Reviewed by D. Jeffrey Mooney
Like Jazz pianist Bill Evans—dependent on those that came before him, but undeniably fresh—Mark Boda presents the reader a colorful and fresh “sound” to Old Testament Theology. Boda is uniquely helpful to scholar, pastor, and diligent parishioner alike, moving from Old Testament Theology to Biblical Theology to Practical Theology. Few Old Testament Theologies are so concise and clear.
This review proceeds in four parts:
- Boda and Biblical Theology
- The Three Rhythms and Old Testament Theology
- The Three Rhythms and New Testament Theology
- The Three Rhythms and Christian Formation.
Boda and Biblical Theology
Boda’s approach to Biblical Theology (hereafter, BT) is simultaneously rooted in the discipline’s historic approaches and fresh. In general, BT identifies the core purpose of the Old Testament (OT), namely, a disciplined reflection on God (7). Boda writes, “[BT] is an essential discipline for releasing the Bible’s theological treasures for the contemporary church, the academy, and the culture” (151). It is a “theological discipline that reflects on the theological witness of the Bible in its own idiom with attention to both unity and diversity, discerning both micro and macro level, texts and books and canonical connections and trajectories respectively, without ignoring the ‘disconnections'” (152-153). Boda continues, “By ascertaining ‘inner points of coherence and development,’ it seeks for a ‘comprehensive presentation of the theological character of the biblical literature’” (152).
Boda assumes the authority of the OT, the need for Old Testament Theology (OTT), and the necessity of a distinct reading strategy that takes the canonical collection into account as the ultimate metanarrative point of orientation (122). He provides a helpful history of the discipline and hermeneutics for both classroom and congregation (152-164).
The Three Rhythms and Old Testament Theology
Boda describes his own method as a “selective, intertextual canonical approach.” It is selective in that it highlights certain pervasive topics in the Old Testament that provide structural cohesion for both OT and New Testament (NT). Boda’s approach is canonical in that his analysis focuses on the Protestant canon. His approach is intertextual in that it focuses on “particular phrases, expressions, and structures that repeatedly appear throughout the OT and NT.”
Boda argues for three basic creedal rhythms that compose the heartbeat of the OT: the narrative, character, and relational creeds. The three rhythms do not exhaust OTT but serve as “core values of Biblical Theology that pumps life into every part of the OT” (77).
Boda argues that the first rhythm, the narrative creed, constitutes the theology of Israel replicated in narrative summary form, (12-15) and is improvisational (my word) in that it emerges in different forms. It appears in retellings of the redemptive story, using finite verbs and expressing past action (15). The narrative creed summarizes God’s self-revelation in terms of characters and core actions (24). The basic elements of the story include the ancestors, the exodus, the wilderness, the conquest, the land, and the exile. Multiple texts summarize this creed, including Exodus 15:1-19, Deuteronomy 6:21-23, and 1 Samuel 12:8 to name but a few. Some core characters and actions (such as the exodus and conquest) function as the narrative earthquakes, while the life of the ancestors, the wilderness period, and the exile serve as reverberations.
For Boda, the OT presents God’s character with as much attention and intention as it does God’s mighty works. He cites Exodus 34:6-7 for its importance in giving a creedal shape to the centrality of God’s attributes (28). Core characteristics that Boda chooses to highlight are “steadfast love and justice” (35). Like any other relationship, we first know a person by what they do rather than by a list of ontological statements about the individual (37). With that in mind, Boda distinguishes ontological and functional statements about God and asserts that both are necessary (36). Boda asserts that characteristics like holiness and steadfast love should not be juxtaposed but understood as consistent with one another (49).
Boda notes that OT scholars have recognized the relational creed. Most notably, Eichrodt in the modern era, organized the OT material around the notion of covenant (54). This creedal rhythm appears in copular syntactical constructions throughout the OT, and always includes reciprocity, identity, and responsibility (55). It occurs in full reciprocal fashion in multiple texts (“I will take you for my people and I will be your God,” Exod 6:7; Lev 26:12; Jer 31:33). The multiple expressions of this creedal rhythm (royal, priestly, and national) connect to the patriarchs.
