VossedWorld

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The problem of "cheap law"

I once had a Christian leader tell me that the biggest issue in our churches today is a failure to preach obedience. Our churches, he told me, are full of people who are not living as if they are Christians. So they need for us to dogmatically and emphatically preach ethics and morality. And that was his response to my suggestion that our churches and pulpits need more gospel.

So the millenia-old debate continues. Here are some extended quotes from an excellent post on law vs. gospel by Tullian Tchividjian over at the Gospel Coalition's blog:

"Lawlessness and moral laxity happen, not when we hear too much grace, but when we hear too little of it."



"We’re being both theologically AND existentially simplistic and naive when we assume that simply telling people what they need to do has the power to make them want to do it. Telling people they need to change can’t change them; exhorting people to obey (which we should definitely do) doesn’t generate obedience. Even God’s command to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is not itself what causes actual love for him. What causes actual love for God is God’s love for us."

Quoting Jono Linebaugh: "'God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.'"

"Regardless of how well I think I’m doing in the sanctification project or how much progress I think I’ve made since I first became a Christian, like Paul in Romans 7, when God’s perfect law becomes the standard and not 'how much I’ve improved over the years', I realize that I’m a lot worse than I realize. Whatever I think my greatest vice is, God’s law shows me that my situation is much graver: if I think it’s anger, the law shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, the law shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, the law shows me that it’s actually idolatry (read Matthew 5:17-48). No matter how decent I think I’m becoming–how much better I think I’m getting–when I’m graciously confronted by God’s law, I can’t help but cry out, 'Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24).'"

"Grace, for many Christians, is the reduction of God’s expectations of us. Because of grace, we think, we just need to try hard. Grace becomes this law-cheapening agent, attempting to make the law easier to follow. 'Love the Lord with all your heart' becomes 'try to love God more than sports.' 'Be perfect' gets cheapened into 'do your best.'"

"It’s a low view of the law that produces legalism, since a low view of the law causes us to conclude we can do it—the bar is low enough for us to jump over. A low view of the law makes us think the standards are attainable, the goals reachable, the demands doable. This means, contrary to what some Christians would have you believe, the biggest problem facing the church today is not 'cheap grace' but 'cheap law'—the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus."

The power of life transformation is not in the law. The only real help we can provide anyone who is beaten down and beset by sin is in the gospel. The only real help we can provide ourselves and our sheep day in and day out is in Christ and His Good News. We can't. He did. He does. He will. That's our hope. That's true help for moral ineptitude in the church.

Read the whole thing here: Acknowledging Failure IS A Virtue

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jesus is An Army of One

The LORD’s single-handed incarnational judgment and salvation

Exodus 14:
“The LORD will fight for you.”

“I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh”
“The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh”
“I will receive glory through Pharaoh”

The Angel of God moved and went behind Israel, coming between the Egyptian and Israelite forces
The LORD drove the sea back
The LORD looked down on the Egyptian forces from the pillar of fire and cloud
The LORD threw them into confusion
The LORD caused their chariot wheels to swerve
The LORD made them drive with difficulty.

“Yahweh is fighting for Israel against Egypt!”

The LORD threw the Egyptians into the sea
The LORD saved Israel from the power of the Egyptians
The LORD used great power against the Egyptians

Jude 5:
Jesus first saved a people out of Egypt.

Jesus is An Army of One.
Jesus not only fought the Egyptians single-handedly on the night of the Passover and delivered his people from slavery in Egypt (as The Angel of God, the second person of the Godhead Pre-Incarnate), he finished and completed the deliverance of His people in the cross and resurrection. Against the serpent. Against the forces of evil. Against sin. Against death. Jesus was and is An Army of One.

It's true. The God of angel armies is always by my side (thank you Chris Tomlin). It's also very true that Emmanuel *is* an Angel Army always by my side. We are an Exodus people, delivered from Egypt and headed to Canaan via the single-handed work of our Savior, Deliverer, Warrior. This is the gospel of Exodus 14.

Jesus was, has been, still is, and ever will be an Army of One.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Bible is a missionary book

Cross-cultural church planting necessitates getting the Word right. This means church-planting missionaries must have the kind of Word skills necessary for populating hard-to-get-to places with kingdom people. Missiology must be married to theology so that the worker being ekballoed (Greek word for propelled, Matthew 9:38) into Christ’s harvest is fully equipped to do the work of church planting.

This marriage of mission and theology is based on the pattern established in the Scriptures. The Bible itself is a missionary book. “The Bible is not a book about theology as such, but rather, a record of theology in mission—God in action in behalf of the salvation of mankind.”[1] (George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 9). Thus, the community brought to life by the Spirit through the missionary Scriptures has “mission” in its DNA. Ambassadors who represent their King are brought together in community in order to reproduce themselves through proclamation. Because the Bible and its people are inherently tied to the mission of God in the world, “the church is in a missionary situation everywhere.”[2] (Lesslie Newbigin, The Theology of the Christian Mission, p. xi)

The Scriptures themselves were inspired “in mission”. George Peters, in A Biblical Theology of Missions, points out that the Bible and the theology embedded in it flow out of missionary endeavor:

“The missionary theology of the New Testament (outside of the gospels) is not difficult to establish. We need only remind ourselves of the fact that the book of Acts is the authentic missionary record of the apostles and the early church and that all epistles were written to churches established through missionary endeavors. Were Christianity not a missionary religion and had the apostles not been missionaries, we would have no book of Acts and no epistles. With the exception of Matthew, even the gospels were written to missionary churches. The New Testament is a missionary book in address, content, spirit and design. This is a simple fact but it also is a fact of reality and profound significance. The New Testament is theology in motion more than it is theology in reason and concept. It is ‘missionary theology.’

“To establish the theology of missions in the New Testament one simply accepts the New Testament for what it is. No reader can remain untouched by its missionary thrust and design. There is perhaps little theology of missions as such in the New Testament because it is in its totality a missionary theology, the theology of a group of missionaries and a theology in missionary movement. Thus it does not present a theology of missions; it is a missionary theology.”[3] (George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 131)

Because the Bible is missionary, exposition of the Word is at the heart of church planting. Exposition gets at “what the Word is saying” as the foundation for properly understanding the text and its gospel message. Expository teaching and preaching is “in mission” because its context is the proclamation of the Word by the gathered community “in mission”. The apostle Paul believed exposition and its resulting theology (“knowledge of the truth”) was indispensable to church planting in mission (Colossians 1:10, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 2:25). Without a proper understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish, church planting is impossible.

(from Exposition in Mission, Ekballo magazine, September 2013, p. 20-22)



[1] Peters, G. (1972). A biblical theology of missions. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 9
[2] Newbigin, L. (1961). The Theology of the Christian Mission. (G. Anderson, Ed.) Nashville, TN: Abingdon. p. xi
[3] Peters, G. (1972). A biblical theology of missions. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 131

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Gentry and Wellum: Unlike previous covenants, Christ's relationship with his people has changed

Over at the Gospel Coalition blog, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum have responded to reviews from Doug Moo, Darrell Bock, and Michael Horton regarding their book, Kingdom Through Covenant. This response provides Gentry and Wellum opportunity to once again highlight the heart of the disagreements over the New Covenant: the uniqueness of the New Covenant in its own right, especially in Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises and types.

Gentry and Wellum:

"...in the progress of the covenants, Christ is the fulfillment of all the previous covenant mediators. He comes as the last Adam, the true son of Abraham, the true Israel, and David's greater Son. However, unlike the previous covenants, the relationship with his people has been transformed.

