Published by Westminster John Knox Press on January 22, 2021
Genres: Non-Fiction, Theology
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In this concise volume, Brent Strawn addresses ten common "lies" or mistruths about the Old Testament, from perceptions of God's personality (the "angry Old Testament God") to the relevance of the Old Testament for Christians. Discover why stories and laws written thousands of years ago, centuries before Christ, are enriching and indispensable for modern Christians. Written by a leading scholar in Old Testament and designed for easy reading and group discussion, this book will expand your thinking about the Bible's First (and largest) Testament.
Oof. In a competition for most provocative title, Lies My Preacher Told Me just might take first place. It’s attention-grabbing (and following the trend of the bestselling Lies My Teacher Told Me), but it’s more about myths and mistruths than outright lies. For a lie, I think, the connotation is usually that deception is purposeful. That’s usually not the case for the concepts discussed here. Instead, Brent Strawn tackles some myths, misconceptions, and outdated assumptions that people may have been taught in church. The ten lies he presents goes like this:
- The Old Testament is “someone else’s mail.”
- The Old Testament is boring history.
- The Old Testament is obsolete.
- The Old Testament God is really mean.
- The Old Testament God is hyper-violent.
- David Wrote the Psalms
- The Old Testament isn’t spiritually enriching.
- The Old Testament isn’t practically relevant.
- The Old Testament Law is a burden.
- What really matters is that “everything is about Jesus.”
As you can see, the focus is really not on Scripture has a whole, but is pretty well contained to a particular misunderstanding of the Old Testament and its usefulness in the modern age. Some of the lies are more common than others. I’ve heard pastors that the Law was a burden, that it’s obsolete. I’ve heard critics of Christianity complain about the perception of the OT God as mean and violent. What I haven’t heard is that the Old Testament is useless, not spiritually enriching, not relevant, and so on. Now, they may have said that about certain portions of the Old Testament, but never have I heard it dismissed as a whole.
So my primary criticism is simply the setup and structure. This isn’t so much about countering lies from the pulpit as it is correcting common layperson misconceptions about the Old Testament. Some of the chapters could have been combined. Was a chapter on God being “really mean” and a chapter on him being “hyper-violent” both necessary? Some chapters fit the title but not the rest of the structure. “David Wrote the Psalms” digs into common historical inaccuracies, but doesn’t fit the focus on the Old Testament as a whole. (Also, it’s likely that David did write some of the Psalms…just not all of them.)
I don’t have much to say in the way of content. Strawn is conversational and engaging. He clearly has a love for the Old Testament and a strong desire to make sure that it gets taught correctly. It’s a simple, quick read as Strawn keeps his concepts clear and straightforward. But in the end, he keeps circling back around to the same things. One chapter says that the OT isn’t obsolete. A few chapters later, we’re reminded that it’s spiritually enriching. Then we’re reminded that it’s practically relevant. It’s the same concept over and over in different words using different examples.
This was a strong idea for a book, but it doesn’t live up to the marketing and tone set by the title. The content of the book is then forced to fit into a mold that doesn’t quite do it justice. The result is a book that’s fine, but I’ve read a lot of other books—both on the relevancy of the Old Testament and correcting misconceptions in Scripture—that are better. If this is a topic you’re interested in, see Urban Legends of the Old Testament by Croteau and Yates instead.