Boda provides a helpful list of texts throughout the OT that combine the three rhythms (83). He cites two major passages that integrate the creedal rhythms: Exodus 5:22-6:8 and Nehemiah 9. He suggests that if one were to collapse the integrated form into its most concise expression, he would get the beginning of the Decalogue, “I am (character) Yahweh (relational) your God who (narrative) brought you out from the land of Egypt.”
Boda demonstrates that the creation theme surfaces in the three creedal rhythms. Creation appears in apposition to redemption in the Hebrew narrative. Thus, creation provides context for the ongoing story of redemption that begins in Genesis 12 and places the central act of Israel’s history, redemption, in the context of creation in Nehemiah 9 (89). The character rhythm integrates the concepts of redemption and creation with the latter building upon the former particularly in the prophetic and wisdom traditions in Israel (90). God’s initial post-Eden relationship was with all creation before it was with Israel (96). This produces a reciprocity and responsibility for all of humanity at the beginning of the OT narrative (97). Consequently, Yahweh expresses his rhythmic passion for the “renewal of all culture and creation” (103).
The Three Rhythms and New Testament Theology
Boda goes where few OT theologies dare to tread, namely, to a full chapter on the connection between his three rhythms and the pulse of the NT. In the book of Acts, the early testimony of the church was “saturated with the flow of redemptive history from the OT to Christ” (107). The threefold attributes (great, mighty, awesome) that appear in the later prayers in Daniel, Nehemiah, and Jeremiah appear in the NT, with reference to Jesus as “great God and Savior” (Titus 2:13). NT writers envision both a new Sinai, which appears in the Passion accounts of the gospel, and a new expanded Davidic covenant, which appears in texts like Romans 1:1-4.
Boda contends that creation and the creedal rhythms interlock in the NT, with specific regard to the creation of a redeemed community (118). Multiple NT writers identify Jesus as the one who created and sustained the world, as well as the new humanity (Rom 5; 1 Cor 15:22, 45). Further, as creator and new humanity, Jesus “renews in his people the image of God (Col 3:10), as he makes them also a “new creation,” as in 2 Corinthians 5:17 (119).
The Three Rhythms and Christian Formation
Pastors and professors alike will find helpful the application of the three rhythms with current evangelical culture. Boda demonstrates that though earliest Christianity clung to these rhythms, we have all but lost them. He details the implications of this loss and provides an apologetic for the contemporary power of each creedal rhythm.
The loss of this story has deemphasized the weekly and yearly rhythm of the Christian calendar, invigorating the individualistic tone of evangelical theology. Such individualism energizes Western Christianity’s propensity toward pragmatism (124-126), which sentences the character creed to irrelevance and its God immoral (131). Our waning emphasis on relationship reflects our culture’s desire for relationships without accountability, rendering the relationships in the Bible “brutally foreign” to us (135).
This story, however, orients our faith to God’s great acts of redemption in the past, as well as toward God’s future works. We find our present condition in this story, allowing us to reflect on our salvation, while seeking to embed others into this same narrative (129). Holistic and honest reflections on the character of God has great power to capture the imagination of this generation (132). The present generation needs to experience God as divine parent who provides stability and acceptance (132). The power of relationship that appears in the coherence of families provides context for accountability in ways that “institutional” life cannot and recaptures the intergenerational nature of the covenant (136). Recovering these creedal rhythms deters both secular and over-spiritualized attempts to reframe God (138).
Boda has provided a rich and ordered project here. The Heartbeat of Old Testament Theology should be read by anyone and everyone interested in the subject.
D. Jeffrey D. Mooney is Professor of Old Testament Interpretation and Theology at California Baptist University and Senior Pastor of Redeemer Baptist Church, Riverside CA.