In the first part of the book, Nugent lays out for us Yoder’s Old Testament theology in four phases that follow the narrative course of the Old Testament:
- Pre-Formation of a People: From Creation to Babel
- Formation of a People: From Abraham to Judges
- Deformation of a People: From Monarchy to Its Collapse
- Re-Formation of a People: From Jeremiah to the Early Church
This section is the heart of the book, and the one that will have the broadest interest. (This section is summarized eloquently in an appendix to the book, which we have excerpted here). Nugent writes in a very accessible style, with some occasional theological jargon, but even that can usually be understood rather easily by the context. One of the most compelling things for me is the ecclesiological lens through which Yoder interpreted the Old Testament (note even in the four brief images above that the focus is on the people of God). And this ecclesiology is what unifies the Old and New Testaments: as Gerhard Lohfink has powerfully argued in Jesus and Community and Does God Need the Church?, the heart of God’s mission in the world since at least the time of the Fall is the gathering and formation of a people. The first phase of Yoder’s reading is the most straightforward and in line with traditional evangelical theology. Nugent highlights some facet’s of Yoder’s work that distinguish it but the basic trajectory will be familiar to most readers: God creates a good creation that is at peace and in communion amongst itself and with God; humankind rebels and the echoes of that rebellion intensify over a number of centuries. One of the most striking distinctives that Nugent features is Yoder’s idea that the fall was “epistemologically crippling.” Nugent allows Yoder to speak for himself here, “Of course we have access to the good creation of God. What we do not have is epistemologically reliable access which would permit us by looking at the fallen order or analyzing our words about it to know just what the created goodness is and how to disentangle it from the perversion and rebelliousness.” This perspective is particularly helpful in thinking about the nature of theology in a postmodern world.
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