Friday, November 21, 2014

Don't fear the big words: God is an amazing Story Creator

Eschatology is a big word. Just hearing the word gives some headaches. Others are inclined to tune out lofty verbiage. Its meaning is at the same time both simple and profound. Eschatology is "the study of last things." As we pointed out in a previous post, while eschatology is a study of the end, eschatology in the Bible begins in the very first verse, "In the beginning."

Why is this a big deal? Because if the New Heavens and New Earth have something to do with the Garden of Eden, then the way we think about the Garden and the creation story must account for the New Heaven and New Earth. In fact, everything between the Garden and the New Heaven and New Earth must take into account that what happens at the end of the Bible impacts all of the in-between.

Vos points out in "The Pauline Eschatology" that, from the beginning, all of redemptive history (the history we find recorded in the Bible) has been moving toward the end of all things as if the end of all things is the goal (emphasis is mine).

"Eschatology is the 'doctrine of the last things.' It deals with the teaching or belief, that the world-movement, religiously considered, tends towards a definite final goal, beyond which a new order of affairs will be established, frequently with the further implication, that this new order of affairs will not be subject to any further change, but will partake of the static character of the eternal." - Geerhardus Vos (Pauline Eschatology, p. 1)

Vos then wonders whether eschatology as the Bible describes it "is a purely chronological designation, or whether there enters into it likewise the idea of 'eventuation', 'issue of a foregoing process'." After giving numerous examples, Vos concludes that eschatology, which is most visibly seen in the Bible's use of the phrase "end of days" or "last days", indeed is the "idea of progression toward a fixed end..." (PE, pp. 1-2)

From Genesis to Exodus to Samuel to Daniel to Malachi, eschatology is a part of the written Word, moving toward the fixed end, the New Heaven and New Earth. It is a "progression." Even if the hints are faint, what is coming in the future (fueled by expectations set in Genesis 3:15) at the very least gives much hope when things look really bad.

God's promises given along the way keep the idea of the last days from being relegated to some vauge or "indefinite" point in a nebulous future (in spite of what some liberal theologians have claimed about Jewish theology of the Old Testament).

For Vos, eschatology "does not signify some indefinitely subsequent point or period or complication of events. The note of epochal finality is never missing in it. This should, however, not be confounded with the idea of chronological fixity. It is peculiar to the Old Testament that it makes this "acherith" (final or last days) a sort of movable complex, capable of being pushed forward along the line of prophetic vision." (PE, p. 5)

Seems like a theological mouthful, but it is simply this: "the last days" is not a fixed point at the end of time, but is always present and always moving toward the end of time. This "prophetic vision" term used by Vos is none other than a designation not only for the revelation handed down to Israel's prophets, but of the entire Bible. All of inspired revelation is intersecting with the "last days" in some form, whether it is anticipating the last days or describing it.

In fact, it is the progressive unfolding of revelation from Job to Moses to Samuel to David to Isaiah to Daniel that is carrying along the study of the last days and moving it along the Bible's unfolding historical and chronological trajectory. Because all of the Bible is the development and progression of an unfolding story that points to a reality in the future -- Christ, his work, his reign, and his people -- all of revelation (even those parts that are considered narrative literature, like Exodus or Samuel or Kings) is "prophetic".

Everything that is written down and everything that happens in the Bible is prophetically speaking of, or moving toward, or anticipating what is coming at the end: history's full and final realization in Jesus. Even as the events unfold God, through the writers, is narrating to us in the shadows: he is telling us what he is doing and will do in the coming Messiah.

This is why the Old Testament is thoroughly typological (another big word: shadows of the Old Testament are types of what is to come in the antitype, Jesus). The Old Testament is pre-Incarnate revelation which everywhere anticipates the Christ Event (the Second Person of the Godhead's humiliation in birth, life, ministry, death and exaltation in resurrection, ascension, and enthronement in time and space) and the eventual Consummation.

Further, Vos also sees the future pushing backward into the past and present, meaning the past and present are always eschatological in some fashion, just as revelation is: "The eschatological point of view is, of course, originally historical and dramatic; a new world can come only with the new age and therefore lies at first in the future. But the coming age has begun to be present with the death and resurrection of Christ. From this it follows that of the coming world likewise a present existence can be affirmed. Here, then, the scheme of two successive worlds makes place for the scheme of two coexisting worlds. Still further, it must be remembered that Christ has through His resurrection carried the center of this new world into heaven, where He reigns and whence He extends its influence and boundaries. The two coexisting worlds therefore broadly coincide with the spheres of heaven and earth." (Vos, Shorter Writings, p. 115; I would note that this is why it is important to note that Christ has carried into heaven a *physical* body. In bringing heaven and earth together, in taking this world into the heavenlies, there is a physical and "time-space" element now residing in the eternal heavenlies).

So what? For starters, the Old Testament isn't simply a collection of boring and not-so-boring stories. Or unrelated data points that have been collected as a record of a particular history. When I read about some woman driving a tent peg through a bad guy's brains or some Hebrew boys refusing to eat the bad guy's food I know there's something more. This history has something to do with the end goal and the end goal is actually affecting how the story unfolds. For example, in the case of the tent peg a foreshadowing of the "gruesomely grotesque" judgment on God's enemies; or better yet, a foreshadowing of the kind of judgment I will *not* experience because Someone Else has done so on my behalf. The last days have a vested interest in what happens to Sisera.

Second, God's an amazing story creator. He didn't just have men record history this way. He orchestrated history to be recorded this way. It's not an accident or incident of history that the birth of John the Baptist just so happens to look like the birth of Isaac (parents who are waaaayyyy too old to have kids). The later birth was set up by the previous. And God made it happen that way. God's sovereignty isn't some esoteric or transcendent reality with no bearing on the moment. All of history has been infused with his plan to glorify himself through Christ. He crafted history to be Christ's story, a story that culminates in the New Heaven and New Earth.

Last, we're in the midst of that story. The church is eschatological, a brief glimpse of the glorious end. Whether my life is mundane or dramatic, full of suffering or a season of relief, God has orchestrated my redemption and is orchestrating my affairs to move toward the end goal of glorifying Christ in the New Heaven and New Earth. My destiny is not my own. Christ's destiny has become my destiny, bought and paid for in his life, death, resurrection, and exaltation/ascension. That's some story.

God "working all things for our good and His glory" (Romans 8:28) isn't some impervious comfort phrase to throw around after the funeral or in the middle of a crisis. The promise is a summary description of the church's grand story. It is eschatological. I have confidence and comfort because I know life now, even if it doesn't look like it in any given moment, is being orchestrated to that grand "fixed end".

