Sunday, April 23, 2017

Book Review, Walking and Talking with God.

Walking and Talking with God, by Dr. John Smith, (c) 2016.
70 pages. Published by Pro Ecclesia Publishers. Available from ILBP, $7.00.

This book is a collection of four lectures delivered by Dr. John Smith, professor of Old Testament at CRTS, during a recent six-month sabbatical sojourn in Western Australia. The Free Reformed Churches of Australia support CRTS, and it is a blessing to them and to us for the professors of CRTS to visit them from time to time.

As Dr. Smith wrote in the preface, the topics dealt with in the four speeches are quite diverse, but they are held together by a common thread that runs through them, that of walking and talking with God.

Chapter 1 is entitled “Excavating Exodus.” Excavating means digging, and this lecture is divided into three parts: 1. digging into the book, 2. digging into the ground, and 3. digging into the past.

In the first part, digging into the book, Dr. Smith gives an overview of the whole Book of Exodus. It is not meant as an explanation of all the chapters and verses; rather, two big questions are asked: how is the book set up, and what is the Bible's perspective on Egypt? As for how the book is set up, Dr. Smith provides a helpful twelve-point outline of the book. Keeping this outline in mind will aid someone, or a study society, make the way through Exodus. The second big question, about the perspective on Egypt, also provides one with a helpful way to understand Exodus: Egypt is a place of bondage, of refuge, and of wisdom.

In the second part, digging into the ground, Dr. Smith gives another overview, of what is called “Egyptology,” the study of the archaeology of Ancient Egypt. This is a huge field of study and it is difficult to condense it into a few pages but Dr. Smith gives a great bird's eye view. For further study, several websites are referenced.

In the third part, digging into the past, Dr. Smith explains that what we have come to know about the history of ancient Egypt is not all that helpful in understanding the book better. This fact may, at first, be somewhat disappointing. Archaeology has not found any evidence of the ten plagues, the exodus, or the drowning of an army in the Red Sea. Also, we cannot know for sure who the Pharaoh at the time of Joseph was nor of the time of the exodus. Despite the fact there are not many points of contact between the findings of archaeology and the history recorded in the Bible we can appreciate the increase in background knowledge this science gives. We do well always to remember what Dr. Smith says on p. 18, “... we do not put our trust in our reconstruction of the past, our history books, but only in the text of Scripture, because that's what the Spirit inspired, and that's what the Spirit uses. Our reconstructions are always fallible, but God's Word is infallible....”

The second lecture is “Studying the Psalms as a Book.” The Book of Psalms is one of the better known books of the Bible since we sing the Psalms in church, home, and school, and often choose a Psalm for the scripture reading at all sorts of occasions. But how do you study it as a book? It lacks the historical flow of many books where a story line is followed from chapter to chapter. As well there are many human authors, some of whom are anonymous. When you decide to study the Psalms as a book, you face a number of questions: “why is the Book of Psalms arranged the way it is, why are they found in the order that we have them in, what holds them all together, what makes is a book?”

In seeking to answer these questions Dr. Smith introduces the Book of Psalms as 1. a Bible book, 2. a Law book, 3. a History book, 4. a Poetry Book, and 5. a Prayer book. As he takes us through these five section of his speech, we learn that Dr. Smith has a deep, broad, and detailed understanding of the Psalms. He begins by saying that he really loves the Book of Psalms, and that is obvious from the lecture.

The third lecture is entitled, somewhat provocatively, “Can we Call God our Friend?” Does scripture ever refer to God as the friend of his people? What about the song, “What a friend we have in Jesus”? Abraham is called the friend of God, but God does not introduce himself as the friend of Abraham. Jesus called his disciples his friends but the Bible does not say that Jesus called himself their friend. Right? Is Psalm 25:7 of our Book of Praise correct when it has us sing that God has shown us his friendship?

I remember overhearing – maybe even participating in – discussions about whether we may call God our friend. What does the Bible actually teach about this question? To learn what Dr. Smith's answer is on this you will need to buy the book.

The fourth lecture is “Vows in the Old Testament, and what we Can Learn from Them.” This, too, is a very interesting chapter. As Dr. Smith delves into this topic he addresses the questions: What is a vow? How were vows made? How were vows paid? Are the laws related to vows still applicable to us?

This is a gem of a book. Each lecture concludes with some recommended literature, several discussion questions, and a few suggestions for devotional reading and singing. I would encourage all to buy it and use it as a guide into different aspects of the study of especially the Old Testament. From a publication such as this we experience that our professors are not men ensconced in an ivory tower but are busy studying the Word of God and learning how believers can apply it to their lives—to walking and talking with God.
(Published in Clarion, 2017 (No. 8)