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Scholarship honours Elmer – and God

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Jon Isaak, editor

The Old Testament in the Life of God’s People: Essays in Honor of Elmer A. Martens
Jon Isaak, editor

Eisenbrauns, 2009
349 pages

Hebrews 13:7 tells us to “remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you.” This volume does exactly that, honouring a significant Mennonite Brethren teacher and leader.

Elmer (as he is affectionately known to many students and colleagues) has shaped a generation of preachers, church workers, and Bible readers through his 40 years of teaching Old Testament and preaching at MB Biblical Seminary (including nine as president), overseas teaching trips, involvement in major Bible translations (including NASB, NKJV, and NLT), and many academic and church publications. (His bibliography spans 11 pages; his best known work, God’s Design: A Theology of the Old Testament, has been translated into Korean, Russian, and unofficially, as Alfred Neufeld confesses in his essay, Spanish.)

When scholars want to honour one of their own, they prepare a festschrift, an “honourary volume,” a collection of essays written by friends and colleagues. It’s the academic equivalent of a dinner party: each guest talking about a current interest of theirs, and linking it to the interests of the host or honouree. This festschrift is indeed a rich feast, and showcases some fine Anabaptist and evangelical scholarship.

The book has three sections: “Christian use of the Old Testament,” “Aligning God’s People with God’s Call for Justice,” and “Addressing the Issue of Land in the Life of God’s People.” Think of these as three different rooms at this dinner party, each with its own topic of conversation. Remarkably (but not surprisingly, given his passion as a teacher/preacher), Elmer is present in each room. Each section begins with an essay of his, offering wise, pointed, and thought-provoking contributions.

Each section then follows with five more essays written by friends, colleagues, and former students (six from MBBS and one from Kenya). The quality of the essays is generally high; some will be more applicable in the church setting, others in the school.

A brief review like this can mention only a few highlights, and must (unfairly) omit others. The second section, with essays such as Ben Ollenburger’s “Creation and Peace: Creator and Creature in Gen 1–11,” and Pierre Gilbert’s engaging portrait of Job (“it’s about idolatry, not suffering” – a thesis which prods wonderfully; time will tell if it also persuades), has much to commend.

The third section, on the theme of land, offers a brilliant bit of academic sparring, as one hears essays by Elmer, Walter Kaiser, and Tim Geddert debating the complex biblical connections between land, Israel, and the church. Theodore Hiebert’s “Biblical Perspectives on Biodiversity” will likely trouble some readers, but reassure others, that biblical teaching on creation has relevance for current environmental issues. Similarly, Daniel Block, in his “Deuteronomic Theology of Animals,” is convincing in his conclusions that “humane treatment of animals is fundamental to covenant righteousness.”

This festschrift represents a fine achievement of MB (and broader Christian) scholarship. My hope is that this volume doesn’t simply end up as a reference book in a few Bible college libraries. These essays show the worth of patient and penetrating study, and model a proclamation of God’s Word that can be of service to pastors, preachers, and teachers everywhere. Elmer Martens is certainly honoured by this volume; but far more so, God is honoured when we pick up the torch we have been handed by such a leader.

—Randy Klassen teaches biblical studies at Bethany College in Hepburn, Sask., a school which is proud to include Elmer, Daniel Block, and Tim Geddert among its alumni.

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