Don't fear the big word. Eschatology has everything to do with what is happening with you right now. We know this because Adam could say the same thing. Jael could say the same thing. Jonathan could say the same thing. Theophilus could say the same thing. Our salvation bears resemblance to the end because the end has always been involved; our new life in Christ is the "stuff" of the New Heaven and New Earth.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Entire Bible is Eschatological

Don't fear the big words. What do you think of when you hear the word "eschatology"? For some of us, it's simply another fancy-schmancy theological mumbo-jumbo word that the eggheads like to throw around in pastor-pontifi-speak. Some of us just want to tune out whatever comes next because that word just doesn't give us the warm fuzzies. I get that.

For some of us, we have conditioned ourselves to conjure up images of Hal Lindsey's "Late Great Planet Earth" when we hear that word. For others, it conjures up images from the "who told them they could act?" movie, "Thief in the Night" that gave us classic charts and the unforgettable "sing with full gusto" tune, "I Wish We'd All Been Ready". For others who hear that word, the latest "Oil and Armageddon" Conference on Ready-Baked and Individually-Tailored One-size-fits-me Biblical Prophecy is brought to mind.

Seriously, many of us almost subconsciously connect the word "eschatology" and the end of the earth as we know it. There's a reason for that. The word itself means "the study of last things". The dictionary gives us this: "that part of theology concerned with judgment, death, the final destiny of the soul and of mankind" or (from "any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state." To break the word down... "logy" = study and "eschato" = last or final. Literally, the study of the last. As a result, we have tended to always place the word in the context of what happens at the very end of time. Eschatology is the study or doctrine of end times, and by implication, the theology or study of what comes at the very end of time.

Eschatology from the beginning of the Bible

Or is it? The whole Bible is eschatological. Eschatology is unfolding from the very first moments of time. The end has a stake in the beginning. A very easy way to see this is to note the similarities between the first and last gardens, the garden of Eden in Genesis 1-2 and the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21-22. There are hints of the end of time embedded in the creation story. Everything in between those two gardens is a movement toward the final goal: life with Jesus in the New Heavens and New Earth.

William Dumbrell begins his treatment of eschatology in the whole Bible ("The Search for Order") thusly:"Coined in the nineteenth century by a German writer and brought into English about 1845, the word eschatology refers to knowledge of the end. The Oxford English Dictionary defines eschatology as "the department of theological science concerned with 'the last four things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell.'" But the word has both broader and narrower meanings. Some use the word eschatology exclusively in the narrow sense of the end of history and the commencement of the new age. Others use the word in the broad sense of the goal of history toward which the Bible moves and of biblical factors and events bearing on that goal... but just what are the issues that bear on the goal of history?

"Interpretation of the Bible demands a framework within which the details are set. We need to know the big picture before we look at the details. The Bible is a book about the future in light of the human failures of the past and present. In this sense the entire Bible is eschatological, since it focuses upon the ushering in of the kingdom of God, the fulfilling of the divine intention for humanity and society. In very broad terms the biblical sweep is from creation to the new creation by way of redemption, which is, in effect the renewing of creation. yet the end is not merely a return to the beginning, for the Bible reveals a great deal more about the divine intention than what is shown at the beginning of Genesis. Regarding eschatology, we must recognize how the Bible develops its theme of God's purpose from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation." -- William Dumbrell, "The Search for Order: Biblical Eschatology in Focus", p. 9

Because eschatology isn't merely about the specifics of the very end of time, but also about those things which are pointing to and bringing about the end of time, the entirety of the Bible is eschatological. Everywhere we go in the pages of the text is not only centered on the story of Jesus but moving toward the final goal, life with Jesus at the end. The new and final garden resides in the shadows of the original. The one great act at the apex of the story, Christ's life, death, and resurrection guarantees the end.

Eschatology in the present

Having broken the chains of sin and death that wrecked the original, Christ's resurrection constitutes the final state of life eternal (that which is outside of time and at the end of time) breaking into and giving new life to us in the here and now. When the Spirit regenerates us, the life we are given is life from Christ's resurrection, which is itself, life from outside of this world's time and space. Our eternal life has its source in the past (Christ's resurrection), the present (Christ in the eternal heavens), and the future (Christ in the New Heaven and New Earth).

That's a lot to think about. But that's what gives perspective to all the bad things we see happening in the world around us or even to us. Christ came to give us life outside of ourselves, eternal life (John 10:10). And not just eternal life, but eternal life in "abundance." There's more to life than "here and now". Our lives are bound up with what Jesus is doing right now in the heavens: ruling and reigning and interceding on our behalf. And our lives are an overflow of the eternal life we've been given to others around us in the grace and love and forgiveness and compassion and peace we bring into their lives.

If all of the Bible is eschatological, all of life is eschatological because the Bible is describing our life in Christ. Our lives in the present are made up of the last age or days moving toward their final end in the last garden and its Creator, Jesus Christ. It may sound like fancy schmancy theo-lingo. But the reality is very simple and practical: every day is a day to live the abundant life we've been given in Christ.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Unbelief's effect on Jesus: Jesus wept

Jesus: Lazarus has died. I’m glad for you that I wasn’t there so that you may believe.

Martha: if You had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.
Mary: if You had been here, my brother would not have died!
The crowd: Couldn’t He who opened the blind man’s eyes  also have kept this man from dying?

Jesus wept.

Lord, help my unbelief.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Incarnation: "He whose right it is" Has Come.

"The scepter will not depart from Judah or the staff from between his feet until He whose right it is comes and the obedience of the peoples belongs to Him." Genesis 49:10 (HCSB)

Ever think about the importance of the word "until" in that Jacobian prophecy? It means all that precedes it is moving toward whatever lies behind the "until". "Until", then, is given a heightened sense of anticipation or even wonder, landing with full weight on whatever lies behind it.

Here's what Vos says about what lies behind "until":

"The 'Shiloh,' that is 'the One to whom Judah's sceptre and ruler's staff belong' appears here (Genesis 49:10; crb) as the ultimate embodiment and virtually as the eternalizer of Judah's preeminence among the tribes. In other words the One later called the Messiah is a Consummator in more than a purely chronological sense."

Vos then notes Moses' use of "until" in connected to his use of "the last days" idea of Genesis 49:1:

" Genesis…the idea of progression towards a fixed end is marked by the word 'until.' To be sure the term 'acherith' ("the days to come", or as it is used around the OT, "the last days"; crb) stands in Genesis 49:1 at the head of the prophecy with general reference to what is foretold concerning all the tribes, yet it is meant virtually so that in Judah's destiny alone it is realized to the full extent of its import." Geerhardus Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, p. 2-3

And…so what?