"...in the new covenant, those in union with Christ and thus participants in the new covenant are people of faith, born of the Spirit. There is no evidence that one is a member of the new covenant apart from repenting of sin and believing the gospel. Thus when it comes to the covenant communities, namely Israel and the church, under their respective covenants, the nature of the communities is not the same. No doubt this is an argument that includes typological structures, but it is grounded in a larger argument about how the covenants interrelate to each other, unfold, and find their telos in Christ.
" Gentry and Wellum, 'Kingdom through Covenant' Authors Respond to Bock, Moo, Horton

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Unfolding Revelation as Christ's Mission

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament. He is in its DNA. He himself said so. In Luke 24, Christ chides and comforts disciples struggling in the aftermath of his death and resurrection with the declaration that all of the Old Testament is about him. It's as if, in the progressive unfolding of God's self-revelation, Christ arises from and walks out of the Old Testament pages onto the Grand Stage of history on a mission to redeem for himself His people.

Christ is so intertwined with the Old Testament story, George Peters says, "Jesus Christ constantly related Himself, His message and His mission to the Old Testament. He did not contradict or destroy but modified, enriched, expanded, and in many ways transformed and glorified the Old Testament." (Peters, A Biblical Theology of Mission, p. 83)

The Christocentricity of the inspired text cannot be separated from Christ's salvific mission to fill the earth with his image bearers. When God the Second Person pierced and invaded the silence of the garden with "Adam, where are you?", his mission to reconcile all things to himself had begun. This mission is articulated in the great first promise, what is known as the protevangelium, in Genesis 3:15. And from this promise emerges the grand storyline of redemption that courses through the veins of the Old Testament.

Again, George Peters is helpful:

"The universality of the protevangelium is basic to Old Testament revelation. It is the soteriological leitmotif (dominant, unifying, all-inclusive thrust and intent) and hermeneutical principle governing Old Testament interpretation. It cannot be revoked or modified, for it rests on the unconditional 'I will' of the eternal God in whom there is no variableness. It becomes the guiding star throughout history and prophecy of the Old Testament until it finds its fulfillment in Christ, the seed of the woman.

"The leitmotif gives coherence to the Bible, integrates it into a progressive structure, gives it direction and purpose as a whole, and clarifies the meaning of each individual section and part. Only as the leitmotif is grasped clearly and applied consistently does the Old Testament yield its rich and true fruitage to the reader." (George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 86)

Trace the Genesis 3:15 leitmotif through the unfolding revelation of the Old Testament and you will trace Christ's mission to win a kingdom for himself, a kingdom from all people groups in every corner of the globe. God's activity in the Old Testament is missional activity. The divine orchestration of the drama from Abraham to David to Daniel culminates in the heaven-to-earth mission of Emmanuel, come to save His people from their sins. 

Sunday, November 03, 2013

The incarnation-cross-resurrection event: Enthroned Grace enters human life

Our salvation is a Person. The incarnation of Christ assured the realization of our salvation in real time and space. All of life's meaning, indeed the church's hope and transformation, is dependent on Christ taking on flesh to win salvation for us in his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation. But it is not simply an objective reality "to be wondered at". Christ invades our space and transforms us, uniting us to himself and gathering us to his church. This is the lifeblood of the gospel we preach.

Thus, George Peters:

"The incarnation-cross-resurrection event is crucial to the interpretation of history. It is focal in biblical revelation. Here the Old and New Testaments merge and divide. This event is central to the divine history of salvation (Heilsgeschichte). Here promise exchanges for fulfillment—shadow gives way to reality—sin is judged—forgiveness is offered. Here wrath is propitiated, grace is enthroned, death is defeated, and life and immortality come to light.

"...The incarnation-cross-resurrection event is the cosmic divide that separates darkness from light, the temporal from the eternal, the carnal from the spiritual, death from immortality, perdition from life, condemnation from presence, and hell from heaven. The incarnation-cross-resurrection event is the fountain and foundation of the salvation of God, the only hope for mankind.

"It is the pinnacle of Christ’s self-giving love for mankind. It is a spectacle to the world, a stumbling block to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks, a rock of offense to the disobedient, and a mystery to the angels. It is the manifestation of the holiness and righteousness of God in relation to sin, and the language of the love of God in relation to the guilt and lostness of the sinner.

"In the incarnation-cross-resurrection event, holiness, righteousness and love blend in beautiful harmony for the glory of God and the welfare of man, bringing about salvation and making propitiation, reconciliation, redemption, restoration and glorification divine realities and assuring their eventual realization.

"...The salvation of God is rooted in eternity and actualized in time. Eternity with its spiritual glory, fullness and blessings is invading time and humanity. Salvation for man is here now. God in Christ Jesus and through the Holy Spirit enters human life. He is entering me. Salvation is not merely an objective reality to be wondered at, a theological dictum to be debated about, a philosophical theory to be speculated about—not even merely a marvelous subject to be preached about.

"It is a divine reality entering the human being to transform his fundamental disposition, cleanse him from sin and unrighteousness, redeem him from bondage and corruption, impart to him the nature of God, recreate in him the image of Christ, make him a child of God, a member of the household of God, and qualify him through the gift of the Holy Spirit to live a life of true discipleship in the midst of a world almost destitute of the consciousness of God and eternity.

"Salvation is not a detached gift of God in some gracious and miraculous way bestowed upon man. Salvation is Christ, and to experience salvation is to experience Christ. Salvation is person-centered. It is Christ-identification. It is not the experience of something, but rather, the experience of Someone. The Bible does not teach that Christ has salvation and dispenses it like a benevolent master giving gifts to his servants who obey him. Christ is our salvation and gives Himself to us as our salvation.

"Salvation is not a bundle of costly gifts which the Lord distributes freely and from which we select whatever we like or find. It is rather the experience of a Person in whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells. Thus in Christ I am becoming the recipient of the fullness of God. He is our life; He is our strength; He is our peace; He is our joy; He is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. Jesus Christ Himself is the content of our salvation.

"...Christianity is not primarily a philosophy of religion, a way of life, or a set of beliefs and practices. It is a Person, and the experience of salvation is the experience of the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ—not a gift from Him, or a part of Him. He can neither be divided in Himself nor separated from His salvation." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 62-65

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Kingdom where the Light is Always On

(Reposted from October 25, 2005) It's always interesting to read the news reports, blog posts, Facebook updates, and tweets regarding the American church and her "position" on Halloween. Do we, or don't we? 

An overlooked alternative to what I think tends to be isolationist abstention (self-righteous in some instances) is participation in trick or treating itself. Halloween is mandatory at our house. The last thing our block needs is a shuttered house that, contrary to what can be a puffy-chested "we make sure we're not home that night" self-righteousness that somehow thinks it is making a statement against Satan, sends the message that our house is the last place to turn to for help in time of need. Halloween night, our house is wide-open with smiles AND candy galore. Our kids are dressed to make a candy haul (of course, in time, they'll regret the pix of them wearing Cincinnati Bengals regalia) because this is the one night of the year my neighbor's societally-induced walls are down and I want them to know I'm up the street if they need me.

Yeah... I've heard all of the "pagan" reasons Christians should avoid Halloween. The question is whether we are actually particpating in Samhain when we participate in Halloween? Who or what makes the "Witch's League of Public Awareness" the definers of what Halloween is, either now or historically? Such a connection between Samhain and my daughter as a ladybug or my son as a Bengals Boy is highly dubious, IMHO. I can just as easily make the case from history that my daughter is participating in a historically Christian event rooted in Roman Catholic customs tied to "All Souls Day": "It started with two early European customs called "mumming" and "souling," which merged into the lighthearted practice we know today. "Mummers" were mischievous revelers who dressed in outlandish costumes and demanded payment to restrain themselves. During the same time of year, families baked sweet cakes, or "soul cakes," and gave them to family members and neighbors in exchange for prayers for relatives who had died."

