Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Bruce Waltke & OT Theology

I have always had an interest in Bruce Waltke, the famed OT scholar. I was first introduced to him (not literally) in undergrad by one of my OT professors who studied under Waltke at Dallas Seminary back in the 1970's. There were three things that stuck out to me then, that have been reinforced since, which separate Waltke from so many other Bible scholars.

Waltke is wicked smart.

First, we read an article written back in the 1960's about the "colophones" of the Psalms (the little notations "Written for the director of music. Of David", etc). He argued that our current understanding of how these colophones were used is incorrect. Have you ever noticed that in Habakkuk 3 the "For the director of music" notation comes at the end of the psalm rather than at the beginning (as in our book of Psalms)? Well, Waltke argues that Psalms should be understand that way as well (and pulls in outside sources like Egyptian poetry to buttress his position). This was one of my earliest introductions to evangelical scholarship, thus it has stuck in my mind ever since.

He also coauthored An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, a monster book we used in Intermediate Hebrew. It weighs in at almost 800 pages, and is bigger (dimensionally) than your standard book. It was also surprisingly easy to use for such a difficult subject.

Waltke also holds two doctorates, one in the OT (Dallas Seminary) and one in the NT (Harvard).

These three things stood out in my mind as showing that this man is incredibly intelligent (which is a nice non-Bostonian way of saying "wicked smart").

Waltke is a student of Scripture.

Waltke once taught at Dallas Theological Seminary, which is (arguably) the bastion of dispensational academics in America (probably the world). However, at some point (and I'm not entirely sure when) he underwent a change of theology, leaving behind dispensationalism. Depending on what side you stand on this issue (and I'm on the non-dispensational side), you may or may not like this. But what it said (and still says) to me is that he is a scholar who doesn't mind reexamining his position. Considering how many of us (scholars or laypeople) cement our feet in place and refuse to rethink our current theology, I find this aspect of Waltke's scholarship refreshing.

Since then, I ran across a quote (which I can no longer find) from the early 1990's where Watlke said something to the effect of "I don't think I really understood the OT until I began to read it narratively." It amazed me that someone who was a widely respected scholar (and not just by evangelicals), who had helped teach the Bible to thousands of students from the 50's on, could think he hadn't really understood the Bible.

All this to say, Waltke is a scholar who is constantly learning. It seems that his role as a student of Scripture has never ceased, no matter what "heights" in the scholarly world he has reached. Again, this attitude is a trait all-too-uncommon in the Church today (no, not just in the academy).

Waltke loves the Lord.

My professor once told us that when Waltke was teaching at Dallas, the beginning of the class period would be packed with people not enrolled in the class who would come just to hear Waltke pray. Now, I know of very few people I would go out of my way to hear pray. This says a lot about who Waltke is and the respect he commands, not just as a scholar, but as someone who loves the Lord.

These 3 things conspire together and cause me to admire not just the scholarship, but the humility and service of Bruce Waltke. And so, it's with excitement that I have been reading his new book, An Old Testament Theology. I'll be posting thoughts over the next couple months as a multi-part review/interaction. I do this in part because I get more out of the book because of it, but also because I know that some of my readers may never pick up a 1000 page book on OT Theology. Waltke wrote this book for the Church, so I'd like for everyone to glean from it's teachings. As Waltke says on page 19, "After all, this people has more at stake in understanding the Bible's message than anybody else- they are the ones committed to live out fully the implications of that message to the point of dying for its truth."

1 comment:

Courtney said...

Danny-since I had never heard the term dispensationalism before, I looked it up...and there's plenty to be said about it apparently. But I'm wondering if you could concisely sum up the basic points of dispensationalism, along with what leads you to take another theological route?
I realize this is a whole 'nother can of worms...and it probably can't be done super concisely...but I thought I'd ask.