In a perfect world, the church would be engaging, confronting, and transforming culture as a path to see what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer (“Thy Kingdom come. . . “) become a greater and greater reality on our broken and fallen earth. We would be committed to pursuing a greater understanding of Scripture so that we might obediently step in line with God’s will and way so that all creation and humanity might flourish as we live in this present “now-but-not-yet” reality. As youth workers, we certainly. . . I hope. . . want that for our kids.
In recent months, it seems there’s been a growing movement towards embracing some but not all of Scripture. There are some among us who have taught us to move away from certain portions of the Scriptures in order to focus more fully on other portions. There are some who have functionally embraced little more than the Gospels. . . or perhaps nothing more than the recorded words of Jesus Christ. When this happens we in effect remove Jesus from the beautiful context of redemptive history. Typically, God’s love is understood, interpreted, and lived in ways that cheapen grace while separating the holiness of God from the love of God. If we do this in our own lives and ministries, we wind up undermining God’s Word and God’s work in the world. And, I’m afraid, we will misled those impressionable teens who are under our care. We teach them to not only embrace and care for sinners, but we diminish the very Gospel itself by diminishing sin.
I recently read a rather compelling response to this trend as it relates to the tendency and heresy of jettisoning the Old Testament. . . which is known in church history as Marcionism. Contained in First Things (December 2018) and written by Ludger Schweinhorst-Schonberger who teaches at the University of Vienna, the article addresses a trend in Germany away from embracing the canonical validity of the Old Testament. At the end of the article, “Marcion On The Elbe”, Schweinhorst-Schonberger offers some principles regarding the role of the OT in Christian theology. . . and I would add, the role the OT should play in our youth ministries as we engage in the spiritual nurture of teens.
Youth workers. . . would you take a few minutes to read and ponder these important principles from the article? . . .
1. One should recall that for the early Church, the Old Testament was a given. It was in light of this Scripture that the identity of Jesus was discerned. Seen from the perspective of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and Resurrection, Scripture appeared in a different light. Jesus opens up the meaning of Scripture; he does not discard it (Luke 24:13–35). Hence, between Old and New Testament there is a reciprocal, not a one-sided, relationship. Both parts of the canon refer to each other and in so doing make up what Bernd Janowski has called a “contrastive unity.” The often-posed question of why the Old Testament belongs to the (Christian) Bible should really be—if it were asked in a historically and hermeneutically correct way—“Why does the New Testament belong to the Bible?”
2. The Old Testament addresses several themes which do not explicitly occur in the New Testament. These include the question of the relation between state power and the people of God. Far from representing a radical form of pacifism, the Old Testament argues for a realistic awareness of the fallen state of creation and for joining political authority with justice (Gen. 9:5–6). The use of force (violentia) is to be kept under control by a legitimate sovereign power (potestas). This constitutes the normative foundation of the state (or kingdom), and is upheld by the New Testament (Rom. 13:1–7). The existence of the people of God, however, is not predicated on any particular form of statehood. God’s people (Israel) were allowed to appoint a king for themselves, but by no means were they obligated to do so (Deut. 17:14–20).
3. The Old Testament develops a profound theology of creation and its fall. Sin is exposed as being, at its core, human rejection of God. Sin also clouds human consciousness and consigns creation to the command of demonic powers (cf. Gen. 4:1–16). Only by understanding this dynamic does it become clear what redemption truly is (cf. Mark 1:21–28).
4. The Psalter, as an integral part of the Old Testament, represents the prayer book of God’s people, arguably containing in itself all of the other books of Scripture (Athanasius). It is a “Little Bible” (Martin Luther).
5. The Old Testament is Christianity’s safeguard against a narrow-minded spiritualization of life. At the same time, the Old Testament’s realistic view of history and society prevents a blunt politicization of Jesus’s message: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).
And now, consider this conclusion. . .
The early Church was right to reject Marcion’s efforts to “purify” Christianity. We also need to remain vigilant, not just defending the canonical status of the Old Testament, but renewing and deepening our faith by regular study of and preaching on its profound content. In an era when so much is both spiritualized into pious gestures and politicized into ideological slogans, we must stand with St. Augustine when he said: “I hold nothing more prudent, virtuous, and religious than all of those Scriptures which the Catholic Church retains under the name ‘Old Testament.’”