Archive for the ‘Covenant Theology’ Category

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture

Copyright © 2010 by David VanDrunen

Published by Crossway Books

PRELIMS: This book was provided by Crossway for my personal review.

First off, Dr. VanDrunen is a credible author on the points in which he engages. He is a studied scholar in the realm of divinity and law. Such background is necessary for the topic in which he engages. Secondly, this book is much needed in the “Evangelical” world today as the church struggles and flounders through the murky issues of Christian engagement of culture, politics, etc. Lastly, VanDrunen approaches this work from the rich heritage of the “Two-Kingdom” theory you will find in Augustine, Luther, Calvin (although open to debate), and many contemporary Reformed thinkers.

THE GOOD:

VanDrunen establishes a historical understanding of the issues of how God rules in the world generally and in the Church specifically. He is well aware of Niebuhr’s work on “Christ and Culture” and establishes the framework of the debate judiciously. Before making an inductive thesis in support of the “Two-Kingdom” perspective, he engages critically in modern distortions of the Christians obligation to the world: N.T. Wright and the Emergent Church. His criticisms are insightful and helpful. Read the book for the nitty gritty.

I commend VanDrunen’s covenantal redemptive-historical framework throughout the book. He deals specifically with the covenant with Adam and how it consisted of his tending the garden (priestly duties), as well as governing the land (kingly duties). If Adam and his righteous progeny had succeeded, eternal bliss and rest would have followed, meaning that the “Creation Mandate” had a goal in view. Adam and Eve weren’t to perpetually bear children and work the land forever and ever as the last climatic act in their God-given charge. The priestly duties would have brought about consummated holiness in destroying the serpent and partaking of the tree of life, while the kingly duties would have brought earth under perfect subjection and thus a perfect consummate rest from labor. VanDrunen dedicates an entire chapter in elaborating upon these themes because the rest of the book makes no sense apart from this framework.  VanDruned then dedicates an entire chapter to exactly how Jesus has and will fulfill these charges given to Adam. VanDrunen states the following:

Before the second Adam no one accomplished the task of the first Adam, and after the second Adam no one needs to accomplish it. The last Adam has completed it once and for all. Christians will attain the original destiny of life in the world-to-come, but we do so not by picking up the task where Adam left off but by resting entirely on the work of Jesus Christ, the last Adam who accomplished the task perfectly.

 How did Christ accomplish Adam’s original task perfectly? Jesus did not personally fill the earth with his descendants or exercise dominion over all creatures in his human nature during his earthly ministry. But as considered in chapter 2, Adam was to have his entire obedience in the entire world determined through a particular test in a particular location. So it was for the last Adam. Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was confronted by the devil who tried to entice Christ to obey him, and King Jesus resisted the devil and conquered him (Matt. 4:1–11; Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14). Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was called to priestly service, and Christ the Great High Priest purified God’s holy dwelling and opened the way for human beings back into his presence (Heb. 9:11–28; 10:19–22). Like the first Adam, the Lord Jesus was to enter God’s royal rest in the world-to- come upon finishing his work perfectly, and this is precisely what Christ did, entering into heaven itself, taking his seat at God’s right hand, ministering in the heavenly tabernacle, and securing our place in the world-to-come (Heb. 1:3; 4:14–16; 7:23–28).

This is absolutely essential for issues of Christianity and culture! If Christ is the last Adam, then we are not new Adams. To under- stand our own cultural work as picking up and finishing Adam’s original task is, however unwittingly, to compromise the sufficiency of Christ’s work. Christ perfectly atoned for all our sins, and hence we have no sins left to atone personally. Likewise, Christ perfectly sustained a time of testing similar to Adam’s: he achieved the new creation through his flawless obedience in this world. He has left nothing yet to be accomplished. God indeed calls Christians to suf fer and to pursue cultural tasks obediently through our lives. But to think that our sufferings contribute to atoning for sin or that our cultural obedience contributes to building the new creation is to compromise the all-sufficient work of Christ.

VanDrunen even pulls out the exclamation mark in reference to how important understanding the work of Christ is for determining our own obligations as a Christian.  We are now heavenly citizens who taste the world to come, but do not in any way bring it about. He states: (more…)

Hyde, Daniel R.. Welcome to a Reformed Church: A Guide for Pilgrims. Orlando, Fla.: Reformation Trust Pub., 2010. Print.

Reformation Trust provided this copy for a honest review on my part, so here it is:

Rev. Hyde offers readers a primer on the history and doctrine of the Reformed Church, focusing mainly on the 3 Forms of Unity (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, and Canons of Dordt).

The Good:

Although an Evangelical Baptist, I am indebted to the 3 forms more than any other confession, catechism, or doctrinal formulation. I welcome with joy this brief book which introduces many to a heritage that is little-known in the broader American Evangelical Church.

Rev. Hyde takes great care to represent Reformed theology as a religion of the heart and mind. Hyde states,

“God has established an inseparable connection between truth and godliness. If truth remains in our heads but does not proceed to dwell in our hearts and find expression in our conduct, then we are no different, James says, than the devils (James 2:18-19).”

 Many have criticized Reformed theology as being arrogant and cerebral. While there are some who may unfortunately represent the Reformed heritage in such a way, this certainly is unrepresentative of the whole. Hyde commends Scottish Presbyterian John “Rabbi” Duncan’s quote, “I’m first a Christian, next a Catholic, then a Calvinist, fourth a Paedobaptist and finally a Presbyterian. I cannot reverse the order.” Hyde reminds us that we are first Christians, and secondly catholics. Catholic in the sense that we affirm solidarity with the church behind us, the church around us, and the church ahead of us.

Hyde also reminds us that Reformed theology highlights the importance of Sanctification. While many may first think of God’s sovereignty and Justification as key Reformed doctrines, the Reformers cared just as much about holy living. Hyde notes:

“Our Reformed fathers focused heavily on holy living. The volume of teachings they devoted to sanctification in their confessions and catechisms is striking. The Heidelberg Catechism devotes forty-four of its 129 questions and answers, more than one-third of its material, to sanctification, while the Westminster Larger Catechism devotes an impressive eighty-two of 196 questions and answers (42 percent) to this subject. By this emphasis, the Reformed churches declared that Calvinism is no mere religion of “head knowledge,” and we cannot live as if it makes us the “frozen chosen,” as we are sometimes derisively known. It is a religion of head and heart.”

The last emphasis that I found helpful was Hyde’s treatment of the Church and the centrality of the means of grace through Word and Sacraments. He reminds us that,

“It is the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then, that creates the people of God. The gospel not only saves us from our sins and the wrath of God, it places us in vital union with Jesus Christ and other Christians. Thus, the church is the fruit of the gospel; it is not our own creation, but a creation of the triune God of grace.”

The Bad: (more…)

“Christ, the Fruit-Bearing Seed”

Galatians 3:15–18 (ESV) — 15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

15 To give a human example- Speaking in human terms, or by means of a human analogy.

, brothers – Paul is now using a more affectionate term. From when he started the section with “foolish Galtians”. He is appealing to them, trying to reason with them, wrapping his arms around them. The truth rebukes, but also must be spoken in love. This complexity is known to any of us who have parented. Times to be harsh and times to speak affectionately. Times to call them by their full name, times to call them “Sweetie”.

: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. – the word for “covenant” (diatheke), can be understood as covenant or will. In a bi-lateral understanding among men with each other, agreements are binding. If someone decides to change the terms or refuses to honor certain stipulations, they will be legally liable in a just society. If man-made covenants carry this significance, then how much more with God, who makes a covenant with man.

  • “Berith” – Testament has referred to the outworking on a uni-lateral promise
  • “diatheke” – God initiated, requiring stipulations which can’t be regarded as meritorious but only consistent with the nature of promise which far exceeds the demands of faith.
  • “syntheke” – horizontally stipulated, fair, pay for wages.

–          I am a covenant theologian, essentially I read they whole Bible in light of this framework of a gracious God who reaches down to fallen creation in grace to establish relationship. God administrates this covenant through different phases, but each is built upon the idea of promise!!! (more…)

Over on Facebook, Pastor Rick wrote:

…if there was continuity in the constituting [of] God’s covenant people, Jesus would never have told Nicodemus that he must be born again. How dare Jesus be so pietistic as to tell a respected “covenant” member that he needs to be born again.

He echoes a question I once asked: why would Jesus tell Nicodemus that he must be born again if he was already in the covenant by circumcision?

Someone pointed out to me that “…Jesus is not talking about individual regeneration in John 3. Rather, he is talking about the need for a new Israel, a new humanity. Nicodemus needs to follow Jesus into the new world through death and resurrection. Being baptized will unite him with the disciples of Jesus, with those who are following Jesus into a new world.”

James Jordan puts it this way:

Nicodemus is brilliant. He says to Jesus, “You jest, surely. How many times have we been born again? the Flood, Sinai, Elijah, Cyrus. But it has never taken. You would have to back into mother’s womb and start over.”

