Thursday, May 26, 2011

Father Abraham

Part 1 of this series based on Steve Wellum's chapter, "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants" [PDF], in Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright's Believer's Baptism, provided a brief summary of main contours in Covenant Theology. Part 2 focused on the "seed" theme in the Bible, reaching the conclusion that the term is used in four related but distinct ways. Part 3 traced Wellum's argument that Christ fulfills ALL the OT covenants.

Now, I want to highlight two of Wellum's conclusions, which are rooted in what we've considered so far (and by "we" I mean me and the two other people reading this). First:
To be a member of Abraham’s family now is not tied to a specific physical lineage, nor circumcision, nor any kind of physical links to other believers. Rather, one becomes a part of Abraham’s family only through faith union in Christ brought about by the Spirit (Gal 3:26–29). Thus, in the coming of Christ, a new era of redemptive history has dawned where the structures, types, and shadows of the old have given way to the reality and fulfillment of what the OT was all along pointing to (pg 143-144 in the PDF).
And another conclusion:
[Equating the Abrahamic Covenant with the New Covenant] not only fails to do justice to the diverse aspects of the Abrahamic covenant, but also to the way that covenant is ultimately fulfilled in Christ. So Israel, as a nation, is a type of the church. But this is the case, not because the church is merely the replacement of Israel, but because Christ, as the true seed of Abraham and the fulfillment of Israel, unites in himself both spiritual Jews and Gentiles as the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16). There is continuity, but also important discontinuity. . . . The new covenant people of God are all those, regardless of ethnicity or circumcision, who have confessed Christ as Lord, the true/spiritual seed of Abraham. It includes all those who believe in Christ and who have been born of his Spirit (pg. 144 in the PDF).
What's most intriguing to me about Wellum's arguments is that they're targeted at a flawed presupposition of Covenant Theology, but they also critique Dispensational conclusions. (And I've only quoted the passages that apply most directly to both systems.) Covenant Theology denies differences between the biblical covenants; Dispensationalism denies that the Church is a full participant in the New Covenant—or even a participant at all. More on that, as well as ironic similarities between CT and D, to come.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

800 Pound Gorillas

1. Is there any possibility that something is profoundly wrong with a culture that produces this (not to mention the events behind it)? That's not to indict any particular individual or the host venue. We (and I'm surely a part of that "we") are shaped by our culture, often in ways we neither desire nor perceive. Still, as long as precious few either detect the aroma or speak truthfully about what it smells like, the putrefaction will progress.

2. I wish I could say I found this not to be credible, but personal experience will not allow it:
Tina then went off to college -Maranatha Bible College in Wisconsin where one of the Deans advised her to 'keep her mouth shut' about what happened to her.
by Amy Coveno / WMUR Staff at Mon May 23 2011 12:48:09 GMT-0500 (CDT)
3. Speaking of products of a culture . . . I haven't yet heard anyone make an observation about "jihad Christianity," but Phil Johnson and Justin Taylor may tell us all we need to know, not that it's all we actually know—not by a long shot.

4. Just as a breath of fresh air, here's an entirely different sort of conversation–simply fascinating.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Convergence of Covenant Fulfillment in Christ

This post is part 3 of a series based on Steve Wellum's chapter, "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants" [PDF], in Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright's Believer's Baptism. Part 1 provided a brief summary of main contours in Covenant Theology. Part 2 focused on the "seed" theme in the Bible ("offspring" in some translations) and examined the biblical usage of the term, reaching the conclusion that the term is used in four related but distinct ways in the text. The two long quotations in those posts were part of Wellum's summary and critique of Covenant Theology.

Now that we've set a bit of the context of Wellum's argument, we're getting closer to the point I want to emphasize. Between the two passages I quoted previously, Wellum focuses on the relationship of the Abrahamic Covenant to the Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants:
In the OT none of the covenant mediators—whether Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, or David—fulfilled their role and brought about the promise; they only typified and anticipated the one to come (Rom 5:14). Only our Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man, fulfills the roles of the previous covenantal mediators and brings about the promises stretching back to Gen 3:15. That is why the NT presents Christ as nothing less than the Lord as well as the last Adam, the true seed of Abraham, David’s greater Son, who ushers in a new covenant—a covenant which all the previous covenants anticipated and typified.