The “mumming” on “All Souls Day” was a church event. Apparently, the church believed that one can do Halloween without participating in the pagan event. Halloween is as much historically a church event as pagan... it depends on what you as a person decide you want to tie it to. The "Christian" roots of Halloween are not in attempts to Christianize a pagan festival, but are squarely rooted in vigil observances tied to the Catholic "All Hallows Day" that took place the night before. Hallow's Eve is a Christian designation for that church event which was held the day before All Soul's Day, so the name itself is Christian in origin. Our Halloweening has more "root" in the religious (which does include going door to door asking for food in return for a prayer for the dead the next day... it was called "Souling") than it does in paganism, albeit praying for the dead - a church event - could itself be tied to the pagan... but... I digress. Evangelicals today who attempt to "reclaim" Halloween are doing precisely what the Catholic church has been doing for hundreds of years in All Hallows Day.

Halloween is not "Satan's holiday", as some evangelicals are fond of calling it. "Satan's holiday" is every day and has been since Adam abdicated his dominion. It is especially so when Satan can get Christians in a tither about one night a year, and make nary a peep about 364 nights of cheating on taxes, cheating on wives, screaming at kids, gossipping, unneighborly spitefulness... all as much "from darkness" (or more) as putting on a Tweety Bird costume and asking neighbors for Butterfingers.

And what of the alternative? One of the most important events of Christian history took place on Halloween: the recovery of the gospel. On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted ("nailed" is pure Hollywood) his 95 gripes about indulgences on the bulletin board at the Wittenberg church, knowing parishioners would be there later that night for their All Hallows vigil and related activities. Certainly, Reformation Day (October 31) festivities are a wonderful alternative that provide the opportunity to showcase Christ and the proclamation of His story. I've often wondered why Reformation Day isn't celebrated more, given that Christ is at the heart of an event that turned the world upside down. But for too many, at the expense of being salt and light, Reformation Day "dress up" and "fellowship" has been an "isolationist" alternative to Halloween. As if the kingdom is somehow advanced and culture transformed by our Christianized "baptism" of the Halloween event.

We're missing the bigger picture, I think. I've come to believe that our participation in Halloween is not about reclaiming. It's about reconciliation. We live in a fractured society. Broken homes mean broken neighborhoods. Urban sprawl not only means driving a half hour to church or work, but it also means I no longer spend much time over the back fence. Homes go up for sale, are occupied, then sold again, and I can't even remember the neighbor's first name. It's not that I have no desire to be the good neighbor. Our culture wants it that way... likes it that way. Space is a prized commodity.

Whether we "fundymentalists" like it or not, Halloween is the one night a year when the walls come down and the space is open for all comers. Americans drop the barriers on Halloween night. It is the one night a year I am welcome on my neighbor's porch no questions asked. I insist on taking my daughter and son round the block and over the back fence. While it's true one can be a good neighbor at all times of the year, it's not true that being a good neighbor is welcome at all times of the year. Halloween is the one night a year, without forcing myself into an unwelcome intrusion of space, I can shake a hand, exchange pleasantries, and if possible... even for that brief moment, let the neighbor know at least one guy on the block cares about who they are and is glad to be their neighbor. It is the one night that I know they will be at my door wide open exchanging similar pleasantries. Halloween is our culture's built-in block party and as a lesser light of The Light on a hill, I insist on being part of it.

I hear some of my fellow Christians gush in that "spiritual sort of way" about the one place they won't be on Halloween night: home. And if they are home, the light will most certainly be "off". What kind of message does it send to the rest of the neighborhood? How is that counter-culture? Our fractured society needs "homes" where the porch light is always blazing. Of all the houses on the block, mine should be the one that the neighbors know is a welcome center. If we had a sniper shooting on our block, I want my house to be "grief central". We have a domestic disturbance home on the block. Come Halloween, Luke and Noelle in their get-ups will be my ticket into a shuttered home.

One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Blake White: "We cannot approach the Old Testament as if the New Testament had not been written"

"I take 2 Corinthians 1:20 literally: 'For no matter how many promises God has made, they are 'Yes' in Christ.' (NIV) I am advocating a 'Christotelic' hermeneutic.

Peter Enns notes, 'To read the OT 'Christotelicly' is to read it already knowing that Christ is somehow the end (telos) to which the OT story is heading; in other words, to read the OT in light of the exclamation point of the history of revelation, the death and resurrection of Christ.'

The New Testament provides God-breathed commentary on what the Old Testament means. We must interpret the Old Testament as Christian disciples. For Christian interpreters, we cannot approach the Old Testament as if the New Testament had not been written." -- Blake White, The Abrahamic Promises in Galatians, p. 12

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Christocentric Mission: "'what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.'"

What is it we take to the world? Of course, it is the gospel. Who Christ is, what Christ has done for his people, what Christ has done in and through his people, AND what He offers those who do not know him is the essence of the gospel message. But those *facts* are much more than data points in a conversation or sermon. Those facts arise from a Person. We take to the world a Person by means of those facts. Charles Spurgeon summed up the Person and His Mission best 154 years ago standing in front of a crowd at a YMCA:

“What is the faith? Strange to say, the faith of Christians is a person. Our faith is a person; the gospel that we have to preach is a person; and go wherever we may, we have something solid and tangible to preach, for our gospel is a person.

"If you had asked the twelve Apostles in their day, ‘What do you believe in?’ they would not have stopped to go round about with a long sermon, but they would have pointed to their Master and they would have said, ‘We believe him.’ ‘But what are your doctrines?’ ‘There they stand incarnate.’ ‘But what is your practice?’ ‘There stands our practice. He is our example.’ ‘What then do you believe?’ Hear the glorious answer of the Apostle Paul, ‘We preach Christ crucified.’

"Our creed, our body of divinity, our whole theology is summed up in the person of Christ Jesus. The Apostle preached doctrine; but the doctrine was Christ: he preached practice; but the practice was all in Christ. There is no summary of the faith of a Christian that can compass all he believes, except that word Christ; and that is the alpha and omega of our creed, that is the first and the last rule of our practice - Christ, even Christ crucified.

"To spread the faith, then, is to spread the knowledge of Christ crucified. It is, in fact, to bring men, through the agency of God's Spirit, to feel their need of Christ, to seek Christ, to believe in Christ, to love Christ, and then to live for Christ.

"We cannot propagate the faith, unless it be in the heart. Our faith does not grow in men's heads; it is here it grows, in the inmost soul. A faith which merely concerns the brain, and deals with dull, cold logic, may be the faith of the many, but it is not the faith of God's elect. That faith is a living thing - nay, it is life; it is Christ, and 'Christ is the way, the truth, and the life'.

"The faith is never spread unless Christ is begotten in our hearts, the hope of glory; unless he reigns there supreme, Lord paramount of all.” -- Charles Spurgeon, De Propaganda Fide, Lecture at the YMCA, January 1859

Labels: , , ,

Christ as "content" and "interpretation": "The Old Testament reveals Christ while He unveils it."

"Where did Christ find His missionary idea? How was His mind molded into a missionary mind? Was it intuitive or scriptural? Did He learn it from the Old Testament? Was it special illumination?

"It is a fact that Christ claimed to have come to fulfill the Old Testament. It was His Bible, His guide, and His stay. He used it richly; He preached it freely; He honored it humbly; He believed it firmly. The Old Testament was for Him the very Word of God written. While He was its heart and content and all Scripture pointed to Him, He was also its true Interpreter. Indeed, the Old Testament reveals Christ while He unveils it. He is both its content and interpretation.

"But it is also true that He found not only His major theological concepts here but also the scope of God’s redemptive plan. The latter was universalistic and included the totality of mankind, not merely a nation. This is the thesis we need to establish, for it seems strange to make such a claim for the Old Testament. However, even the Old Testament does not fully disclose the secret of Christ’s missionary mind and purpose.

"It is evident to every reader of the gospel records that Christ lived in a unique God-consciousness and self-consciousness. He knew Himself to be the only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father. He walked and labored in the full consciousness of having been sent into the world, of having entered the earthly realm from a higher realm. He had come here on a very specific mission, a mission essential to the consummation of the eternal purpose of God." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 53

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Peters: Christ did not come to be the perfect pattern for life

"Did Christ come into the world to give mankind a perfect pattern of life? Did He live to declare to man the way of God? Did Christ come to manifest the Father by living and to unveil Him by teaching? To all these questions we must give an affirmative answer. Yes, Christ is our pattern; He is the way; He is the supreme, perfect and final image and manifestation of the Father.

"However, in all of these ministries He would only quantitatively distinguish Himself from the prophets of old. They, too, upheld ideals in the way of God and unveiled God in His person and purpose before man. As significant and marvelous as the contributions of Christ are in these areas, He is not absolutely unique in this field. This, therefore, neither fully explains nor justifies the great fact of incarnation. Neither does the New Testament make this central to His coming.

"John the Baptist focuses the thrust of the New Testament when he points to Christ and declares, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” This is in keeping with the declared purpose of our Lord when He says, “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Explicitly, he tells us that the good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (Jn 1:29; 10:11; Mk 10:45).

"Here is the real purpose of the coming of Christ. Here is the heart of the incarnation. Christ Jesus came to deal effectively with sin, to become the atonement for sin, the liquidator of man’s guilt, as well as the Conqueror and Annihilator of sin. That He did so is objectively evident in His resurrection and enthronement at the right hand of God the Father. Subjectively it is convincing in the experience of forgiveness of sin and deliverance from the power of sin of believers in Him who learn to appropriate His merits and power." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions (pp. 45–46)

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Bracketology of Matthew



The stage has been set. The brackets have been expended. Bracketology is winding down. The brackets have served their purposes. There will be a final conclusion. The American college basketball season will draw to a close.

But there is a different kind of bracketology employed by biblical writers. And this kind of bracketology points us to mission in the New Covenant. The bracketology of Matthew. This bracketology expresses the mission of Jesus. An explanation is in order (and jumping back to English 101 for most of us).

We use brackets all the time. We use brackets in our sentences to set off a thought or phrase. Some moms use two gates in their home to bracket off a particular room to confine a toddler to one play-safe room. Some of us need the bowling rails as brackets to confine our bowling balls to the lane, rather than the gutters. Brackets are used to contain something of value to a singular unit, space, thought, etc.

Literature has its brackets. We call them chapters and paragraphs, using indentation, capitalization, and spacing to confine thoughts and ideas and action to singular "units". This kind of organizing helps make text easier to understand. The literature of the Bible has its own "bracketology", albeit of a different kind.

Our English Bibles are organized into sections called chapters and verses. The Bible wasn't always organized this way. The writers of the Bible had their own way of organizing the text so that it was meaningful to the original audiences who heard the Bible read in the clan meetings, the synagogue, the tabernacle, or temple. Usually this involved repeating words or phrases or thoughts.

The book of Genesis is a popular example. The book of Genesis is marked off in sections by use of the word "generations". This word is repeated throughout the book of Genesis as Moses gave literary and theological structure to his writing. If one includes Genesis 1:1 (the word "beginning" carries the same thought), there are 12 of these words throughout Genesis (1:1, 2:4 (records), 5:1, 6:9, 10:1, 11:10, 11:27, 25:12, 25:19, 36:1, 36:9, and 37:2. The use of "generations" (Hebrew: toledot) are the brackets used by the author Moses to organize the book.

These kinds of literary devices are all over the Scripture. They are not hidden. We miss them simply because we are not ancient Hebrew worshipers used to following the organization of the Scriptures this way. (Linguists and theologians calls these literary markers "inclusios".) Repetition in our Bibles is a big deal. Repetition, parallelism, and literary markers (brackets or inclusios) were used to organize the Bible in a meaningful way for the ancient cultures. A good habit for any Bible student is to make note of the repetitions and parallels as the Bible is read. It's a quick way of discerning what was important to the biblical author writing under the inspiration of the Spirit.

This parallelism begins and ends Christ's commissioning of the disciples found in Matthew. Do you see it?

Jesus Christ's "Missionary Discourse" is bracketed off from preceding and succeeding sections in the book of Matthew. The apostle Matthew uses a literary device (what we're calling "brackets") to highlight what is important for the original audience, the early church in the New Covenant, to understand, believe, and do in this section of his book.

In order to understand what the apostle Matthew was highlighting for the early church, a very brief bracketology lesson is in order. These repetitive brackets which begin and end Bible passages are part and parcel to Hebrew parallelism. This parallelism is not only a feature of Hebrew poetry, but all manner of ancient Hebrew writing, prose included (if you're interested in knowing more about Hebrew parallelism, go here and here and here and here, or if you're really bent on finding out more, go here; keep in mind, this kind of parallelism is not exclusive to Hebrew poetry). When one finds a repeated sentence, thought, or sometimes imagery at the top and bottom of a Scripture passage, not only is one probably dealing with parallelism, but also the brackets (inclusios).

Not only do these markers help organize passages of Scripture, they carry meaning. Embedded in these markers are the theology, eschatology, and worldview of the inspired writers of the Scriptures. These "brackets" point to the intention of the author, highlighting "what it is" he wants the original audience to hear and understand. Identifying the parallelism (in similarity or contrast) at the top and bottom of a passage goes a long way in identifying the what the biblical writer wanted his original audience to know, understand, believe, and/or do. It also goes a long way in helping us rightly interpret the Scriptures by keeping thoughts, ideas, events, and instructions in their proper context.

One such place is in the great missionary passage found in the book of Matthew, beginning in chapter 9 verse 35 and ending in chapter 11 verse 1. This so-called missionary passage in Matthew 9:35-11:1 picks up on a theme of proclaiming gospel and kingdom begun by Matthew in 4:23: "Jesus was going all over Galillee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every sickness among the people."(HCSB)

Matthew presents Jesus as the expected but unexpected Messiah-King who has come to save his people from their sins and inaugurate His (upside-down) kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises. Christ comes on mission, but his mission is not what Israel expected of its Messiah. Christ comes "teaching" and "preaching" the "good news of the kingdom." This mission is not to overthrow Rome, but to gather a people to Himself among whom He will dwell as their king. This Messiah-King comes "healing", reversing the curse and ushering in a New Creation.

In chapter 9, we see Matthew's summary statement of Christ's mission repeated as an introduction to a new section of Matthew. Verse 35: "Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness." (HCSB) First century Christians hearing Matthew's epistle in their gathering would have perked up their ears on hearing this. They've heard this already from Matthew, in 4:23. The repetition here means Matthew is emphasizing a point. And then the theme is repeated again in Matthew 11:1: "When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns." (HCSB)
What does Matthew want his audience to understand, believe, and do by way of these repetitions or "brackets"?

The apostle Matthew uses a literary device (what we’re calling “brackets”) to highlight what is important for the original audience, the early church, to understand, believe, and do in this section of his book.