“Yep,” says Jesus. “And watch me do it.”

Sure enough, Nicodemus is there when Jesus is buried back into mother’s womb. I’m certain Nicodemus knew Jesus would rise again, born anew from the soil. Maybe the disciples had doubts, but Nicodemus knew.

In union with Jesus’ resurrection we are all born anew from mother’s womb.

He also points out that John describes the tomb as a virgin:

19.41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

(Genesis 24.16 The young woman was very attractive in appearance, a maiden whom no man had known.)

Put this together with Luke’s record of Jesus vs. Sadducees on resurrection where he says that one becomes a son of God by being a son of the resurrection, and Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 about the “birth pangs” of death being unable to stop Jesus, the use of Psalm 2 (“today I have begotten you”) in the preaching of the resurrection of Jesus in Acts, the title “firstborn of the death,” Romans all over the place…. (more…)

The cited material comes from Robert L. Thomas’ volume, “Understanding Spiritual Gifts”. Thomas (1999:141), who is an able exegete and professor at the Master’s Seminary, evidences nonetheless a priori commitment to a systematic paradigm that influences, in my estimation, a reading of certain texts, namely Joel 2:28:

Prophets in the future will minister to people of Israel and the world at large during the seventieth week of Daniel, after the rapture of the church (Joel 2:28). They will not be the prophets described in relation to the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on members of the body of Christ because the church will no longer be on earth during that period.

Thomas’ dispensational paradigm won’t allow him to see any application of Joel 2:28 to the church, even in the face of Peter’s application of such to the “Church”. While Dispensationals will respond by stating that Peter’s application of Joel was only applicable for the nation of Israel, this ignores the fact that Peter offers the same promised Spirit to those “afar off”, to all who would repent and be baptized. 3000 Jews repented on the day of Pentecost, so one can’t say that the Joeline promise was pulled from the table because of Israel’s rejection. Israel’s acceptance opens the door for the same promise to extend outward to include even Gentile believers, which was the great scandal of the Gospel. While I admit that Peter may have been speaking better than he knew, it is clear for me, that according to Luke’s recounting the Joeline promise was distributed to Gentiles and would continue to be dispensed upon all who turn to Christ in repentance.

For Thomas to run roughshod over Peter’s application and state so clearly that Joel’s application is relegated only to Daniel’s seventieth week to a specific number of prophets who are mainly ministering to the Jewish nation is a rejection of the expansion of this promise to the New Covenant. It is a reading of Joel that ignores the fact that Peter applied it in a way that contradicts a priori hermeneutical conviction that Joel must apply to ethnic Jews and within a brief appointed time in God’s eschatological theme. Dispensationals wish to deal with the OT on its own terms, which is commendable, but almost treat the Apostolic hermeneutic of the OT as erroneous and an inconvenience. Do these Dispensationals really understand the OT better than Jesus and the Apostles?

Thomas (1999:134) also argues against the application of Joel 2:28-29 to the current New Covenant era based on the fact that not “all” prophesy:

Based on Numbers 11:29 and Joel 2:28-29, the expectation of all God’s people was that everyone would prophesy, but God has appointed only a limited number to be prophets. The idea that Christians should seek the gift as thought it were available to all is misleading if it is available only to a restricted number of Christians.

I agree that not all prophesy, but hardly see that as proof that Joel is not being fulfilled. It is like saying that the New Covenant promises of salvation being extended to all people isn’t literally being fulfilled because not all people are saved. Should we dare claim the promises to people and encourage them to seek salvation knowing that not all are saved? Thomas is presuming that to be faithful to Joel’s promise, all of God’s people must prophesy. The irony is that most Dispensationals don’t even believe that all will prophesy when Joel is fulfilled in Daniel’s seventieth week. Thomas thinks that, “The idea that Christians should seek the gift as thought it were available to all is misleading if it is available only to a restricted number of Christians.” Well, apparently Paul had no problem encouraging the Christian community to desire prophecy (1 Cor. 14:5). Peter presumed that the collective Christian community was endowed with “charismata”, including speaking gifts (1 PT 4:10-11).

If Thomas thinks it erroneous for Christians to be so mistaken as to dare seek prophecy, he stands in contradiction to Paul and Peter. Paul and Peter apparently didn’t share Thomas’ exegesis and theology on this point. Prophecy is not only available to the Christian community, but they are actually encouraged to seek it. While not all will prophesy, this is hardly proof against the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29, which Peter seem convinced was the best explanation for the observed behavior on Pentecost. Who are we to believe in this matter? I would encourage Thomas and dispensational to stop accusing folks like me of altering the literal meaning of “all” in Joel 2:28-29 when there is Apostolic precedent that the text wasn’t understood, nor applied in that manner.

