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

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

The Veracity and Violence of God’s Word

I ran across a one-sentence commentary on the sometimes delayed, but always effective power of God’s Word (cf. Isaiah 55:8-9; Hebrews 4:12).  Consider it a word of hope about the veracity and violence of God’s Word.  Charles Scobie quotes E. Jacob saying,

“God’s word, ‘is like a projectile shot into the enemy camp whose explosion must sometimes be awaited but which is always inevitable.'”  Jacob continues to relate God’s word to God’s governance of history, and these explosions are the events of history [i.e. the exodus and the cross of Jesus Christ] (E. Jacob, The Theology of the Old Testament [New York: Harper & Row, 1958], 131; quoted in Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003], 370).

May we pray for God’s word to explode in our world, and may our preaching, like the prophets of old, launch an arsenal of sin-defeating, Satan-assailing, captive-freeing, gospel missiles into enemy-occupied territory, until Christ returns as king.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Ways of Our God: God’s Order (1)

In The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology, Charles Scobie subdivides his multithematic approach into main four categories: God’s Order; God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way.  Under each banner, he writes five chapters, and today we will consider his first section in his “sketch of biblical theology.”  For sake of space, let me list the headings and provide a few reflections.

  1. The Living God.  Scobie begins with God and His revelation in creation and history.  According to the Scriptures, Scobie argues that God is King, and taking his cue from the Decalogue and the Shema, he outlines his chapter with three concepts that establish “the very core of the OT understanding of God” (107).  These are the self-revelation of God’s Name(s), the unitive oneness of God, and the personal nature of God.  He examines each of these as they are initially proclaimed in the OT and more fully developed in the latter prophets and in the NT.  One of the highlights from this chapter is the way that each section (i.e. Proclamation, Promise, Fulfillment, and Future Consummation–also the framework of every other chapter) concludes with an explanation and affirmation of the Scripture’s canonical development at each stage of revelation.  In a chapter focusing on Theology Proper, he argues for Scripture’s essential role in revealing the one, true, and living God.  Additionally, Scobie emphasizes God’s relationship to both the created order and the historical order–this is expanded in chapters 2-3.
  2. The Lord of Creation.  Scobie writes this chapter out of a concern that biblical theology and recent biblical studies have devalued God’s relationship to creation, and have focused only on God’s role in the historical order.  He illustrates this by referring to those who begin their BT with Exodus and not Genesis; however, as he points out, this misses the way in which the canon is itself telling the story of God as Creator and Redeemer.  Scobie shows convincingly that God loves creation and has made creation for our enjoyment and his glory (cf. John Piper, “The Pleasure of God in His Creation” in The Pleasures of God).  He shows where creation is emphasized in the OT (Gen. 1-11; Pss. 8, 95, 104, 148; Isaiah; and the wisdom literature–Job 38-39; Proverbs 8), and argues that the NT maintains the same view of creation as the OT, only adding Jesus’ instrumental role in its creation and maintenance (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:1-3).  He introduces the distinction between apocalyptic eschatology which is alligned with God’s created order and prophetic eschatology which corresponds with redemptive history.  Just as the Bible begins with creation (Gen. 1-2), it ends with new creation (Rev. 20-22), and thus all the Bible is looking forward to the renewal of this fallen world. 

    His concluding application section would make the editors of the “Green Letter Bible” happy; it shows how the Bible does address many environmental concerns, but in a Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz, sort of way, Scobies goes too far concerning the ways in which consumerist evangelicals have neglected the environment and are in need of confessing our “guilt for the ecological crisis” (186-87).  The ‘guilt’ rests not with Western evangelicals, but with the whole Adamic race. In the end, this chapter is a helpful commentary on what the Bible says about creation and its place in biblical theology.

