Culp, A. J. Invited to Know God: The Book of Deuteronomy. Transformative Word Series. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2019. 88 pp.; Pb. $12.99 Link to Lexham Press
A. J. Culp is lecturer in Old Testament and biblical languages at Malyon College in in Gaythorne, Queensland. The Transformative Word Series is edited by Craig Bartholomew and intends to be an engaging thematic exploration of the Bible which offers refreshing and unique insights into each book of the Bible. This is a short theological interpretation of the book of Deuteronomy for the express purpose of devotional reading.
Most Christians struggle to hear the voice of God speaking to them through the book of Deuteronomy. Culp therefore introduces the book as a covenant which binds God’s people to him “like a fetter.” Using these well-known words from the Christian hymn “Come Thou Fount,” Culp draws an analogy between God’s Old Testament covenant people and the New Testament covenant people. He says, “God in his goodness has acted on our behalf and we in turn, out of gratitude and love, choose to bind ourselves to him” (14). In this brief devotional commentary, he demonstrates that the book of Deuteronomy can be a means by which Christians can know God more and bind themselves more fully to him.
The book has four chapters covering sections of the book of Deuteronomy. First, Deuteronomy 1–4 discusses memory as a means of knowing God. The opening chapters in the book of Deuteronomy serve to remind God’s people of what God has done for them when he brought them up out of Egypt and into the wilderness. Culp draws an analogy to Christ’s death on the cross and the practice of the Lord’s Supper when Christians remember what God has done for them.
Second, Deuteronomy 5–11 focus on worship as a means of knowing God. Culp reviews the Ten Commandments as worship of God. He discusses the shema and its focus on the one God of Israel. Just as Israel came to know their God through worship, so too does the Christian. Although Christians tend to think of worship as some devotional activity, Culp encourages the reader to focus on Jesus of Nazareth as a representation of the image of the invisible God in worship.
Third, in Deuteronomy 12–26 the Law is a means of knowing God. These chapters in Deuteronomy are perhaps the most difficult for the Christian reader. Culp describes the law as a “tutor in gratefulness,” training people through the repetition of ritual to know “not only how to act but also how to feel” (52). Obedience to the Law is therefore a way of coming to know God better.
Fourth, the blessing and cursing of the law in Deuteronomy 27–34 show that being in a covenant relationship with God is a means of knowing God. For Culp, the covenant is an environment for learning. For this reason, the book of Deuteronomy ends with a covenant renewal ceremony (27-28), instructions for the regular public reading of the book of the law (31:9-13), and the regular teaching of the covenant through worship to the next generation (31:19). Once again, he draws the analogy to the Christian practice of the Lord Supper.
In the final chapter of the book, “Jesus and Deuteronomy: Knowing God through Grace,” Culp describes what C. S. Lewis called “the deep magic” in the Chronicles of Narnia. God himself must do something to fix what is wrong with humans. Culp relates this to the way the prophets describe God as making a new covenant with the nation of Israel. Ezekiel looks forward to a time when God’s Spirit will dwell with his people and change their “heart of stone” to a “heart of flesh.” This change is affected by the activity of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53:5).
Each chapter in this short book only takes a few minutes to read. There are occasional side bars giving additional information about details in the text of Deuteronomy. Each chapter concludes with a suggested reading section from both the Old and New Testament along with three or four questions for personal reflection.
Like other volumes in the Transformative Word Series, this short book was designed for a personal devotion or a small group Bible study. As such it should satisfy most readers. It is thoroughly theological reading of the book of Deuteronomy, seeing the book through the lens of Jesus Christ and the New Testament. It does not deal with any of the details of the Law in a historical or exegetical way.
NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.