Preaching a Definite Atonement

Sometimes people ask “Why did you write your dissertation on limited atonement?” To which I have two answers.

The academic answer is “because I wanted to apply a biblical theological approach to a contentious doctrine.” I believe that only by approaching the extent of the atonement with the whole canon of Scripture in view is it possible to rightly hold its absolute efficacy for the elect with its cosmic scope for all creation. That’s the academic answer.

The other answer is evangelistic: “I wrote my dissertation on the extent of the atonement to stress the fact that what God designed, he accomplished.” What Jesus did on the cross was not to pay for some of it. Jesus paid it all, by divine design and sovereign grace. For me this has tremendous practical, missional, and homiletical effect. Every sermon I (have) ever preach(ed), stands on the glorious reality of Christ’s definite atonement and calls sinners to believe in him.

This week while at Together for the Gospel (more on that soon), we saw the above video, which perfectly expresses this same conviction. The preacher is E.J. Ward, a powerful herald of God’s gospel whose Lexington Pastor’s Conference encouraged primarily African-American brothers and sisters the doctrines of grace. His short message takes its language from the old hymn, “Jesus Paid It All,” and shows why definite atonement is necessary for preaching the gospel as good news. (For more on this point, see my chapter in Whomever He Wills).

Listen to Elder Ward’s message and marvel at this fact: Jesus death did not pay some of it. Jesus paid it all. Then, ponder this question: How can we proclaim the power of the cross if we must call our hearers to add faith? Far better, Christ’s death pays the penalty for sin and establishes a new covenant which gives to the elect all that God requires—chiefly saving faith.

Brothers, preach the definite atonement of Jesus Christ. Universally call men and women to repent and believe. And trust that all God designed in eternity and accomplished in time, he will bring to effect by means of Christ’s death and the Spirit’s life.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

 

Typological Pairs: From Suffering to Glory

david solomonConcerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.
— 1 Peter 1:10–12 —

What does it mean that the Spirit of Christ foretold of the Messiah’s suffering and glory?

Surely, there were many ways, as Hebrews 1:1 indicates. Nationally, the people of Israel regularly experienced enemy oppression (after they sinned) followed by powerful deliverance that set God’s elect over his enemies. Individually, Joseph, Job, David, and Daniel all experienced humbling affliction before being exalted. Textually, there are some individual passages displaying a suffering-to-glory theme—e.g., Isaiah 53 speaks of the Servant’s humiliating death (vv. 1–9) only to close the chapter by announcing his glorious reward for his vicarious suffering (vv. 10–12). Or see the pattern in the Psalms; both the whole Psalter and some individual Psalms (see especially Psalm 22) reflect this pattern.

It seems that everywhere you look in the Old Testament you find (1) God’s people suffering, followed by (2) cries for mercy. In response, (3) God hears their prayers, and (4) responds with saving compassion in the form of a deliverer—a Moses, a Samson, or a David. The result is that (5) the people are saved and the mediator is exalted.

In the light of the New Testament, these incidents are illuminating shadows of Jesus Christ himself. In fact, in the words of Peter, it’s not too much to say that the Spirit of Christ is a cruciform spirit, who leads his people (under the Old Covenant and the New) through valleys of death to bring them into places of honor and service. This is the Christian way—to be brought low unto death, so that God can raise us up to life (see 2 Cor 1:8–9).

That being said, I am persuaded that there is another way in which suffering-unto-glory might be seen in the Old Testament. Instead of containing the pattern to the nation, individuals, or texts, there are some pairs of people who display the pattern. That is, repeatedly throughout the Old Testament, there are individuals related by kinship or ministerial calling whose composite lives function to display the pattern observed in 1 Peter 1. In other words, the Spirit of Christ was directing their lives such that the first person foreshadowed the sufferings of Christ and the second person reflected his subsequent glories.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen this proposal written down anywhere. So, I’d love your thoughts. Does it work? I think there is merit in the proposal and am writing it out (in part) to explore the idea. (That’s what blogs are for, right?) I think, in the end, such pairs may help reflect the binary nature of Christ’s ministry–first in weakness and humiliation, then in power and glory. Or at least, that’s what I will try to show below. Let me know what you think. Continue reading

One Solitary Life

oneJames Allan Francis was an early-twentieth century American pastor who authored a handful of books. He is also the “anonymous” author who stands behind the famous poem, “One Solitary Life.” This poem which often circulates at Christmas time is a testimony to the power of Christ’s humble life.

