Professor Doug Petersen sat down with City News to talk about the study of the Old Testament, a course he taught at the SOT recently.
Professor Doug Petersen, co-director of graduate studies at Vanguard University, visited City Harvest Church with his wife Myrna, preaching at the weekend services. He also spent the week of 15 to 19 May teaching at CHC’s School of Theology on the Old Testament.
Prof Doug, as all at CHC call him, has been instrumental in working with SOT to revise its curriculum, which this year’s Bible school students are fully benefitting from. City News sat down with him for a chat on what he taught at SOT that week.
City News: What is your view on the value of theological education for believers who are not in or entering full-time ministry?
Doug Petersen: There is a certain theological foundation that every believer should have. The fundamental things about who is God. What role does Jesus play? How does the cross work—the resurrection, the ascension? What about the power of the Spirit? What about the last things? These things were promised in the Old Testament—it is the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, ascension, the soon-to-return Christ. And we live in between the cross and the soon-to-return.
That’s our message. That’s our story. And everybody should know that. [If you specialise] on any piece of that, you can get a PhD. But everybody should have those fundamentals. Years back, that was a significant thing where Bible schools would have a one-year programme for people who weren’t necessarily going into the ministry, and they just wanted that one-year foundation. SOT can be a lot like that—that provides a huge opportunity for students to get the fundamentals.
Can you share with us your experience teaching in SOT for the first time?
SOT was a marvellous experience. Fortunately, if I can see prompts, I can teach—that’s great (Prof Doug has glaucoma). It’s harder to preach that way, but teach? I can go forever. The students were so receptive—which is what I expected. It’s one thing to have a crowd like 300 (versus his usual classes of fewer than 20 students), so I just drone away for four hours (laughs). But it worked out alright.
I tried to do it where I don’t just provide information, because you can just read up. The important part is to pick out things that are pertinent to each of those books that are formative.
Your usual classes are a smaller group setting—what’s that like?
Whatever point I’m making, I will go back and forth with the students. How do they see it? What perspective do they have? What do they have to add? Do they see it this way? Or I’ll have them work through a passage in a group and see how everybody did.
We sort of put together my teaching and their experience and we get a synergy.
Something you said that caught my attention was that even though you’ve studied the Old Testament, you still have questions to which you can’t find an answer. Is it okay to not have the answers for everything in the Bible?
The way I approach it is that sometimes there are answers, I just don’t happen to know them. Other people know them—I don’t. But there are other times when they’re just hard to answer and we just have to leave it at that. Don’t try to put something in there that makes it fit or makes it comfortable.
Sometimes, you want the Bible to speak in ways that are politically correct, but the Bible doesn’t do that. We need to let it be what it is—good, bad and ugly. And that’s what makes it so powerful.
You referred to God as the “Ultimate Reality” a few times. What does that actually mean?
When I use the term “Ultimate Reality”, it means there is no other. That’s it. That’s our origin, that’s where we started, that’s where we finish. Everything is about the Ultimate Reality. So, when we talk about prayer, that is our channel to the Ultimate Reality—it doesn’t get any better than that. It’s a direct line to all power. It is too big for us—our minds cannot comprehend it.
God is comprehensible in that we know everything we need to know, but He is incomprehensible in that for most of things, we will have no idea until we get to heaven. And so Ultimate Reality is a good way for us to see that this is way bigger than us.
There’s nothing beyond the Ultimate Reality. One God—He always was and always will be. And He is one—the Father, Son, and Spirit. All of that ultimate reality that’s too big for me to understand.
The Old Testament is a daunting book for new believers because it’s so hard to understand. How do you recommend they start?
Psalms is always good. But I would probably recommend Genesis. You need to know about Genesis because there you get the creation story, and you get God choosing His people and making a promise.
Everybody needs to know about the Exodus and the law and the covenant—those have everything to do with us. “I am the Lord your God have brought you out”, which is God’s promise to us as well. Those are fundamental stories that everybody needs to know.
Then you read narratives like Ruth and Esther—they’re just compelling. Those are a great start too. And then you read about the Kings and the Prophets, and Leviticus or Numbers—they’re hard and one has to sort through the story to understand what is the dynamic equivalent for us. Because obviously, a lot of that is not related to our time, but the principles are.
Prof Doug Petersen will return to teach on the New Testament. Stay tuned for details.