Kingdom and Covenant: The Main Entrance to the Cathedral of Scripture

In recent years, Kingdom and Covenant have received ample attention in the field of biblical theology. This is due in large part to a book co-written by two professors at Southern Seminary, Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum. Most recently, the latter articulated their position at the Regional ETS meeting held on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. If you haven’t seen the video (above), I would encourage you to take an hour an listen.

This post is not about that presentation or that book, however. Instead it concerns another book with a similar theme, The Drama of Scripture. While many covenant and dispensational theologians have pushed back against Kingdom through Covenant, there are others who have found the twin themes of kingdom and covenant as persuasive and most basic for putting the Bible together. One example of this is Craig Bartholomew and Michael Goheen.

Writing independent from (and prior to) Gentry and Wellum, they produce a strikingly similar  conclusion about the place of kingdom and covenant in Scripture. Using a cathedral as an illustration for reading the Bible, the argue for covenant and kingdom as the “main entrance” into the Bible. They write,

In our opinion, ‘covenant’ (in the Old Testament) and ‘the kingdom of God’  (in the New Testament) present a strong claim to be the main door through which we can being to enter the Bible and to see it as one whole and vast structure. Continue reading

Seeing and Savoring the Drama of Scripture

pexels-photo-256560For the first few years of my Christian life Our Daily Bread served as a vital part of my personal devotions. Each month or two, I’d pick up the short devotional in the church foyer, and each day I’d read it with accompanying Scripture references. About the same time, I began memorizing Bible verses. Behind my desk today is an index box full of the Scriptures I sought to memorize from that period.

Scripture tells us that the way a man keeps his way pure is to hide the word of God in our heart (Psalm 119:9). Truly, the practice of Scripture memory and devotional reading is life-giving for the Christian. At the same time, such Bible memory and devotional nuggets can be lost on the Christian if they are not tied to the larger storyline of the Bible. Indeed, remembering the work of God in history is foundational for any abiding faith in Christ. And without it, we risk adding knowledge without heart change. 

Recalling the Story of the Bible

Throughout the Old Testament Israel rehearses its history. In Deuteronomy, Moses begins by recounting God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel (ch. 1–4). In Psalms 78, 104–106, and 136, the Psalter retells the events of redemptive history, so that future generations might trust God to work on their behalf. Likewise, the Prophets regularly pick up God’s work in Exodus in order to say: The God who split the Red Sea to save his people can do it again (see Isaiah 41:8–20; 43:1–21). Even Nehemiah, when leading the people of Israel to restore covenant with God, starts not with their profession or recommitment, but with Yahweh’s history of covenant faithfulness (9:6–34). And the same is true in the New Testament, as the sermons of Acts all follow the history of God’s work in Israel now culminating in Christ (see Acts 2, 3, 7, 13). Continue reading

Drinking Deeply from the Fountain of Biblical Theology

biblical theology[I wrote the following article for the online journal Theology for Life, a publication of Servants of Grace. A PDF of the whole journal on Hermeneutics: The Art and Science of Biblical Interpretation can be found here].

When Jesus approached his two disciples departing Jerusalem on the day of his resurrection, he asked, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” (Luke 24:17). Deftly, he quizzed them about the events of his own death, burial, and resurrection. To this inquiry, these disciples report the somber facts,

Jesus of Nazareth . . . was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people . . . our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (vv. 19–24)

What follows is one of the most exhilarating moments in all Scripture, where “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (v. 27). For the two hours it took to walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Hebrew Scriptures foretold of his coming—only the disciples did not know it was Jesus speaking. Indeed, through this guided tour of the Bible, Jesus illumined their minds before opening their eyes to reveal his identity (“And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him,” v. 31). Following this epiphany, the two disciples observe, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the Scriptures?” (v. 32).

This, I contend, is biblical theology. Continue reading

Martin Luther on Christ’s Resurrection and Ours

harvestBut in fact Christ has been raised from the dead,
the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. . . . 
But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits,
then at his coming those who belong to Christ.
— 1 Corinthians 15:20, 23 —

First Corinthians 15:20 is a glorious passage, full of insight into Christ’s resurrection and ours. As the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep,” Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. He is the proof that resurrection is possible, permanent, and secure. Unlike Lazarus and the saints raised to life by Elijah and Elisha, Jesus resurrection was of a different order—it literally began a new creation.

Accordingly, Paul speaks of Christ’s resurrection in harvest terms because it both inaugurates God’s long, foretold eschatological resurrection (Ezekiel 37; Daniel 12:1–2), and it promises that the rest of the harvest—an eruption of redeemed saints from the earth—is forthcoming (1 Corinthians 15:35–38). Just as the festival of firstfruits celebrated the beginning of the harvest, portending to a bounty to come, so Christ’s resurrection promises bodily resurrection for all those who fall asleep in Christ.

