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Book review: Tim Geddert’s The Beginning of the Story

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Before I say a few words about this very helpful little volume, I have to recall my first encounter with Tim Geddert; I remember it well. I was editing the MB Herald; it was probably the late 1970s. We carried a story about a University of Saskatchewan student who had not only been named top undergraduate student of his year but had also memorized the entire Gospel of Mark. I had known about his parents in nearby Hepburn, where his father George was a teacher at Bethany Bible Institute. We were hearing about a very gifted young man. Many years later, after nearly a lifetime of teaching at the Mennonite Brethren Seminary in Fresno, Calif., I also read a commentary on the Gospel of Mark by the same Geddert, one written for the Believers Church commentary series. He was using his God-given talents well.

In The Beginning of the Story Geddert embarks on an important task: he is trying to tell us why it is important to keep on reading the Old Testament. Unlike the person who wrote to me not long ago, who said the Bible was written “for a very, very different culture that would be incomprehensible and shockingly unchristian to any Christian today,” Geddert would argue quite another viewpoint.

He writes, “Without the Bible—the whole story of the Bible, which begins with the Old Testament—we would know almost nothing reliable about the one true God, we would be in the dark about the meaning and purpose of life, and we would stumble around trying to figure out how to get along with our fellow human beings.”

The key, however, as Geddert makes abundantly clear, is that “we read the Old Testament with eyes that have been trained by Jesus and guided by the New Testament.” Indeed.

To begin, writes Geddert, it is always helpful to remind ourselves that the only Scriptures early Christians possessed were these that we call the Old Testament. It was from its pages that they mined the promise of salvation and redemption to be found in a Messiah. From its pages Jesus, Paul and the early apostles made the argument that Jesus was the fulfillment of all the hopes and promises embedded there. If we cannot find these, it is because we’re not reading.

So then, says Geddert, he wants his modest book to help us “recognize that the Old Testament is a very significant part of the Christian story, and that it both enlightens the New Testament and is enlightened by it.” Furthermore, “the pages of the Old Testament are loaded with indispensable guidance for the life of faith.”

To give just one example, what we call the “ten commandments” can easily be transferred into our time and are as relevant as ever. That’s easy, of course.

And Geddert recognizes it. The greatest stumbling block to many modern readers of the Old Testament concerns the wars fought by Israel, the laws the Jews were to obey, to name two of the most obvious. Another might be the issue of patriarchy. More about that later. For these he provides several important and helpful insights. What is key in reading about God’s working with a chosen “people group” is that it was always rooted in a “covenant relationship” so “that through them the good news of God’s saving grace might reach the ends of the earth.” God’s goal is “the salvation of the whole world.”

But first the troublesome issues. In terms of the wars. We read the accounts, but don’t always note that not all the wars came at God’s command. Or that when they happened, God was the one who was the warrior. For those who might want to draw a straight line between OT wars and American (or any other) military interests, the over-arching perspective, Geddert writes, is “how the coming of Jesus shapes what an appropriate application should look like.”

A further key perspective, Geddert argues, is that in the Old Testament, “God’s covenant community was embedded within but not equal to Israel as a nation.” Within the New Testament, that has been expanded to the understanding that God’s covenant community is found “within every people group and nation.” These become, he writes, the new “Israel of God.”

And what about the laws? Geddert argues not only were the laws intended for the Israelites “to live better.” He adds, we actually live under “far more laws.” The California Drivers’ Handbook has 850 rules. The Books of Moses contain 613 laws. Seriously, more than anything, the laws and their sacrifices prepared us for the supreme sacrifice, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” When the Psalmist tells us, “Oh, how I love your law,” we should recognize too that more than legalism is involved, they go to the heart. He concludes, “God used OT laws to prepare a people to recognize and receive the Christ.”

A final comment. In a book that is very helpful, Geddert makes no comment about patriarchy, for which the Bible, especially the OT, is often criticized. Nonetheless, he clearly is quite conscious of it. He will virtually never write of God as “he”. When he describes God, he uses terms such as “creator, sustainer, saviour, covenant partner and parent,” but not as “father.” It is only at the very end of the book that Geddert quotes the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

The references to God as “Father” are so pervasive in the Old and New Testaments, that to deal with them in this fashion severely diminishes this work. God as father can be protector, leader, nurturer, shepherd, and one could think of many more attributes. Moreover, a culture that has lost as much as ours needs fathers more than ever. We live amid a culture that has sidelined fathers to a degree seldom seen before. Faithfulness to the biblical vision surely could have given Geddert more to say about God as father than his volume conveys. If ever we needed a message of what fathers might be, it is now. And a theology of healthy sexuality needs it too.

So The Beginning of the Story has a great deal to offer, but also raises some concerns.

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