Biblical Theology from a Reformed Perspective in Arabic and English, hence, Arabish!

Matthew Richard Schlimm, This Strange and Sacred Scripture: Wrestling with the Old Testament and Its Oddities, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015. Pp. 272. $22.99, paper.9780801039799

In this book, Matthew Richard Schlimm offers strategies for reading and appropriating the OT, showing how it can shape the lives of Christians today and helping them appreciate the OT as a friend in faith. Schlimm discusses twelve theological and biblical issues found in the OT.

1- IS THE OLD TESTAMENT AN ENEMY, STRANGER, OR FRIEND TO THE CHRISTIAN FAITH?

In this chapter, Schlimm shows how the OT can give the church fresh ways of thinking about God, humanity, and creation.

2- OUR FLEETING MOMENTS IN PARADISE

Schlimm tries to make the case for reading the stories in Genesis 2–4 symbolically rather than being historical narratives. For Schlimm, the characters of Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel are simply mirror images of ourselves as representatives of humanity as a whole. This conclusion seems to go against the way in which the rest of the Scripture understands these chapters and their characters.

3- DARKNESS OVER THE FACE OF THE DEEP

Schlimm argues here that the OT critically borrowed ideas from surrounding cultures. Therefore, Christians should be critically open to evolution and see science as a friend to the Scripture. Schlimm does not address the question of the extend to which Christians should be pen to evolutionary theories and scientific discoveries when they contradict the Scripture?

4- THE R-RATED BIBLE

Schlimm discusses different approaches of dealing with Bible’s morally questionable stories including, in one hand, searching for saints in the text to uphold them as examples to follow, and on the other hand, the “pursuing paradigms” approach which admits that no human in Scripture provides a perfect model for us to emulate. Schlimm argues that reading stories well requires us to understand the story experience, which reflects real-life experiences.

5- KILLING ALL THAT BREATHES: VIOLENCE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

Schlimm seeks to correct some mistaken premises when one reads the OT violence. He makes helpful hermeneutical observations that description is not prescription, we should not imitate God, we should not apply such texts directly to our daily lives, and we should not read individual passages in isolation from other passages.

6- MALE AND FEMALE GOD CREATED THEM: GENDER AND THE OLD TESTAMENT

Schlimm provides his approach, which requires rejecting biased interpretation and seeking gender equality, counteracting male-centeredness, by questioning troublesome texts, and by recovering neglected texts that work against male domination.

7- GOD COMMANDS US TO DO WHAT?! THE STRANGE LAWS OF THE BIBLE

Schlimm lays out some laws that seem strange in the OT including dietary, purity, and ritual laws. Schlimm suggests that we read these laws with sympathy and openness, paying attention to culture’s customs and relating particulars to the whole.

8- IS THE LAW ENGRAVED IN STONE? THE DYNAMIC NATURE OF GOD’S LAW

Schlimm invites us to think of the OT as a law professor, where we encounter issues that beckon for serious theological reflections—matter like holiness, poverty, disgust, food, sacred space, and sacrifice.

9- TRUTH IS MANY SIDED

Schlimm deals with the question whether the OT contradicts itself. He admits that there are many sorts of theological and ethical tensions within the Bible. He argues that since God is transcendent, his truths in the Bible are much bigger than we are and present conversations about who God is and what he wants from us.

10- DROWNING IN TEARS AND RAGING AT GOD

Schlimm reflects on the prayers of complaint in the Bible to highlight their acknowledgment of the grief, anger, and anguish that normally accompany life. But there is also hope: that night shall end, and a brighter day shall arrive.

11- GREAT AND TERRIBLE IS THE WRATH OF THE LORD

Schlimm seeks to explain God’s anger to show how the OT reveals a God who is deeply concerned about evil—but also slow to anger. He argues that God’s anger exists in uneasy tension with his love. Schlimm concludes that the OT shows four characteristics about God’s anger: 1) it is real; 2) it needs to be taken seriously; 3) God is slow to anger; and 4) This anger does not endure.

12- THE OLD TESTAMENT’S AUTHORITY

In thinking about the OT’s authority, Schlimm offers his model of the Old Testament as our friend in faith. According to this model, the OT offers an invitation to a richer, fuller, and more faithful life.

This seeks to invite Bible readers to see the OT as a friend of faith, thus it becomes accessible, personal, and practical. Each chapter ends with a list of annotated books and recommended resources for further study.

Working under the false assumption that the OT is an enemy, Schlimm tries to make a friend out of it. The weakness of Schlimm’s suggested model is not recognizing that the Scriptures primarily bear witness to Christ and his work (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39). Thus, any reading that dismisses Christ and his work from its focus misses the purpose of the OT and its role as a Christian Scripture.

 Rev. Dr. Sherif L. Gendy

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