  3. The Lord of History.  Scobie begins with a cursory review of the books of the Bible, and then proceeds to walk through the stages of redemptive history, before highlighting six ways in which God has worked in history.  These six characteristics of salvation history are (1) divine intervention, (2) [appointing] divinely inspired leadership, (3) salvation & judgment, (4) providence, (5) blessing, (6) and suffering love (198-202).  Scobie does not retain God’s work in history to veiled acts of redemption, though, he also posits that God has worked in history through revealing himself by speaking to his people (202-04).  Thus, redemptive acts of God are only recognized and understood when God also inspires a biblical author to interpret the meaning of the event (i.e. the exodus, the Babylonian exile, or the crucifixion).  The chapter is a helpful summary of salvation history, though he is theologically imprecise when speaking of God’s “suffering love,” a term most often associated with Jurgen Moltmann, and more recently Richard Bauckham, that ascribes suffering to the divinity of the Godhead, instead of assigning suffering to Christ’s humanity.  (For more on this see my post, Can God Suffer?).
  4. The Adversary.  Scobie presents a very balanced survey from the biblical text that walks through the Scriptures highlighting the passages of Scripture that concern the enemies of God, reprobate angels, and Satan himself.  He avoids the two extremes of spiritual warfare fanaticism and the modern mindset that makes the devil a cartoonish fable.  He chastens those who like Greg Boyd attempt to say too much about Satan and are required to import ideas from other Ancient Near Eastern contemporaries.  However, he shows the reality of the demonic realm and of the antichrist.  Like all of his chapters I have read thus far, his biblical content presents a helpful catalog of all the applicable texts on the subject.
  5. The Spirit.  Scobie is open to the continuous presence of miraculous gifts today because there is no hermeneutical reason, he says, to deny their continuation (296).  However, in his explication of this subject, Scobie is unfortunately imprecise and inconsistent.  In one place he states that “Christian baptism confers the gift of the Spirit” (283), yet later as he makes his summary he says “all believers receive the gift of the Spirit when they become Christians” (296).  I guess you could ask, “What makes someone a Christian,” but it seems that he inconsistently attributes the giving of the Spirit to baptism, and blurs the transitional period of Acts with what is now normative in the church today.  Like in chapter 2, Scobie emphasizes the Spirit’s role in and with creation, appealing to the Eastern Ortohodox tradition which includes Psalm 104 in its daily liturgy (295).  He spends little time on the revelation of the Spirit and its inclusion in the Trinity, because as he believes, the Bible gives triadic data but not trinitarian doctrine (297).  On the whole, this chapter shows a developing continuity throughout the Bible for the doctrine of the Spirit, but its synthesis leaves a lot of questions unanswered because of such short statements on things like tongues, the gifts, and the relationship of baptism to the Spirit.

More than a quarter of the way through this massive volume, I am pleased to report that the reading has been edifying and that any serious student of the Bible would be rewarded by reading it.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology

Charles H. H. Scobie,  The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003.

Charles Scobie, Cowan Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at Mount Allison University (Sackville, New Brunswick), has written a massive volume on biblical theology.  It is called The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical TheologyOver the next week or two, I hope to provide brief commentary on this large work that shows promise for being a helpful guide to discerning some of the major biblical-theological themes found in the Bible.  Today let me mention Scobie’s introduction.

In 103, heavily-annotated pages, Charles Scobie traces the history of biblical theology from Irenaeus to Gabler to Goldsworthy.  His first chapter gives a cursory definition of biblical theology; his second chapter surveys the major contributors to biblical theology; his third chapter lists “new directions in biblical theology;” and his fourth chapter, which is the most involved in Section I, analyzes varying methods of biblical theology.  This leads Scobie to his final chapter in Section I, which outlines the biblical theological structure that he will flesh out in Section II.

Section I is a helpful prolegomena to Biblical Theology in general, and specifically it argues for biblical theology in a soberly optimistic fashion.  Scobie divides the history of biblical theology into three basic eras.  He terms these integrated biblical theology (pre-Enlightenment), independent biblical theology (18th Century until mid-20th century), and intermediate biblical theology, of which Scobie advocates.  He is realistic enough to recognize that interpreters cannot ignore the advances of historical-critical studies and try to return to pre-critical methods of reading the Bible, but at the same time he also asserts the shortcomings of historical-critical methods which divorce the Bible of any unified meaning or faith-engendering message.