We have previously noted that there are similarities between Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1:

Matthew 4:23: "Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people."

Matthew 9:35: "Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness."

Matthew 11:1: "When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns."

Each summary statement notes Christ's preaching and teaching (of the kingdom of God), his healing of the sick (minus a mention in 11:1), and his movement from town to town with His gospel message and ministry. The apostle Matthew uses these summary statements to highlight for the early church to whom he is writing the nature of Christ's ministry as the Unexpected Messiah proclaiming an Upside-Down Kingdom.

It is fair to ask: why are Matthew's "brackets" important? Even more to the point: why bother with the discussion at all? The answer lies in the reason Matthew has placed these literary markers where he has in the overall setting of the book of Matthew. His structure of the text is a major clue for understanding what he intended for the early church to know, believe, and do.

We've already noted that Matthew 9:35 and 11:1 provide the beginning and ending points for what has been called Matthew's "Missionary Discourse". This mission text thus looks like this:

"Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness." (Matthew 9:35)

Narrative and discourse (Matthew 9:36-10:42)

"When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns." (Matthew 11:1)

What follows the summary statement in Matthew 9:35 is Christ's commission and sending of the twelve disciples in Matthew 10:5, a commission that mimics Christ's mission. Christ's sending (apesteilen) of the disciples is anticipated in the "summoning" of the twelve apostles (apostolon). These Christ sends (apostello) as sheep among wolves just as Christ has done previously and will continue to do throughout the book of Matthew.

All of the elements of those Matthean summary statements (4:23, 9:35, 11:1) are here in the commission of chapter 10. The disciples are to "announce" (preach and teach) the kingdom (vs. 7). They are given authority to heal and cast out demons (vs. 1,8). The disciples are to carry out this activity in the "towns" of the Jewish people in Israel (vs. 5-6). Eventually, they will be bearing witness of Christ to the nations, an indication that their mission will someday include Samaritans and Gentiles (vs. 18). For some of these disciples, the mission will cost them their lives (vs. 16,21). These elements of activity, place, and message inherent to the apostles' mission (healing, proclamation, "towns", kingdom) are themes found in Matthew's summary statements of Christ's mission in Matthew 4:23 and Matthew 9:35. And the common language being used in these passages means Christ's commission and sending of the disciples in Matthew 10:5-8 is parallel to Matthew 4:23, Matthew 9:35, and Matthew 11:1, with Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:1 being used as brackets for the entire commissioning section in the great mission chapter (Matthew 10).

Christ's mission becomes the mission of the apostles. The disciples become the answer to the prayer of Matthew 9:38: Pray that the Lord of the harvest ekballo (propel, thrust) workers into His harvest. The Lord of the harvest does precisely that with the apostles in chapter 10, but they will accomplish much more than is first expected. They begin on mission to Israel, but it does not end there. Theirs is a mission that will spread Christ's glory to all nations over the expanse of the globe.

What does any of this have to do with missionary activity, reaching the unreached, or carrying the gospel message to remote corners of the world?

Christ sends his disciples on mission, proclaiming the kingdom of gospel of Christ's kingdom.

Matthew's "Missionary Discourse" is bracketed by two summary statements. The structure of this section of his book begins and ends with Christ's proclamation mission of the kingdom. And in between we find Christ commissioning his disciples with the same message. The discourse includes Christ's commission of his disciples, which looks much like Christ's own mission:

“Then Jesus went to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35)

Jesus sent out these 12 after giving them instructions...“Don’t take the road leading to other nations, and don’t enter any Samaritan town. 6 Instead, go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 As you go, announce this: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those with skin diseases, drive out demons." (Matthew 10:5-7)

“When Jesus had finished giving orders to His 12 disciples, He moved on from there to teach and preach in their towns.” (Matthew 11:1)

The commission given by Christ matches the summary statements from Matthew regarding Christ's ministry. Christ proclaims. The disciples are to announce. Christ goes to "towns". The disciples go to the towns of the lost sheep of Israel. Christ proclaims the kingdom. The disciples announce "the kingdom of God is near". The brackets of Christ's mission (Matthew 9:35, Matthew 11:1) are pointing to the commission of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-7). Christ's mission becomes the mission of the disciples to proclaim the arrival of the kingdom in the Person and work of the Messiah-King Jesus.

But so what? What does any of this have to do with missionary activity, reaching the unreached, or carrying the gospel message to remote corners of the world? What does Matthew's bracketology have to do with our mission?

Here are some takeaways from the Matthew 9:35-11:1 passage:

The brackets in this section of Matthew (9:35 and 11:11) are Matthew's way of making sure that the church to whom he was sending his account of Christ's first advent (his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation) would continue to notice that Christ came into this world on mission. Emmanuel's mission is other-worldly. The "descension" from heaven is the divine activity of Father sending the Son into the world to take on human flesh in order to "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21). God is With Us, comes from heaven bringing heaven with him: the kingdom he is inaugurating is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew's Messiah-King is establishing His kingdom in fulfillment of the Old Testament promises through mission.

"Saving his people from their sins" involves missionary activity. Early in the book of Matthew, "Jesus was going all over Galilee, teaching"… and "preaching the good news of the kingdom" (Matthew 4:23). In Matthew 9, the mission is again noted by Matthew: "Jesus went to all the towns and villages…"teaching" and "preaching" the good news of the kingdom." (Matthew 9:35). The movement that began from heaven to earth in the Incarnation of Emmanuel continues toward His people, a harvest (Matthew 9:38). Initially, we find the Messiah in Matthew gathering his people from among Israel (Matthew 4:23; his preaching and teaching is in "the synagogues"). But that mission eventually will include the Gentiles (Matthew 4:15). The mission that began in heaven will encompass the whole earth (Matthew 28:18) and engulf all nations (Matthew 28:19).

Christ's mission has a message. The Son of David's mission to "save his people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21) is in and of itself Good News. The King's people are being "called to repentance" (Matthew 9:13). This "Light that has Dawned" (Matthew 4:16) continues to preach and teach the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:17), fulfilling the Old Testament promises which anticipated his coming (Matthew 1:23, 2:15, 2:23, 3:15, 4:14, 5:17, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:56, 27:9). The old order, along with its leaders and oppressive religion, is out. A new day has come, ushered in by a Messiah-King who is establishing His rule and reign among a people with whom he dwells. Absent from the Son of Man is the blaze of glory anticipated in Daniel. Instead, God has condescended himself to man by putting on human flesh and becoming a servant who gives his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). Where this message is proclaimed through "preaching" and "teaching", the Messiah-King is establishing a church against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail (Matthew 16:18). The proclamation of who this Messiah-King is, what he has done for His people, and what he calls his people to do is to be taken to every corner of the globe. This is the message of the mission until Emmanuel's kingdom is realized in its fullest measure (Matthew 28:18-20).

Christ's disciples have the same mission as his. This is the thrust of the parallels. It is the heart of Matthew's missionary bracketology. Christ's own mission (Matthew 9:35 and Matthew 11:1) is found in his commission of the disciples (Matthew 10:5-7). As the disciples mimic their teacher (Matthew 10:24-25), Christ's mission becomes the disciples' mission. Christ sends the disciples on mission with the same activities in the same kinds of places with the same message as He has been doing and proclaiming since the beginning of the book of Matthew (4:23). Thus, Christ's message is the disciples' message. Christ is going to the synagogues in the towns and villages. The disciples too. The Messiah-King is proclaiming the good news of an other-worldly kingdom being established through the salvation of His people from their sins. The disciples too. Whatever Jesus has been doing in preaching and teaching and healing and confronting the demonic activity, the disciples are sent by Jesus to do the same thing. They are to immerse themselves in His mission to Israel (and ultimately, to the ends of the earth). Like teacher, like student. The disciples become participants in the Messiah-King's mission to establish His kingdom among His people.

But this isn't simply mission duplication. It is true that 12 can accomplish more than 1. But that's not what the disciples are to understand, nor is it what the early church is to be seeing in Matthew's words. This is mission transfer. Christ soon will die, rise, and be exalted as King of Kings and Lord of Lords at the right hand of the Father. The disciples will remain on earth to finish the mission. What the early church must see and what we must see in the commissioning of the disciples is that the disciples are on mission on behalf of the King. The disciples are on mission accomplishing "more" than the King. We get this from the mission summary in Matthew 28. Christ's mission included Gentiles, but his focus throughout much of the book of Matthew is to the Jewish people. In fact, in Matthew 10, when he commissions the 12, he specifically excludes the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-6). But having inaugurated heaven's kingdom through His sacrificial death, he has no such familial limitations in his command to the disciples in Matthew 28. The mission is to spread over the whole earth to all people groups. Through the disciples, Christ's mission becomes the mission of the church: gathering His people from among all people groups over the entire globe.

There's one other way the brackets and the parallelism in this section highlight Christ's mission as the disciples' mission: eventually this mission will cost the Son of David his life (Matthew 26:28). The disciples too (Matthew 10:21,22). Christ does not send the disciples on a mission that He himself isn't willing to undertake. The disciples, in answer to the mission prayer (Matthew 9:38), are being "ekballoed" (propelled) into Christ's harvest of a kingdom people. But the One who sends is the One who Himself will be "ekballoed" from the harvest (Matthew 21:39,41). The Lord of the Harvest will die for the Harvest. Emmanuel's mission, which began in heaven when the Father sent the Son, culminates in his death to procure for his people salvation, forgiveness of sins, and the inauguration of a New Covenant and kingdom. The Son of Man dies on mission. Christ's death is so integral to his mission from heaven, the early church can do nothing but conclude that without His death, there is no mission.

While the disciples cannot die for the forgiveness of sins, the mission they are given in Matthew 10:5 is embedded with suffering, hardship, and death for the sake of Christ. Mission has been embodied by Christ. And that Pattern is where the disciples and the early church were to find their mission identity. As Christ unpacks for his disciples what it means for the Lord of the harvest to ekballo workers into a harvest of His people, it becomes very clear that the very act of "ekballo" involves suffering and death. "I'm sending you out like sheep among wolves...people will hand you over...and flog you...brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will even rise up against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by everyone because of My name." The disciples and all who follow after them can expect their mission and message and suffering to be like Christ's because they are united to the Lord of the Harvest who was first on mission to gather to himself a people through the proclamation of the gospel.

This is Matthew's missional bracketology. It's not the kind of a bracketology that generates office pools and pizza parties. But it is one that is fueling a generation of Reformed millenials to abandon the white picket fence and two-car garage to run to the fields where a harvest of Christ's people awaits. Christ's mission is the New Covenant mission for the church. New Covenant mission is the church engaging itself in Christ's mission to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth. No longer simply to the "towns" of Israel, the New Covenant community proclaims the world over to Jews and Gentiles alike, "Christ's kingdom is here, inaugurated by the blood of the covenant in His death." (Matthew 10:5-7, Matthew 26:28). Christ rules and reigns on his throne and His people are charged with the mission of the proclamation of the gospel to all people groups everywhere.

3 billion people around the world have never heard the good news of Jesus. These 3 billion will be born, live their lives, and die before anyone tells them about Jesus. They are unreached. They have no access to the gospel. And they are unengaged: no church or Christian organization is going to them with the good news of Jesus. Each one of the 3 billion who have never heard of Jesus have a story. Christ's mission is our mission to take the gospel to many of the 3 billion unreached. We are a people of the brackets. Matthew would have us find ourselves standing next to the disciples, hearing Christ say, I'm sending you, the church, as sheep among wolves, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus and his kingdom to the ends of the earth. Emmanuel's mission continues to be our mission.

Labels: , , , , ,

Thursday, October 25, 2012

O'Donnell's sermon prep questions

Here at the Simeon Trust Workshop on Biblical Exposition in Columbus this week, Douglas O'Donnell passed along a set of 11 questions he asks of his study of the text in his sermon preparation:
  • ™Did you take at least half a day to make your own observations on the text? 
  • ™Did you find the skeletal structure of the text?
  • ™Did you seek to understand how the original audience understood God’s Word to them before you applied it to your hearers? 
  • ™Did you interpret Scripture with Scripture (i.e., the analogy of faith), the unclear by the clear, and implicit by the explicit? Did you examine the text’s context – its immediate context, the book’s context, historical context (when and by whom it was written, if known), and literary context (genre)?
  • ™Did you examine the text in light of the main message of the book? 
  • ™Did you examine the text in light of the main message of The Book? That is, did you relate the text to the centerpiece of the canon – the person and work of Christ? 
  • ™Did you, without straying from the historical Christian orthodoxy (i.e., the rule of faith), allow the text to shape and change, if needed, your theological framework? 
  • ™Did you read solid commentaries to help with difficult issues, correct your interpretation, and add exegetical insights? 
  • ™Did your applications come from the text itself, or did you add your own legalisms or liberalisms to the Bible?
  • ™Did you take another half day to make more of your own observations of the text (see first question, repeat)?

Labels: , , ,

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vos: "that which Jehovah will do at the end, his conclusive, consummate action, must surpass everything else in importance."


"...what can be prayed and sung now in theatro mundi was never meant for exclusive use in the oratory of the pious soul. This other aspect of the Psalter (eshcatological) has not been produced by liturgical accommodation; it was in its very origin a part of the life and prayer and song of the writers themselves. After all, these two uses, the devotional and the historical, are not so divergent as one might imagine. We need only to catch the devotional at its proper angle to perceive how it forms part of a broader, more comprehensive piety uniting in itself with perfect naturalness the two different attitudes of withdrawal into the secrecy of God and of intense interest in the unfolding of the world-drama.

"The deeper fundamental character of the Psalter consists in this that it voices the subjective response to the objective doings of God for and among his people. Subjective responsiveness is the specific quality of these songs. As prophecy is objective, being the address of Jehovah to Israel in word and act, so the Psalter is subjective, being the answer of Israel to that divine speech. If once this peculiarity is apprehended, it will follow that there must be place, and considerable place, in the Psalms not merely for the historical interest in general, but particularly for that heightened interest which the normal religious mind brings to the last goal and issue of redemption.

"To the vision of faith that which Jehovah will do at the end, his conclusive, consummate action, must surpass everything else in importance. Faith will sing its supreme song when face to face, either in anticipation or reality, with the supreme act of God. Let Mary's case be witness from whose heart the great annunciation of Messianic fulfillment drew that Psalm of all Psalms, the Magnificat. The time when God gathers his fruit is the joyous vintage-feast of all high religion. The value of a work lies in its ultimate product. Consequently, where religion entwines itself around a progressive work of God, such as redemption, its general responsiveness becomes prospective, cumulative, climacteric; it gravitates with all its inherent weight toward the end.

