Review of How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth by Wright

January 11, 2017

Wright, Christopher J. H. How to Preach and Teach the Old Testament for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, pp. 288, $18.99, paperback.

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Christopher J. H. Wright is the International Ministries Director of the Langham Partnership and was also chair of the Lausanne Theology Working Group which presented The Cape Town Commitment to the Third Lausanne Congress in 2010. He has written numerous books including Old Testament Ethics for the People of God, The Mission of God, and Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament, among others. He attends All Souls Church, Langham Place in London where he preaches occasionally.

Written as part of Zondervan’s All Its Worth series, Wright focuses on the Old Testament in this volume, working beyond interpretation to aid preachers and teachers as they study and prepare the material for proclamation. Wright divides his book into two main sections, focusing on why one should preach and teach from the Old Testament in the first section and how one does so in the second. Every chapter ends with questions and exercises to help the reader digest the material, and the “How” section includes preparation checklists and sermon outline examples for each major Old Testament genre.

As for the “Why,” Wright notes that many sermons tend to come from the New Testament or occasionally a Psalm (p. 17). Why then should a person be encouraged to preach or teach from the OT? In the first chapter, he gives his three primary reasons: 1) the OT is given to us by God, 2) the OT lays the foundation for our faith, and 3) the OT was the Bible of Jesus. The remainder of Part One explains that the OT tells a detailed story that has Jesus as its destination and its fulfillment (p. 38). Much of his discussion about Jesus centers around the nature of preaching and teaching about Christ in the OT, including its uses and abuses.

Part Two is the more practical section of the book, explaining each major section of the OT and providing several tools for preparation and teaching of the material. He emphasizes the importance of recognizing the big story of the entire Bible (p. 87), the larger stories encompassing God’s various covenants (p. 89), and the numerous smaller stories contained in those (p. 90). Keeping these various levels of “story” in mind keeps one on firm ground when teaching the OT, particularly when moving into non-narrative sections. Wright then covers each of the major genres of the OT, explaining the methods, pitfalls, and important points to stress in each. He includes numerous pedagogical tools including checklists for interpretation and preparation of various texts, sample outlines from specific passages, and examples from each genre to show how to apply OT texts for a Christian audience, with Christ as the hinge point for this application.

One of the best features of Christopher Wright’s writing is his ability to make Scripture immensely practical and beautiful, and this book is no different. His Old Testament Ethics for the People of God helped give practical shape to the Torah as Christian Scripture, and he brings a wealth of insights from that book into this one. Thus, How to Preach and Teach is a great tool to understand the purpose of OT Law, one of the most difficult problems when preaching from those books. Moreover, he teaches one to preach OT law through a series of checklists and examples, providing a framework to apply to the gamut of laws (pp. 175-80). He applies this method to the other genres he covers as well (narrative, prophecy, poetry, and wisdom). Thus, a significant strength of this book is that it gives a succinct theological and practical introduction to many primary themes in OT interpretation.

How to Preach and Teach also addresses the issue of Christ/Jesus in the OT, certainly a popular, albeit debatable topic of interest. Wright navigates through the conversation, supporting the practice of Christ-centered preaching, but he rightly insists that the practice is the proper result of good OT (and NT) interpretation, not the other way around (pp. 46, 51). Rather than leaving the topic vague for teachers, Wright uses chapter four to lay out the pitfalls and chapter five to give methods for preaching Jesus. Because of the “buzz” surrounding Christ-centered preaching, I suspect that many preachers will find chapters 3-5 to be the most pertinent part of the book.

Initially, the three chapters regarding Jesus and the OT seemed out of place in the “why” section of this book. The first two chapters properly covered the need for preachers to teach from the OT, but the next three appeared to be an excursus on Christ-centered preaching. However, I think it is fair to note that Wright places Jesus and the Gospel at the center of Christian preaching, and thus clear thinking about this method is warranted (p. 63). For proper OT preaching, one must show how the text points to Christ and calls for a Christian response (p. 79). As such, it bridges the gap between the “why” and “how” of preaching the OT.

Lastly, the “how-to” tools Wright includes, such as questions, checklists, or examples, will probably be most helpful in the classroom context where students must utilize them to produce sermon outlines or manuscripts. For the busy pastor, I can imagine the content of the book will be helpful, but without the accountability of the classroom environment, there is often little extra time to use the tools during a work week. These tools are quite good though and should serve the individual well who will take the time to use them. The “Questions and Exercises” and “Sample Outlines” are set off from the main text in shaded boxes, making them easy to find. However, the “Checklists,” perhaps one of the most helpful tools, are regularly buried within the text and may be harder to locate and thus utilize in regular sermon preparation.

Wright’s work will appeal primarily to those preparing for or already engaged in ministry or teaching. His book not only provides the information explaining the OT and a method for preaching/teaching it, but he also models teaching the OT as he informs. As such, this book will be at home in the Bible college or seminary classroom as well as in the library of the minister. Finally, Wright’s love for the OT and his perspective of its overarching message and purpose for Christians is refreshing, and thus this book might also provide for the seasoned scholar the opportunity to step back and see the beauty and practicality of the OT in a concise form.

Ryan C. Hanley

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

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