Let's get one thing straight from the beginning--Old Testament Ethics for the People of God by Christopher J.H. Wright, is a massive endeavor that is both breathtaking in scope and brilliance. It is difficult to evaluate a book that has been called "...a magnum opus" by David L. Baker. Nevertheless, I will attempt to undertake a brief review of this book.
The book breaks down into three main sections. Section one, entitled "A Structure For Old Testament Ethics" lays the groundwork for the entire book. Wright believes OT ethics should be viewed from three different, yet dependent lenses: the theological, social and economic. Wright devotes a chapter to each lens and covers each one well enough that it prepares the reader for his next section.
The next section, the real 'meat of the book' if you will, is entitled "Themes in Old Testament Ethics." As one might expect from the title, Wright explores the ethical ideas of various themes within the Old Testament, applying the various lenses to each situation. Each chapter felt pregnant with meaning for today, as Wright covered the topics of ecology, economics and the poor, the land, politics and the nations, justice and righteousness, law and the legal system, culture and family and the way of individuals.
While a detailed analysis is beyond the scope of this review, there were several major ideas that kept resurfacing throughout. First, Wright draws the readers attention to the communal aspect of ethics. Ethics were not just focused on the individual but the community. Second, all OT ethics are formed the presupposition that the whole Earth is the Lord's. Third, Wright reminds the reader that one of the major purposes of OT ethics was to reveal the nature of Yahweh to the nations. Each chapter was full of helpful ideas for the pastor and theologian. In my own experience of reading the book, I walked away with a deeper appreciation of how to interpret the Old Testament and in particular, how to understand the relevance of the Law in our own day. This is no superficial cutting and pasting of isolated texts ripped out of context to make them relevant for today. Rather, Wright has brought about a comprehensive understanding of how one might begin the task of Old Testament theology today!
The final section is by far the most academic, focusing on how to study Old Testament ethics. This section is clearly written for the scholar or beginning student, though I suspect even pastors could benefit reading through this section. While optional, it gives one a real appreciation of the amount of literature Wright has surveyed in his writing of this book.
Which leads to one of the greatest things I can say about the book--Wright keeps the pacing of this book perfect. He refuses to get bogged down in scholarly footnotes. Rather, the reader will find this magnum opus very accessible. For pastors and beginning students, this could not be more welcomed. Though my own research interest lies in New Testament, I found this book kept my interest and seldom left me feeling overwhelmed.
In conclusion, I simply cannot offer up enough praise for what Christopher Wright has accomplished with this book. Though it is already seven years old, if you still haven't read it, do yourself a favor and pick it up. If anything, it will leave you with a greater appreciation of the Old Testament and plenty of mental food to chew upon when it comes to ethics.
*Thanks to IVP Academic for providing me with a free review copy of this book. I was not forced to write a positive review of this book.*