"A redemptive religion without eschatological interest would be a contradiction in terms. The orthodox interpretation of Scripture has always recognized this. To it redemption and eschatology are coeval in biblical history." - Geerhardus Vos, "The Eschatology of the Psalter"

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

New Covenant Theology emphasizes Christ as the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises

New Covenant Theology is not monolithic when it comes to the question of future Israel. Within the New Covenant Theology movement there are those who believe there will be a future for national Israel, there are those who believe there will be a future for ethnic Israel (Israel as a people group), and there are those who believe there is no future for national or ethnic Israel. However there are some things that most New Covenant Theology proponents tend to agree on when it comes to this controversial subject.


But before I give a brief summary, it should be noted that there are two fundamental premises of New Covenant Theology that underlie whatever it holds to be true about the future of Israel:


1. The New Testament interprets the Old Testament. While this hermeneutical principle is not unique to New Covenant Theology, NCT applies this principle more consistently (IMHO) than those who identify themselves within Covenant Theology affirming the same principle.
2. The entire canon is primarily about Jesus. "Christ in all of the Scriptures" is a fundamental hermeneutical principle for New Covenant Theology. Again, while there are those within Covenant Theology (and some within Dispensational Theology) who have the same hermeneutical presupposition, the same presupposition within New Covenant Theology is more consistently a factor in its exegesis and exposition. NCT insists that the hermeneutic and storyline of Scripture are Christocentric, not Israel-centric. Israel and her future are not a barometer of proper Biblical interpretation.


Those two hermeneutical considerations are not the only hermeneutical considerations for New Covenant Theology, but these have the most direct bearing on answering this question of Israel's future. In having these two hermeneutical principles on the front burner, New Covenant Theology puts Christ front and center of its attention. As Tom Wells has stated, Jesus is the Priority of Scripture.


Having said this, here's something regarding New Covenant Theology I wrote last year as part of answering the question, "What isNCT?": http://bit.ly/izTNmx

1. The New Covenant is now in force and finds its fulfillment in Jesus, the antitypical New Israel.


2. New Covenant Theology sees in Christ a fulfillment of promises that, in their Old Testament context, seemed to be addressed to Israel as a nation. It is in Christ, the New Israel, that the church enjoys the blessings of the promises that seemed to be addressed to Israel as a nation in the Old Testament Scriptures.


3. New Covenant Theology denies that there is a one to one correlation between Israel and the New Covenant church. Israel was not the church in the Old Covenant, which consisted of an admixture of those who participated in faith and those who did not. In Christ, the New Israel, the church is not an admixture of believer and unbeliever, but is entirely by faith.


4. Under the Old Covenant, Israel was the people of God. Under the New Covenant, the church is the people of God anticipated in and foreshadowed by national Israel in the Old Testament scriptures.


5. In the Old Covenant, Israel, the second Adam, was a demonstration and proclamation of Jesus as a type. Israel typified the New Israel and His redeemed New Covenant people of God. That which was true of Israel, in type, is now true of Jesus as the federal head of His new covenant people in fulfillment. Thus, the supreme covenantal formula promised to Israel is now true of the church: Jehovah is our God, and we are His people. Christ, the New Covenant, now dwells among His people.


Here's what Blake White has published on his blog:
  • Those who have faith in Christ are the children of Abraham (i.e. Israel) (Gal 3.7) 
  • If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed (Gal 3.29) 
  • The present Jerusalem is in slavery, but the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother (Gal 4.26) 
  • Like Isaac, we (believers) are children of promise (Gal 4.28) 
  • We are not children of the slave woman - Hagar who represents Sinai, but of the free woman (Gal 4.31) 
  • Those who walk in line with the rule that circumcision or uncircumcisioin means nothing but the new creation means everything (i.e. Christians) are the Israel of God (Gal 6.15-16) 
  • A Jew is one inwardly, not outwardly and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not the letter (Rom 2.28-29) 
  • We (Christians) are the circumcision (i.e. Israel), who serve God by the Spirit, who glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh (Phil 3.2-3) 
Here's what John Reisinger has to say:
"God unconditionally promised Abraham that his seed would be the Messiah. The seed promised to Abraham is Christ!" -- John Reisinger, "Abraham's Four Seeds", p. 119


In a nutshell, New Covenant Theology emphasizes Christ as the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament promises. As the One who fills up the OT promises to their fullest and highest meaning, Christ is also the New Israel (Matthew 2:15). Because the church is in Christ (Who is the fulfillment of those promises), writers of the New Testament applied promises made to Israel about the New Covenant to the church (Hebrews 8:8-12, 10:16-17). Jews and Gentiles together make up the One New Man, a New Creation *in Christ*, never again to be divided (Eph. 2:15). The church is the nation and race of import in the New Covenant (1 Peter 2:9). What happens to national Israel, then, is a non-issue in NCT. For NCT, Christ, not Israel, is the primary figure of what lies in the future because Christ is the primary hermeneutical figure of the entire canon. NCT doesn't necessarily deny an expectation of future gospel blessing for ethnic Israel (see Rom. 11). NCT simply insists such an outpouring of gospel blessing will occur as part of the same two-age reality that the church currently enjoys of the now/not yet.

Christ is the end of the law

Few tenets single-handedly characterize New Covenant Theology, but its rejection of the "third use of the law" comes pretty close. Reformed theology, historically, has postulated that there are three uses of the law: 1. Use of the law to convict men of sin, 2. Use of the law to restrain evil, and 3. Use of the law as the biblical (and eternal) standard for Christian behavior. These three "uses" can be found not only in many of the classic Reformed documents, interestingly enough it also can be found in the Lutheran "Book of Concord." While affirmation of the first two uses is widely varied within the New Covenant Theology community, the movement universally has rejected the third use as unbiblical (on various grounds, which are not the subject of this post).

Closely related to threefold use of the law is the theological argument that underlies and gives rise to the threefold use of the law: the threefold categorical distinction of the law which divides the law into ceremonial, civil and moral categories. While these categories may be helpful in helping understand the role of law in Old Testament Israel, these categories are unhelpful when it comes to rightly understanding various biblical authors' views of the law in the New Testament.

Per the division of the law into three categories, NCT pastor and theologian Blake White has written, "Although this tripartite distinction is historically rooted and held by many men more respectable and learned than the present writer, it must be rejected. this distinction simply will not hold up to exegesis. It is a theological construction imposed on the Text of Scripture. For Paul to accept circumcision is to obligate oneself to keep the whole law (Gal. 5:3). for James, to fail in one point of the law is to become accountable for all of it (Ja. 2:10). Everything God demanded from Israel was moral. The law is a unit." -- Blake White, "The Law of Christ: A Theological Proposal", pp. 56-57

Lest one think that it is a characteristic unique to New Covenant Theology to deny the exegetical value of dividing the law into ceremonial, civil, and moral categories, there are many others who have raised similar objections. Theologians such as Douglas Moo point out that the law in the New Testament is treated as a unit. In fact, Moo points out that "95 percent of the time" when the NT writers are using the word for "Law" they are talking about "the Mosaic Law". This means that although there are some distinctions in the way the term "law" is used, those distinctions are unified under "the Mosaic Law" umbrella. Further, as to whether it's possible to make a case for three categories of law, Moo says that "the Christian must always view the *whole* law only under the condition of its fulfillment. No commandment, even those of the Decalogue, is binding simply because it is part of the Mosaic Law...the NT does not approach the matter this way. The *whole law*, every 'jot and tittle', is fulfilled in Christ and can only be understood and applied in light of that fulfillment." -- Douglas Moo, "The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ?" in "Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments", ed. John Feinberg, pp. 217-218

Tom Schreiner also believes one cannot exegetically make the case that the New Testament writers held to the tripartite view espoused by many in the Reformed camp: "Neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer explains the role of the law by appealing to (moral, ceremonial, and civil) categories. Instead, Paul argues that the law is both abolished and fulfilled in Christ." -- Thomas Schreiner, 40 questions about Christians and Biblical Law, p. 94

Jason Meyer agrees, saying "the NT itself does not make these three distinctions, and no one living under the law of Moses seriously thought they could pick which parts were binding and which were optional. God's law comes as a set with no substitutions. Therefore, exegetes should not read the three distinctions into NT texts that speak of the law as a singular entity. Furthermore, one will find it challenging to divide all the laws into three neat, watertight compartments." Jason C. Meyer, "The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology", p. 282.

