A Journey Through the Old Testament
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I have seen some reports about this book, and most of them were nothing more than rehashing of what we already know about the Old Testament. Some took a favorite chapter or person and centered on it, while others gave a condensed summary of as many chapters as they could, given the space allotted to them. I decided to take another approach, which is to break down the impact that I personally feel the book would have and on whom that impact will have the most effect. The problem with this is that it would take about twelve pages per chapter to fully cover the book, and secondly, many issues would have to be visited and revisited. To avoid this problem I addressed a single positive issue, the readability of the book, and a single negative issue, doctrine issues, and the single issue of implied truth. That being true, let me began with the readability and relevance of the book. When you think of an Old Testament Survey, no matter who it is written by, the first question that comes to mind is, will the literary, historic, and theological issues of the Old Testament be presented in such a way to give a greater understanding of God’s redemptive work toward humanity. In almost every case these issues are attached to a taunt chronological line of events having the literary and theological issues hung from them in much the same way one would hang our delicate washables from a clothes line in the backyard.
However, Dr. Elmer Towns addresses these very same issues from a completely different perspective. Rather than draw his attention on the liner events of the Old Testament Dr. Elmer Towns directs his attention on the people who God has used in the Old Testament. The Events are still there, but now theological and literary issues seem to become secondary to the people for the reader. How different is “A Journey through the Old Testament” from other traditional Old Testament surveys? The author Elmer Towns, is presuming it’s different enough to put all his proverbial eggs in one basket with this particular Old Testament Survey. With statements like “The average American is not interested in dusty history stories. They want to know about people. And, God’s people want to know about God’s people.” (Towns, 1996, p. 4) Dr. Towns presumes that “A Journey through the Old Testament” provides a reading experience that has up to that point has not been addressed. The Presentation: My first reaction to the imaginative way Dr. Elmer Towns presented the people of the Old Testament was astonishment.
Like a lonely housewife reading a Harlequin Romance I could not put down the book. Each individual from Satan to Malachi seemed to come to life, and in every situation I began to wonder, what I would do under the same circumstances. Dr. Towns presented these people of the Old Testament not as superheroes that God had adorned with supernatural abilities of perfect righteousness and relentless faithfulness, but as everyday people, dealing with very difficult circumstances, in the very best way they knew how. The way Dr. Towns formats “A Journey through the Old Testament” is simple and straightforward, his writings intertwines the events of biblical history into the life of the individuals in much the same way someone would write a biography. In fact, every chapter of the book could very easily stand alone as a simple biography of the individual of whom it was written, that is except for those individual whose life covers multiple chapters. The format of these mini-biographies is unambiguous and very easy to assimilate, first he tells a story which highlights the main events in that individual’s life, being mindful to incorporate biblical references to support the stories.
Then he expounds on the events in the character’s life. Highlighting the successes and failures of that individual. This section is sometimes titled “The Character of Lucifer” or whomever, this particular chapter is about, and has the most difficult goal of giving an insight of whom that person is at the spiritual, and emotional level. It is this section, more than any other, in which Dr. Towns adds three dimension to the persons of the Old Testament. It is also in this character section where I find the most difficulty in coming into agreement many of his statements. Finally, Dr. Towns gives his personal perspective of the events, and persons of the Old Testament as they related to Christianity today. In this section there is great insight into the thoughts of the persons of the Old Testament, but I would warn against taking everything that he writes as truth, in that it is his personal perspective. For the most part, this section of this Old Testament survey holds on to the generally accepted sound doctrine of Christianity, though not all Dr. Towns’ statements in this section are supported by biblical reference for the most part he makes an honest attempt to do so.
On a number of occasions when Dr. Towns, statements are not supported by Scripture, he writes as if assuming you are in agreement with his theological and philosophical views, not taking into consideration the different Christian views of doctrine. Great Stories Re-told: One of the most appealing things about this particular Old Testament survey is the revealing of the human entity in the presentation. Dr. Towns does not ignore or wash over the human flaws of the Old Testament people, nor does he give excuses for them. On those occasions where a person of the Old Testament is deceitful, he reveals their deceit, likewise on those occasions where a person is faithful, Dr. Towns revels their faith. Often times the deceit and the faithfulness are the actions of the very same person, making that person human, touchable, understandable, and more relatable to each one of us. Consider Abraham, by just glancing over the titles of chapters six through 12 we get an idea of the character of the person Abraham, and we are able to discern something special in Abraham’s relationship with the Father.
