Seeing Christ In All of Scripture

I received in the mail a copy of this little gem from my alma mater. It is a fast read. I read it this morning.

Normally, I wouldn’t expect to have about 35 endorsements on a book that is only 87 pages long. However, in this case, what you get is actually a snapshot of scholars who agree with the trajectory that WTS is establishing (and has established in the past). I found these statements interesting and, in some cases, revealing (see John Frame’s puff, for instance).

The book has four essays, by Vern Poythress, Iain Duguid, G.K. Beale, and Richard Gaffin, Jr, all preceded by a good little introduction by Peter Lillback. Also included are three appendices. The first is Machen’s essay on the purpose and plan for the Seminary. The second is the document of affirmations and denials that the seminary promulgated in response to the recent debates at the seminary. The third is Dr. Gaffin’s short piece on biblical theology at WTS.

Dr. Lillback can now say that there is a “harmony among the theological disciplines at Westminster” (p. 1). This wasn’t the case when I was attending. The exegetical departments were, in general, at odds with the ST, AP, and CH departments. I, for one, am grateful for the present unity among the faculty and disciplines.

Dr. Poythress’s point is that true biblical hermeneutics is a spiral, not a circle, that needs to start from a self-consciously Christian perspective. In this context, he says that God’s “presence and his special work in inspiration do not make human beings less than human. Rather, he transforms sinful humanity toward humanity as God originally designed it” (p. 13). Some advocates of other hermeneutical approaches seem to suggest that if God had anything to do with revelation at all, then that “interference” would make the humans automatons, and thus less than human.

Duguid’s point is that Christ is the whole point of the Old Testament. Period. It is a book about Christ (p. 17). Against the Christotelic interpretation, Duguid writes, “It is not that the New Testament writers were creatively assigning new and alien meanings to these old texts. Rather, the force of Jesus’s statement that it was ‘necessary that the Christ should suffer these things’ (Luke 24:26) suggests that a proper reading of the Old Testament expectation of the messiah necessarily compelled them to recognize Jesus Christ as its true fulfillment” (p. 21). While the OT prophets were not fully aware of the complete meaning of what they wrote (p. 20), we must not overstress their ignorance (p. 21). Again, taking direct aim at the Christotelic view, he says, “In other words, our astonishment will not be because the fulfillment differed from the promise, or because some parts of the promise proved to be dead ends, but because we had not begun to grasp the height and depth of the wisdom of God that is at work for our salvation in Christ” (p. 23).

Beale’s essay addresses New Testament hermeneutics. Context is king in Beale’s hermeneutics, but that context has to be defined as including more than the immediate literary and historical context. It also includes its canonical context (p. 26). Biblical Theology is given a thoroughly Vossian definition (pp. 27-28). New Testament interpretation of the Old is the correct way to read the Old Testament.

Gaffin’s article addresses the place of Systematic Theology in relation to Biblical Theology (a hallmark of his entire career). Some money quotes: “Systematic Theology, accordingly, does not have a ‘special’ hermeneutic of its own but one it shares with all other theological disciplines (p. 39). “Negatively, the difference (between ST and BT, LK) is not, as is too often maintained, that biblical theology considers the Bible purely in terms of its humanity and historically diverse make-up, leaving systematic theology to attend to whatever may be said about its divinely qualified unity (p. 49). Instead, biblical theology always presupposes the unity of God’s speech (ibid.). “At any one point in actual practice, the relationship between biblical theology and systematic theology is reciprocal” (p. 50). I might add something here to Gaffin’s remarks, and note that it is always reciprocal, whether the interpreter realizes it or not, and even if the interpreter denies that it is reciprocal.

It is clear that Machen was a Vossian. No doubt this quotation is why the essay was included: “[A]n error should be avoided: it must not be thought that systematic theology is one whit less biblical than biblical theology is” (p. 57). This is pure Vos.

The affirmations and denials are available online here, but it is good to see them in print, as well. They are extremely sophisticated, and yet very clear. I commend them to your perusal, especially the parts about private interpretation (p. 68, for example). It has some very important things to say about Ancient Near Eastern background, as well (see p. 71, for instance).

Gaffin’s last piece is a response to Clair Davis’s lament over the supposed fall of biblical theology at Westminster Seminary. Gaffin says that the reports of biblical theology’s death at WTS have been greatly exaggerated. This is the money quote from that piece: “There can be no objection to ‘Christotelic’ in itself. But Scripture is Christotelic just because it is Christocentric. It is Christotelic only as it is Christocentric, and as it is that in every part, the Old Testament included. Or, as we may, in fact must, put the issue here in its most ultimate consideration, Christ is the mediatorial Lord and Savior of redemptive history not only at its end but also from beginning to end. He is not only its omega but also its alpha, and he is and can be its omega only as he is its alpha” (p. 86).