In Christ, all the promises of God are yes and amen (2 Cor 1:20). That is why in Jesus and his cross work, the desperate plight begun in Eden now finds its solution as the last Adam, the obedient Son, has accomplished his saving work. The promise that God himself must be the Savior of his people is fulfilled for he himself is the Lord. Indeed, the death of Jesus, the crime of all crimes, is nevertheless determined by the divine plan (Acts 2:23). Why? To bring to fulfillment what God had promised through the prophets, that Messiah would suffer (Acts 3:18) in order to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21).

In Jesus Christ, the prophetic anticipation of God’s coming to save in and through David’s greater Son is fulfilled. Indeed, as D. A. Carson reminds us, “the promise that through Abraham’s seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed, gradually expanded into a major theme in the Old Testament, now bursts into the Great Commission, the mushrooming growth of the Jewish church into the Gentile world, the spreading flame reaching across the Roman Empire and beyond, in anticipation of the climactic consummation of God’s promises in the new heaven and new earth.” [Paragraph divisions and boldface type added. This portion is taken from pgs. 139-140 in the PDF and pgs. 131-132 in the print edition.]
In Part 4, I plan to build on this platform to take a closer look at our union with Christ and the ironic similarities between Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interrupting the Series to Close Some Browser Tabs

1. It must feel pretty cool to see John Piper say you wrote the book Jonathan Edwards wanted to write.

2. Little known facts: "The SBC only truly exists two days a year. It is not a denomination, it is a collective of free churches choosing to partner together for mission."

3. Don't tell me there's no "emerging middle."

4. This offers a great look inside the mind and mood of Christianity Today.

5. Though I've disagreed with Scot McKnight on many points, he's dead on in his critique of George Ladd's yearning for "a place at the table." Here's the conclusion:
I don’t believe our goal as Bible or theology scholars is to be deemed among the finest of scholars or to find a place at the table, but to be faithful to Jesus Christ and to the gospel and to orthodox theology and to academic rigor. Yes, we are to work to discover and to be creative, but the driving passion to prove ourselves at the feet of others falls short of a true Christian telos. I’d put it this way: we are called to be faithful, whether we are accepted or not.
6. And finally, Russell Moore published a provocative analogy to romance novels today:
Pornography is based on the illusion of a perfectly willing, always aroused partner without the “work” of relational intimacy. Often romance novels or their film equivalents do the same thing for the emotional needs of women that pornography offers for the erotic urges of men.
But to be fair, my wife's and my friend, Beth Spraul, said it first! [PDF]:
Let me start with a somewhat provocative, but reasonable comparison. Among thoughtful Christians, one will hear significant concern for how the culture of pornography harmfully affects men by distorting their view of sex and women. . . . I’d like to suggest that culture attacks women similarly — it is just a bit more subtle. The lies told to women are introduced at the level of women’s emotions (less harmful, right?), in how they dream about men, and in what they long for relationally. Like pornography, chick-flicks take a good gift from God (romance, relational intimacy) that women are created to desire, and distort it by presenting as “normal” an unbiblical and unrealistic picture of men, love and marriage. And just like men who buy into the lies of pornography, women who believe that their husbands and marriages should always be like what they see on the screen will be sinfully dissatisfied with God’s good gift to them of a “normal” husband and marriage.

Abraham's Four Seeds

In case you missed yesterday's post, I'm running a mini-series on Steve Wellum's outstanding chapter, "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants" [PDF], in Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright's Believer's Baptism. (I love that WTS bookstore carries it.)

If I'd done a better job on that post, I'd have mentioned that Wellum is deconstructing Covenant Theology, in the process of demonstrating that paedobaptism is grounded in a misunderstanding of the relationship between the biblical covenants. He spends the first 28 pages of this 65-page chapter simply unpacking the covenantal argument for infant baptism. Yesterday's post didn't summarize that argument, but it emerged from that portion. If you want a summary, it's in the PDF.

This post emerges from the second portion of Wellum's chapter, which is an evaluation and critique of the covenantal argument for infant baptism. Though, my purpose for this post and the whole series is less about our conclusions on baptism, and more about the significant issues further upstream—the relationships among the biblical covenants.

