The Ways of Our God: God’s Servant (2)

In the second section of The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie turns from the theology proper, creation, and the history of spiritual warfare in section one to the person and work of Jesus Christ in section two.  Instead of providing a thorough summary, let me point out some of the highs and lows.

6. The Messiah:  Scobie outlines five charateristic offices of the servant of God–namely Moses, prophet, priest, king, and sage.  These offices were first established in history before they were fulfilled in Christ.  Yet, before the advent of Jesus Christ and his ultimate fulfillment there seems to be a pattern of failure that escalated the hopes of the coming Messiah.  This idea of escalation is not unique to Scobie, but his recognition of this pattern is appreciable.   The high point for me in chapter 6 was Scobie’s edifying examination of the ways in which Jesus Christ fulfilled the OT figures in similar but superior ways.  One of the best chapters in the book.

7. The Son of Man: Whereas chapter 6 discussed some of the functional offices of the Christ, chapter 7 focuses on the usage of ‘Son of Man.’  Scobie picks up the Adamic referrences here showing how Jesus is the second Adam, and he shows how he is the fulfillment of the vision in Daniel 7.   Moreover, Scobie shows how Jesus comes to represent the true humanity of God.  Moving from Israel to Remnant to The Twelve Disciples to Jesus, he shows how history narrows to Jesus Christ as the single faithful Jew who is qualified to receive the promises of God.  It is worthy to note however, that Scobie misplaces the twelve, for they should probably go on the other side of Jesus.  In other words, the Twelve are as the reconstituted twelve tribes, function as the foundation of the New Testament, not the last vestige of Old Testament Israel.  So while they may serve a place in the narrowing process of history to point up Jesus as the one son of God, they should be more carefully placed after Jesus, as the firstfruits of the new creation.

8. Glory, Word, Wisdom, and Son:  This is a very illuminating chapter concerning OT adumbrations fulfilled in Christ.  Each of these four major themes (Glory, Word, Wisdom, and Sonship) prepares the way for the incarnation of the second member of the Godhead, Jesus Christ.  In truth, Jesus fulfills and exceeds each of these attributes/personifications of God in the OT.  It is worthwhile to meditate on how the presentations of glory, the word, wisdom, and sonship in the OT do and do not foreshadow Jesus Christ–and by ‘do not’ I mean that the Son’s incarnation outstrips all previous possibilities of hypostasis, or distinctions with God, in the Old Testament (cf. Dan. 7:13-14; Isa. 63:8-10).  Finally, I must say that this chapter did begin to evidence the prevailing weakness of this book, namely the unwillingness to examine theological issues at levels that go beyond the surface of the text. For instance, in response to the question, “Is Jesus God?” Scobie balks (395, 398ff).  His inability to affirm this metaphysical reality shows one of the weaknesses of his BT which sidesteps matters of critical theological debate.  He makes the evasive move to only say what Scripture says without defending the implications of what the Scriptures say.  There is a constant appeal to BT in Scobie’s work that he uses when he comes across a textual problem or divisive doctrine.  While I appreciate his ‘textuality,’ in this case the texts demand an answer.  Jesus is God. 

9. The Servant’s Suffering: Chapter 9 moves from the person of Christ to his work.  On page 403 Scobie writes, “In the OT there emerges what we may call a ‘profile’ of the ideal servant of God.  While embodied to varying degrees in specific historical individuals, the “Suffering Servant” is portrayed especially in certain psalms and in the “Servant Songs” of Isaiah.”  Scobie’s chapter helpfully outlines the common experience of God’s servants, showing that Jesus Christ is the ultimate servant, one who suffers and dies to ransom a people for God.  He bases his chapter not just on a limited word study but on a ‘servant pattern’ that emerges in the Bible where God’s servants, Jesus in particular, are “called and chosen by God and obedient, fulfilling his God-given mission.  He is misunderstood and mocked, suffers and dies; yet he is vindicated by God, and his death and resurrection have profound significance for Israel and for the naitons” (417).  This aspect of the chapter is very, very good.  So is Scobie’s multi-thematic understanding of Jesus’ atonement, where he defends propitiation and the substitutionary nature of the atonement.  However, the glaring abberation in this chapter is Scobie’s advocacy of ‘post-mortem evangelism.’   Scobie argues here (434) and later (540) that all people will get another chance to respond to the gospel after they die.  He bases this on 1 Pet. 4:6 and Rev. 14:6-7 (536), but fails to see the finality of death in verses like Hebrews 9:27 which reads, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

10. The Servant’s Vindication:  Finally, Scobie develops the pattern of vindication experienced by the servants of God in OT, in the life of Jesus, and in the life of believers who are united to Christ’s death and resurrection.  Unfortunately, Scobie spends little time developing the idea of vindication from the OT–only six paltry pages (441-46).  In the more substantial work on Christ’s resurrection he helpfully unpacks the fourfold meaning of Christ’s resurrection, ascension, session (being seated with Christ), and Lordship.  In this last section, he provides a helpful discussion of Christ’s Lordship in the lives of individuals, in the church, and in creation.  Unfortunately, like the discussion concerning Christ’s deity, Scobie again waffles on the evidential nature of the resurrection.  While he does not deny it, he is unwilling to affirm an evidential argument–based on eyewitness testimony–for the reality of the resurrection.  The resurrection, in Scobie’s view, is a matter of faith to be believed and less an event to be proved.  Sadly this splinters faith from history. Apparently, we are justified to believe in such an account, but we are not required to argue for its veracity. 

Overall, Scobie has some very helpful discussions on matters like the OT types that lead to biblical understanding of the Messiah and recognizing a servant pattern in the Scripture that helps develop a biblical understanding of what Christ accomplished in death.  Yet, in reading this section it becomes more apparent that Scobie and I do not share many biblical-theological convictions.  His work is to be commended for its breadth and synthesis of the biblical material.  However, in terms of analyzing and articulating many doctrines, The Ways of Our God shows itself to be theologically amiss.   Scobie does well in collecting and setting the biblical material; he just does not do equally well in explaining its theological difficulties.

We will pick up this point in the next post.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

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