This short book clarifies the doctrinal issues surrounding the recent debates at Westminster like no other resource of which I am aware. Get a copy of it.

If Necessary, Use Words?

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with the proverb “Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” I think I know what most people mean by this. Most people mean that the gospel has to be embodied in our lives, and that if unbelievers cannot see that, then the ethos of the gospel will not match the evangelist’s life. Integrity is the ultimate thing at issue here. To this extent, the quotation has a useful place.

However, some people take it too far, as if evangelism doesn’t need to use words. Just evangelize by means of your lifestyle. People don’t need to hear the Word. Preaching is over-rated. We don’t need to study apologetics, or have an answer ready for the person who asks us for the reason of the hope that lies within us. Readers can probably guess where I’m going with this one. The quotation can lead to a despising of preaching, of the Word, and of evangelism by means of talking with people.

I hate to break it to the lifestyle-evangelist folks, but the ethos of our lives is not enough. Sooner or later (if our lifestyles are Christian ones), the unbeliever is going to ask us why we’re different. When that happens, we should have an answer ready.

Some people use the Assisi quotation in order to avoid speaking with people, and thus lose many opportunities. Still others use it to ridicule the role of preaching, and thus promote other forms of worship that God has not commanded.

The fact of the matter is that words are necessary. That doesn’t mean that conversion is dependent on us, as the Finneyites would have us believe. The Holy Spirit is the one Who converts. So, we should not get ourselves into a sweat about whether we have the right words or not. Our best arguments, if not accompanied by the Holy Spirit, are useless to convert. By the same token, the Holy Spirit can use our most imperfect efforts to convert. Faith comes by hearing, which implies words. Therefore, I think that even Assisi went too far in the comment, and his zealous followers certainly have.

Up to Some Good (I Hope)

(Posted by Paige)

It’s been a while since I had time or thought enough to post anything here. Much of my brain space lately has gone into planning and carrying out the home-schooling of a high-schooler – I get to prep him for the English and History APs this year! – and much of my writing time has gone into building up an online library of Biblical Literacy materials.

But here is one thing I can share with you, as a resource to pass along to anyone who would like to gain a bit more knowledge of the big sweep of redemptive history. This is a 36-minute talk that I put together for a Bible conference this October, one of several short presentations that I’ve offered to introduce the Women in the Word Workshop in Willow Grove, PA. (Please note that while the context was a women’s Bible conference, the content is not gender-specific!) My creative entrée into the Big Picture this year was the progressive development of the figure and the idea of “The Christ” in Scripture.

This is on YouTube not because it’s a video of me talking, but ‘cause I made some snazzy slides to go with it. (But it’s possible to listen without looking, if you prefer to multi-task.) Enjoy!

S.D.G.

New Online Resource for Biblical Literacy

(Posted by Paige)

Compass Rose 1I am pleased to invite you to visit the Grass Roots Theological Library, a newly minted website housing the creative debris of a very busy mind.

Not at all intended to rival this worthy blog, my site is meant to be a collection of free, excellent, user-friendly resources for those who are serious about promoting and pursuing biblical and theological literacy for themselves and for others in their spheres of influence.

For pastors, teachers, and other leaders there are original, elder-tested Bible lesson plans and “Reviews of Books You’d Rather Not Read Yourself” . . . For the self-feeding autodidact who may lack professors or peers for the journey there are numerous resources, essays, talks, and lists to help. My goal with all of this is to offer worthy, unpretentious and unique contributions to the never-ending task of nurturing Christian literacy.

Suggestions are always welcome, and new material will keep showing up as time goes along. My personal favorite stuff: over 500 original text-based questions to ask when studying the book of Hebrews . . . weekly brief “Bible Journal” posts sharing some lively commentary on whatever I’m studying . . . my wall maps (you’ll see!).

Intrigued? The proof of the pudding is in the eating – please visit and glance at the Library so that you can know better what I am talking about. If you like what you see, please Bookmark or “Follow” so that you don’t forget about it (you can follow on Twitter also, @GrassRootsTheo). I promise you’ll only get notifications when I post a new Bible Journal piece. And please share this with those in your circles, whether leaders or learners, who would benefit by it!

Welcome to the Library!

Quotation of the Week

This is from Berkhof’s Introduction to Systematic Theology.

The Word of God presupposes the darkness and error of the natural man, and would therefore contradict itself, if it submitted itself to the judgment of that man. It would thereby acknowledge one as judge whom it had first disqualified (p. 172).

In other words, reason cannot prove the trustworthiness of Scripture. This is because reason only comes packaged in damaged goods. Even the regenerate person still has sin clinging to his reason. How could any untrustworthy instrument prove perfection to be correct? To do that, we would ourselves have to be more foundational than the Bible. No, the Bible is our axiom.