Three things stand out about from the implications of Genesis 49

  1. The "days to come" or "last days" are specifically tied to the coming of "Shiloh". The "days to come" are ushered in by the coming of "Shiloh". Christ's incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and (most importantly to Genesis 49) ascension/exaltation heralds the arrival of the "days to come", the acherith, or last days. We live in the "already"/"not yet" on the other side of the "unitl". The "Shiloh" rules and reigns at the right hand of the Father. The obedience of the peoples belongs to Him.
  2. Everything about Judah and David is anticipating, moving toward, and finds final significance and meaning in "until". The Old Testament is the story of the movement of history toward the "until" of Genesis 49:10. This is especially true as the Old Testament story is developed through Judah, David, and Solomon.
  3. "Ultimate embodiment." "The Eternalizer." "The Consummator." Christ is the glorious fulfillment of Judah's destiny. All of Jacob and Judah's hopes and dreams are realized in the Shiloh who walked among us.

Nothing happens in my life today that "He whose right it is" doesn't know about, doesn't care about, and didn't come to die and rise for.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Dawson: "A spiritualized Jesus...allows the church to run after the things of the world."

Christ still has a body. A resurrected body, to be sure. But nevertheless, Christ has a human body. In the heavens. On His throne.

It's easy to forget. Just because Christ is physically absent, does not for a second mean that he somehow is disconnected from real time and space. Or reality, for that matter. He still has a flesh and blood body. He still bears the scars inflicted by those who represented us during the darkest days of world history.

As sure as President Obama is in the White House, or a British terrorist is sharpening his knife (again), Christ literally and physically occupies His throne in the heavens. It's not a "spiritual" or "mystical" reality, in the sense that it belongs to the ethereal. Or even only to "faith". The incarnation, which we celebrate every December 25, is permanent.

The continuing Incarnation of Christ has many, many implications as to how we understand reality. One of these implications is the "temporariness" of government and culture.

Gerrit Scott Dawson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, wrote a masterpiece on the Ascension of Christ, "Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation."

Here's an excerpt from that book:

"One of the first acts of the enthroned Jesus was to open the treasure trove of his love and bring forth a gem of inestimable value. In his bountiful rule, the King of kings showers a priceless gift from his infinite largesse upon his subjects. He receives the Holy Spirit from the Father and pours him out upon the disciples (Acts 2:33). The Spirit, who gives himself to be so poured, becomes the bond between the still-incarnate Son in heaven and his people still sojourning on earth. By this boon, the physically absent King establishes a living tie between himself and his subjects. The head pours his life-giving energies and constant direction throughout his body (i.e. into his people) through his Spirit...Jesus himself understood his departure from his disciples as involving entry into a kingdom...

"The King's story has placed his people under tension. He is not here for us to see, yet he is always about to return. The church is under pressure, by the breath of his Spirit, both as an updraft and a downdraft. On the one hand, we are pushed upward by the commands of the sovereign to look to him as we enact mission in his name. We surge into the future on the wind of his triumph as we live and proclaim the gospel. But, on the other hand, our work is never finished, never to be seen as complete in itself. We are demonstrating the kingdom on earth but not creating the final realm. So, the church labors under the downward pressure of a future that draws nigh, shaping the church, encouraging her in times of resistance and persecution with the promise that the new heavens and the new earth are on the way.

"(There is a) human tendency to spiritualize the ascension. At first thought this seems a result of our metaphysical concerns about the seeming split between the spiritual and material realms. But in fact, the mind's balking at Jesus' going up in the body may well result from the revolt in heart and will against the sovereignty of Jesus which his ascension implies. We may desire to reduce the 'eschatological tension' of his absence and imminent return by dismissing his continuing incarnation... (Douglas) Farrow notes that if we spiritualize the ascension, and get Jesus safely diffused and dissolved into the heavens, then he no longer seems a threat to the rulers of the world. Rather, we can neatly divide the regions of authority between the spiritual and the worldly. We can build the wall between public and private truth which protects us from the claims of God. A spiritualized Jesus allows the kings of the world to run free without restraint from the church, and allows the church to run after the things of the world without the downdraft pressure of the return of the embodied Jesus.

"A continuing incarnation, however, enthrones Jesus in direct relationship to the world and its rulers. There is a real, human king who reigns over the world from heaven. A man who once walked among us is on the throne, and he is not aloof from the affairs of his realm below. All other powers on earth, therefore, are merely temporary and derived. As Paul asserted, 'there is no authority except that which God has established' (Romans 13:1). This, then, is truly a threatening message to any who make claims of their own sovereignty. It is no wonder that earthly rulers wish to silence the church with violence...

"Jesus in ascending has been crowned as the sovereign of this world. Cleaving to this reality, the church has from the beginning been able to thrive amidst the worst persecution. So an old man exiled on a barren island could send comfort to suffering congregations in the name of 'Jesus Christ ... the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth' (Revelation 1:5)...

"With this understanding, the church cannot simply go after the world in its pursuit of the pleasures of the moment, nor can the church let the world go unchecked in its injustice and destructiveness. Today, even as the church loses its voice in the culture, we may recover the understanding of the ascension as a triumphant enthronement. In this way, we may strengthen our identity as citizens of heaven in exile, acting now as loving subversives for the kingdom of Christ..." Gerrit Scott Dawson, "Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation"

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Tamar: "There has been no cult prostitute here."

"There has been no cult prostitute here." (HCSB via Logos)
Tamar is among the most enigmatic characters in Scripture. A prostitute who is commended for her righteous actions. Even as we attempt to understand the purpose of Genesis 38 -- and why it appears "jammed" into the story of Joseph -- one thing that should not be overlooked: the scandal.

Don't forget the scandal.

Grace in the midst of vile

This is one of those chapters in which parents of the West are tempted to say at the end of chapter 37, "OK, kids; off to bed. We'll read chapter 39 tomorrow night." Genesis 38 functions as shock factor. The entire chapter. Sordid. Divine execution. A defiant sex act. Betrayal. Seduction. Prostitution. Hypocrisy.

The sleaze factor in Genesis 38 does not provide the real scandal. The real scandal is how Moses wants us to see grace at work in the midst of the vile. In Genesis 38, there is an avalanche of grace flowing out of the debauchery. Brilliant faith. Justification. Redemption.

Oh yes. In the midst of Judah's self-inflicted cesspool, grace cascades. The one great storyline of redemption through the Seed isn't simply unorthodox. It's unwanted. It undermines, no, it smashes a self-righteousness we've convinced ourselves is righteous.

