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Review: The Message of the Old Testament

Bryan Estelle

The Message of the Old Testament: Promises Made, by Mark Dever. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2006, 959 pages, $39.99.

It is a sad commentary on the American Church that Christ centered preaching from the Old Testament is heard rarely from the pulpit. That is not the case of Dever's award winning book covering the whole span of the Old Testament. In this series of sermons on Old Testament books of the Bible, originally preached at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., Dever sprinkles almost every sermon with a focus on Christ as the substance and fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures. This is not done at the expense of appropriate application of the Scriptures to the life of believers and unbelievers. Another real strength of Dever's book is that it gives the big picture of the Bible, covers the major themes in each Old Testament book, and encourages the reader to love the story found there and the majestic God displayed in it. The organization of the book is simple: take one book of the Old Testament and preach a sermon on it in such a manner that the audience receives a global overview of that particular book including its canonical context. For the pastor who wants to preach regularly from the Old Testament, this is a good book to read for the following reasons.

First, Dever demonstrates how to preach through an entire book in one sermon. He gives the global view of each Old Testament book but he does it in a manner that is engaging and relevant to the average person in the pew. This may sound overly ambitious for some books of the Old Testament, but I think that Pastor Dever accomplishes his goal, and the book could be a helpful model for the pastor who wants to help his congregants get the big picture. His introductions are a good model of how to draw one into each book of the Bible. Furthermore, he does not get lost in the details of the trees to the detriment of keeping a view of the entire forest.

Second, Pastor Dever recognizes the importance of stressing differences between Israel's situation and our own as New Covenant believers. "When we read about the nation of Israel, we must realize that no nation today is a theocracy ... No nation today is ruled by divine law in the way Israel was," writes Dever. As an evangelical preacher in a large church inside the beltway, Dever is to be commended for not applying the Old Testament Scriptures in some facile manner that does not recognize the importance principle of periodicity (See Geerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948, page 16). Therefore, Dever writes about 2 Chronicles 7:14, "Are we, the people of the United States, his people? Well, we are his by creation, in the same way those of us who are Mexican or Ecuadorian or Guatemalan are. But God's promise here is made in the context of his special people... While America has been privileged with liberty and prosperity, we are not the chosen people of God, Israel, ruled by David's line, preparing for the Messiah" [emphasis his].

There are some ways in which the publisher and the editors could have helped this book be better than it is. For example, I wish that the editor had encouraged Pastor Dever to work through his sermonic material and generalize the many references which are made about his own congregation. In other words, these sermons read as they must have almost originally been given: as sermons to the congregation of Capitol Hill Baptist church. With a little work, this limiting tone could have been overcome and the current readership been more seriously engaged in a way that doesn't leave the reader feeling like he is a mere observer looking in from the outside, so to speak. Additionally, with a book of this length, a certain number of errors are to be expected. The publisher should have caught the following. Typographical or spelling mistakes occur on 353, 592, 760, and 932. Split infinitives occur on at least pages 422, 594, 682, 706, and 748. It takes extra care to edit work originally produced for oral delivery. Split infinitives are a good example. While common in speech, they can be glaring in print.

Lastly, the reader should be aware of the decidedly baptistic outlook of some of Dever's formulations. Statements such as, "But the only way you can truly be one of God's people—one who belongs to him—is by hearing the promises of God Word [sic], believing those promises, and then responding to them. Apart from a belief in God's promises, you can only expect God's correct judgment for your sin" will be somewhat jarring for the Presbyterian sensibilities of officers that are readers of this journal. Even so, such occasional conspicuous viewpoints expressed by Dever should not deter officers from buying a copy of this book and obtaining an edifying book that showcases the grand scheme of redemption as revealed in our Old Testament Scriptures.

Bryan D. Estelle
Westminster Seminary California
Escondido, CA

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