The Bible teaches that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6) but how do we apply this to someone in Abraham’s position? Having no precursor, or teacher for which he could draw knowledge of God from, Abraham had to learn to completely trust God through trial and error. Compare this to our faith today, and all the support that we have, for instant, scripture to encourage us, teachers to instruct us, pastors to proclaim to us, and prophets to edify and reprove us it would appear that we would have great faith in God, but for the most part we struggle with even the smallest level of faith. Yet, Abraham the hero of our faith, had none of these advantages, is there any wonder that Abraham was called “A friend of God”? (Isaiah 41:8, 2Chronicles 20:7, James 2:14). When we read about Abraham and his great faith we marvel, and think how great Abraham was. We minimize our own faith knowing the many times we have fallen short, on even minor things in life. We remember the little white lies that kept us out of trouble, the purposeful disobedience that secured our revenge, the wandering eyes of our neighbor’s wife, the prideful peacocking of our job, position, and the idolatry of our possessions, we see Abraham’s faith as unattainable. And, we become dishearten because we don’t have that kind of faith. Then, we realize that Dr. Towns has written a whole chapter dedicated to the lapse in Abraham’s faith.
This particular representation of him allows us to see Abraham not as a man with superhuman faith, but as a man who grew and struggled with his faith just as we all do. It is therefore, not Abraham’s great faith, but his human struggle to believe God which allows us to sigh in relief at the realization that maybe there is hope for us as well. Still Waters Run Deep: Dr. Elmer Towns is world renowned as co-founder of Liberty University, the largest private, non-profit Christian university in the world. He is the author of more than 175 books. The very fact that his book “A Journey through the Old Testament” is used as a textbook for North Central Theological Seminary speaks volumes for the respect, and honor he rightly deserves. On his very worst day, I am sure Dr. Towns has forgotten more about God, Scripture and doctrine than I will ever know.
Moreover, because I truly respect and honor this man of God, his opinion, insight, knowledge, wisdom, and all that he has accomplished, and having accomplished nothing even minuscule in comparison to Dr. Towns, I find that on some issues, I am at odds with this great teacher as they concern this book “A Journey through the Old Testament” the three most prominent areas which trouble me are, first, those statements which question God’s omniscience, those statements which question God’s and sovereign rule. To a lesser degree those statements which are written as fact without any scripture support. Therefore, because these issues are so important to me, and because of the way his book is written I’m not going to do a survey of his survey, (thereby addressing every event and person as the book does) most of us are familiar with the events and participants of the Old Testament. Instead, the bulk of my report will be addressing those three issues above everything else. Sovereign and Omniscient God The first problem I have is with how the sovereignty of God is presented in the book. The book leads me to perceive God as limited in His control, volleying His way through eternity future solely on the response of humanity.
However, the Bible clearly teaches that all things are under God’s rule and nothing happens unless God ordains it to be so (Daniel 4:35). We have a God who works not just some things, but all things according to the counsel of His own will (Ephesians1:11). He is God not just sovereign de jure, (in principle) but also sovereign de facto (in practice) He is a hands-on God who speaks it than brings it to pass, purposed it and will do it (Isaiah 46:11) But the sovereignty of God is not just about Him having authority, or Him doing something, but we must see God as being sovereign, and willing, and able to do whatsoever He pleases (Psalm 115:3, 135:6) Now in order for God to be sovereign over all things, He has to be all-knowing, because God cannot rule over those things He knows nothing about. We can therefore see the need for God’s omniscient to be all encompassing, Therefore, God is all-knowing in every past and present action (Psalm 33:13-15); He knows all future actions (Acts 17:31); and He knows every man’s thoughts (Psalm 94:9-10); He knows our needs (Ecclesiastes 2:26); and He knows what is good and bad.
Therefore, when the sovereign rule of God is in question, then His attribute of omniscience is also in question as well. In Isaiah 45 there is the prophecy of Cyrus the Great releasing the Jews to return to Jerusalem to worship and rebuild the temple some 150 years before Cyrus was even born. This is the omniscience of God, knowing (prophecy) what will happen. We read in verses four and five that Cyrus who was a pagan, and conquer of many nations, was acting in orchestra with God as it concerned the Jews release to rebuild the temple. Even though Cyrus did not acknowledge Yahweh as God, Cyrus’ authority, and his actions was predestine by God and still under the sovereign rule of Yahweh. (Isaiah 45:4-5) In Daniel 4:35 we read “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; And no one can ward off His hand or say to Him “What have you done?” From these passages it is very easy to see God’s hand in His work of sovereignty. However, the book presents God’s Sovereign rule as more of a Nash Equilibrium, whereby God’s actions are dependent on the actions of man or of angels.