The seed

It is true that Moses is not writing about the morality of seducing someone who Is not your husband. It's also true that Moses is highlighting the divine preservation of the Genesis 3:15 promised "Seed of the woman" in the storyline, especially the storyline as it unfolds through Judah in the book of Genesis. The birth of Perez belongs to the OT stories of "miracle" births of sons in the pedigree of the coming Messiah. It is unexpected. It occurs in the midst of extenuating and extraordinary circumstances. The story of Genesis 38 most certainly is about "the seed, the heir, the firstborn." In this story, Moses is interested in making sure his readers are not in the dark regarding the origins of the still-yet-to-be-realized royal bloodline traced through Judah and his son, Perez.

But it's not simply about the seed. 1 Corinthians 10 tells us that these OT stories were meant to be examples for us. However, the "examples" for us are not morality plays, but part of the great unfolding story of redemption in the Old Testament. The "examples", as Hebrews 11 demonstrates, are aimed at eliciting saving faith in the community, faith that wraps its hopes around the promise of a Messiah.

Tamar is certainly best understood against the backdrop of Genesis 3:15. All of the Old Testament progresses the Genesis 3:15 storyline to its culmination in the Person and work of Jesus. There are grace and faith elements in this story that Moses draws attention to for the sake of his audience.

A couple of hermeneutical considerations

There are a couple of hermeneutical considerations underlying the story of Tamar and Judah that spotlight grace and salvific faith. One is an idea Paul picks up on in Romans 11. The role of Gentiles in redemptive history is meant to provoke Israel to repentance and faith. This is fundamental to understanding the story of Jonah. It's certainly at the heart of the story of Namaan. The book of Ruth also has "Gentile provocation" as an undercurrent. Throughout redemptive history, God has used Gentiles who embrace the true God of Israel as their own as provocative motivation for Israel to repent and confess their fidelity to the one true God. When we find a Gentile or "pagan" confessing allegiance to Israel's God or expressing the kind of faith expressed by Abraham (see Genesis 15:6), we can be sure that the story has been included in sacred revelation to not only show that "salvation has come to the Gentiles" (i.e. foreshadowing the great inclusion of Gentiles as True Israel in the New Covenant), but also "to make Israel jealous." (Romans 11:11)

The other consideration is what I call "the Pharisee factor." Israel in the Old Testament. Pharisees in the New. Both Israel and the Pharisees suffered from acute self-righteousness. Much of recorded revelation is aimed at ridding Israel (and us) of its natural inclination to promote self. We most clearly see such heart attitude on display when scandal is present in the text. A comment recorded by Luke could function as a thesis statement which underlies Israel's self-righteousness. When a woman of ill repute washes Jesus' feet with her tears and anoints them with fragrance, the Pharisee who invited Christ to the dinner expresses centuries of Israel's self-righteousness toward the scandalous: "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching Him—she’s a sinner!” (Luke 7:39). Israel's preoccupation with self-importance as the "apple of God's eye" led them to look down on the scandalous. This is a running theme in Jonah, can be found in Job, and litters the indictments of the prophets, especially Amos and Hosea. The inclusion of Gentiles in the redemption storyline is aimed at knocking Israel's inflated ego down a few pegs.

Five scandalous elements in the Tamar story

The above considerations relate to the story of Tamar in the following five ways:

Tamar is a Gentile. This can easily be missed. It's not mentioned in the text, but the entire backdrop of this story occurs among the Canaanites, or more specifically, the Adullamites. It's also easy to overlook Tamar because initially, she is introduced into the story as simply a supporting character.

Tamar is a woman. This can also easily be missed, especially in a day in which women in the West enjoy the kind of life that would be quite foreign to the women of the ancient near east. Early in this story, Tamar "is given" to Judah's son to be his wife. As the story reaches its climax and resolution, we find Tamar in the proverbial driver's seat. For a woman to take this kind of initiative in that culture was quite risky, especially when facing the charges Tamar was facing (the death penalty). A woman who takes initiative in a public way belongs in the same societal "class" as prostitutes.

Tamar seduced Judah. Her actions are described in the text, by her own kind (or by her own mouth, we are not told) as that of a prostitute. The activity by which she secures the royal line of Judah is deception, which seems even more spectacular than that of Jacob stealing Esau's birthright. Even Judah's initial judgment of capital punishment is that which is reserved for those who engage in sexual promiscuity (Leviticus 21:9).

Tamar is commended. Judah's declaration of "not guilty" isn't simply an acknowledgment that Tamar is a better person. Judah's statement carries implications beyond its initial event. "She is more righteous than I" recalls Genesis 15:6: it was counted to her for righteousness. Judah's statement also doubles as his own indictment. If Tamar is not guilty, then it is Judah who is guilty of a lifetime of covenant faithlessness, manifested in the way he has put Abraham's posterity in jeopardy. Her commendation is later picked up by the women of Bethlehem in the book of Ruth, pronouncing blessing on Naomi (and Ruth) after the same kind of generational blessings enjoyed by Tamar (Ruth 4:12).

Tamar acted in faith. As the scope of the narrative widens out after the initial deception and legal pronouncement of innocence by Judah, and we begin to see the place of Genesis 38 in the wider plotline being traced by Moses, Tamar plays the role of the one being aligned with the "Seed of the Woman" in the unfolding plan of redemption (see Genesis 3:15). She is more righteous than Judah. She, not he, has been acting in faith. Childless, she exercises her faith and ends up in the Royal line of David that eventually produces the Messiah.

Gentile + woman + prostitute + commendation + faith = scandal.

An Old Testament "Pharisee" would have blanched at such a thought. Commended as *more* "righteous"? Shameful. A Gentile who not only prostitutes herself in seducing one of Israel's Big 12, but is "let off the hook"? Preposterous. Commendation in place of the expected condemnation? Offensive. Perez as a blessed child of The Promise? Disgraceful. The coming Savior of Israel rides on the actions of a Gentile prostitute? Absolutely scandalous. What a despicable affront to any who might begin to believe in Israel's "exceptionalism" as exhaustively exclusive. “This Moses, if he were a prophet, would know who and what kind of woman this is who is being commended as righteous—she’s a sinner!”

But that's precisely the point: a sinner declared righteous. Three times the result of the search for Tamar is described as they "didn't find her". Twice in the middle of this story the statement is made, "there is no cult prostitute here." At the end of the story, Tamar is commended as being "righteous".

"There has been no cult prostitute here." Situated at the center of the story (see highlighted text above), that statement screams across the pages of this sordid tale too good to not be true. "There has been no cult prostitute here." They couldn't find her; they didn't find her; they'll never find her. Ever.