As Christmas nears and we contemplate Christ’s incarnation, may we be reminded of the glorious power of Christ’s humble life.

He was born in an obscure village,
the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in still another village
where he worked until he was thirty.
Then for three years
he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never had a family or owned a home.
He didn’t go to college.
He never traveled more than 200 miles
from the place he was born.

He did none of the things
one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself;
he was only thirty-three
when public opinion turned against him.

His friends ran away.
He was turned over to his enemies
and went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to the cross
between two thieves.
While he was dying
his executioners gambled for his clothing,
the only property he had on earth.

When he was dead
he was laid in a borrowed grave
through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
and today he is the central figure
of the human race,
the leader of mankind’s progress.

All the armies that ever marched,
all the navies that ever sailed,
all the parliaments that ever sat,
all the kings that ever reigned,
put together,
have not affected
the life of man on earth
as much as that One Solitary Life. [1]

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


[1] James Allan Francis, The Real Jesus and Other Sermons (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1926).

More Than Baby Talk: A Primer on the Incarnation

gloryPutting our children to bed is always a precious time to read the Bible, sing hymns, and talk about the day. But precious as it is, it is not always simple.

A few days ago, as our five year old was minutes from dream land, he began asking questions about Jesus’ birth. I listened to my wife explain that Jesus had always existed. And I heard him respond, “Yes, but he was also born,” exposing the challenge that if Jesus was born than he must have had a beginning. Right?

Perhaps, we have the making of a little Arian in our home (as in Arius from the fourth century Africa, not the Third Reich in twentieth century), or perhaps he is simply experiencing the challenge that we all face when we begin to press into the incarnation of Jesus Christ. What does it mean that the eternal Son of God who was with God before the beginning of time (John 1:1) took on flesh and became a man in time?

The Incarnation

The subject of the incarnation is puzzling for adults let alone little boys with active imaginations. Continue reading

An Anchor for the Soul

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

What does God promise his children?  Help for today?  Eternal life for the future? Healing from disease? A boat for the lake?

How we answer these questions will determine how we approach life and God. Our prayers, our plans, and our personal finances will reflect our answer, or non-answer, to this question: What does God promise those who believe in him?

Hebrews 6:19 gives one answer.  In a sermonic letter given to first century Jews, the author of Hebrews states, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”  Using imagery from the Old Testament, this statement conveys an idea of security and access that God gives to those who continue to trust in Christ.

Notice a couple things.  First, the anchor is sure and steadfast.  Unlike the insurance plans or storm shelters we buy for our protection, this anchor comes without any riders or restrictions.  Indeed, it is not a thing which might break; it is a divine person whose pierced hands hold those who believe on him (John 10:29-30).

Second, the anchor is connected behind the curtain.  This curtain refers to the temple veil that hid the presence of God from the Jewish priests in first century Jerusalem.  Thus, while Jesus was fully human, the fact that he could freely pass behind the veil speaks of his eternal deity.

Indeed, Jesus was not merely a spiritual person who had a special access to God.  He was God in the flesh, which means that as the anchor of the Christian’s soul, his grip on humanity was secure as he was human, and his hold on heaven was as strong as he was divine.  In short, Jesus will stop being human or cease being God before his anchor fails.

Third, the anchor tethers the soul—not the body—to an eternal hope.  This is critical because it seems that sometimes God lets, even brings, storms into our calm waters.  In these moments, we are tempted to re-read the fine print to find out what we have done wrong.  We forget that God is forging an eternal soul with temporary means.