This is very much the teaching of the “Name It and Claim It” gospel, from which I came out of. I was actually told that if you say or do a particular thing, then God must do some other action. It did not take long before I realized that this teaching subverted the meaning of an omnipotent God, and made the creator in subjection to the creation. However, scripture teaches that God is Sovereign and He does all that He pleases (Job 23:13, Psalm 115:3, Daniel 4:35) Now, let us consider this statement made by Dr. Towns “First God had to find midwives who would trust Him and defy the order of the Pharaoh that all male children be killed at birth. Then He had to find a couple who would preserve the life of their son when the order to drown male children was made, and who by faith would raise that son to have the values that would help him make the right choices during the later crises of his life. Gradually, everything came together” (Towns, 1996, p. 113). The wording in this statement sounds more like that of chance, than the actions of a sovereign, and omniscient God. To say that God had to go searching for faithful midwives is to stumble at the doctrine of sovereignty.
Clearly it was God that put the right midwives, at the right place, at the right time, to do the right work that God had predestined. This is an expression of His hands-on sovereignty Moreover, to say that God had to go searching for faithful midwives is to bring into question His omniscience. God did not start a plan and then half way through realize He did not know what to do next. Philippians 1:6 tells us that He that started a good work will bring it to completion. Not only was it God that put the midwives there at that specific moment, He had ordained them for that very purpose. In Jeremiah 1: 3 we read “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I sanctified you. I ordained you as a prophet to the nations”. Since we have a God which never changes, I am hard pressed to believe that not until Malachi did God finally gets his stuff together and worked all the kinks out in his plan for atonement of humanity.
Satan Fall and God’s plan Corrupted The most difficult passage in the whole book “A Journey through Testament” came at the beginning of the book. I’m not sure if the passage stood out to me because it was not in line with scripture, or because it was simply conjecture. Without biblical reference of any type Dr. Towns made a statement about the fall of Satan in a matter-of-fact way as if it was generally accepted Christian knowledge. I have spoken with many devout Christians that Love the Lord but each have come to a different conclusion about how to deal with chronology of the fall or Satan. On this particular issue Dr. Towns writes “The fall of Lucifer occurred before the seven days of creation. Some have even felt that because God’s plan was corrupted by Lucifer, the creation of man was God’s second attempt to create a being that would worship Him voluntarily.” Those that say that Satan’s fall happened before creation rest their support on three Bible passages, Ezekiel 28:12–19, Isaiah 14:12–15 and Job 38:6-7. However, I would like to infuse another passage Genesis 1:31 as the support for my argument against that being so.
However, before we go any further, I want to make it clear that my goal in not to pinpoint the time of Satan’s fall, as much as it is to show that Satan’s fall did not happen before creation, as Dr. Towns says it did. Genesis 1:31 reads “And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Now Numbers 23:19 tells us that “God is not a man that he shall lie” So we have a confidence that because scriptures says God saw everything He had made, and behold it was good, at that very moment we God surveyed all His creation everything was good. Now I used Genesis 1:31 because it pinpoints a time (the sixth day) as a reference by which we can measure. Now the book of Job tells us that when the foundation of the earth was created that the angels were shouting for joy (Job 38:6-7). these two passages conclude that since the angels, which are created beings, were shouting for joy when the earth was created, then, on the six day when God saw everything that he had made, and, beheld it, and said that it was very good, that the statement included both man and angels.
From this statement alone there is no way Satan could have fallen before earth was created. Now let’s address the first passages that is used to defend the argument of Satan’s fall before earth was created which is Ezekiel 28:12–19. I won’t even argue the fact that this passage seems to be addressing the King of Tyrus, however, if we accept the fact that it has a double meaning than we find Satan in the Garden of Eden perfect in all his ways. Ok we know that the Garden of Eden was created after the earth was created, so again scripture shows that Satan could not have fallen before earth was created. In the second part of that statement Dr. Towns writes, “Some have even felt that because God’s plan was corrupted by Lucifer the creation of man was God’s second attempt to create a being that would worship Him voluntarily” This statement calls into the question the omnipotence of God, it says that God’s will can be thwarted, and that man or angels can force God into a plan b. However, the Bible says “But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does.” (Job 23:13) ESV.
The statement also suggests that God is a failure in creation, had angels never fallen, God would have been content and would have had not need to created man. That leaves us with a God that has a very low opinion of man, in that our creation was nothing more than an afterthought. trueThe second issue I have is the imaginary conversation between God and those angels that He imprisoned, or froze into service to Him. I checked my Bible there is no record of this conversation, moreover, there is no biblical reference given by Dr. Towns, so I’m going say this never happened. So rather than say, He does not know why some angels did not fall with Satan, Dr. Towns alludes to the possibility of some angelic original sin. As if the original sin which morally and ethically corrupted man in his human nature because of the disobedience of Adam. Has ab angelic counterpart which corrupted the very nature of God’s remaining host because of the fall of Satan. However, there is no scripture to support such foolishness, neither is there any scripture that would suggest this could be a vague possibility in anyway. Let’s look at this from a place of common sense.