So on that note, one of the conversations that's come up here from time to time is the Abrahamic Covenant and the identity of Abraham's "seed" or "offspring" in relationship to the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant. It's essential that we get the seed right if we're going to get the Bible right. As it happens, I've been reading John Reisinger's "Abraham's Four Seeds," which Wellum helpfully summarizes in his chapter.

I've found Wellum's overall argument and critique to be tighter and more on-point than Reisinger's, though Reisinger is certainly helpful. Here's Wellum's survey of the data on the four biblical senses of Abraham's "seed":
My answer is no. We see this by answering the important question, Who is the seed of Abraham? Who is the true heir of God’s promise? Scripture teaches that there are four senses that must be distinguished and not confused. Let us look at each of these in turn.

1. The “seed of Abraham” first refers to a natural (physical) seed, namely, every person who was in any way physically descended from Abraham such as Ishmael, Isaac, the sons of Keturah, and
by extension Esau, Jacob, etc. In each case, all of these children of Abraham received circumcision even though many of them were unbelievers, and even though it was only through one of the “seeds,” Isaac, that God’s promises and covenant was realized (Gen 17:20–21; cp. Rom 9:6–9). Circumcision also marked out those who were not physically Abraham’s descendants, but who were related to him either through a household birth or purchased as a slave (Gen 17:12). In the latter case, circumcision enabled those who were not biologically related to Abraham to become his children and thus benefi t from the divine blessing mediated through him.

2. The “seed of Abraham” also refers to a natural, yet special seed tied to God’s elective and saving purposes, namely Isaac, and by extension Jacob and the entire nation of Israel. As God enters into covenant relationship with Israel, they are a special, chosen people (Deut 7:7–10). As in the case of the natural seed, they too are marked as Abraham’s seed by circumcision. But as a nation, they are a “mixed” entity comprising believers and unbelievers—Elijahs and Ahabs simultaneously—even though all males within the covenant nation, regardless of whether they were spiritually regenerate, were marked by the covenant sign of circumcision. In fact, being God’s chosen people did not guarantee that they would receive God’s ultimate redemptive blessings (see Matt 3:9; Luke 3:8; 16:19–31; John 8:31–39; Rom 9:1–15). Instead, their being marked with the covenant sign not only showed their relationship to Abraham, but also, unlike the mere natural seed (Ishmael), allowed them the supreme privilege of bringing God’s blessing to all nations through the coming of the Messiah.

3. The Messiah is the third sense of the “seed of Abraham.” In Gal 3:16, Paul argues that the singular use of “seed” in Gen 12:3 and other places is a reference to the true/unique “seed of Abraham,” namely Christ. Here Paul is picking up the promise theme from Gen 3:15, traced through a distinctive line of seed, beginning with Adam, running through Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Israel, David, and eventually culminating in Christ. In Christ, we have the promised seed, the mediator of God’s people, the one who fulfills all God’s promises, not least the Abrahamic promises. Hence, he is the true seed of Abraham, the true Israel, and David’s greater Son. In this important sense, then, Jesus is the unique seed of Abraham both as a physical seed through a specific genealogical line and as the antitype of all the covenant mediators of the OT. What is crucial to note at this juncture is how in Christ, viewed as the true seed of Abraham and the mediatorial head of the new covenant, there is a significant typological advance as we move across the covenants which has implications for understanding the expression “to you and your seed.” This is clear in the fourth sense of the “seed of Abraham.”

4. In this last sense of the “seed of Abraham,” the NT emphasizes its spiritual nature now that Christ has come. It includes within it both believing Jews and Gentiles in the church. Given the new era that Christ has inaugurated, the way into Abraham’s family is not dependent on circumcision or the Torah, but it comes through faith and spiritual rebirth. Only those who have experienced conversion are those who are Abraham’s “seed” in this spiritual sense. To be a member of Abraham’s family now is not tied to a specific physical lineage, nor circumcision, nor any kind of physical links to other believers. Rather, one becomes a part of Abraham’s family only through faith union in Christ brought about by the Spirit (Gal 3:26–29). Thus, in the coming of Christ, a new era of redemptive history has dawned where the structures, types, and shadows of the old have given way to the reality and fulfillment of what the OT was all along pointing to.
Brief note: I've removed the footnotes, though they're obviously available in the PDF and print editions. There's also a discrepancy between the pagination of the PDF and the print edition. This extended quote is on pages 133-135 of my book, but pages 141-144 in the PDF. I haven't figured out how to account for the difference.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Main Contours of Covenant Theology

