing the Old Testament to Speak” follows Janzen’s essay with chapters by Adolf Ens and Helmut Harder analyzing the use of the OT in Mennonite preaching and the 1995 Mennonite Confession of Faith respectively. John H. Neufeld suggests that the reasons and challenges for preaching the OT include a shared theological orientation, specific theological convictions and vocabulary, and the OT narrative {123} structure. Wesley J. Bergen demonstrates a postmodern reading/listening process. Elmer A. Martens suggests that a biblical theology for the whole Bible can be advanced through rethinking old paradigms and using intertextuality as an interpretive theological method.

Part Two, “The Old Testament Speaks,” opens with Victor G. Doerksen’s reflections on historical and contemporary Christian hymnody based on his reading of C. S. Lewis and the biblical psalms. In her autobiographical review of Hebrew and English literature, Margaret Loewen Reimer invites the reader to “re-mythologize” the Old Testament. In “Reading Psalm 139,” Lydia Harder uses the tension which lies at the heart of the psalm to show how that very ambiguity informs theological, psychological, and sociopolitical interpretations of the text. Using the Sinai tabernacle pericope of Exodus 25:10-22, Millard C. Lind argues that OT prophecy was institutionalized within the cultic Torah paradigm. Titus F. Guenther explores the missionary vision and practice of the OT people, namely witnessing to God’s promise “to unite all nations into God’s covenant people” (163).

Jo-Ann Brant posits that the sword functions as a symbol of discipleship, absorbing rather than dispensing violence. Daniel Epp-Tiessen develops the thesis that the OT criteria for discerning true prophets can help the community of faith discern how and where to find spiritual guidance. Reflecting on her experience in Bethlehem and on Exodus 3-4, Dorothy Jean Weaver considers biblical foundations for political advocacy. Using the stories of Joseph and Solomon, Gary F. Daught warns of the contemporary “erosion of economic independence.” These brief essays share the common characteristics of personal reflection, commitment to biblical authority, and desire to see the text applied to contemporary church issues.

The final two essays in the book are longer treatments using the methods of academic biblical scholarship. Ben C. Ollenburger analyzes the Jubilee principles of redemption and release within the Holiness Code of Leviticus 25 and related texts. He examines “echoes” of Jubilee in Jeremiah 34, Nehemiah 5, and Isaiah 61. Finally, Ollenburger reviews Christian identification of the good news of Jesus in Luke 4 with Jubilee and notes with approval contemporary expressions of the social and economic dimensions of biblical Jubilee. Gordon Zerbe, in his study of forgiveness, finds that the Old and New Testaments display continuity, with forgiveness part of a process of restoration and transformation. Zerbe emphasizes the significance of social rituals that foster reconciliation.

Reclaiming the Old Testament achieves at least two purposes. First, it accomplishes the aim stated in its subtitle, Essays in Honour of {124} Waldemar Janzen. Second, it furthers the mission of Janzen’s academic career with essays that both consider how to free the Old Testament to speak to the Anabaptist community, and address the community with the Old Testament message. The reader will be rewarded for engaging with this publication.

Lynn Jost
Assoc. Prof. of Biblical and Religious Studies
Tabor College, Hillsboro, Kansas

Previous | Next