Deuteronomy can be an intimidating book. However, in Invited to Know God, A. J. Culp invites readers to see the gospel of Jesus in unlikely places. In this interview, we asked Culp to explain how to read Deuteronomy as good news.
Lexham Press: Tell us a little about yourself and the story of how this book came to be.
A. J. Culp: Years ago, when I was finishing my master’s thesis, I would read some of my favorite fiction in the evenings. At one point I opened C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and, when I reached The Silver Chair, it struck me that one of its scenes echoed Deuteronomy, especially in its emphasis on memory. But when I set out to learn more about memory in Deuteronomy, I found that scholars hadn’t really addressed the issue well. This led me to England to do a PhD on the topic under premier Pentateuch scholar, Gordon Wenham (now published as Memoir of Moses: The Literary Creation of Covenantal Memory in Deuteronomy). Since then, I have continued my work in Deuteronomy, and Invited to Know God is one of the outworkings of that.
LP: For many readers, Deuteronomy may appear as little more than “just another book of laws.” What do you think is at the heart of Deuteronomy’s message?
Culp: I tell my students that, if I were to summarize the message of Deuteronomy with one New Testament verse, I would point to 1 John 4:19: “We love [him] because he first loved us.” The whole point of Deuteronomy is to cultivate love of God, and it does so by reminding Israel of God’s benevolence.
LP: How should believers read Deuteronomy for profit?
Culp: As I say in the book—and as many others have said before me—Deuteronomy is not law versus gospel, but law as gospel. Deuteronomy, as Daniel Block has said, is the gospel according to Moses.
LP: Deuteronomy has 34 chapters and your book is under 100 pages. Did you face any particular challenges in summing up such a dense and foundational OT book?
Culp: Short answer: yes. Slightly longer answer: in order to distill this immense book into a small book, I asked myself a question: What is the one thing I want to convey to people about Deuteronomy? To me, the answer was this: that the book is about knowing God. After I decided this, I set about showing how the book as a whole and in its major sections addresses the question of knowing God.
LP: In your study and writing, did anything surprising stick out to you?
Culp: I still find it it incredible,and deeply moving, that Deuteronomy balances two seemingly opposite ideas: on the one hand, that God demands radical devotion and loyalty from his people, but, on the other, that God himself will ultimately be the one who satisfies this demand for the people (Deut 30:6). Again, this shows that Deuteronomy is fundamentally gospel.
LP: How should we see Jesus in Deuteronomy?
Culp: As I say in the book’s final chapter, I find C.S. Lewis’s idea of “deep” and “deeper” magic helpful, with deep magic representing the Old Testament law and deeper magic the satisfaction of it in Christ’s sacrifice. In Aslan’s words, “though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”
LP: At the risk of losing your position at an Australian college—should Vegemite have been included on the unclean food list in Deuteronomy?
Culp: Snakes, spiders, and Vegemite–the things of Australia that surely came from the Fall! Honestly, I think you need to grow up eating this stuff to appreciate it, because my kids, despite possessing American citizenship, actually like it.