God is present
The message of Kings
Good exposition, but you will still need Davis
GOD IS PRESENT
The message of Kings
By John Olley
Inter-Varsity Press. 374 pages. £11.99
ISBN 978 1 844 745 500
I have never preached my way through 1 and 2 Kings; like many of us, I suspect, I have dipped into some choice sections, but I have never set myself the task of a complete series.
So John Olley deserves our thanks — for committing himself to expound both books, and therefore challenging us to do the same. The Bible Speaks Today (BST) series is, of course, aimed at a Christian’s personal reading and for pastors in preparation. I have benefitted from the first as I have worked my way through, and it would be on my desk regularly as I worked on the text. Olley has an ambitious task, and has accomplished it with consistent helpfulness. This is a very good exposition of a difficult book.
Its strengths are the strengths of the BST series: here is a contemporary exposition of a biblical text, faithful and evangelical in its approach, thorough and informed in its working. Olley pays consistently detailed attention to the text, which is admirable given its length, and often gives insight into the original Hebrew. He has read widely, and engages both current and historical scholarship and preaching.
But, although this book would sit on my desk, it could not be on its own. One of the most helpful shifts in recent evangelical thinking has been the rise of serious biblical theology, which allows and expects the preacher to arc from the Old Testament to Christ. Olley reads the text as Christian preacher, of course, so he frequently moves us to Christ and to contemporary application, but I became aware of a lack of explicit biblical theology running through, which made those moves feel rather patchy.
I was not persuaded at a number of points of his alignment with the 21st century and, while every reader reaches different conclusions on such things, I think in this case it was the lack of a stated system which troubled me. I do not move as Olley does from the worship in the temple to worship in a contemporary cathedral (p.85) or from its architecture to ours (p.91), and I would have liked to know how he justified that.
How stories work
A second contemporary shift has been a growing awareness of how stories work, how they build tension and then release or spring surprises. Good commentaries pay attention to those narrative tropes as well as the detail, and, here again, I felt Olley was weak. He has provided a straightforward running commentary, but I felt, on many occasions, that it did not see, or communicate, the dramatic power of what the original author intended. 1 Kings 17-19, which should be an elemental showdown between Yahweh and Baal, felt very bland.
So, this excellent, detailed exposition would need to have Dale Ralph Davis’s books beside it — in fact, their absence from the bibliography is a surprise. That said, as I began the careful working through of the Bible ahead of time, this would be a consistent companion.
Vice Principal, Oak Hill Theological College, Southgate, London