Dr. Towns is saying that God, the creator of all there is, was afraid that because one third of the angels had fallen into sin, that He would punish the others two thirds who remained faithful, by removing their free will or imprisoning them into perpetual servitude. This statement brings into question three attributes of God, His Justice, His Love, and His Omniscience, it makes God out to be a sniveling fraud that has no control of creation, but also is fearful of what creation may do. Because of the constraint with space and time we will address only the attribute of Justice. The Bible tells us that one of the attributes of God is justice, which means that God is always perfectly righteous and lawful in everything He does. In Job 34:12 we read “Yea, surely God will not do wickedly, neither will the Almighty pervert judgment.” This passage demonstrates the justice attribute of God. Clearly, there is no justice in punishing the good angels because of the actions of the wicked, this statement do not harmonize with scripture, nor is it in harmony with the attributes of God as we know them.
God did not punish the righteous in Sodom (Genesis 19:1-29) with the wicked, so we can say with confidence (Malachi 3:6) that God could not have punished the faithful angels, freezing them into perpetual servitude, while given freedom to the wicked by allowing them to continue to do all they please. Does God allow that which is wicked to remain in wickedness surely, (Hosea 4:14. Romans 1:28) yes but in no occasion are the innocent punished with the wicked. Therefore it is reasonable that if an action which is clearly unjust to man, (who is evil) it is most surely unjust to God who is righteous. Consider this very teaching whereby Jesus compares the justice of man against the justice of God. In Matthew 7:9-11 we read “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts [Justice] unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” Clearly we can see that the statement that God had frozen the remaining angels into perpetual service is not in line with Gods’ attribute of Justice. And for God to do such a thing would make Him no longer be God as we know Him (Malachi 3:6).
Conclusion; Dr. Towns is an amazing inspirational writer, his creativity captivates the attention of the reader, and draws you into his books wanting more and more. Authoring over 170 books makes him one of the most prolific Christian writers of modern time. However, these accolades alone do not transfer over to sound doctrine. Therefore, it would be misleading form me to add teacher, or theologian to his list of titles and achievements. At first I was marveled by the way that Dr. Towns presented the stories, people, and events of the Old Testament in this survey. However, as I began to read more the errors in Christian doctrine, the eisegesis of scripture to get his point across, and the ignoring scripture altogether in order to make the book more readable, it opened my eyes to a more discerning understanding of that which we so cavalierly call Christian literature or study. In fact, once my attention was taken off how the events and people of the Old Testament was presented, and more toward making sure the presentation reflected sound Christian doctrine reading the book became more of a struggle than a joy.
I am in some ways even confused why this book was selected as a textbook for this course as in my opinion it is very weak in the area of basic Christian doctrine, but strong in the areas of eisegesis, artistic leave way, and anthropomorphism. To say that Dr. Towns eisegesis scripture to prove is point is not fair at all, that would mean that he read something into scripture with the intent of proving his presuppositional points. That is not the case at all, for the most part Dr. Towns just gives his opinion and assumes you are in agreement with it, or writes in an as a matter-of-fact type of format as if his word is final inerrant word on the subjects. It seems to make no difference that much of what he wrote came from the creativity of his own mind, rather than the pages of the Holy Bible. As I address anthropomorphism a reasonable defense would be this survey is more about the people and events than about God our creator. However, just like the Word of Faith movement when people become the driving force of scripture than God becomes a lesser God. (John 3:29-31)
Though the use of anthropomorphism can make a story more interesting, when human attributes are attributed to God, the story teller makes God less than omnipotent, less than omniscient, and in general makes Yahwah less than God, (Romans 3:26-28) and for that reason when we write concerning the scripture we must be mindful of what and how we reflect who God is. I know there is a lot of artistic leeway required when writing an Old Testament survey in this format, and on the strength of the artistic leeway “A Journey through the Old Testament” is a great read as long as basic Christian beliefs and sound Christian doctrine are not an important issue to you. However, if your goal is more than a good fictional read then I would suggest devoting your time to a more traditional Bible survey like “Popular Survey of the Old Testament” by Norman L. Geisler. With this book you may not be as well entertained by the artist’s writing, but you will be given a better understanding of sound Christian doctrine and its real life application.
In general my opinion of the book is unless this book is read by someone that already has a sound background in proper Christian doctrine and is mindful of when that doctrine is being challenged this is not a book I would recommend. The novice Christian may take this book as sound and be lead to believe things for which the Bible does not teach, (Ephesians 4:13-15) which may take years to correct, if it is ever corrected. And though it may appear as though I am doctrinal nitpicking, these issues are of the utmost importance, and even a slight deviation from the letter can cause a major turn from sound doctrine. Galatians 5:9 tells us “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” .
Towns, E. L. (1996). A Journey through the Old Testament (1 Ed.). Forth Worth Tx: Harcourt Brace Custom Publishers.