Next, Strawn takes up ancient and contemporary versions of Marcionism, a second-century heresy holding that the Old Testament’s portrayal of God is inconsistent with the New Testament’s portrayal. (Marcion, the originator of this view, ended up rejecting the Old Testament as something other than valid Scripture.) Because of their disdain for the Old Testament specifically and Judaism more generally, Marcion’s more recent followers, like the German theologian Adolf von Harnack and the language scholar Friedrich Delitzsch, contributed to the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. Strawn illustrates how their views infected the German church with an ignorance of the Old Testament and a lack of appreciation for the profound ways God had worked through the nation of Israel. (Since Strawn clearly is aware that Marcionism is alive and well in our churches, I wish he would have given a more direct challenge for the church to learn from the tragic mistakes of pre-World-War-II Germany and to stop avoiding important Old Testament themes like pursuing justice or welcoming foreigners.)
Because of the widespread popularity of their message, prosperity gospel preachers—Strawn calls them “Happiologists”—present a far greater threat to the church’s Old Testament fluency than atheists or Marcionites. Using fragments of Bible verses taken out of context, the Happiologists claim that people can simply declare their own blessings. Strawn helps us see how language popularized by Osteen and other prosperity gospel preachers ignores the vast majority of not just the Old Testament (particularly Job, Ecclesiastes, and Proverbs), but the New Testament as well. Vital themes of lament, suffering, and costly discipleship are pushed aside.
Signs of Hope
In Part Three, Strawn asks “What, if anything, can be done to prevent the untimely death of the Old Testament?” A major part of his answer, of course, lies in reintegrating Old Testament passages and themes into our preaching, teaching, public reading of Scripture. He also makes a helpful call for further training in Old Testament languages, not only for teachers and preachers, but also for ordinary believers ill-served by the New Atheists, Marcionites, and Happiologist prosperity preachers. Especially encouraging, to me, was Strawn’s compelling vision of Christian community where both testaments are valued, “equally yoked, as it were.” And he provides an excellent discussion of Deuteronomy, showing not only how the book shapes the rest of the Old Testament but also how it offers a model for teaching Scripture (repetition, practice, performing, and singing).
Yet I can’t help thinking that Strawn could have done more to emphasize signs of hope that the dying patient can be revived. For instance, I would have appreciated seeing Strawn comment on how Psalm 119 could motivate us to delight in God’s laws like riches (v. 14), to enjoy them like honey (v. 103), and to treasure them more than silver or gold (v. 72, 127). Strawn could have reminded people who love the Gospels about how Jesus, during his time in the wilderness, feasted on the Word of God and used it to resist Satan’s attacks—“Man shall not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4, Deut. 8:3), “Do not put the Lord your God to the test” (Matt. 4:7, Deut. 6:16), etc. We have it on no less an authority than Jesus himself that Christians who ignore the Old Testament are starving themselves.