Our annual Books Issue is a celebration of words and writers — and, if you prefer, of ink on paper. As the weightless world of screens takes over more of life, printed books resist digital domination.
For a people of the Book, as Christians are, Scripture forms our faith. The Word of God nourishes, as it did for the prophet who, in a vision, ate a scroll that tasted as sweet as honey (Ezekiel 3:1-3).
The metaphor of consuming divinely inspired words — thus making them a part of who we are — reminds us of the importance of reading Scripture with understanding.
For biblical guidance in the Anabaptist tradition, we turn to Herald Press, the book publishing arm of MennoMedia, and its frequent additions to the collection of books that enrich our engagement with Scripture.
A new Herald Press book that offers biblical scholarship for laypeople is Timothy J. Geddert’s The Beginning of the Story: Understanding the Old Testament in the Story of Scripture.
Geddert, who retired this year from teaching at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, hurdles the stumbling blocks — “too much war and too many laws”; a reward-and-punishment emphasis that contradicts typical life experience — that lead many Christians to sidestep much of the Old Testament as confusing or irrelevant.
Geddert tackles the tough questions with an eye toward reading the first three-quarters of Scripture as Jesus did.
“No straight line should ever be drawn from anything in the Old Testament to modern-day application without considering how the coming of Jesus shapes what an appropriate application should look like,” he says.
While emphasizing that Jesus changed everything, Geddert clarifies the importance of recognizing Christianity’s roots in Judaism. Followers of Jesus belong to the same faith community as Abraham, Moses, David and Esther.
With relevance to current events, Geddert refutes the antisemitic trap of supersessionism, which holds that the church has replaced Israel as God’s chosen people. He also shuns dispensationalism, which asserts that Israel rejected the Messiah, so God temporarily set Israel aside until its end-times return to center stage when the church is raptured (taken to heaven).
Dispensational theology leads many Christians to “uncritically support whatever is in the best interests of ethnic Jews in the nation-state of Israel, no matter what the consequences might be for Palestinians or other people groups,” Geddert says. In the current Israel-Hamas war, the theology that shapes U.S. Christians’ support for Israel feeds the cycle of violence, reinforcing the belief that Israel is justified to exact all the retribution it chooses in response to Hamas’ attacks.
Geddert favors a third way to understand the Jewish-Christian relationship: The church is God’s continuation of Israel. Israel did not reject Jesus; rather, it was divided in its response to Jesus (as the Gentile world also was). Israel did not need to be replaced or supplemented. “Believing Jews and believing Gentiles formed one body in Christ; thus we should not speak of a Gentile church,” Geddert says.
God always intended to build a covenant community that began with Israel and continued beyond it. Starting with Abraham, God created a new people group rather than adopting one that already existed. God’s people have always been identified not by blood relationships but by a covenant, which anyone in the world can join.
Geddert views Israel and the church as a continuous stream: “Jesus did not come to found the church. He couldn’t, for the church had been founded many centuries before Jesus came, when God brought into existence the covenant people of Israel.”
Both Jews and Christians, Geddert says, have often forgotten that being God’s people is not about national or ethnic identity. “Over and over again, people have imagined that living in a so-called Christian land and attending (or even being members of) an official church somehow makes one truly Christian,” he says. “This has never been the case.” Clarifying the Christian-Jewish relationship is just one insightful part of Geddert’s book.
The Old Testament, Geddert says, “contains countless treasures waiting to be discovered.” This Books Issue spotlights new treasures in Anabaptist publishing.