Heath Thomas on Poetry and Theology in Lamentations

SEBTS professor Heath Thomas is a prolific author who has committed more than a few acts of literature over the past several years. His most recent offering, Poetry and Theology in Lamentations: The Aesthetics of an Open Text (Sheffield Phoenix) is the culmination of more than a decade’s work in the book of Lamentations, including research from his Ph. D. dissertation at the University of Gloucestershire (supervised by Gordon McConville).

The publisher offers a helpful summary of the book:

The book of Lamentations is a challenge to its readers. Its ambiguous theology, strident protestations against its deity, and haunting imagery confound interpreters. This monograph engages the enigma of Lamentations by assessing its theology. It does so, however, neither by tracing a single theological perspective through the book nor by reconstructing the history of the composition of the book. Rather, Heath Thomas assesses the poetry of Lamentations by offering a close analysis of each poem in the book. Utilizing the work of Umberto Eco, Thomas argues that Lamentations represents a distinctively ‘open’ text, one that presents its reader with a myriad of surprising avenues to interpret the poetry.”

Poetry and Theology in Lamentations thus contributes to Old Testament studies in general and to Lamentations and OT poetry studies in particular. In so doing, Dr. Thomas enables Christians to read, understand, and enjoy Lamentations and thereby better love God and one another.

Dr. Thomas is Director of Ph. D. studies, Associate Professor of Old Testament, and editor of the Southeastern Theological Review at Southeastern. Among his other recent and forthcoming publications are: Heath Thomas and Robin Parry (eds.) Great is Thy Faithfulness? Reading Lamentations as Sacred Scripture (Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2011); Heath Thomas, “Until He Looks Down and Sees”: The Message and Meaning of the Book of Lamentations (Cambridge, UK: Grove, 2009); Habakkuk: A Commentary, in Two Horizons Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, forthcoming); Heath Thomas, Paul Copan, and Jeremy Evans (eds.) Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, forthcoming May 2013).

And, for those of our readership who are potential students: yes, Southeastern offers several degrees with a focus on the Old Testament. The Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies with a minor in Biblical Studies introduces undergraduate students to the knowledge and skills central to the work of pastors, particularly in the area of Old and New Testament competency. The Master or Arts (Biblical Languages) prepares students to serve as translators and as field supervisors for Bible translation teams. The Master of Arts (Old Testament) provides serious students with an opportunity for advanced study beyond the Master of Divinity or baccalaureate degrees.

The M.Div. with Pastoral Ministry prepares students for pastoral ministry in the local church with and is grounded in study of the Old and New Testament. The M.Div. with Christian Ministry offers the same strong core education while giving one freedom to pursue elective courses in the area of Old Testament and Hebrew. The M.Div. with Advanced Biblical Studies offers the greatest opportunity for focus in Old Testament and Hebrew exegesis, preparing one for a pastoral or teaching ministry. The Th.M. in Biblical Studies equips post-M.Div. students who want to enhance their theological training, either for preparation for doctoral study or as an advanced degree for service in the church. Students can take the thesis or non-thesis tracks under the supervision of a professor in the area of Old Testament. Finally, the Ph.D. in Biblical Studies with a concentration in Old Testament prepares students to teach Old Testament, Hebrew, and other courses to college or seminary students, and to write about the interpretation and theology of the Old Testament.

We invite you to study with Dr. Thomas and the rest of our Old Testament Faculty in the B. A., M.A., M.Div., Th.M., or Ph.D. programs of Southeastern. For more info visit our website (http://www.sebts.edu/) and check out the Admissions and Academics links.

 

For the Record (Chip McDaniel): Why the Old Testament is Important for the Great Commission Task: Some Thoughts from the Mission Field

[Editor’s Note: This post by Dr. Chip McDaniel, Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew at Southeastern, continues our “For the Record” series by Southeastern faculty. In this post Dr. McDaniel addresses the relevance of the Old Testament for cross-cultural Christian mission. He surveyed several current and former missionaries to get their thoughts.]

The study of the Old Testament is important for all Christians everywhere in the world who seek to walk with God, understand His program on earth and interpret the New Testament.  There are additional considerations for those who are involved in a mission context.  I have asked several friends who have served in missions for their thoughts on this.  Together they have over 130 years of cross-cultural experience

With respect to all believers:

  • The NT shows the OT’s importance by example.  It often uses the OT as proof for its doctrine (e.g., the many times it uses the formula, “that it might be fulfilled”).  The “all Scripture” of 2 Timothy 3:16 includes the OT.
  • Theologically the message of the NT is clearer with knowledge of the OT.  Regarding the “New Covenant” one friend writes, “The ‘New’ Covenant in the NT isn’t really new, in the sense that it is related to Jeremiah’s teaching on the New Covenant in the OT!  A tracing of the major covenants through the OT can help put the New Covenant into the context of God’s redemptive program.” [EB]  The OT also shows that the Church is not divorced from God’s people and working from the very beginning of time (cf. Hebrew 11).
  • The NT makes allusions to OT persons, places and events.  The message of the NT is clearer if one knows these references.
  • Narrative teaches theology by what it affirms or decries.  There are many more lessons from the narratives of the OT than the NT.  We are told to remember the wife of Lot (Luke 17:32) and to draw lessons from Job’s patience (James 5:11).
  • One of the most beloved sections of Scripture for believers of all ages is the Psalms because it helps us enter into the thinking and emotions of the writers more than other types of biblical literature.  When Paul tells of speaking, teaching and admonishing with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, the Psalms are certainly a part of what is in view (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians  3:16).  The NT quotes or alludes to the Psalms more than any other book of the OT.

