I recently finished reading The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Zondervan) by two pastors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. It was quite interesting. I recommend it to you for your consideration although at certain points, which I will not go into here, I have some disagreements. But the good thing about the book is its desire to have theological thinking done by pastors in our churches. In fact, the divide between the Academy (the Seminaries) and the Church is a concern they are trying to address. There is a ditch on each side of the road. I have seen men who can parse every Greek and Hebrew verb but don’t seem to have any great desire to walk across the street and tell somebody about Jesus. On the other hand, I have had lunch with pastors who, after we have gone through the Roman’s Road, have nothing to talk about. Academic minutiae on one side. Shallowness on the other. God spare us from both. At Baptist Bible Seminary where I serve we have tried to bring balance to our training of pastors. Even our seminary journal is named The Journal of Ministry and Theology for a reason. We are a resource for the Church. The book I mentioned at the start of this blog is one attempt to bring balance from one side of the ledger.
Archive for category New Covenant
Yesterday (Christmas Eve 2012), I spent most of the day using Google Maps and Google Earth to find all of the places that my parents and I have lived. The project is still ongoing. However, I made a lot of progress and learned how better to use the tools that Google gives in this area. I also looked for the special house of my grandparents Hillis and Cora Stallard (both in heaven now). They lived in the mountains in southwestern Virginia northwest of Bristol. I followed Google street level along highway 652 through the mountains back and forth for almost two hours and finally found their home. See the picture of it here:
My grandparents ran a small two-room grocery store which was located on this side of that first building which is a car gargage. The store is no longer there. Their house is up on the hill in the background. I have a lot of good memories of that house. But I have more good memories of my grandparents. They are in heaven today because they had embraced Jesus, the one whom God had sent into the world (His Son) to die for our sins. I will hug their necks again after the resurrection to come.
I have been silent for about a month on my blog site. The reason is not a lack of things to talk about. My blog has been in the process of moving to a new host server. I should be back in the swing of things shortly.
Today I started teaching a module, a Masters level course, at Baptist Bible Seminary on covenant theology. Since I am a traditional dispensationalist, the analysis and critique will certainly be from outside the system of covenant theology. All of the required books in the course are by covenant theologians. I figured my students may not have read the covenant guys on their terms. I am having them read Michael Horton’s book Introducing Covenant Theology, G. I. Williamson’s book The Westminster Confession of Faith for Study Classes, a few sections in Berkhof’s Systematic Theology and some in Calvin’s Institutes. Of course, all of my personal notes and lectures are from the dispensational side of the debate.
On the opening day, I started by sharing the areas of agreement between the two camps and by trying to get my students to look fairly at the issues and, most of all, to look in detail in the Word of God itself and not just the theology books. Those of us in systematics sometimes spend too much time reading outside the Bible instead of the Bible itself. Hopefully, when the module is over, my students will have a biblical understanding that allows them to critique covenant theology fairly and accurately. Of course, I hope all my students come out of my class dispensationalists.
I have been mulling over the various viewpoints of the new covenant within dispensationalism since the discussion of that topic at last September’s Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics. In a previous post, I had suggested three viewpoints. I left out the viewpoint of two new covenants (one for Israel and a separate one for the Church) since no one at the Council voiced that opinion. However, if I were to include that view within the various options, I came up with this outline as one of many possible outlines for discussing the options:
Dispensational Views on the Interpretation of the New Covenant
1. The Church has no relationship to Israel’s new covenant
(1a) Only one new covenant for Israel which is to be ratified and begin fulfillment at the start of the millennium
(1b) Two new covenants — the Church has its own covenant without having a relationship to Israel’s covenant.
2. The Church has a relationship to Israel’s new covenant
(2a) Indirect — not as legal participants but receiving blessings due to union with Christ
(2b) Direct — as legal participants in the new covenant promised to Israel as God expands his promise
I would not mind some feedback on this outline. Also, I would like to know if there are any dispensational scholars who hold to two new covenants.
One of the areas which traditional dispensationalists debate the most is the relationship of the Church to the New Covenant predicted in Jeremiah 31:31-34. As a result, we recently convened the Council on Dispensational Hermeneutics at Baptist Bible Seminary in order to discuss the interpretation of the New Covenant among traditional dispensationalists. Over 120 guests attended for the presentation of several papers with much discussion after each presentation.
No paper represented the two New Covenants view. To my knowledge no one in the audience defended this view at any time. However, as I listened to the discussions, I could see why someone would opt for that view to try to resolve some of the issues. Among the positions discussed, I would say that there were three major views:
- There is one New Covenant in the Bible and the Church has no relationship to it whatsoever.
- There is one New Covenant in the Bible and the Church is related to it indirectly through its relationship with Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant.
- There is one New Covenant in the Bible and the Church is related to it directly by application in New Testament passages.
I myself have tended to lean toward # 2 in my own understanding. As I listened to the presentations and discussions, another thought that did occur to me was this – the views may be closer together than one might think. Some of those who held to # 1 also supported the idea that the Church enjoys blessings now that are analogous to the New Covenant blessings that Israel will one day receive in the coming kingdom. Practically speaking, this view ends up at the same place as the others in terms of the Church’s experience. I could say the same thing about the relationship of views # 2 and # 3. In the end, the views are not arguing about the nature of the Church’s present experiences. They are debating the best way to label the Church’s current experiences and how such experiences are related to Israel’s New Covenant. All traditional dispensationalists want to be precise in their understanding of the Bible’s teaching.
Perhaps the single most intriguing issue that came up for me was during Roy Beacham’s presentation entitled “The New Covenant of Scripture in ANE Covenant Context: A Preliminary Presentation.” The issue was how to take passages like Ezekiel 20:34-44. In verse 37, the text says “And I shall make you pass under the rod, and I shall bring you in the bond of the covenant.” On the basis of ANE studies, this is language for the cutting or ratifying of a covenant. This is not the hard part. The hard part is the context which seems to be set at the time of the tribulation and then entering into the kingdom. In short, it is possible to see this passage (there are others later in Ezekiel) as indicating the making of the covenant in our future – i.e., it is yet to come. If this is the New Covenant as Beacham argues contextually within Ezekiel (recall Eze. 36), then how can the Church have a relationship to something that is not in existence yet. It has been predicted; that is all. In this view, it has not been cut, ratified, or even inaugurated. This was an interesting presentation which was contrary to my own position. I have never seriously incorporated the earlier Ezekiel passages into my theological assessment on this issue. Thus, I am indebted to Beacham for making me think and be more comprehensive relative to the passages in question. I don’t know if I’ll come to agree with him on this issue, but I think I am better for having listened to his ideas.
Some might think that the disagreements among traditional dispensationalists on this issue demonstrate a weakness to their overall viewpoint. However, I would hazard an educated guess that even among nondispensationalists, there is quite an array of viewpoints in how the details are put together.