In fact, nowhere in God’s agreement does he promise placid seas.  Just the opposite: “Through many tribulations will you enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).  He tells his followers that it will be hard (John 16:33), but he also promises that he will anchor our souls.

This is the promise that he makes to those who believe in him.  He promises his presence today and resurrection tomorrow.  Even when the ships in your fleet are sinking, he promises to be the anchor of your soul.   This is the kind of promise he makes to believers, and he never breaks his word.

 

Who Is Jesus?

Who is Jesus?

In his commentary, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory, Philip Graham Ryken gives an excellent answer to this essential question.  Notice how he uses the typology of Exodus with its people, language, events, and descriptions to explain who Christ is.

Jesus is the Moses of our salvation, the mediator who goes for us before God.  Jesus is the Lamb of our Passover, the sacrifice for our sins.  Jesus is our way out of Egypt, the deliverer who baptizes us in the sea of his grace.  Jesus is our bread in the wilderness, the provider who gives us what we need for daily life.  Jesus is our voice form the mountain, declaring his law for our lives. Jesus is the altar of our burning, through whom we offer praise up to God.  Jesus is the light of our lampstand, the source of our life and light.  Jesus is the basin of our cleansing, the sanctifier of our souls.  Jesus is our great High Priest, who prays for us at the altar of incense.  And Jesus is the blood on the mercy seat, the atonement that reconciles us to God.  The great God of the exodus has saved us in Jesus Christ.

This is our Christ  He is understood not in the romantic views of our own making, but rather he is known through the revelation of God’s word.  Moreover, he is known from the descriptions of the Old Testament.  This means that failure to know the Old Testament necessitates an inability to know who Jesus the Christ is.

May we continue to press into the text of the Bible–Old and New Testaments–to see him!

Soli 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

Will the real Jesus please stand up?!

Today Kevin DeYoung summarized his message from this year’s Next Conference. In his message on the “Life of Christ” he includes a thought-provoking and sadly revealing list of Jesus makeovers found throughout the bulging corridors of American evangelicalism.  Some of the false Jesuses on his list include Republican Jesus, Democrat Jesus, Therapist Jesus, Starbucks Jesus, Open-Minded Jesus, Touchdown Jesus… Hippie Jesus, Yuppie Jesus, and on it goes. 

In place of these extrabiblical examples, DeYoung turns to the language of biblical promise and fulfillment to describe who Jesus is.  Instead of painting a velvet Elvis, fad Jesus to enforce any number of partisan policies, DeYoung simply turns to the Bible to say that the Messiah is

the Son of David and Abraham’s chosen seed, the one to deliver us from captivity, the goal of the Mosaic law, Yahweh in the flesh, the one to establish God’s reign and rule, the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim good news to the poor, the lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world…

He embodied the covenant, fulfilled the commandments, and reversed the curse. This Jesus is the Christ that God spoke of to the serpent, the Christ prefigured to Noah in the flood, the Christ promised to Abraham, the Christ prophesied through Balaam before the Moabites, the Christ guaranteed to Moses before he died, the Christ promised to David when he was king, the Christ revealed to Isaiah as a suffering servant, the Christ predicted through the prophets and prepared for through John the Baptist.

Reading this catena of descriptions, I was reminded of the simple fact that apart from the Bible in general and the Old Testament in particular, we cannot know Jesus as the Christ.  Just to name the name of Jesus is not enough.  Even to simply quote an isolated verse, “Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” may not be enough, if this verse is removed from its canonical context and antecedent meaning.  The question that has to be asked then is, “Which Jesus are you talking about?”

In a world of competing Jesuses, Kevin DeYoung calls us back to a biblical portrait of Jesus, so that we might not confuse Jesus the Christ with Jesus the brand name, Jesus the salesman, or Jesus the talisman.  May we endeavor more to know the Christ of the Bible and the Bible which all points to Christ.