A Friendly Intro to Biblical Theology, Take Three

(Posted by Paige)

Here is a link to a 30-minute talk that I gave at a Bible study conference this October. It’s another introduction to redemptive history, this time tracing the theme of God’s inclusion of the Gentiles through the Old and New Testaments. I also play around with a connection between the Syrophoenician woman and Paul’s words about the “mystery” of Gentile inclusion in Ephesians 3. It’s on YouTube this time NOT because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I made slides to illustrate the audio. Please listen if you like, and pass the link on to others who might benefit, especially those who are just getting to know the Word.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Shaking Things Up: Hebrews 12:26-29

(Posted by Paige)

Here is another Hebrews puzzler for you! In our study we have finally made it to ch. 12, and I am contemplating possible readings of 12:26-29, where the author exposits Haggai 2:6 re. the “shaking” of the earth and the heavens. In his 2010 commentary Peter O’Brien sums up the general consensus on this passage when he writes in a footnote:

The shaking that God will do ‘once more’ is usually taken to mean that the whole universe will be shaken to pieces and the only things to survive will be those that are unshakeable. It is understood as the eschatological judgment to be visited upon the earth at the end of the age, when the material universe will pass away (1 Cor. 7:31; 2 Pet. 3:10, 12; Rev. 21:1). At that point only the kingdom of God will remain, the kingdoms of this world having been utterly destroyed (Guthrie, 422). (O’Brien, p.495n.262)

This eschatological reading seems largely to be based on the phrase “ὡς πεποιημένων,” usually translated “that is, created things.” But John Owen points out (in an appendix of Calvin’s commentary) that this could also be read as “things that are completed, accomplished, finished,” allowing us to read as the object of “shaking” the Old Covenant, or the Jewish religion, instead.

I am wondering whether there is any legitimacy to the suggestion that the author has in mind here NOT the final eschatological transformation to new heavens and new earth, still pending; but rather the completed, accomplished, finished “shaking” of heaven and earth that occurred when Christ entered the heavenly sanctuary and inaugurated the New Covenant, new kingdom, new world order by the sprinkling of His blood (cf. Heb. 12:22-24). This event would still have been future in relation to Haggai’s time, but (in contrast to the eschatological reading) would have already been accomplished by the time Hebrews was written.

Although I have not encountered it in my resources outside of Owen, I find this possible reading compelling in light of the stress in this epistle on the dramatic and decisive change from Old Covenant to New; and it is also in keeping with the author’s assertion in v.28 that “we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” indicating that this unshakeable kingdom is already an accomplished state of affairs.

What do you think? Does this passage give us information about a future event involving the material universe, or is it conveying the earth-and-heaven-shattering nature of the already-accomplished work of Christ?

Thanks in advance for your perspective!

Why the Two-Readings View of the Old Testament is Wrong

The two-readings view (hereafter TRV) says that we should first read the Old Testament as though the New Testament did not exist, and as though Christ had not come. The reasoning typically runs along the lines of seeking to ensure that we understand the text in its original literary and historical context. How would this have sounded to the original audience? What impact would it have had? Now, there are certainly important points here which we cannot afford to ignore. We need to know context, literary and historical. The Old Testament writings were written at a particular time and place, and there is a good reason for why those writings were written just then. It is good to seek answers to those questions. At this point, I might add a gentle reminder to TRV folks that opposing views do not necessarily ignore the context. That is not primarily where our disagreements lie (although how much weight we give to ANE materials in determining the nature of Scripture is certainly an issue of disagreement. On this I will only say that there is a difference between using ANE materials to understand how a text would have sounded to an original reader versus using the ANE materials to determine what Scripture actually is). It is not primarily the context of the OT that is under dispute (with the caveat just mentioned) but rather the intention of the OT that is under dispute. As Rich Barcellos helpfully put it to me, does the Christological reading of the OT predate the NT or not?

The second reading of the TRV is what we do after we re-factor Jesus and the New Testament into the equation, usually as a surprise ending. The apostolic hermeneutic is often likened (in the TRV) to rabbinical methods of interpretation (key-word exegesis, etc.). Oftentimes, the meaning that the NT writers see in the OT has little or nothing to do with what the OT itself actually says in its original context. There is often (not always!) a radical break between the meaning of the OT in its own context and the meaning that the NT authors assign to the OT text.