When Tamar plays her card as the "item keeper" bearing the finery of her "king", the true prostitute is exposed as the one pointing the finger. The indictment is devastating. Judah is no better than his sons. God executes judgment (Genesis 38:7,10) . Judah orders judgment in the same fashion. (Genesis 38:24b -- again, see the highlighted graphic above).

But there is no cult prostitute here. The story has moved from barren widow (Tamar) to one declared righteous (Tamar) to a blessed child of promise (Perez). Rather than being an object to be tossed on worthless heap, Tamar is a recipient of divine favor exposing the Hebrew charlatan for who he is. Carrying a child who perpetuates the Promise, the sinner is declared righteous.

A sinner who is declared righteous. How scandalous is that?

One other scandalous feature of this chapter should be considered:

Tamar saves Judah. If it's not scandalous enough for a "seduction" to be commended as "righteous", try "Gentile becomes catalyst for Hebrew's redemption" on for size. In this regard, the figure of Tamar in Judah's story is of the same cloth as Rahab and Ruth. Like them, her faith expressed in speech and action is used to bring about the redemption of Israelites, in this case, Judah. Exposed by Tamar's righteous deed, from this point on, a chastised and repentant Judah begins to live out his destiny as one through whom Israel's future king and redeemer would come.

Grace doesn't always show up cloaked in the pretty. We would do well to avoid the morality play that acknowledges grace in this story, but does so along the lines of God making lemonade out of lemons (i.e. Because I'm the great God I am, I'm going to grace the story with Perez in spite of all the filthy sinners here). It's true that God does providentially work grace in the midst of the mess, but he does so in a way that is not arbitrary, but shocking.

Gospel Question #1: One legitimate question arises from Moses portrayal of grace against the backdrop of scandal: how far are we willing to go for the sake of the gospel? Tamar could have been killed for what she pulled off. A woman? Seduction? She put it all on the line on the road to Timnah because something bigger than herself was at stake. Like others listed in Hebrews 11, Tamar is an example to us of faith that doesn't walk by sight.

Gospel Question #2: But we also must ask ourselves: how far are we willing to go to see ourselves as the recipients of cascading grace in the midst of our mess? Within the sordid tale of Tamar and Judah, we find the gospel brilliantly shining. The gospel tells us that we have all played the Judah. We've lived the lie. We've played the fool. We point the finger to distract from our own prostitution. In Tamar, the gospel confronts us with our own hypocrisy.

Embrace the scandal of the gospel. We embrace the scandal of Genesis 38 as part of the unfolding of the grand story of Jesus because Matthew does so in Matthew 1. Tamar (along with Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary) is specifically mentioned in the pedigree of Jesus because in Matthew 1, Christ's own scandal is unfolding in the story of his birth. The disgrace of (supposed) illegitimacy dogged Jesus all the way to the cross. Thus, in Christ's life and death, scandal becomes part of our identity in Christ.

In Christ, "there is no cult prostitute here". We know we're guilty. Prostitutes all are we. But Christ died bearing our guilt. And we're declared righteous.


Monday, September 01, 2014

Vos: The Chief Actor came upon the Scene and occupied central place

"When the time came to completion..." - Galatians 4:4 (HCSB)

How often have we heard a sermon on Galatians 4:4, and listened to the preacher wax eloquent on how the timing of Christ's birth was simply perfect? The Greek language was universal, the Roman infrastructure was pervasive, communication via pen had become common, somebody had finally invented crucifixion as a means of execution, etc. Sometimes it sounds a bit like Christianized astrology: "When the stars and planets were finally aligned, God sent His Son." Things were simply peachy-keen for the Father to send the Son to fix the mess.

In his "Pauline Eshcatology", Vos puts this utilitarian notion to rest:

“...the 'fullness of time' has nothing to do in the first place with the idea of 'ripeness of the times'; it designates the arrival of the present dispensation of time at its predetermined goal of fulfillment through the appearance of the Messiah (Gal. 4:4; see also Eph. 1:10.

“This straight horizontal way of looking at the eschatological progress was not with Paul a purely-formal thing. There belongs to it a grandiose sweep and impressive inclusiveness with regard to the whole of history. When filled with the content of the latter it acquires the character of the most intense dramatic realism." (Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, p. 26)

Vos is pointing out that "eschatological progress", or the progress of revelation and redemption toward its end goal in Christ and his resolution of all things in the New Heavens and New Earth, is "filled" up with the content of history. The events of history that have been recorded in the Bible, especially those in the Old Testament, are even better than real. Those events, even those that would seem mundane, are supernatural. They really happened, but they happened by design to bring about God's salvation of His people in Christ. 

Long before Vanhoozer and Horton, Vos posits that this progress of redemption through the stages of history is a divine "drama", the one grand story of Jesus unfolding in the events and words of Scripture:

"It is drama, and, besides that, drama hastening on with accelerated movement to the point of denouement and consummation. Hence it engages the Apostle’s most practical religious interest no less than that it moulds his theoretical view concerning the structure of the Christian faith.

“…to Paul the chief actor in this drama had come upon the scene; the Messiah had been made present, and could not but be looked upon as henceforth the dominating figure in all further developments. And Christ was to Paul so close, so all-comprehensive and all-pervasive, that nothing could remain peripheral wherein He occupied the central place…" (Vos, The Pauline Eschatology, pp. 27-28)

It wasn't that 4 B.C. or 6 B.C. or whenever it is that Christ actually left the heavens and took on the lot of humanity that things were just so perfect Christ finally could get done what he needed to do. Such an idea reduces Jesus to simply another actor on the stage with the Father reacting to the hand he and the Son had been dealt. In fact, Galatians 4:4's language mitigates against this. "Completion" connotes the sense of something being brought to an end or a climax. 

"Fullness" is the word used by the ESV. All of the events and revealed words of the Old Testament had been filled up and brought to their end goal: Jesus. "Fullness" like "completion", carries the sense of being filled up to having nothing more left to reveal regarding redemption. Paul sees salvation history like a cup, being filled to overflowing of all the historical events or acts and God's self-revelation in Scripture that were orchestrated by God to bring about the Person and work of Jesus.

When all of those Messianically-charged historical events, people, shadows, rituals, poetry, prophecy, and revelation reached their "fullness", Christ came as the Final Act of fulfillment on center stage.

Christ occupies the "central place" of this grand drama of redemption. The Incarnation is everything. In the Incarnation, Christ takes center stage of all of history, "filling up" the meaning of all of reality. Vos is right to suggest that this "filling up" includes the "eschatological progress" of Old Testament revelation and redemption.

