Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Ancient Love Song (A book review)

(This is my book review of The Ancient Love Song: Finding Christ in the Old Testament
by Dr. Charles D. Drew)

All throughout, this book very well shows that Jesus Christ is not only present in the Old Testament but also that apart from Him all the Old Testament promises and portrayals of the Messiah would not find ultimate fulfillment. Properly interpreted, all the Old Testament books talk about, even record, the words of Jesus Christ.

The author begins the book discussing the benefits of understanding the Old Testament well, stating that it is God’s “rich and beautiful proposal of marriage, designed to win not only our faith but also our affection” (2). In other words, the Old Testament is an ancient love song, designed to win the heart of every believer (200).

In the first chapter, Charles Drew argues that the rest of the Scripture is the unfolding of God’s loving plan in Genesis 3:15, to save fallen man and to restore him to a wonderful union and communion with Him even though he has forfeited his right to life. God is committed to accomplish this at the perfect time for He enters human history in the person of His Son, “born of a woman, suffers, dies, and rises again to secure once and for all the hearts of his beloved people” (4).

The author goes on to say that unless we see the Old Testament, and the whole Scripture for that matter, as the working out of this dramatic plan of God centering on the person and work of Jesus Christ, we miss out a lot of God’s faithful love.

The author then goes on to show that Old Testament history is a grand mystery story (Chapter 2). Beginning with a “cryptic promise” in Genesis 3:15, the biblical story unfolds one promise after another, which are all “rooted in and driven by the first” (9). These promises, of course, found their fulfillment in Jesus, the long expected Messiah. Tracing from Adam and Eve until the coming of Jesus Drew points out that Jesus is the promised seed of the woman who's going to crush the head of the serpent. Thus by sending His Son, God did not only resolve the mystery of Genesis 3:15. He also reminds us that He is faithful in fulfilling His promise, that He can be trusted. By His miraculous mercy in Christ, God has rescued the weak and rebellious descendants of Adam (22-23).

Throughout Biblical history, God sees to it that He is not One who lives “from a distance,” watching the world He created where man lives. In various ways and different occasions God have had real “close encounters,” albeit brief and temporary, with some men (Chapter 3). He especially made Himself “seen” and heard by individuals, like the patriarchs, and by a nation whom He chose to love and live with. God stayed in Israel's midst, first in the tabernacle, then in the temple. He raised up prophets in Israel who served as His mouthpiece so people would hear Him speaking to them. The prophets served as mediators between God and His people until He Himself came to live among them.

God has communicated and demonstrated His unfailing love to His people. He made them prosperous and successful in the land. But when they ignored Him and His word, serving and loving other gods, He drove them out from the Promised Land to a foreign country. It was only by His gracious promise that Israel was able to return.

Coming from exile, she began hearing the word of God again through the prophets, though not for a long time. For over 400 years God remained silent to His unfaithful bride, until He came to her, in flesh and blood, in the person of His Son, to redeem her and the whole world. God again manifested His love to Israel in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. “The Cross led to Easter and Pentecost,” writes Drew, “and with the gift of the Spirit came the gift of intimacy that had so long eluded God's people. The terrifying glory that had formerly settled behind the heavy curtain in the temple came to settle in human hearts made habitable by the Cross. God's people became God's temple. The groom came on Pentecost to live in us forever” (38).

In chapters 4 and 5, Drew demonstrates that many Old Testament characters point us to the Messiah Jesus. In these chapters, he labors to answer the question, “How then should we regard these Old Testament characters, especially those who were believers and followers of the living God?” (Chapter 4). Drew thinks that they ought to be viewed in two levels: first, as fellow pilgrims or clouds of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) “whose faith in the coming Messiah challenges and encourages our faith” (44); and second, as symbols, or types, of Christ. On the one hand, all the Old Testament saints' faith points us to Jesus “in at least three ways: he is the object of their faith, he is the perfect model of their imperfect faith, and he is the builder of their faith” (45). On the other hand, many of them point us to Christ by foreshadowing “the ministry and character of the Word made flesh” (50). By faith, God changes His people by bringing them into a covenant relationship with Him through Christ, so that in Him God's purpose for them would also be realized, that is, to be like Christ.

Using the life of Joseph, Jacob's favored son, as an example, the author convincingly argues that to do justice to Joseph's “colorful” life in the Scripture interpreters must see Jesus' life and ministry in his life. God sets Joseph's circumstances to resemble that of His only Son who is going to save many people from death by sin, just as Joseph was sent by God to save many lives from death by starvation.

Drew also points out that Christ is the theme of the Old Testament wisdom books and the Psalms. The wisdom books point us to Christ because there we find Him walking and embodying the way of wisdom, that is, fearing God and keeping His commandments, which way of life brings ultimately eternal blessing in the presence of God (Chapter 6). The Psalms are songs about the Messiah and/or songs by the Messiah Himself (Chapter 7).

Chapters 8 through 10 are wonderful surveys of Christ's threefold office from the Old Testament. One thing I like in these chapters is that the author always relates Christ's threefold office to the believers. These are Christological chapters no doubt but Drew sees to it that the discussions bear practical implications to the Christian reader.

Chapter 11, the last chapter, is a wrapping up of the opening theme on God's loving plan in Genesis 3:15, which ultimately addresses man's greatest problem and enemy, that is, sin and death. In Christ, who is the last Adam, God dealt with sin and death once for all in His substitutionary death and glorious resurrection. Those who are united with Him by faith are given abundant life and are now living in the reality of that new life, expecting its fullness in the glorious presence of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in an uninterrupted union and communion.

My reading of this book has led me to say that it is simply amazing in its simplicity. Written in a popular way, Drew presents his Old Testament Christology in a fresh and very edifying way. I appreciate his effort to put more Bible verses than academic comments in the footnote. That way I see his burden of interacting more with the Biblical authors than the Bible scholars. The “Questions for Discussion and Reflection” section at the end of every chapter is also very helpful in terms of reviewing and applying the author’s discussions. These reflection questions can be very useful in a group study. Many pastors and laymen would find this book profitable, as I did. Drew truly makes a convincing argument for the need to study the Old Testament and to see its Christocentric message that would enrich modern Christians' faith and life.

Those who need good interpretive help of the Old Testament this book is a ready resource. Readers would not find this volume boring. I especially like the author's way of introducing almost every chapter with a personal anecdote and a specific 'problem' which Christ addresses in His person and ministry. Christ has especially 'solved' the mystery of those righteous who suffer, like Job, because Jesus is the Righteous One who suffered, but was ultimately vindicated by God.

Those who seek a more detailed and thorough discussion of Christlogy in the Old Testament might have to explore other books. Drew does not extensively and exhaustively look into the many issues pertaining to specific Old Testament symbol or types of Christ. His approach is a broadstroke portrayal of Christ that gives the reader enough idea to understand that in each genre of the Old Testament literature Christ can be found. His thoughts are thoroughly Biblical.
One area of improvement for the the book would be the inclusion of indices. The book could have been more useful if the author also includes Scripture and subject indices.

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