As much as I disagree with a Covenantal view of Joel’s application within the New Covenant, they at least view Pentecost itself as fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. While they restrict the fulfillment to Pentecost, they prove more faithful to Peter than the Dispensationals do.

NT scholar Craig Keener makes what I have always found to be a simple and logical conclusion on the implications of Pentecost and Peter’s preaching to the continuing nature of the New Covenant with relation to Spiritual gifts.  This excerpt is from his volume, “The Spirit in the Gospels and Acts”. Keener (1997:197-198) contends against the notion that the accompanying signs of the Spirit’s reception in Acts was confined to some brief era:

The phrases “and your children” and “As many as God shall call” likewise make clear that Luke does not envision the outpouring of the Spirit as a past, temporary gift; if Luke does not regard it as still available, then by his argument God’s calling, the new era, and the availability of salvation must have also been retracted. In this case Luke expects his Christian audience to reject the whole point of Peter’s sermon, as he reports that Peter’s unrepentant Jewish hearers did. The implications of such an interpretation run totally counter to Luke’s theology; clearly he assumes that Pentecost’s endowment of the Spirit and dynamic manifestations of the Spirit such as glossolalia are to continue until Jesus’ return. If “the last days” did in fact begin on Pentecost (2:17), and if, in the words of many scholars today, Luke’s view of the kingdom is “already” as well as “not yet,” Luke believes that Spirit baptism remains normative for God’s community, both to Israel and to “far off” Gentiles.

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Sweeney, M.A. (2000). The Twelve Prophets: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah (vol. 1). Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

M.A. Sweeney (2000:174) likens the outpouring upon Israel as a reconstitution of His people of sorts, hearkening back to creation and the work of the Spirit amidst the cataclysmic events:

Indeed, the image of the Hamsin/Sharav appears to underlie much of the imagery of cosmic transformation in this passage, but it is combined with the imagery of prophecy once again to demonstrate the interrelatedness of the natural and the human worlds in the book of Joel….The list of persons involved, sons and daughters, elders, young men, slaves and maid servants, is intended to be comprehensive. This phenomenon appears to project a return to a much earlier or ideal time prior to the establishment of Israel as a nation ruled by a king in its own land, such as the Exodus and wilderness period when the seventy elders of Israel began to prophesy when the “spirit” of G-d descended upon them (Num 11:25) or the period prior to the time of Samuel and the emergence of the first king, Saul, when 1 Sam 3:1 states that the word of YHWH and visions were rare at that time.

Sweeney (2000:174) adds the following:

To a certain extent, the passage attempts to portray a return to a state prior to creation, either of the natural world order or of the nation Israel, which of course enables both YHWH and Israel/Judah to start all over again on a new basis. The portents in the heavens and on the earth recalls both the use of heaven and earth as the comprehensive designation for all creation (Gen 1:1; 2:1,4) and the actions of YHWH in the Exodus narrative that forced Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves and that prompted the creation of Israel as a nation and its covenant with YHWH (Exod 6:1-9; 7:1-7).

Sweeney (2000:175) continues:

The images of “blood, fire, and columns of smoke” appear to be destructive at first sight and suggest the motif of YWHW’s battles against the nations that oppress Israel in the following passages. But these images are also the images of the altar at the Jerusalem Temple….Once the animal is slaughtered and prepared for the altar, it is set on fire and consumed entirely, resulting in a thick column of smoke that will stand over the site of the Temple complex. Although the imagery is destructive, it is also constructive in the sense that the Temple sacrificial ritual is intended to maintain or restore the order of the created world. In a similar manner, the Hamsin or Sharav that darkens the sun and causes the moon to appear red as blood is both destructive and transformative in that it marks the transition from one season to another; one reality is destroyed as another emerges. Altogether, such transformation in both the natural and the human world is labeled as the coming “Day of YHWH” in verse 4 [NRSV:31].

Pentecost therefore marks the commencing of judgment on the “old era”, which is passing away, and the inauguration of the “new era”, which is ever closer to its full consummation.  The signs and wonders surrounding the crucifixion, ascension, Pentecost and the eventual destruction of Jerusalem on 70 A.D. also marks a destructive work on the “old Israel” and the constructing of a “new Israel” that will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The “last days” as a whole also have cosmic consequences as the “old earth” is literally passing away and is yet being renewed.