So what? If Christ fills up the meaning of all of history, whatever happens today, good or bad, has meaning. It finds its meaning in who Christ is, what Christ has done for His people, and who I am in him. It also means that whatever happens today is within the scope of Jesus working to bring history to its ultimate conclusion. It may not look pretty today. It may be filled with sorrow and a temporary sense of senselessness. But it will not always be. The One who took on flesh in the fullness of time is the consummate Alpha and Omega. Time and its history find their meaning in Jesus. That's real hope... in the Fullness of Time.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Vos: Infinite Care in the Revelation of Our Salvation

The amazing thing about the following statement is that Vos actually said it. The prefatory note says this about the occasion of Vos's Inaugural Address at Princeton: "The Rev. Geerhardus Vos was elected Professor of Biblical Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary at the spring meeting of the Board of Directors, 1893, and assumed the duties of the chair provisionally from September, 1893. His formal induction into the chair took place on Tuesday, May 8, 1894, at 12 o'clock, in the First Presbyterian Church of Princeton."

1894. As James Dennison has pointed out, even at Princeton "the morass of liberal and radical biblical theology was evident not only to the more astute among them, but to the "man in the pew." By the last decade of the nineteenth century, so-called biblical theology of the critical stripe had eviscerated the theology from the Bible."

So when Vos takes aim at dispensing with "objective knowledge", he faces those who were quite adept in the "dispensive" arts:  

"...true religion cannot dispense with a solid basis of objective knowledge of the truth. There is no better means of silencing the supercilious cant that right believing is of small importance in the matter of religion, than by showing what infinite care our Father in heaven has taken to reveal unto us, in the utmost perfection, the knowledge of what He is and does for our salvation." Geerhardus Vos, "The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline"; Vos's Inaugural Address as Professor of Biblical Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary, delivered May 8, 1894

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Peters: "The local assembly and the individual believer belong organically together."

One of the implications of the continuity of church ministry down through the centuries is a very real connection to the original ministry of the apostles. But one of the characteristics that has been lost in recent times is the centrality of the local church and the corporate nature of gospel ministry.

In "A Biblical Theology of Missions", George Peters makes the case from 2 Corinthians 8 and Philippians 2, and even as the priesthood of the believer as a fundamental truth of Scripture is to be maintained, there is no *authoritative" autonomy of the individual believer in the ministry of the gospel. Or, drawing upon an analogy from the legendary history of the Lone Star State, the Bible knows of no lone ranger cowboys in the work of the gospel.

So Peters:

"We must be careful...not to..put the congregation as an organization between Christ and the individual believer in such a manner that it destroys the precious doctrine of the personal relationship and individual priesthood of the believer. The Christ-church-individual relationship is not a salvation relationship, as indicated before; it is an authority relationship and refers to service rather than salvation. But neither must the individual priesthood of the believer be elevated above the church as the mystic body of Christ or local congregation of believers. One danger is as perilous as the other.

"We have reached here another one of the New Testament’s seeming paradoxes where only the spiritual mind can deliver us from contradictions and frustrations. The local assembly and the individual believer belong organically together, and they must function harmoniously if the full biblical truth is to be manifested. While there is governmental autonomy of the local church, there is no such governmental autonomy of the individual believer. Neither is there governmental autonomy of the individual missionary when it relates to his service.

"The missionary is always a sent one and remains under authority of the church or church-delegated agency. He is always only a representative of authority, never an authority in himself. The authority of Christ seems to be delegated and transferred to the local congregation of believers. No one lives unto himself nor is anyone a law or authority unto himself.

"Thus, while the call of Christ comes directly to the individual and there is a sending forth by Christ Himself, a spiritual church will also sense the call either directly or indirectly. And, a humble and spiritually minded individual will gladly submit to the authoritive commissioning by the local assembly as the representative body of Christ and sustain a responsible relationship to the sending authority." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, pp. 222-223

Monday, August 25, 2014

Vos: The cross and resurrection "would speak even if left to speak for themselves"

In his Inaugural Address at Princeton, Vos makes the case that Biblical Theology is an exegetical enterprise. It is inherently tied to the text of Scripture and arises from the text itself. He argues that Biblical Theology follows the progress of revelation, chronologically and organically, from Genesis to Revelation. 

Along the way, Vos makes one of those earth-shattering, astounding, observations regarding God's supernatural, salvific acts of redemption in history: the Exodus, the cross, and Christ's resurrection are self-revelatory; better yet, self-interpreting.

"The first feature characteristic of supernatural revelation is its *historical progress*. God has not communicated to us the knowledge of the truth as it appears in the calm light of eternity to His own timeless vision. He has not given it in the form of abstract propositions logically correlated and systematized. The simple fact that it is the task of Systematic Theology to reproduce revealed truth in such form, shows that it does not possess this form from the beginning.

"The self-revelation of God is a work covering ages, proceeding in a sequence of revealing words and acts, appearing in a long perspective of time....Revelation is not an isolated act of God, existing without connection with all the other divine acts of supernatural character. It constitutes a part of that great process of the new creation through which the present universe as an organic whole shall be redeemed from the consequences of sin and restored to its ideal state, which it had originally in the intention of God.
"Now, this new creation, in the objective, universal sense, is not something completed by a single act all at once, but is a history with its own law of organic development..the disclosure of truth in general follows the course of the history of redemption.
"We now must add that in not a few cases revelation is identified with history. Besides making use of words, God has also employed acts to reveal great principles of truth. It is not so much the prophetic visions or miracles in the narrower sense that we think of in this connection. We refer more specially to those great, supernatural, history-making acts of which we have examples in the redemption of the covenant-people from Egypt, or in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
"In these cases the history itself forms a part of revelation. There is a self-disclosure of God in such acts. They would speak even if left to speak for themselves. Forming part of history, these revealing acts necessarily assume historical relations among themselves, and succeed one another according to a well-defined principle of historical sequence.
"Furthermore, we observe that this system of revelation-acts is not interpolated into the larger system of biblical history after a fanciful and mechanical fashion. The relation between the two systems is vital and organic. These miraculous interferences of God to which we ascribe a revealing character, furnish the great joints and ligaments by which the whole framework of sacred history is held together, and its entire structure determined.
"God's saving deeds mark the critical epochs of history, and as such, have continued to shape its course for centuries after their occurrence."

