The Ways of Our God: God’s People (3)

In The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie moves in chapters 11-15 to speaks about God’s People.  Continuing to expound a multi-thematic approach to biblical theology, he shows how God has from the very foundation of the world worked in covenant relationship with his people and how he will continue to have a people to call his own forever and ever.  Scobie outlines his section under the following headings.

11. The Covenant Community.  Scobie lays out a well-argued case in this chapter depicting the kind of unity God intended for humanity to have with Him and with one another.  He begins in the first family, shows how sin splintered unity, and how a significant part of redemptive history has been to foster unity among God’s covenant community and ultimately to create one new humanity in Christ (Eph. 2:14; John 17).  He argues a case where union with Christ is not mystical, but ecclesial where God’s people, as they are brought into fellowship with God by Christ’s active and passive obedience, are simultaneously called to unity among the brethren.  Obviously in this chapter, the idea of covenant is essential.

12. The Nations.  Scobie contends that the OT hints at God’s universal purposes, whereas the NT commands the mission of the church to reach the end of the earth.  In the OT, Israel is to mediate blessings to its neighbors but consistently fails to do so.  There is evidence of Gentiles finding there way into the covenant community (Ruth, Rahab, Uriah the Hittite), but primarily this is an accident of history, rather than a program of international expansion.  In this way, the movement in the OT is centripital.  That changes in the NT, where God gives the command to go to the nations through the Great Commission of Jesus and the sending of the Spirit.  Thus in the NT, the movement is centrifugal, with every nation invited and commanded to bow the knee to Christ.  On the whole, the chapter is a well-balanced articulation of missions in the OT and NT.  However, Scobie’s theological predilections show that he is not comfortable with the Bible’s exclusive message of salvation in Christ alone.  For he argues that those who came before Christ could be saved without knowledge of his name, and those who did not believe in this life will get another shot after death to respond to the gospel.  Clearly, he is making up the rules as he goes.  His position strips the gospel of its grace and glory.  By minimizing the name of Christ, he is stripping Christ of glory and by offering the gospel in the eschaton, he is blunting the force of the gospel today and making God subservient to the needs of men.  The Lord is a Servant and he does humble himself to save, but he is not required to save us, and in fact the hearing of the gospel is a matter of sovereign grace.  Scobie’s appeal to post-mortem evangelism misconstrues the gracious and necessary proclamation of the gospel in this age.

13. Land and City.  In this chapter Scobie breaks his pattern of proclamation, promise, fulfillment, consummation by ending with a different idea/concept than he started.  For some reason he does not see Land as an eternal reality.  Instead, land is collapsed into city.  Instead of seeing the Garden bookends of the Bible, he seems to say that the OT is focused on land and life in the land, but in the NT, the New Age is focused more on spiritual realities and on the City of Zion, God’s dwelling place.  What he does not recognize is the way land is not shrunk, but expanded in the New Heavens and New Earth.  Whereas God promises the land to Abraham in Genesis, in Romans 4:13, Paul says God promised the Cosmos to Abraham.  Therefore, the promises are not truncated but expanded–to God be the glory!

14. Worship.  Scobie sets this chapter to discuss the When, Where, and How of Worship, but ironically not the What or Who.  Perhaps this is assumed, but in an age of mysticism and spirituality where worship is sold at Wal-Mart, the most important aspect of Worship is not form or function, but who is worshiping Whom.  More could be developed here, from the people who called upon the name of the Lord (Gen. 4:26) to the worshipers around the throne of God (Rev. 4-5).  More concurrently, Scobie’s discussion of baptism was disappointing because of the way that he did not defend his conclusion.  Though he asserted a paedobaptistic view, he defended it with the most minimal biblical support.  Instead, he seems to articulate that credobaptists believe assert human responsibility over divine grace/agency in salvation.  This dichotomy does represent the issue well at all.  I know few Baptists who deny God’s initiating work in salvation, as Scobie seems to paint it.

15. Ministry.  Finally, Scobie addresses ministry and service in the Bible. He lists four kinds of leaders in the OT–elders, priests, prophets, teachers–who he shows to find their ultimate and perfect expression in Jesus Christ.  Moving into the NT, he shows how much he is a product of his ecclesial tradition.  He makes the case for three NT offices, even while admitting that elder and bishop were originally synonymous.  Likewise, he argues for women in ministry, though he does not produce any solid exegetical evidence.  Instead, when coming to “proof texts” like 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14, he inserts other proof texts like Acts 18:26 where “Priscilla taught Apollos” and 1 Cor. 11:5, 13 which showed women prophesying.  In all these cases, he argues that these historical situations should not be presented as normative representations of the church; this is said even after he concedes that Paul roots his argument in 1 Tim. 2 in the created order.

It is in these final two arguments–church government and women in ministry–that Scobie’s greatest weakness emerges.  He is not letting the text shape his theology.  Instead, in working out his BT grid, he is simply adapting it to fit his ecclesial traditions–beliefs that I would contend do not stand up to rigorous biblical considerations.   Likewise, in the way that he truncates certain areas (i.e. the proclamation and promise sections in the Servant’s Vindication), it looks like the weight of his BT model was for him to devote the time to every section.  There are areas in his book where he simply cites the biblical evidence, but does not wrestle with its meaning.  At other places, like here, he simply retreats to the position of his church–three offices for ministry and women as ministers in the church.

Scobie’s work reminds us that while biblical theology is helpful in painting with broad strokes the themes and ideas of the Bible, exegetical studies and systematic theology are absolutely necessary for working out doctrine and applying it to individual lives and local churches.  Scobie’s work is a helpful resource for tracing a doctrine through the Bible, finding places where a theme stands out in the text; however, it is not the place to find help in making decisions about doctrine.  In its articulation of doctrine, it leaves a lot to be desired.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

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