Sola Deo Gloria, dss


 

King David: The High Point of Old Testament Typology

For the last few weeks I have been considering the subject of typology and Christology in the OT, asking the question: Is there a progressive and increasing nature to the conception of typology in the Old Testament?  Looking particularly at personal types of Christ in the OT (i.e. Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, etc…), I believe that there is an element in which the mediatorial leaders marked out by the Spirit in the OT do in fact show more and more likeness to the Christ as redemptive history moves forward towards Christ.  So that, we can say that David depicts Christ in a more full way than does Abraham or Adam.   That is my hypothesis, at least. 

I have found some very illuminating and helpful contributions to this subject, but perhaps no more succinct and enriching as Herman Bavinck’s consideration of David as the highpoint of OT typology (and Christology).  He writes in general of typology,

The Old Testament does not contain just a few isolated messianic texts; on the contrary, the entire Old Testament dispensation with its leading persons, and events, its offices and institutions, its laws and ceremonies, is a pointer to and movement toward the fulfillment in the New Testament (Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ [trans. J. Vriend; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006], 243).

Then he highlights Davidic typology as the zenith of the OT revelation for the person of Christ to come,

Especially the office of king achieved such typical [i.e. typological] significance in Israel.  The theocratic king, embodied especially in David with his humble beginnings, many sided experience of life, deep emotions, poetic disposition, unflinching courage, and brilliant victories, was a Son of God (2 Sam. 7:14; Pss. 2:6-7; 89:27), the anointed one par excellence (Pss. 2:2; 18:50).  People wished for him all kinds of physical and spiritual blessings (Pss. 2:8f; 21, 45, 72), and he was even addressed as “Elohim” (Ps. 45:6).  The king is the bearer of the highest–of divine–dignity on earth.  Theocratic kingship…found its purest embodiment in David; for that reason the kingship will remain in his house (2 Sam. 7:8-16).  This promise to David, accordingly, is the foundation and center of all subsequent expectation and prophecy (244).

Bavinck’s comprehensive survey of Davidic typology affirms what the entire OT is seeking demonstrate–the coming of a Davidic son who will reign on the throne.  From Genesis to 1-2 Samuel, the Spirit of Christ is inspiring Biblical writers to anticipate David:  The covenantal promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob point to the emergence of mighty king (Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11; 49:9-12); Deuteronomy 17 makes legal preparations for the rule of this king; Numbers 24:15-24 announces a scepter who will rise from Israel who will rule over the nations; in Judges the nation of Israel spirals out of control without a king in Israel (21:25); while the book of Ruth chronicles YHWH’s providential control of history that results in a Davidic genealogy (4:18-22).  Moreover, when David comes onto the seen in 1-2 Samuel (and Chronicles), his life is a divinely-intended adumbration of the Christ who is to come.  In this, the account of David’s life is genuinely historical.  Yet, all the while, it typifies the life of Christ to come.

In his treatment of this subject, Bavinck arrticulates how preexilic and postexilic prophets develop this Davidic typology.  Moving from the historic David to the more excellent prophecies about his greater Son, Bavinck points out that the prophecies consistently take on a Davidic shape, 