Stephen Westerholm is another case in point: "...the objection is frequently raised that, while Paul does not believe the Christian is obligated to observe the Old Testament ceremonial law, he does believe the Christian is obligated to observe its moral commands. Such distinctions are the inevitable result of the view that the law still states the binding requirements of God for the Christian, since no one imagines that Paul thought Christians were obligated to observe its statues of circumcision or ritual purity. Were it true, however, that Paul considered the law or any part of it still binding for the Christian, he would have had to provide his churches with detailed instructions as to which command they were obligated to observe and which they were not: this would obviously be a very important matter! But there is no evidence that he made any such distinctions. On the contrary it is clear that, for Paul, Torah was a unit. On this point he did not differ from the standard Jewish view: the person who is obligated to observe the law is obligated to observe its every precept. That, for Paul, is true of the person who is under the law (cf. Gal. 5:3); it is not true of the Christian." -- Stephen Westerholm, Israel's Law and the Church's Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters, pp. 207-208

Westerholm goes on to point out that even though Paul is quick to point out the inadequacy of "all things are lawful" (1 Cor. 6:12, 10:23) as a guideline for Christian behavior, it's amazing he even made the statement at all. "Both the slogan itself and Paul's non-legal way of qualifying it clearly indicate that the Christian is not thought to be obligated to observe the demands of the law. The law, after all, forbids as well as commands; of no one subject to its demands can it be said that everything is 'lawful.' What makes Paul's refusal to reject the slogan 'All things are lawful' even more astonishing is the contexts in which it is raised: discussions of fornication with prostitutes (1 Cor. 6:12-20), and of the propriety of eating food offered to idols (chs. 8,10). Surely if Paul was ever to 'lay down the law,' if Torah was to be invoked in any sphere as the standard for Christian behavior, then the subjects of sexual morality and commerce with idolatry presented him with opportunities without equal. But Paul declined the temptation." -- Stephen Westerholm, Israel's Law and the Church's Faith: Paul and His Recent Interpreters, p. 208

It's interesting that Westerholm raises this last point. That very argument comes into play in Paul's second (or is it third? But I digress) letter to the Corinthians. By the time that letter is written, the church in Corinth has a problem with good old fashioned Judaizers. Whodda thunk, with this predominantly Gentile congregation, that service to the law would be a problem? But that problem is what Paul is addressing toward the end of chapter two and with all of chapter three. How does Judaism take hold in a place like that? Because the church had a morality problem. What better way to fix the morality problem than to introduce the law into the church? What better way to contravene Paul's "all things are lawful" than by introducing the law? The problem with the church at Corinth is that Paul had given them too much freedom. They needed more law. They needed someone "peddling" the moral demands of the law.

But that law, for Paul, is obsolete, having been "brought to an end" (2 Cor. 3:11). The Corinthians don't need more law. What they need is "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ." (2 Cor. 4:4). Transformation doesn't come through obeying the moral demands of the law. Transformation into the image of Jesus comes through "beholding" the "unveiled face" of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 3:18). This is why Paul's proclamation to the Corinthian church is not himself (implying that preaching himself would be the Old Covenant, faded-glory thing to do as his Judaizing opponents were doing), but "Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Cor. 4:5) and it is through that life-giving and life-sustaining Proclamation of Jesus that God has shone into the heart of the church "to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ".

What does this mean for the Christian? While answering this is beyond the scope of this present post, it can at least be said, via Westerholm that the relationship with the law is "in the past... believers have been redeemed (Gal. 4:5) or 'set free' (Rom. 7:6) from the law... they have died to the law (Rom. 7:4, 6, cf. Gal. 2:19) The upshot is that they are not 'under law' (Rom. 6:14-15; cf. 1 Cor. 9:20). Christ has brought an end to the law. The entire law. Christ fuliflled the law, filling up the Law's meaning to its fullest and highest extent so that we would be free from its tyranny.

Moo points out that "when the 'antinomian' implications of Paul's teaching were raised as an objection against that teaching, Paul responded not by introducing a 'new law' but by pointing to the Spirit (Gal. 5:16ff) and to union with Christ (Romans 6)...any approach that substitutes external commands for the Spirit as the basic norm for Christian living runs into serious difficulties with Paul." -- Douglas Moo, "The Law of Moses or the Law of Christ?" in "Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments", ed. John Feinberg, pp. 217-218

Such is the nature of Christ's fulfillment of the Mosaic Law (and indeed the Old Testament) in redemptive history. As the goal of the law, Christ is its intended end. Christ is its terminal point. Christ is everything the law foreshadowed. Christ is the full and final expression of the eternal character of God. And this has many implications for understanding law as a category in the New Covenant. As Jason Meyer says, "The coming of Christ has caused a paradigm shift that calls for recalibrating all former commands in the light of His centrality." -- "The End of the Law: Mosaic Covenant in Pauline Theology", p. 283.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy 150th, Geerhardus Vos

"...the New Testament draws the Messianic period into much closer connection with the strictly eschatological process than Judaism. The distinction in Judaism rested on a consciousness of difference in quality between the two stages, the content of the Messianic age being far less spiritually and transcendentally conceived than that of the final state. The New Testament, by spiritualizing the entire Messianic circle of ideas, becomes keenly alive to its affinity to the content of the highest eternal hope, and consequently tends to identify the two, to find the age to come anticipated in the present. In some cases this assumes explicit shape in the belief that great eschatological transactions have already begun to take place, and that believers have already attained to at least partial enjoyment of eschatological privileges.


"Thus the present kingdom in our Lord’s teaching is one in essence with the final kingdom; according to the discourses in John eternal life is in principle realized here; with Paul there has been a prelude to the last judgment and resurrection in the death and resurrection of Christ, and the life in the Spirit is the first- fruits of the heavenly state to come. The strong sense of this may even express itself in the paradoxical form that the eschatological state has arrived and the one great incision in history has already been made (Hebrews 2:3, 5; 9:11; 10:1; 12:22-24).


"Still, even where this extreme consciousness is reached, it nowhere supersedes the other more common representation, according to which the present state continues to lie this side of the eschatological crisis, and, while directly leading up to the latter, yet remains to all intents a part of the old age and world-order. Believers live in the “last days,” upon them “the ends of the ages are come,” but “the last day,” “the consummation of the age,” still lies in the future (Matthew 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; John 6:39, 44, 54; 12:48; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:1; Hebrews 1:2; 9:26; James 5:3; 1 Peter 1:5, 20; 2 Peter 3:3; 1 John 2:18; Jude 1:18).


"The eschatological interest of early believers was no mere fringe to their religious experience, but the very heart of its inspiration. It expressed and embodied the profound supernaturalism and soteriological character of the New Testament faith. The coming world was not to be the product of natural development but of a Divine interposition arresting the process of history. And the deepest motive of the longing for this world was a conviction of the abnormal character of the present world, a strong sense of sin and evil. This explains why the New Testament doctrine of salvation has grown up to a large extent in the closest interaction with its eschatological teaching. The present experience was interpreted in the light of the future." -- Geerhardus Vos, The Eschatology of the New Testament