Wednesday, October 26, 2011

"Neither Dispensationalism nor Covenant Theology understand . . ."

This is the end of the end. As you've seen in previous posts, we're interacting with the relationship between the biblical covenants and the association of the nation of Israel and the Church with them. Below is a chart reproduced from John Reisinger's Abraham's Four Seeds. The chart is rooted in what Reisinger calls "five biblical facts."

His conclusions (117-118) ought to be thought-provoking, not lightly dismissed on the basis of our rigidly held presuppositions:

1. Neither Dispensationalism nor Covenant Theology understand the biblical doctrine of the Church as the Body of Christ in the redemptive purposes of God.

2. Neither of these systems really has a true New Covenant replacing an Old Covenant where both covenants relate to the same redemptive purposes of God for his one true people. This is why Hebrews 8 does not fit either system.

3. Neither of these systems sees the true relationship of Israel and the Church. Both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology insist on bringing the physical aspect of Israel as a nation into the New Testament either directly or indirectly.

Finally, and this is what ties it all together:
It should be abundantly clear that the unconditional promise that God made to Abraham has nothing at all to do with plural "seeds." It can have nothing to do with physical Jews and Palestine or with the children of believers and their salvation. God unconditionally promised Abraham that his seed would be the Messiah. The seed promised to Abraham is Christ! God promised to save and keep all those who were chosen in Christ to be the objects of the Father's unconditional love and grace.

There is only one really vital question: "Are you personally in Abraham's seed and an heir with him according to the promise?" The answer has nothing at all to do with your family lineage or what religious rite or ceremonies were performed on you. It has to do with whether you are in Christ. It has to do with the power of the Holy Spirit revealing Jesus Christ to your heart in saving grace and power. (119)

Monday, October 24, 2011

"The Church is now all of the specific things that Israel never became."

A long, long time ago—back in May—I launched a series on the relationship between the major biblical covenants. Initially rooted in arguments from this book, we more recently (July!) interacted with John Reisinger's Abraham's Four Seeds. And that's where we'll land, finally, in this post and another scheduled to publish soon.

Reisinger published a chart on pages 114-115 that was designed to compare and contrast the nation of Israel with the body of Christ—two nations, two covenants, related to one another under "God's one single goal." I've reproduced it below, not because it indisputably resolves all the issues (I actually think it doesn't), but because it's an enlightening glimpse at the issues from one particular angle that I've seldom heard discussed:

Reisinger argues that the chart is rooted in five biblical facts. He expands on and defends them (115-117); I'll merely list them:

1. The physical nation of Israel was given the specific promise of becoming the true holy nation of God if the people would obey the covenant of law given at Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:27, 28).

2. Israel, as the physical nation of God, was brought into being, as a nation or "body politic," by the Law Covenant at Sinai (Deut 4:13). Their national existence and special relationship to God were based on their obedience to that legal covenant and all its ceremonial and civil accruements.

3. The physical nation of Israel was cast off and the special national covenant relationship was totally ended when Christ came (Matt. 21:43)

4. The spiritual nation, the Body of Christ, was "born in a day" [an allusion to Is. 66:8] and has become all of the very things Israel never became. . . . It is impossible not to see 1 Peter 2:5-9 as the word-for-word fulfillment of the promise made to Israel at Sinai in Exodus 19:5, 6.

5. The Church inherits the true spiritual blessings promised to Israel in the law covenant at Sinai simply because her Lord has kept the covenant for her. Christ earned every blessing the law covenant promised by being born under that covenant (Gal. 3:24-4:7), and then rendering to it the perfect obedience that it demanded (Phil. 2:5-11 and Rom. 8:1-4). This was the only way that he could earn (for us) the righteousness that was necessary to inherit the blessings that the law covenant promised. Christ also endured every curse that same law covenant threatened when he died on the cross under the judgment of God. [. . . and I hope we can all say amen to that . . .]

His final conclusions soon to come . . .

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Luther Might Say About Our Preaching

I just finished typing into a Word doc a few quotes that I wanted to remember from Luther's The Bondage of the Will. As it happens, at the same time I was listening to the conclusion of a sermon preached at a Bible college. I was struck by the juxtaposition of two strikingly different articulations of the gospel and sanctification—one entering through my ears, and the other through my eyes.

In the sermon, the preacher argued that if we're going to obey Scripture, we need a strategy. We need an achievable plan of action if we want to pursue our new direction successfully. We need to figure out what we need to do to change.