Having made the argument that God's great acts of redemption are themselves revelation and belong to the work of the Bible expositor, Vos then summarizes his definition of Biblical Theology, a discipline, he argues that belongs to the realm of exegesis:

"Biblical that part of Exegetical Theology which deals with the revelation of God in its historic continuity...Biblical Theology, rightly defined, is nothing else than the exhibition of the organic progress of supernatural revelation in its historic continuity and multiformity." - Geerhardus Vos, "The Idea of Biblical Theology as a Science and as a Theological Discipline"; Vos's Inaugural Address as Professor of Biblical Theology in Princeton Theological Seminary, delivered May 8, 1894 (

The great salvation acts of God in history, especially those of the Christ Event (Christ's incarnation, life, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension/exaltation), are interconnected with everything else in his supernatural revelation we call the Bible. No text in the Bible is isolated or arbitrary. No text exists for its own sake, but for the ongoing progression of the one story of the Bible, that of the Person and work of Jesus.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Peters: "The church and the individual missionary become bound"

Continuing to make my way through Peters' "A Biblical Theology of Mission", I'm struck by the (exegetical) strength of his argument for what he says is "the centrality of the church" in missions. Most poignant are his comments regarding the laying on of hands.

Laying on of hands in the Old Testament had a variety of applications. But almost all of the applications involved any one of three things: transference (usually of guilt - see the Day of Atonement goat - or authority - see Moses and Joshua), blessing, and sacrifice (including setting aside). When we get to the New Testament, all three of these concepts are bound up together in the laying on of hands.

This biblical theology of the laying on of hands sits behind George Peters' comments regarding the laying on of hands and the missionary:

"The biblical rite of laying on of hands is a symbol of deep spiritual and soteriological significance. In relation to ordination, it is an event of serious consequence to the church as well as to the recipient. In this relationship the ordinance points at least in two directions. On the one hand, it speaks of the priority and authority of the church as the mediating sending agency of God. It presents the church as the responsible missionary body assuming her position and place in missions under the authority of Christ.

On the other hand, the rite speaks of authentication, identification, and the creation of a representative by delegation. By this rite the church is publicly authenticating the call of God; she is constituting a rightful and responsible representative, and she is declaring her identification with the representative in his call and ministry. In the person of the ordained individual, the church by substitution goes forth into the ministry.

By the laying on of hands, the church and the individual missionary become bound in a bond of common purpose and mutual responsibility. It is thus not only a privilege and service; it is also the exercise of an authority and the acceptance of a tremendous responsibility. The identification of the church with the sent-forth representative is inclusive doctrinally, spiritually, physically and materially. It is the constituting of a rightful representative who will be able and who is responsible to function as a representative of the church."

The church, therefore, by the laying on of hands, declares herself ready to stand by and make such representation possible. This should include the prayers and the finances required for such a representative ministry."

Peters recognized the implications of what he was saying:

"It is my solid conviction that the proper exercise of this biblical principle by the churches would do more to boost the morale of our missionaries and the flow of missionary candidates than many other factors combined. Should our young people realize that not only does “my church go with me, but my church goes in my person, stands with me, prays with me, sacrifices with me, and underwrites my support,” the challenge would become inescapable. Here is the church’s real opportunity, responsibility and challenge to herself and to the young people. Laying on of hands is not a favor we extend, but a divine authority we exercise and a responsibility we assume. A church should think soberly before it performs the act." - George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, pp. 221-222

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Vos: "The life above possesses for the believer the highest kind of actuality."

“Man belongs to two spheres. And Scripture not only teaches that these two spheres are distinct, it also teaches what estimate of relative importance ought to be placed upon them. Heaven is the primordial, earth the second­ary creation.

In heaven are the supreme realities; what surrounds us here below is a copy and shadow of the celestial things. Because the relation between the two spheres is positive, and not negative, not mutually repul­sive, heavenly-mindedness can never give rise to neglect of the duties pertaining to the present life. It is the ordinance and will of God, that not apart from, but on the basis of, and in contact with, the earthly sphere man shall work out his heavenly destiny.

Still the lower may never supplant the higher in our affections. In the heart of man time calls for eternity, earth for heaven. He must, if normal, seek the things above, as the flower’s face is attracted by the sun, and the water-courses are drawn to the ocean.

Heavenly-mindedness, so far from blunting or killing the natural desires, produces in the believer a finer organization, with more delicate sensibilities, larger capacities, a stronger pulse of life. It does not spell impoverishment, but enrichment of nature.

The spirit of the entire epistle (of Hebrews) shows this. The use of the words ‘city’ and ‘country’ is evidence of it. These are terms that stand for the accu­mulation, the efflorescence, the intensive enjoyment of values.

Nor should we overlook the social note in the representation. A perfect communion in a perfect society is promised. In the city of the living God believ­ers are joined to the general assembly and church of the first-born, and mingle with the spirits of just men made perfect.

And all this faith recognizes. It does not first need the storms and stress that invade to quicken its desire for such things. Being the sum and substance of all the positive gifts of God to us in their highest form, heaven is of itself able to evoke in our hearts positive love, such absorbing love as can render us at times forgetful of the earthly strife. In such moments the tran­scendent beauty of the other shore and the irresistible current of our deepest life lift us above every regard of wind or wave. We know that through weather fair or foul our ship is bound straight for its eternal port.

Next to the positiveness of its object the high degree of actuality in the working of this grace should be considered. Through the faith of heavenly-mindedness the things above reveal themselves to the believer, are present with him, and communicate themselves to him.

Though as yet a pilgrim, the Christian is never wholly separated from the land of promise. His tents are pitched in close view of the city of God. Heaven is present to the believer’s experience in no less real a sense than Canaan with its fair hills and valleys lay close to the vision of Abraham. He walks in the light of the heav­enly world and is made acquainted with the kindred spirits inhabiting it.

And since the word ‘actual’ in its literal sense means ‘that which works’, the life above possesses for the believer the highest kind of actuality. He is given to taste the powers of the world to come, as Abraham breathed the air of Canaan, and was refreshed by the dews descending on its fields. The roots of the Christian’s life are fed from those rich and perennial springs that lie deep in the recesses of converse (engagement; crb) with God, where prayers ascend and divine graces descend, so that after each season of tryst he issues, a new man, from the secrecy of his tent.” – Geerhardus VosGrace and Glory, pp. 112, 113.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The problem of "cheap law"

I once had a Christian leader tell me that the biggest issue in our churches today is a failure to preach obedience. Our churches, he told me, are full of people who are not living as if they are Christians. So they need for us to dogmatically and emphatically preach ethics and morality. And that was his response to my suggestion that our churches and pulpits need more gospel.

So the millenia-old debate continues. Here are some extended quotes from an excellent post on law vs. gospel by Tullian Tchividjian over at the Gospel Coalition's blog:

"Lawlessness and moral laxity happen, not when we hear too much grace, but when we hear too little of it."

