Book Review – Christian Faith in the Old Testament by Gareth Cockerill

Let me be honest with you…. It has been a while since I have been as excited about a book as I am for this one. I read a lot of books, and I write reviews for many of them. Most of the books are really good too, but they aren’t books that I am PUMPED for, yet I am absolutely pumped for this one. This book is just overflowing with possibilities….

Summary

In Christian Faith in the Old Testament, Gareth Lee Cockerill helps “ordinary, intelligent, modern Christians” rediscover the Old Testament – the Bible of the Apostles. First he helps readers understand how each part of the OT fits into the big story of the gospel. Second he gives the reader some hermeneutical tools which will be useful when investigating the OT on one’s own time. There are three hermeneutical tools which he employs – Example, Picture, Pattern.

  • Example – How OT characters serve as an example guiding us by teaching us what to imitate and what to avoid.
  • Picture (Typology) – How some of God’s actions and/or people in redemptive history foreshadow a greater and final restoration.
  • Pattern – How certain patterns, either theological patterns or patterns of values, as opposed to specific acts in history guide our lives today.

These three tools alone in the hands of the average layperson will help them make a lot more sense out of the Old Testament, yet Cockerill gives us more! He takes us through primal history, God’s promise of restoration through Genesis 12-50, the beginning of restoration at Sinai, the inauguration of restoration in Canaan, the institutionalization of restoration through David, the anticipation of restoration in the Writings, the experience of anticipating restoration in wisdom literature, the explicit promises of restoration in the Prophets, and finally the accomplishment of restoration in the New Testament.

If there is one theme that ties this entire book together (and the Old Testament together) is the theme of restoration. Everything in the OT points to when restoration will occur through Jesus. Cockerill captures that perfectly!

Pros

  1. It was an easy read – I really didn’t know what to expect. Would this be an in depth study of the redemptive history or would it be a superficial account of how the Old Testament informs the New Testament? I’m glad to say that it was neither. Because it was at once informative but light I could see myself using this book in a church class. At our church we have used another book that helped people taking our Bible Survey class navigate through the Old Testament, I could see us using this book in the future.
  2. It is simple yet hermeneutically sophisticated – there are a lot of hermeneutical moves being made in this book, yet the author is so subtle and clear that the reader might not notice them. For an intro book for lay readers, this is a good thing. For instance, his treatment for Chronicles apart from Kings is a brilliant move. They are two very different sorts of books, Chronicles isn’t history in the same way Kings is history. It would have been way to easy to lump these two together but he doesn’t.  Also, and even more importantly, he mentions in passing, that the organization of the canon is a hermeneutical move as well. Its apparent that he takes this into account when interpreting how all of these books fit together. If he were to have taken the Hebrew organization of the cannon Cockerill would have had to shifted the way he told the story of the OT.
  3. It is full of application – Throughout each chapter you will find “application nuggets.” The book isn’t a straight academic text, it isn’t merely descriptive, it actually challenges the reader in where they are with their walk with God.

Cons

Cockerill uses the three hermeneutical principles in the beginning of the book, and they carry out pretty much through the rest of the book. However, one of the principles really drops out – the pattern principle. He uses the example principle and the picture principle a lot but it seems as though the pattern principle is limited to his treatment of the Law. If the pattern principle is an important principle for interpreting the OT, it would probably be more useful when reading other parts of scripture besides the Law. Also, he leans a bit too heavy on the example principle. If the reader is not cautious or is a new Christian she might end up reading the Old Testament as a collection of useful stories for moral living. Obviously this isn’t Cockerill’s intention, yet giving more weight to the example principle than the typological principle might lead do readers doing this sort of thing.

Conclusion

In a world where Christians either ignore the Old Testament because they don’t understand it or see it as being irrelevant, Gareth Lee Cockerill offers a powerful tool for addressing that problem. I very highly recommend this book. Its informative, easy to read, and constantly points to how Christ is what the Old Testament was looking forward to.

(Note: I received this book courtesy of BookLook in exchange for an objective review.)

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