This reality stands at the center of the Christians future hope, but it also promises resurrection life today. Indeed, multiple places in Scripture besides speak of the resurrection as a present reality (see John 5:26–29; Ephesians 2:5; Colossians 3:1–4). This does not deny the need for or anticipation of a future bodily resurrection; it only reiterates the ruling power of Christ in heaven and the work of his Spirit on the earth.

To this point Martin Luther once commented on the present effects of Christ’s resurrection. His words are worth quoting in full. Let his always-colorful language stir your heart to worship as you remember the glorious working of Christ’s resurrection—both a future hope and present power.

And what is more than that, by calling Christ “the Firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” Paul wishes to signify that the resurrection is to be viewed and understood as having already begun in Christ, indeed, as being more than half finished, and that this remnant of death is to be regarded as no more than a deep sleep, and that the future resurrection of our body will not differ from suddenly awaking from such a sleep. For the main and best part of this has already come to pass, namely, that Christ, our Head, has arisen. But now that the Head is seated on high and lives, there is no longer any reason for concern. We who cling to Him must also follow after Him as His body and His members. For where the head goes and abides, there the body with all the members must necessarily follow and abide. As in the birth of man and of all animals, the head naturally appears first, and after this is born, the whole body follows easily. Now since Christ has passed over and reigns above in heaven over sin, death, devil, and everything, and since He did this for our sake to draw us after Him, we need no longer worry about our resurrection and life, though we depart and rot in the ground. For now this is no more than a sleep. And for Christ it is but a night before He rouses us from the sleep.

Now if I know this and believe it, my heart or conscience and soul have already passed through death and grave and are in heaven with Christ, dwell there and rejoice over it. And in that way we have the two best parts, much more than half, of the resurrection behind us. And because Christ animates and renews the heart by faith, He will also surely drag the decomposed rascal after Him and clothe him again, so that we can behold Him and live with Him. For that is His Word and work on which we are baptized and live and die. Therefore this will surely not fail us, as little as it failed Him. No matter when or how God ordains that we die, whether in bed or in the fire, in the water, by rope or by sword, the devil, death’s master and butcher, will surely see to killing us and carrying out his trade, so that we will not be able to choose or select a mode of death. But no matter how he executes us, it shall not harm us. He may give us a bitter potion, such as is administered to put people to sleep and make them insensitive, but we will wake up again and come forth on that Day, when the trumpet will sound. That the devil shall not prevent, because even now we are more than halfway out of death in Christ, and he will not be able to hold back this poor belly and bag of maggots either. (“Commentary on 1 Corinthians 15,” in Luther’s Works, 28:110–11)

Come what may of our earthly tents, whatever the devil aims to do to destroy us, the resurrection of Christ is already at work in the world and at work in his saints (2 Corinthians 4:1–11). Let us take heart in that, and with the power of Christ’s resurrection, put to death the deeds in the body by means of the Spirit which seals our own future resurrection (cf. Romans 8:11–13).

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Let Us Meditate On the Cross

crossThis morning I continue to teach The Work of Christ to a group of students at Indianapolis Theological Seminary. Few things are more delightful than spending hours meditating on the finished work of Christ and contemplating the way Scripture portrays Christ’s substitionary atonement on behalf of sinners.

To be sure, this is not an undisputed view today. But it is vitally important truth and one worth defending and declaring boldly: Christ’s death is not one of many options for reconciliation with God; it is God’s eternal plan and necessary means for justifying sinners, reuniting image-bearers with their Maker, and putting all things under his feet so that in the age to come.

For our consideration of this glorious hope, consider five quotes from Emil Brunner, Martin Luther, and John Stott.

Emil Brunner

The whole struggle of the Reformation for the sola fide, the sola deo Gloria, was simply the struggle for the right interpretation of the Cross. He who understands the Cross aright—this is the opinion of the Reformers—understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ. (Emil Brunner, The Mediator, 435)

Martin Luther

Because and eternal, unchangeable sentence of condemnation has passed upon sin—god cannot and will not regard sin with favor, but his wrath abides upon it eternally and irrevocably—redemption was not possible with a ransom of such precious worth as to atone for sin. This no creature was able to do. There was no remedy except for God’s only Son to step into our distress and himself become a man, to take upon himself the load of awful and eternal wrath and make his own body and blood a sacrifice for sin. And so he did, out of the immeasurably great mercy and love towards us, giving himself up and bearing the sentence of unending wrath and death. (Martin Luther, “Epistle Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity,” cited in John N. Lenker, ed., The Precious and Sacred Writings of Martin Luther, 9:43­–45)

