Don’t Forget Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy is one of those books which doesn’t get a lot of air time in our churches. Yes, it moves the OT narrative forward with God’s long awaited Promised Land finally being realized and by handing the baton of leadership of God’s people from Moses to Joshua. However, traditionally, it doesn’t compete with the second chapter of Acts when we look to scripture for help in forming communities of God’s people in our context today.
Phillip Camp’s new work, Living as the Community of God, turns a limited view of the practical quality of Deuteronomy on its head. Camp asserts this ancient text has powerful messages about both the nature of God and how churches might live into God’s ongoing mission and activity in the world.
Deuteronomy is aimed at reminding the Israelites of God’s faithfulness, mercy, and provision. Those themes are not lost in Camp’s book. Time and time again, Camp illuminates the text in fresh ways allowing the reader to see God’s unfolding purposes in ways which point to his love.
Camp resists the temptation to treat the text eisegetically in an effort to bend it to the constructs of the contemporary church. Instead, he rightly processes it as a description of God’s covenant with his people, as a documented rule of life for God’s people, and as a generational story telling tool. For example, just because the Israelites gathered together once every seven years for a public reading of the Torah, doesn’t mean our churches should practice the reading of scripture in the exact same exact fashion. However, we should value the public reading of scripture in our gatherings and we can use tools like the lectionary to help us make sure we are hearing a good, balanced diet of scripture.
The commentary’s 14 chapters each examine a portion of Deuteronomy in its own context. Digging further, each chapter then moves into a theological exploration to discover what can be learned about the relationship between YHWH and his people. Though important, these ventures are not unique to Camp’s work. What makes “Living as the Community of God” a valuable asset to one’s library is the final section of each chapter which sifts through the theological truths of the text to discover trajectories which hold true regarding God’s impassioned love for his people today.
Structuring the book in this way allows for many usages. Certainly, anyone who is hungering to learn more about God through scripture will find this work to be a valuable companion while reading Deuteronomy. Likewise, the preacher, teacher, or small group leader who is walking with a group of people through the book of Deuteronomy will lean heavily on this resource. The appendix filled with discussion questions for each chapter will be especially useful in getting others to engage the Biblical text through the lens of God’s relationship with people throughout time.
The reader of Deuteronomy will also run into a couple of difficult themes. God’s seemingly bloodthirsty behavior exhibited in his call for violence against innocents and the presence of unjust practices of slavery will give the reader pause to see God as loving. Camp pastorally carves out two extra sections in the book to speak to these concerns. Addressing these troubling realities handles the text honestly and helps the reader learn to see God’s steadfast love, even in the midst of the world’s darkness. Given the non-believer’s common questioning of God’s loving nature in the face of the world’s evils today, these sections prove immensely helpful.
Camp has written a companion to Deuteronomy that hits the sweet spot between a scholarly and popular work. He helps the reader see the deep, theological truths of God’s story in Deuteronomy in an easy to process way which lends itself well to studying in any local church.
After all, these are the words even the contemporary church needs to hear: “The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength.”
Eric Livingston is the Community Life Minister for the Otter Creek Church in Brentwood, TN. His passion is to help people share life and break bread within the local church. Even on a bad day, he can’t hold back a smile when his daughter is in the same room with him. He tries to live like Jesus even when coaching his boys’ basketball teams. He deeply loves his wife and knows her love is the greatest gift in his life.