Rescuing the Old Testament from Children’s Ministry

We southern Baptist preachers often either avoid the Old Testament or relegate it to the kid’s ministry. As the professor of Old Testament at Your Oklahoma Baptist University, I engage with students who have an Old Testament knowledge that is severely lacking the “so what” factor. I remember when Jesus was a flannelgraph and when The Greatest Adventure came out. Sadly, both of these modes of Old Testament teaching limited my Old Testament depth, until I went to grad school and later PhD Work. Dr. Andy Taylor has graciously asked me to start a column in this newsletter to aid pastors of Oklahoma be faithful exegetes of the Old Testament and in essence “Rescue the Old Testament from the kid’s ministry.”

Before coming to OBU I was in the pastorate for 10 years and preached from every Old Testament book at some point (not the entirety of some books). As a result of my preaching and now teaching career, I want to begin this column with several “prophetic” calls for we the preachers.

First, We must Reorganize the Closet. I suspect that many of us have a great knowledge of the Old Testament but have proverbially thrown it into a closet and don’t dare open the door out of fear of the bowling ball nearly killing us in the pulpit. If we desire to rescue the Old Testament from the kid’s ministry, we need to construct shelves and install boxes so that we can organize our Old Testament knowledge. My exams for Old Testament students are “elevator exams.” Students are given a tough passage or topic and then are limited to a 50-word answer, for that is the length of an average elevator ride and what the sweet blue haired lady with tennis shoes will give you. There’s a myriad of ways to do this: by author, by topic, by theology, by century, or my favorite by covenants. Regardless of your organizational method, you need a fast way to open the door to look at the passage and give a sense of the text. In future columns I’ll give you my method of using covenants as shelves, and then I’ll provide short posts on what to do with various texts. 

Second, We must Remember the Skips. The late great Adrian Rogers when preaching the Old Testament would often say something along the lines of “Read the text then make a b-line to the cross.” While he is not wrong to go to the cross, we must recognize that good Old Testament preaching is not about making the biggest splash, but rather skipping stones! Anyone can grab a brick and make a giant splash, but not everyone can skillfully skip a rock from Genesis to Revelation. I often ask our students “how does knowing your family will be billionaires in 500 years help you pay for the queso at lunch today?” We must be cognizant of God’s word being for God’s people in every generation, not just ours! I suspect that the difficult research and weighty task of skipping stones (as it were) is why so many preachers like Adrian read the text then jump to Jesus. I once was preaching on Isaiah 7’s birth-promise of the messiah and a sweet lady proclaimed from the audience, “That’s my Jesus!” While I agreed with her, I called the congregation to consider the first rock skip… In 2 Kings 16, King Ahaz literally sacrificed the crown prince on the altar and now rightly worried that the kingdom of Judah was over. Thus, Isaiah responds to him in chapter 7 saying “don’t worry, Yahweh will provide a son to lead and restore holiness.” Turn the page in 2 Kings and we find the amazing reformer Hezekiah takes the throne. If we want a solid exposition of the Old Testament, we must show the impact of God’s word to every generation! 

Finally, We must Resolve in the Christ. An adage that I utilize when teaching how to preach the Old Testament text is that if you handle the text rightly the congregation will conclude for you, “That’s my Jesus!” As the reformer’s put it, “the Old Testament is Christ concealed and the New Testament is Christ revealed.” While you may struggle on the first few skips of the rock, I feel that every Baptist preacher can rightly land the last hit, but do you do it in a way so that Christ is not contrived, but rather revealed? Good Old Testament preaching is like telling a joke which needs no explanation! I believe rightly reading the text in its various contexts in light of the whole text reveals Christ as the center of the text.

As I begin this column of skipping stones, I welcome passages you’d like for me to cover. Yes, even Exodus 4 is welcomed. It is an honor to serve Oklahoma Baptists at OBU.