Scobie lays out some of his presuppositions in these earlier chapters and clearly articulates a desire to read the Bible as a Christian and to understand it in the community of the church for the sake of believers.  He writes, “The presuppositions of this study include belief that the Bible conveys a divine revelation, that the word of God in Scripture constitutes the norm of Christian faith and life, and that all the varied material of the OT and NT can in some way be realted to the plan and purpose of the one God of the whole Bible.  Such a BT lies somewhere between what the Bible ‘meant’ and what it ‘means'” (47).  In this last sentence Scobie shows the way in which he sees biblical theology acting as a “mediating bridge” between rigorous biblical exegesis, which focuses on the details of history and language, and Christian theology, which aims to answer questions of belief and practice for the church.  Honestly, I would want to say more than Scobie at this point, but this is a great improvement on all those interpreters who seek to undermine the Bible.

Scobie goes on to layout his method of study and his structure.  He advocates a canonical method that reads the Bible in its final form.  In fact, Scobie, a la Stephen Dempster, Roger Beckwith, and more recently Jim Hamilton, argues for the intentional and theological shaping of the canon–in one place going into intricate detail to argue that the 22 books of the OT and the 22 books of the NT bookend the Christocentric books of the Gospels and Acts, to make a number totalling 49, which marks numeric perfection and signifies the number of Jubilee (71).  Such specificity seems a little speculative but certainly it is an interesting proposal which adds to the possibilities of canonical studies.  However, Scobie is not a proponent of a singular unifying theme in the Bible.  Rather, Scobie holds to a multi-thematic approach.  After surveying the doctrinal, historical, and thematical approaches posited by others, he concludes,

A systematic approach, based on categoreis imported from dogmatic theology, is to be rejected as tending to a certain degree to distort biblical thought, and as failing to deal adequately with all aspects of the biblical material.  A historical approach tracing the development of biblical thought period by period or book by book is of course valuable, but it belongs rather to the kind of historical study of the Bible that is presupposed by, rather than part of, an ‘intermediate BT.’  The most satisfactory approach is clearly the thematic one that seeeks to construct an outline based as closely as possible on themes [plural] that arise from within the Bible itself (87).

Finally, as Section I closes, Scobie proposes how he will advance his biblical theology in Section II.  He outlines a fourfold schema that will trace God’s Order, God’s Servant, God’s People, and God’s Way throughout the Bible.  Respectively, these four themes generally correspond with other proposals: the kingdom of God, the person of Christ, the biblical covenants, and a more unnoticed theme, the life and ethics advocated throughout the Bible.  He references these other proposals and underscores why he is synthesizing them into his multithematic approach.   Though, I am preferential to a singular theme with multiple layers of biblical sub-themes, Scobies approach seems to run more parallel.  It nicely picks up the progressive nature of biblical eschatology, while maintaining the complexity of the biblical canon.  Moreover, under each section Scobie contends that each theme is developed according to another four-fold schema, namely proclamation and promise in the OT and fulfillment and future consummation in the NT.  In this recapitulation of events, Scobie adheres follows an already-but-not-yet pattern that unfolds throughout the Bible.

Much is to be commended of Scobie’s approach, especially his willingness to understand the Bible on its own terms and his desire to let his structure arise from the Bible itself.  His work summarizes well the work of others over the last one hundred years and should serve as a good resource for grasping the literature on biblical theology.  However, this one-hundred page introduction makes up only a small portion of his work.  He devotes over 800-pages to unfolding his biblical theology that should provide ample reflection on how the Bible is put together.  I look forward to reading it, digesting it, and better understanding the Bible because of it. 

For another brief reflection on Scobie’s work, see Tom Schreiner’s review.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss