Stephen Dawes

Why Bother with the Old Testament?

(A Review by Christopher Laurence)

Now here’s a funny thing: on Sunday a protestant preacher glares at his congregation,”We shall all stand one day before the judgement–seat of God”,he declares. The congregation looks nervous and apprehensive. On the Sabbath a rabbi beams at his congregation, ”We shall all stand one day before the judgement-seat of God”, he declares. The congregation smiles with joy and anticipation. For the Jews their scriptures have taught them that God’s judgement comes when His righteousness is established and His people vindicated. Christians have picked up a quite different and alarming notion of judgement, deeply influenced by Roman law where the judge sits aloof and detached from the proceedings before him. Which of these views is closest to the gospel: the Old Testament view or the New Testament view?

Canon Stephen Dawes, Canon Theologian of Truro Cathedral (and a Methodist) used this illustration in the second lecture of the new Lincoln Theological Society to an appreciative audience of nearly a hundred. It was gratifying to see so many, because the title of the lecture, ‘Marcion: Hero or Heretic?’ was unlikely to excite the interest of any who were not enthusiastic students of the early Christian Fathers. But the subtitle, ‘Should Christians really read the Old Testament?’ is of contemporary concern in the churches where the reading of the Old Testament is somewhat neglected. It is thought generally that it is just a collections of prophets of doom, a bloodthirsty god and unscientific, unhistorical stories.

Canon Dawes, warm and humerus vigorously contested this misunderstanding. For example, he pointed out that the New Testament tells us little about creation and the social /political dimensions of our place in it. But we need to read these scriptures sensibly, not as fundamentalists; we have to be aware of the great span of human understanding represented in this collection of books, from the primitive to the sublime. He didn’t say, but could have concluded with the quotation,”The Hebrew scriptures are the cradle in which Christ is laid”.

Judging by the warmth of the applause and the crush to buy his books after the lecture, Canon Dawes’ long journey from Truro was well worthwhile. The Lincoln Theological society has established itself with a high standard of lectures and a substantial, appreciative audience.

Christopher Laurence.

24 May 2011

A full transcript of the lecture can be found on the website: