Brent Strawn is giving the Earle Lectures on Biblical Literature at Nazarene Theological Seminary today. Brent has a PhD. from Princeton & teaches at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. The Earle Lectures are done in 3 parts and part three is today. Dr. Strawn’s series has been titled The Old Testament is Dying: a diagnosis and recommended Treatment. Here are some notes & quotes from the first two lectures.
Strawn is making the argument that the OT is like a language. Cribbing Luke T. Johnson, he says the OT is a language whose function is to help every new generation to imagine a world the scripture imagines.
INITIAL TESTING – lecture 01
“One of the primary signs that a language is dying is when only the elderly speak it.”
“For many contemporary Christians, the OT has ceased to function in healthy ways in their lives as authoritative, canonical literature.”
Strawn notes that it it isn’t just a question of if the OT is present, but how it is present.
“The OT is like a language – like a kind of grammar for constructing, perceiving, and understanding the world.”
Here are the tests he’s run on the patient to assess its condition:
1) U.S. Religious Knowledge Survey (Pew Forum); this study teaches us that large swaths of religious knowledge are lost on religious people, basic symbols, syntax, characters, stories are missing. The result is that our OT language is truncated – it’s like baby talk.
2) The Best Sermons; he took collections publishers have made over the past century of the best sermons preached in American churches. He broke down nearly 1000 sermons and cataloged their primary text. The ratio of NT to OT was 2.33:1; but the OT portion leaned heavily toward just a few passages, Genesis 1-3, Exodus story, etc.
3) Use of Psalms in Hymnody; this is exactly what you’d expect – the lament psalms are completely ignored.
When the OT is used at all, it is used selectively. Grief and disappointment with God are not seen as legitimate emotions.
SIGNS OF MORBIDITY – lecture 02
I’ll have to write more about this tomorrow, here he goes into a consideration of how language changes over time through growth and contact with other languages. It’s fascinating stuff & I’ll treat this lecture in full later.