Prophecy, which is added to interpret typology, looks out from the past and present to the future and ever more clearly portrays the — to be expected — son of David in his person and work.  To the degree that kingship in Israel and Judah answered less to the idea of it, to that degree prophecy took up the promise of 2 Samuel 7 and clung to it (Amos 9:11; Hosea 1:11; 3:5; Mic. 5:1-2; Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-2, 10; Jer. 23:5; 30:9; 33:17, 20-22, 26; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:22-24).  This anointed king will arise from the dynasty of David when–in utter decay and thrust from the throne–it will resemble a hewn trunk (Isa. 11:1-2; Mic. 5:1-2; Ezek. 17:22).  God will cause him to grow as a branch from David’s house (Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-17), so that he himself will bear the name “Branch” (Zech. 3:8; 6:12).  Despite his humble birth, he will be the true and authentic theocratic king.  Coming from despised little Dethlehem, where the royal house od Savid origniated and to which, driven from the throne, it withdrew (Mic. 5:2; cf. 3:12; 4:8, 13), the Messiah will nevertheless be a ruler over Israel; his origins as ruler–proceeding from God–go back to the distant past, to the days of old.  He is God-given, an eternal king, bears the name Wonderful, Counselor, mighty God (cf. Isa. 10:21; Deut. 10:17; Jer. 32:18), everlasting Father (for his people), Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6-7).  He is anointed with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and courage, of knowledge and the fear of the Lord (Isa. 11:2) and laid as a tested, precious foundation stone in Zion (Isa. 28:16).  He is just victorious, meek, a king riding on a donkey; as king he isnot proud of his power but sustained by God (Jer. 33:17, 20, 22, 26; Zech. 9:9f.), a king whom the people call and acknowledge as “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer. 23:6f–cf. 33:16, where Jerusalem is called the city in which Yahweh causes his righteous to dwell).  he will be a warrior like David, and his house will be like God, like the angel of the Lord who at the time of the exodus led Israel’s army (Zech. 12:8; cf. Mal. 3:1).  He will reign forever; found a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and prosperity; and also extend his domain over the Gentiles to the ends of the earth (Pss. 2, 45, 72; Ezek. 37:25; Zech. 6:13; 9:10; etc.) (244-45).

All in all, I believe that the entire OT finds organic, covenantal ties (historically) and inscripturated revelation (textually) that point to or build off David’s person and kingdom.  Resultantly, it seems legitimate to conclude that one of the reasons why Jesus can say that all Scripture speaks of him (John 5:39), is because of David’s central role in the canon of the OT.  Since Jesus is the greater David, he fulfills in a more exalted way, the mediatorial role (i.e. prophet, priest, and king) lived out by Israel’s first true king, thus fulfilling the typological life of David in the OT, as well as all the other covenantal mediators in th OT.  In this way, David is the greatest personal type of Christ in the Old Testament, or at least that is what I am arguing.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

If this Davidic typology peaks your interest, I encourage you to listen or read  Jim Hamilton’s “The Typology of David’s Rise to Power: Messianic Patterns in the Book of Samuel.”

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

Bauckham’s Jesus and The God of Israel (pt. 2): Other Studies in NT Christology

Bauckham, Richard. Jesus and the God of Israel: God Crucified and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Chapters 2-8

Chapter 2 was first published in Out of Egypt, volume 5 in the Scripture and Hermeneutics series, and addresses the “problems of monotheism” in recent interpretation. Bauckham spends over twenty pages addressing current opponents of biblical monotheism (i.e. Nathan McDonald: monotheism as an organizing principle (Enlightenment); Robert Gnuse: monotheism as evolutionary model (history of religions)), and then appeals to early sources and the biblical canon to show how monotheism is understood biblically. Scripture reserves unique and unparalleled language for God. Moving from Old to New, Bauckham shows how NT texts like Rom. 28-30; 1 Cor. 8:1-6; John 10:30 use monotheistic texts from the OT in ways that preserve the singular nature of God and yet expand the application to include the identity of Jesus.