As I remember, I've linked previously to this PDF of Steve Wellum's outstanding chapter, "Baptism and the Relationship Between the Covenants," in this book, edited by Schreiner and Wright (Shawn, not N.T. or Ben). I don't think I've ever interacted at all with the text. My plan, over the next few days, is to post a handful of particularly helpful passages from the chapter. Here's the first:
Let us examine the main contours of covenant theology. The “covenant of grace” is contrasted to the first covenant made with Adam, the “covenant of works.” The covenant of works was made with Adam as the head and representative of the entire human race. To him and his entire posterity, eternal life was promised upon the condition of perfect obedience to the law of God. However, due to his disobedience, he, along with the entire human race, was plunged into a state of sin, death, and condemnation (see Rom 5:12–21). But God, by his own sovereign grace and initiative, was pleased to make a second covenant—the covenant of grace—with human beings (specifically, the elect), wherein the God of grace freely offered to sinners life and salvation through the last Adam, the covenantal head of his people, the Lord Jesus Christ (West. Conf. 7.2–3). Thus the covenant of grace began immediately after the Fall with the promise of grace in Gen 3:15. This promise was then progressively revealed and fulfilled in history through variously administered covenants with Noah, Abraham, Israel, and David. Ultimately it was brought to fulfillment in the new covenant inaugurated by Jesus Christ in his victorious cross work on our behalf.

But it is important to stress that for covenantal theologians even though there are different covenants described in Scripture, there is, in reality, only one overarching covenant of grace. That is why one must view the relationships between the covenants in terms of an overall continuity. Booth underscores this point in his comments on the “newness” of the covenant inaugurated by our Lord. He states, “The new covenant is but a new—though more glorious administration of the same covenant of grace.” Thus, under the old covenant, the one covenant of grace was administered through various promises, prophecies, sacrifices, rites and ordinances (e.g., circumcision) that ultimately typified and foreshadowed the coming of Christ. Now in light of his coming, the covenant of grace is administered through the preaching of the word and the administration of the sacraments. But in God’s plan there are not two covenants of grace, one in the OT and the other in the NT, but one covenant differing in administration but essentially the same across the ages (see West. Conf. 7.6).

This brief overview of covenant theology raises several issues that we will address in four points. First, how is the new covenant new? Second, whether the covenant of grace is conditional or unconditional. Third, who are the parties to the covenant of grace? Fourth, the relationship between the covenant of grace and the Abrahamic covenant. Examining these four issues will show us the rigorous logic of covenant theology’s argument for paedobaptism. [footnotes omitted here, but available in the PDF]

Monday, May 16, 2011

Driscoll vs. the "Conference Christians"

I think these are some rather helpful warnings and insights to obsessive conference-attenders. Among several important points, I thought this one was particularly salient:
They start comparing the preaching, music, and overall experience of their favorite conference to their local church Sunday experience. This makes it impossible for the average pastor and church to ever measure up. It’s a bit like the guy who is so enamored with the Victoria’s Secret catalogue that his wife starts to look less and less attractive, as if it were a problem with her appearance instead of his obsession.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

If You Had To Guess . . .

. . . what organization would you say was being referred to here—by one of its leaders?
I have never been interested in having some kind of big tent for the _________________. I was instrumental in writing the doctrinal statement for the _________________, and we made it as tight as we possibly could, particularly on bibliology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. Unfortunately, some people sign that statement every year, but do not genuinely hold to some of its most important tenets.
No fair googling, and if you've read the original source, maybe let some others play for a bit.

And just to be clear, historically, indifferentists (to borrow Machen's term) are the people who believed the doctrinal statements themselves but were happy to make common cause with the ones who didn't.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

An Evangelist and a Pastor on "What Evangelism Isn't"

This book (pgs. 69-82):
  1. Imposing our beliefs on others
  2. Personal testimony
  3. Social action and public involvement
  4. Apologetics
  5. The results of evangelism (conversions)
And evangelist Steve Pettit, starting about 7:28 in:
  1. Imposing our religious views on other people
  2. Sharing our personal testimony
  3. Doing social work
  4. Apologetics
  5. The results of evangelism (seeing people saved)
I couldn't possibly agree more.