John Stott

Christianity is Christ, and the crucial fact about Christ is his passion on the cross… Scripture portrays the Savior’s death as the basis of every spiritual blessing (Rom 8:31–32), as the source of true Christian living (Rom 6:1­–11; 8:3–4), and as the foundation of the church’s sacraments (Rom 6:1-4; 1 Cor 11:26). John tells us that throughout eternity the inhabitants of heaven will sing the glorious praises of the Lamb who was slain (Rev 5:9–14)” (John Stott, The Cross and Salvation, 167–68).

All inadequate doctrines of the atonement are due to inadequate doctrines of God and man. If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves to his, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding glory of the holiness of God, and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely ‘hell-deserving sinners,’ then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we astonished we never saw it before. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 109)

Substitution is not a ‘theory of the atonement.’ Nor is it even an additional image to take its place as an option alongside the others.  It is rather the essence of each image and the heart of the atonement itself.  None of the images could stand without it. (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, 202–03).

Let us not be ashamed of the cross of Christ, for it is the power and wisdom of God. And may these reflections help us marvel at God’s great gift, the voluntary sacrifice of his Son in the place of sinners. There is no other way of salvation, and no more glorious truth to contemplate.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

How Do We Know Christ Rose from the Dead?

Easter Sunday and every Sunday call to mind that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. But how do we know that is true? Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tells us that our faith, our forgiveness, and our salvation is lost if Christ is not raised (15:12–19). So what evidence do we have to be sure Christ is raised from the dead?

To answer that question, let’s consider a few things from the New Testament, especially 1 Corinthians 15. First there are at least four historical evidences from outside of 1 Corinthians 15, and second there are at least three points of data from within 1 Corinthians 15. All of these evidences are based on the eye witness testimony Christ’s disciples—some who followed him in his life and others who were converted by his resurrection.

In what follows, I will abbreviate four points from William Lane Craig’s article, “Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?” in the Apologetic Study Bible,[1] and add three others. Continue reading

The Resurrection: Historical, Necessary, and More Than Sufficient (1 Corinthians 15:12–20)

obc-1 corinthiansThe Resurrection: Historical, Necessary, and More Than Sufficient (1 Corinthians 15:12–20)

Is the resurrection necessary? Evangelicals Christians say, “Absolutely. Undoubtedly. No question.” Other “Christians,” Protestant Liberals, are less committed. Who’s right? 

Thankfully, the Bible is not indifferent or ambiguous to the question. In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul spends an entire chapter arguing for the centrality of the resurrection. Last week, we saw how verses 1–11 articulate the gospel of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, risen, and reigning. This week,  we examined how verses 12–19 address the question of the resurrection’s historicity, necessity, and sufficiency.  In particular, we find in the historical necessity of the resurrection a sufficient foundation for our hope and a word of life to anyone facing death.

You can listen to sermon online or read the sermon here. Below there are discussion questions and resources for further study. Continue reading

Discipleship in a Digital Age

Discipleship in Digital AgeFrom Abraham to Abraham Lincoln, the speed of the world didn’t change all that much. From the agrarian lifestyle of the Patriarch to the rural farms of North America, among which Lincoln grew up, the speed of news typically traveled at the pace of a horse. In this historical setting, the famed presidential debates between Lincoln and Douglas lasted for hours at a time, with people taking a break for dinner, only to come back for more.

What a difference 150 years makes, only its not time that has changed the world, its technology. In the three millennia between Abraham Lincoln and his namesake, the world didn’t change that much because communication didn’t change that much. To be sure, the printing press in the fifteenth century changed the world and powered the Protestant Reformation. But nothing has changed the world like the technological advances of the telegraph, radio, television, Internet, and now the iPhone.

Through each of these advances the world became smaller, communications faster, and information easier—easier to accumulate, easier to disseminate, and easier to manipulate. And significantly, the pace of life and speech has increased in exponential fashion.

It’s not like the move from industry to information to digital preoccupation has increased gradually over the last 150 years. Far from it! With the Internet and the iPhone, in particular, digital information chases us, hacks into our brains, and produces within us data smog. All told, unless we learn to walk wisely in this age, we are at risk not only of becoming servants to our digital masters, but to lose our Master altogether.