The problem with the TRV comes in the area of what the Old Testament actually intends. On a TRV, it is possible for a New Testament author to twist the meaning of the OT into something it was never originally intended to say. Matthew’s use of Hosea 11:1 is an excellent example. We may ask the question this way: is Matthew’s use of Hosea a legitimate way of understanding what Hosea intended to say? Or, better yet, what God intended to say through Hosea? The standard Vossian way of interpreting Matthew’s use of Hosea is simply to note that Matthew everywhere describes Jesus as reliving Israel’s story, but in a righteous way (thus contrasting with Israel). Matthew treats Israel as not only typologically pointing to Jesus, but also as being embodied (in a faithful way) in Jesus. So, when Matthew looks at Hosea 11:1 (“Out of Egypt I called my son,” in the original context plainly speaking about God calling Israel out of Egypt in the Exodus), he sees Hosea not only talking about the old Exodus, but also talking about the new Exodus that Jesus brought into being by embodying faithful Israel. It is what he understands Hosea to be saying. The TRV would say that Matthew’s interpretation has nothing to do with what Hosea meant (and notice here how divine authorship fades very quickly from view here).

The deeper problem with the TRV lies in the character of God. If God has written the Bible, then God has changed His message from the OT times to the NT times. That means that God changes His mind and is open to the future. The TRV cannot avoid an ultimately open theistic view of God’s character. They would probably respond that it’s okay that God does this because the changeability resides in the humanness of Scripture. This is just God using the messiness of humanity to communicate to humans. This is a smokescreen, unfortunately. God inspired humans to write the Bible in such a way that there are no errors in recording God’s words. Yes, humans are fallen and sinful. That does not mean that they distorted God’s message in any way. They were carried along by the Holy Spirit. For the TRV to be correct, the message had to have been garbled in transmission. Yes, we see humanness in the Bible. Paul does not sound like John. We can tell the difference. God used the personalities of each writer. But He did so in such a way that there are no garbled transmissions. In short, the TRV is ultimately incompatible with our doctrine of inspiration, and it is incompatible with our doctrine of God.

More on the Enns/Green Controversy

I was directed by a friend to read Tremper Longman’s thoughts on the WTS situation, and the comments on his posts by various people, and my jaw just about hit the floor. There are an awful lot of people over there writing as if they know the entire situation, when all they have is one side of the story. Anger can be righteous, that is true (though I think it misplaced in this case). However, I wonder how many of those people, before they got all fired up over Green and Fantuzzo (both of whom I consider friends, by the way), actually bothered to see if there was going to be another side to the story published. Have they kept in mind also that the board may not be at liberty to discuss things done in executive session? Are there mitigating factors here of which they may not be aware? In these situations, it is quite often the case that there are details which would change the complexion of the picture entirely in the public eye, but which may never come to light for various reasons, maybe none of which are nefarious! There’s a lot of “shoot first, ask questions later” going on here. There’s also loads of assumptions and motive-reading present as well. They want a less heavy-handed approach to be extended to Green and Fantuzzo, but they are not willing to extend any courtesy or charity to those people they believe are being heavy-handed. Anyone for the Golden Rule, folks?

As to the theological picture, it seems that in the minds of many people on those threads, Jesus was wrong when He said that Moses wrote about Him (John 5). Certainly, those of Jewish extraction are not going to agree with Jesus at this point. Whom should we believe? It would be easy (through Holocaust guilt, maybe, or through other motives) to introduce man-fear into the picture here. I’m against anti-Semitism, don’t get me wrong. It is wrong to hate Jews. But that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them about the Old Testament! Is the Old Testament about Jesus or isn’t it? John 5 and Luke 24 say yes. The two-readings view says no and yes. And no, I am not flattening out the Old Testament at this point. There is a development and an unfolding. There are even some surprises. I’m okay saying that. But Jesus is still correct in John 5 and Luke 24 in saying that the Old Testament is about Him. The New Testament does not advocate a two-readings view, and Jesus never gave us any evidence that He did this. In all the instances in the New Testament where Jesus relates to the Old Testament, He makes a beeline straight to Himself. The Isaiah passage that Jesus reads in the synagogue is a good example. He doesn’t say, “Let’s do a first reading of this to make sure that the original context has nothing to do with me so that you can be really surprised when I read it the second time as being about Me!” He says flat out that He fulfilled that passage that day. He is saying that it was about Him all along. He doesn’t mention any other fulfillments.

I don’t see the apostles doing two readings of the Old Testament. I see the apostles saying that the Old Testament is about Jesus. They apply Old Testament language to Jesus and to the church as Christ’s body. I would challenge the two readings people to find one place in the entire New Testament where these two readings occur; one place where the apostles imply or say that the Old Testament wasn’t really about Jesus at all, but now that Jesus is here, we have to change the meaning of the Old Testament retroactively in order to make it fit. I just don’t see it.

Great Quotation on God’s Word

I was reading Douglas Kelly’s commentary on Revelation, and came across this wonderful quotation on God’s Word:

One old country preacher in North Carolina once said that the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, is the only sword that you can stick into a dead man, and he becomes a living man (p. 28).

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