Chapters 3-5 consider three biblical concepts or themes that relate to the topic of monotheism and Jesus identity. Chapter 3 makes the case that El Elyon is not akin to the gods of Greek mythology, who exist in some kind of pantheon or divine council. Rather in the biblical witness, El Elyon refers to the God who is utterly transcendent, unique, and solely Divine. Bauckham distinguishes between ‘exclusive’ and ‘inclusive’ monotheism (108), and proves from texts like Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and other Jewish literature that the God of Israel is exclusively God. Moving from uniqueness in name and identity to uniqueness in worship, Bauckham considers the worship of Jesus in chapter 4. Since worship is absolutely reserved for God alone (cf. Ex. 20:1-3), it would be forbidden for Jesus to receive worship unless he was God. Bauckham points this out and then describes the historical records to prove how the early church unanimously worshiped Christ, proving again the mutual identification of Jesus and God. Finally, in chapter 5, Bauckham considers the “throne of God and the worship of Jesus.” Like in the last chapter, worship of Jesus proves his identification with God, but now Bauckham goes a step further highlighting the way Jesus shares in God’s throne. Speaking of Daniel 7, he writes, “the Son of Man participates in God’s unique sovereignty, and accordingly portrays him seated on the divine throne” (170). This OT vision is corroborated by the New Testament’s unique use of Psalm 110 and John’s apocalypse, where both indicate a kind of shared throne. Bauckham’s conclusion is that this again proves his thesis.

Finally, chapters 6-8 each look at a different NT author and the way they worked out Jesus divine identity. Chapter 6 looks at the apostle Paul; chapter 7 examines Hebrews; and chapter 8 finishes with a study of Mark. With Paul, Bauckham finds that his interpretations are unique and unprecedented in antecedent Jewish literature. Therefore, the kind of exegetical method he employed is not appropriated from his culture, but was revealed to him—probably on the road to Damascus, certainly by the Spirit of Christ. This interpretive novelty resulted in theological formulations of Christ’s divine Sonship that transcend Jewish contemporaries. The book of Hebrews is no different. From the “full divinity of the Lord” described in the opening chapters, to the heavenly mediation of his priesthood, to the simple ascription of Jesus unchanging nature (13:8), all of Hebrews points to Jesus identity as God. In chapter 8, Bauckham concludes with a brief exegetical consideration of Mark’s portrayal of the passion. He concludes once more that Jesus is identified with God in the book and that this theme reaches its zenith at the cross, where ironically as God fades in view, God’s son is revealing the very heart of God—“self-giving love.”[1]

In the end, there are points where Bauckham overstates his case and the steady drum he beats becomes drone-like.  Yet, this weakness only complements his greatest strength, which is convincingly proving his point and expounding his thesis—“the inclusion of Jesus in the unique divine identity” (19).  The reader, this one at least, comes away from the book feeling very compelled by his argument–Jesus shares the Divine Identity with the Father.  (I must insert here that Andrew Chester, in his book Messiah and Exaltation, is less convinced than this reader by some of Bauckham’s handling of Jewish literature–no doubt because he knows this material much better than I.  See Jim Hamilton’s book review, especially his notes on chapter 2, for a synopsis–or take out a loan and buy the book, $200+).

In all his biblical research, his arguments touch on many systematic doctrines—Christology, Theology Proper, and Theological Hermeneutics, being a few—yet, staying in his field of expertise, he has not interfaced his conclusions with doctrinal formulation. In this way, his conclusions seem to be most directed toward the biblical exegete. Therefore, there is much that can and should be done with this data to integrate it with other more philosophical and theoretical Christologies. Applications for Trinitarian research and theological method are only two possibilities. Moreover, how does the Holy Spirit fit into the paradigm?  And, how does this Christology of identity interface or improve functional and ontic Christologies?  Bauckham wants to dismiss these categories, I would prefer to reform/inform with more biblical data.

On the whole, Bauckham’s book is a fine work. He is a meticulous scholar, whose biblical theological insights are well-researched and spiritually-enriching. I look forward to the completion of his project on this subject.


[1] Here again, I hesitate, because I am not sure what Bauckham is saying about God (i.e. Theology Proper). Much of his language does not distinguish God the Father and God the Son; it only speaks of God and Jesus. This kind of generic language for the cross is unhelpful, because it was God the Son, alone, who died on the cross. Ironically, while Bauckham, in his whole presentation, is comparing Jesus to God, I recall little Trinitarian notions of Son and Father. It is primarily Jesus (the man) and God (the divine).  But I will not fault him greatly, because his work is intentionally exegetical, not systematic.