Practical considerations for missions:

  • The educated of other cultures thirst for Western knowledge (especially science) and will be increasingly confronted by a naturalism that ignores God’s part in the origin and maintenance of the earth.  Though the NT teaches that Christ made and sustains the world, much of the doctrine of creation is derived from the book of Genesis and passages scattered throughout the OT.
  • Some cultures identify better with the social setting of the OT.  Tribal and pastoral cultures will be able to identify with the lives of those in the OT.  One of my sources writes that when they told the story of Abraham’s seeking a wife for Isaac, the people were more accepting of the Gospel.  They said, “Up until now we’ve been debating whether we want to hear more from you, whether your stories will just end up Westernizing us and turning our people into moral retards.  But now we know that you’re not importing your Western culture.  Everyone knows that people in the West don’t find their wives that way.  This is our kind of story from God’s holy book.  We are now sure that we want to hear everything you have to tell us [about God].”  [DR]  Another source tells that many cultural bridges to his people group opened when they were exposed to the teachings of the OT.  [DS1]
  • The study of the OT plugs all cultures into God’s total program.  He is not a Western God.  His desire is for a relationship with and praise from His creation.  Those who see the Hebrew Bible as just for Jews and the Greek NT just for Christians are confronted in the OT with the view that, as one friend wrote, “The God of the OT is a missionary God with interest in all nations.” [KH]  Genesis, the Psalms and Isaiah are especially helpful here.
  • The NT is built on the story of God’s solution to the problem but the OT teaches abundantly and clearly what that problem is.  It shows the origin of evil and the career of the evil one in society.  In this regard one writes, “Sadly, many people we meet see that Gospel as being irrelevant and meaningless because they don’t even begin to have an accurate OT worldview from which to appreciate the power and genius of the Gospel.”  [DR]
  • The OT has more illustrations of the futility of false worship.  Those trapped in idol worship must come to realize that idols “don’t provide the solution that’s being sought or advertised.”  This awareness of the vanity of false worship is an important lesson for Gospel messengers to teach in an unreached culture.  [DR].
  • Liberal theologians are taking to the Two-Thirds World a message of liberation theology with much of the teaching from the OT, particularly the prophets. Some are exporting a prosperity gospel with much of its teaching coming from the OT, particularly Deuteronomy and the book of Proverbs.
  • Experience demonstrates the value of a chronological presentation of the stories of the OT leading up to the teachings of the Cross and the Christian life.  One friend writes regarding the teaching through the OT narrative, “…the best evangelism (and discipleship) takes place when placing the content of the gospel in the context of God’s total revelation…many of us are now promoting and training our missionaries to do evangelism ‘slower’ by presenting the OT story first and then the NT continuance of that story.”  [DS2]
  • Some religions of the world derive teachings from the OT, some venerate the OT prophets and some encourage the seeking of truth or wisdom wherever it might be found.  Dialog concerning portions of the OT can serve as a bridge to the claims of Christ.
  • The knowledge of the OT that historically could be presupposed in the West is not present in many cultures (or in the West anymore for that matter).  The significance of the coming of Christ is abundantly displayed in the OT.  One friend writes, “I spend much less time debating Jesus vs. [other faiths’ leaders] and more time from the OT showing why Jesus was necessary and how he came to be through the history of the prophets and the people of Abraham.” [RN]

DR, church planting in Asia

DS1, church planting in Central America

DS2, church planting in Europe and South America

EB, theological education in Europe

KH, theological education in Africa

RN, church planting in Africa and Europegames rpg

Book Notice: “Hearing the Old Testament”

We at Between the Times would like to make you aware of the recent publication of Hearing the Old Testament: Listening for God’s Address (Eerdmans), a volume on theological interpretation of the Old Testament edited by Craig G. Bartholomew and David J.H. Beldman. Theological interpretation of the Old Testament is a growing integrative approach to Old Testament exegesis and interpretation. Each author in this volume applies a Trinitarian hermeneutic to his section of study.

Southeastern’s own Dr. Heath Thomas contributed a chapter entitled “Hearing the Book of the Twelve.” Fellow contributors include Stephen Dempster, Tremper Longman III, Gordon Wenham, Al Wolters, Christopher J.H. Wright, and others. We warmly welcome this publication and recommend to all those charged with equipping the saints for ministry.