Depending on how we define some of those terms, I wouldn't necessarily argue that he was wrong. I do wish he'd have said a bit more, somewhere along the way. I think Martin Luther tells us why:
I frankly confess that, for myself, even if it could be, I should not want ‘free-will’ to be given me, nor anything to be left in my own hands to enable me to endeavor after salvation; not merely because in face of so many dangers, and adversities, and assaults of devils, I could not stand my ground and hold fast my ‘free-will’ (for one devil is stronger than all men, and on these terms no man could be saved); but because, even were there no dangers, adversities, or devils, I should still be forced to labour with no guarantee of success, and to beat my fists at the air.

If I lived and worked to all eternity, my conscience would never reach comfortable certainty as to how much it must do to satisfy God. Whatever work I had done, there would still be a nagging doubt as to whether it pleased God, or whether He required something more. The experience of all who seek righteousness by works proves that; and I learned it well enough myself over a period of many years, to my own great hurt. But now that God has taken my salvation out of the control of my own will, and put it under the control of His, and promised to save me, not according to my working or running, but according to His own grace and mercy, I have the comfortable certainty that He is faithful and will not lie to me, and that He is also great and powerful, so that no devils or opposition can break Him or pluck me from Him. . . .

Furthermore, I have the comfortable certainty that I please God, not by reason of the merit of my works, but by reason of His merciful favour promised to me; so that, if I work too little, or badly, He does not impute it to me, but with fatherly compassion pardons me and makes me better. This is the glorying of all the saints in their God. (313-314)
We need to preach biblical imperatives. We need to help believers see their obligations to obey biblical commands in a culture that's very different from the first century. But if we fail to encourage them that their hope of victory isn't grounded in their action plan, but in a whole-hearted dependence on the transforming power of the Holy Spirit of God—then we've taught them how to fail, and we've given them a reason to quit.

We can debate whether that's a chord we need to play every time we step into the pulpit. I think I can make a reasonably persuasive case that we should. But I suspect that many of us have lived and served in places where we never heard it. My question is this: How big of a problem do we think that is? How we answer that question reveals a great deal about our understanding of the gospel.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Can We Advance the Kingdom?

I found David Wells' survey of the biblical data quite helpful:
[T]his reign, this rule, is something God is doing. The reason, clearly, is that this is not something that emerges from "below," which we ourselves can get going. It must come from "above." We cannot bring it about; only God can.

We can search for the kingdom, pray for it, and look for it, for example, but only God can bring it about (Luke 12:31; 23:51; Matt. 6:10, 33). The kingdom is God's to give and to take away. It is ours only to enter and accept (Matt. 21:43; Luke 12:32) We can inherit it, possess it, or refuse to enter it, but it is not ours to build and we can never destroy it (Matt. 25:34; Luke 10:11). We can work for the kingdom, but we can never act upon it. We can preach it, but it is God's to establish (Matt. 10:7; Luke 10:9; 12:32).

God's inbreaking, saving, vanquishing rule is his from first to last. It has no human analogues, no duplicates, no parallels, and no surrogates. It allows of no human synergism. The inbreaking of the "age to come" into our world is accomplished by God alone. This is all about the spirituality that is from "above" and not at all about that which is from "below." It is about God reaching down in grace and doing for sinners what they cannot do for themselves. For if this is God's kingdom, his rule, the sphere of his sovereignty, then it is not for us to take or to establish. We receive, we do not take; we enter, but we do not seize. We come as subjects in his kingdom, not as sovereigns in our own.

David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant, 196.
For similar exegetical analysis, check out this 9Marks interview with Greg Gilbert and Kevin DeYoung.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A Brief Tour of Some Spirits of the Age

1. Just for starters, another Kindle deal that's too good to pass up: The two-volume Works of Jonathan Edwards for $1.99.

2. I've been told that a particular brand of children's pirate CDs now lead children through the "sinner's prayer" at the end. Aarrrrrrrghhh! Can anyone confirm yea or nay?

3. None of these arguments actually support the author's conclusion. One or two of the arguments aren't even true. Let me quote a wiser man than I once again:
If we wanted to devise a plan to turn out as many legalists as we could, how would we go about it? One way that we might do it is to offer some sort of of a carnal or this-worldly inducement for performing spiritual exercises.
4. Any idiot can throw rocks at Joel Osteen, so that's not my point here. He's simply ahead of his time. This sort of spineless attempt to maintain some veneer of biblical fidelity while accommodating secularists' incredulity is going to be the temptation the people in our pews face. Sooner or later, if not already. And, frankly, probably our temptation too. As David Wells has said in this outstanding book, "Engaging the culture is not the same thing as capitulating to it" (92).

5. And speaking of a look into the future, here's what Apple thought the future looked like back in 1987:

Monday, October 03, 2011