"We’re being both theologically AND existentially simplistic and naive when we assume that simply telling people what they need to do has the power to make them want to do it. Telling people they need to change can’t change them; exhorting people to obey (which we should definitely do) doesn’t generate obedience. Even God’s command to love him with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength is not itself what causes actual love for him. What causes actual love for God is God’s love for us."

Quoting Jono Linebaugh: "'God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.'"

"Regardless of how well I think I’m doing in the sanctification project or how much progress I think I’ve made since I first became a Christian, like Paul in Romans 7, when God’s perfect law becomes the standard and not 'how much I’ve improved over the years', I realize that I’m a lot worse than I realize. Whatever I think my greatest vice is, God’s law shows me that my situation is much graver: if I think it’s anger, the law shows me that it’s actually murder; if I think it’s lust, the law shows me that it’s actually adultery; if I think it’s impatience, the law shows me that it’s actually idolatry (read Matthew 5:17-48). No matter how decent I think I’m becoming–how much better I think I’m getting–when I’m graciously confronted by God’s law, I can’t help but cry out, 'Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24).'"

"Grace, for many Christians, is the reduction of God’s expectations of us. Because of grace, we think, we just need to try hard. Grace becomes this law-cheapening agent, attempting to make the law easier to follow. 'Love the Lord with all your heart' becomes 'try to love God more than sports.' 'Be perfect' gets cheapened into 'do your best.'"

"It’s a low view of the law that produces legalism, since a low view of the law causes us to conclude we can do it—the bar is low enough for us to jump over. A low view of the law makes us think the standards are attainable, the goals reachable, the demands doable. This means, contrary to what some Christians would have you believe, the biggest problem facing the church today is not 'cheap grace' but 'cheap law'—the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus."

The power of life transformation is not in the law. The only real help we can provide anyone who is beaten down and beset by sin is in the gospel. The only real help we can provide ourselves and our sheep day in and day out is in Christ and His Good News. We can't. He did. He does. He will. That's our hope. That's true help for moral ineptitude in the church.

Read the whole thing here: Acknowledging Failure IS A Virtue

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jesus is An Army of One

The LORD’s single-handed incarnational judgment and salvation

Exodus 14:
“The LORD will fight for you.”

“I will receive glory by means of Pharaoh”
“The Egyptians will know that I am Yahweh”
“I will receive glory through Pharaoh”

The Angel of God moved and went behind Israel, coming between the Egyptian and Israelite forces
The LORD drove the sea back
The LORD looked down on the Egyptian forces from the pillar of fire and cloud
The LORD threw them into confusion
The LORD caused their chariot wheels to swerve
The LORD made them drive with difficulty.

“Yahweh is fighting for Israel against Egypt!”

The LORD threw the Egyptians into the sea
The LORD saved Israel from the power of the Egyptians
The LORD used great power against the Egyptians

Jude 5:
Jesus first saved a people out of Egypt.

Jesus is An Army of One.
Jesus not only fought the Egyptians single-handedly on the night of the Passover and delivered his people from slavery in Egypt (as The Angel of God, the second person of the Godhead Pre-Incarnate), he finished and completed the deliverance of His people in the cross and resurrection. Against the serpent. Against the forces of evil. Against sin. Against death. Jesus was and is An Army of One.

It's true. The God of angel armies is always by my side (thank you Chris Tomlin). It's also very true that Emmanuel *is* an Angel Army always by my side. We are an Exodus people, delivered from Egypt and headed to Canaan via the single-handed work of our Savior, Deliverer, Warrior. This is the gospel of Exodus 14.

Jesus was, has been, still is, and ever will be an Army of One.

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Bible is a missionary book

Cross-cultural church planting necessitates getting the Word right. This means church-planting missionaries must have the kind of Word skills necessary for populating hard-to-get-to places with kingdom people. Missiology must be married to theology so that the worker being ekballoed (Greek word for propelled, Matthew 9:38) into Christ’s harvest is fully equipped to do the work of church planting.

This marriage of mission and theology is based on the pattern established in the Scriptures. The Bible itself is a missionary book. “The Bible is not a book about theology as such, but rather, a record of theology in mission—God in action in behalf of the salvation of mankind.”[1] (George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 9). Thus, the community brought to life by the Spirit through the missionary Scriptures has “mission” in its DNA. Ambassadors who represent their King are brought together in community in order to reproduce themselves through proclamation. Because the Bible and its people are inherently tied to the mission of God in the world, “the church is in a missionary situation everywhere.”[2] (Lesslie Newbigin, The Theology of the Christian Mission, p. xi)

The Scriptures themselves were inspired “in mission”. George Peters, in A Biblical Theology of Missions, points out that the Bible and the theology embedded in it flow out of missionary endeavor:

“The missionary theology of the New Testament (outside of the gospels) is not difficult to establish. We need only remind ourselves of the fact that the book of Acts is the authentic missionary record of the apostles and the early church and that all epistles were written to churches established through missionary endeavors. Were Christianity not a missionary religion and had the apostles not been missionaries, we would have no book of Acts and no epistles. With the exception of Matthew, even the gospels were written to missionary churches. The New Testament is a missionary book in address, content, spirit and design. This is a simple fact but it also is a fact of reality and profound significance. The New Testament is theology in motion more than it is theology in reason and concept. It is ‘missionary theology.’

“To establish the theology of missions in the New Testament one simply accepts the New Testament for what it is. No reader can remain untouched by its missionary thrust and design. There is perhaps little theology of missions as such in the New Testament because it is in its totality a missionary theology, the theology of a group of missionaries and a theology in missionary movement. Thus it does not present a theology of missions; it is a missionary theology.”[3] (George Peters, A Biblical Theology of Missions, p. 131)

Because the Bible is missionary, exposition of the Word is at the heart of church planting. Exposition gets at “what the Word is saying” as the foundation for properly understanding the text and its gospel message. Expository teaching and preaching is “in mission” because its context is the proclamation of the Word by the gathered community “in mission”. The apostle Paul believed exposition and its resulting theology (“knowledge of the truth”) was indispensable to church planting in mission (Colossians 1:10, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Timothy 2:25). Without a proper understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish, church planting is impossible.

(from Exposition in Mission, Ekballo magazine, September 2013, p. 20-22)

[1] Peters, G. (1972). A biblical theology of missions. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 9
[2] Newbigin, L. (1961). The Theology of the Christian Mission. (G. Anderson, Ed.) Nashville, TN: Abingdon. p. xi
[3] Peters, G. (1972). A biblical theology of missions. Chicago: Moody Press. p. 131