Walking Wisely in a World Full of Pings, Pixels, and Panic (FoMO)

David Wells said two decades ago “the fundamental problem in the evangelical world today is that God rests too inconsequentially upon the church” (God in the Wasteland30). In his corpus of theological studies into evaluating evangelicalism at the turn of the twenty-first century, he identified the effects of modernity on the church. By modernity, he was not speaking of modernism—the Enlightenment-derived elevation of man and his autonomous rationality—but the effects of our hyper-transient, ultra-consumeristic, technologically-dependent, and information over-saturated modern world. This materialistic cocktail has wreaked havoc on the soul of the Western Church and has brought about a loosening of doctrine and lightening of God himself. Continue reading

Framing the Gospel: Four Biblical Truths For Rightly Proclaiming and Protecting the Gospel

framesFor the gospel of God to remain in focus it needs a frame. That is to say, if we are going to proclaim Christ clearly and consistently, we must understand the biblical presuppositions necessary to preserve and protect the gospel. In particular, the gospel needs at least four truths to guard it from distortion. These truths do not add anything to the gospel, but they do ensure that nothing is taken away from the gospel.

What are these ‘framing’ truths?

From 1 Corinthians 15, I believe Paul explains the gospel as needing to be kept (1) central, (2), external, (3) Scriptural, and (4) historical. Without these four frames the gospel will be put in jeopardy. Therefore, to better understand the biblical presuppositions with undergird the gospel, let’s consider each of these truths briefly and then what happens when they are lost. Continue reading

*This is the Day* That the Lord Has Made: A Good Friday Reflection

cross2This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
– Psalm 118:24 –

Like many, I learned this verse not from reading it in the Bible but singing it in church.  Les Garrett’s chorus, “This is the Day,” is a popular praise song that sets this verse to music.  My wife and I have taught this song to our kids, and it is not unusual to find myself singing this little song.

However, as with every verse in the Bible, context determines meaning.  And left to itself, Psalm 118:24 and Les Garrett’s modern rendition can make it seem that we are giving thanks to God for the day in which we stand—‘this day”—and not the day that is actually foretold in Psalm 118.

When Psalm 118 is read in its entirety, however, it becomes apparent that the day mentioned in verse 24 is the Day of the Lord.  How do we know?

Well, two verses earlier stands another well-known verse, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (v. 22).  Picked up in the New Testament (Mark 12:10–11; 1 Pet 2:4–7), it refers to Jesus Christ and his death.  Thus, set in the historical context of the work of Christ, the “day that the Lord has made” is not just the day in which we stand—it is the day that God’s Son fell!

In Mark 14:26, the Bible says, “When they sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”  Previously, Mark records the Lord’s Supper where Jesus broke bread and drank wine, both representing the death he would die on the next day (14:22–25).  Thus, the hymn they sang is probably Psalm 118, the closing hymn of the Jewish Seder—the meal commemorating the Passover.

How marvelous it is to consider the placement of this verse in the events around Jesus’ death. As the disciples of Christ concluded their Passover meal, which Jesus transformed into his own Lord’s Supper, this song would be sung to prepare for “the day.” As Psalm 118:23 puts it: “This is the Lord’s doing, how marvelous it is in our eyes. This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

For us, two thousand years removed, the context makes all the difference in how we join in the chorus praising God. Do we rejoice in our day, the one in which we stand?  Or do we rejoice in that day when Christ died so that we could stand?  Hedonists easily rejoice in the pleasures of a good day, and stoics can convince themselves in the midst of difficulty that something good will come in this day.

But only gospel-loving Christians have a secure reason for rejoicing in any day and everyday.  If the physical resurrection of Jesus did not happen, then Christians are to deluded and damned.  But because the eye witnesses account for Christ’s empty tomb, we call the Friday that Jesus died “good.”  We do not sing songs saying that every day is good; we rejoice everyday because God is good.

good dayIt needs to be said that the God of the Bible is not the God of Ned Flanders, who might pedantically praise Jesus for even the worst days. God does not call his followers to mindlessly call bad days “good,” to comfort themselves meaningless platitudes affixed to coffees cups, or  and to reinforce their joy by songs that grate against reality.

Rather, the message of the Bible, the message of Good Friday, and the message of Psalm 118:24 is this: We can rejoice in any day because the worst day in the history of the world—the day on which the Son of God died—became the best day in the history of the world. Because of this day and the ensuing resurrection of Christ we can rejoice in any day.

As we celebrate Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us sing with all our might that “This is the Day that the Lord has made,” but remember what day we are singing about.  The reason why we rejoice in this today is because of that day when the sky grew black, the earth quaked, the temple veil tore, and the Son died.

This was the Day of the Lord, when Christ Jesus laid down his life, so that sinners could be reconciled to their Maker.  This is the good news, and this is the reason why we rejoice and sing!

Soli Deo Gloria, ds