Covenant and God’s Purpose for the World – Thomas Schreiner (2017)

covenantThomas R. Schreiner, Covenant and God’s Purpose For the World, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2017, 136 pp. $9.97

Biblical theology is the discipline that reveals the storyline of Scripture. It looks at the big picture, which begins at creation and culminates with the new earth, where God makes all things new. “The purpose of biblical theology,” according to James Hamilton “is to sharpen our understanding of the theology contained in the Bible itself through an inductive, salvation-historical examination of the Bible’s themes and the relationships between those themes in their canonical context and literary form.”1

Thomas Schreiner makes a significant contribution to the field of biblical theology with his latest work, Covenant and God’s Purposes For the World. This volume, which is part of Crossway’s Short Studies in Biblical Theology Series is not as extensive as Hamilton’s work noted above or Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum’s, excellent volume, Kingdom Through Covenant. But the brevity of Schreiner’s short book is a real strength, as we shall see.

Dr. Schreiner’s book unpacks the various covenants that unfold in Redemptive history including the covenant with creation, Noah, Abraham, Israel, David, and the new covenant. “The covenants,” writes Schreiner, “help us, then, to see the harmony and unity of the biblical message.” Ultimately, the author achieves this goal as he alerts readers to the apex of God’s saving work: “The promises of Abraham are fulfilled in the new covenant that Jesus brings, for he is the true offspring of Abraham, and all those who belong to him are the children of Abraham. The land promise is fulfilled in an inaugural way in his resurrection and then in a consummate way in the new creation.”

Covenant and God’s Purposes For the World demolishes the “cookie cutter” approach to hermeneutics that Dispensationalism offers. In its place, is a clear portrait of God’s redemptive plans for his people – a plan that promises “a new world of peace and righteousness is coming in which God the Lamb will reign … The promise that David won’t lack a man on the throne is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He reigns now from heaven at God’s right hand as the son of David, as and Lord and Christ.”

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

  1. James Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 47.
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The Eclipse of the Gospel and the School of Hard Knox

A Powerful Man

I stood in the shadow of St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Scotland. Clouds gathered overhead and people walked curiously through the front doors. Here, the famous reformer, John Knox faithfully tended the flock until his death in 1572.

Once inside this massive cathedral, I was transfixed by the sheer beauty of this place. I was overwhelmed by the architecture – the awe-inspiring flying buttresses that point worshippers to the transcendence of God. A single elevated pulpit is located in the center of the sanctuary. It stands strategically above the worshippers, which symbolically places God’s Word above sinful creatures.

John Knox brought reform to Scotland and re-energized a nation that had all but forgotten God. Knox helped awaken a nation that neglected God’s truth which led to a virtual eclipse of the gospel. Martyn Lloyd-Jones describes Knox as a man who preached “with the fire of God in his bones and in his belly!  He preached as they all preached, with fire and power, alarming sermons, convicting sermons, humbling sermons, converting sermons, and the face of Scotland was changed …” Simply put, the faithful preaching of Knox brought much needed reform to the Scottish landscape and renewed evangelical fervor to the church.

John Knox courageously raised the banner of the gospel and defended the truths of the Protestant Reformation. He was unashamed of the gospel (Rom. 1:16) and fearlessly proclaimed the Word of God. He stood boldly and with Peter and the apostles, obeyed God rather then men (Acts 5:29). Indeed, Knox is a true exemplar of faithfulness in the face of adversity.

A Personal Lesson

As I made my way out of St. Giles, my mind was filled with stories surrounding the life and ministry of John Knox. As I turned to gaze again at the rising fortress where Knox served the Lord, a thought occurred to me. It was not a new thought. Rather, it was a lesson that has moved me for many years now but in this moment, the lesson was magnified as I scanned the edifice of St. Giles. The lesson is this: church history matters.

It seems like such a simple lesson. But it is a lesson that many contemporary Christians are unfamiliar with. Even as a young Bible College student, I failed to understand the importance of church history. The buildings seemed so old and the names were so hard to pronounce. It is a sentiment that is not unique to me. I hear it all the time. I hear the cruel remarks about John Calvin and the caricatures that biased people have cooked up about Jonathan Edwards. But when we move past all the petty talk and face reality, we realize that church history truly does matter.

A Pivotal Mindset

First, Church history matters because when we forget the past, we fail to learn valuable lessons that impact our lives. George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So Christians who minimize the importance of church history are vulnerable to the theological error that plagued the church in the past. Additionally, they repeat the sins committed by our forefathers.

For example, Arius committed a fatal theological error by teaching that Christ was the first created being. This theological controversy which erupted in 318 A.D. led to a series of erroneous Arian propositions:

  1. The Son was created by the Father.
  2. The Son owed his existence to the will of the Father.
  3. The Son was not eternal, that is, there was a time when he was not.

Such teaching stood diametrically opposed to Scripture and was outside the bounds of orthodoxy. In the end, Arius rejected the full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Second, Church history matters because it strengthens our faith. Scripture instructs, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7, ESV) The term remember is a present imperative verb that means, “keep thinking about,” or “call to mind.”

Remembering godly leaders in church history is not optional; it is a command in sacred Scripture. The author of Hebrews does not limit the scope of these “leaders” to men like Moses, Abraham, Paul or Peter. He instructs us to remember leaders “who spoke to you the word of God.” So remembering leaders like Augustine, Calvin, Edwards, Luther, and Spurgeon is an important part of the Christian pilgrimage. We do well to follow in their paths by boldly proclaiming the truth and living faithfully before the Lord, even when our detractors heap insults on us for faithfully remembering these heroes of the faith.

Third, Church history matters because God ordained specific events that lead to the worldwide spread of his glory. Church history truly is “his story.” Whenever we discount history, we subtly stand in judgment over God and claim to know a better way. Whenever we disparage church history and subtly place ourselves in a position that was never ours to enjoy. Indeed, “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3, ESV).

The School of Hard Knox

John Knox was a faithful man who led a gospel-centered life, according to the grace that was given him by his Savior. His relentless preaching helped drive away the darkness and restore the light of the gospel to his land. Almost five hundred years later, St. Giles still stands but the truth has fallen on hard times. Once again, the gospel is being eclipsed by man-made philosophy and foolishness.

As Christ-followers, we must learn well the lessons that church history teaches us. When we forget the past we falter in our faith and fail to exalt the sovereign purposes of our Savior. When we forget the past, we become comfortable stumbling around in the dark and begin to glory in our ignorance.

Let us become educated in the School of Hard Knox. And may the gospel shine brightly again. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14, ESV). And may we recover our love of truth and our passion for the gospel.

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: The Line of Despair – Part 3

francis_schaeffer-1

The Loss of Antithesis

The loss of antithesis in American culture led to what Dr. Schaeffer coined the “line of despair” or giving up all hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.  Schaeffer outlines what he believes are the various steps below this line of despair.  He begins with the German philosopher, Georg William Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) who became the first man to open the door into the line of despair.  Hegel taught  what we really have is a thesis, and an opposite antithesis, with the answer of their relationship not a horizontal movement of cause and effect, but a synthesis, or dialectical thinking.  In the end result, Hegel’s philosophy produced a synthesis as opposed to antithesis which could be arrived at by reason.

Schaeffer believes that while Hegel opened the door to the line of despair the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard was the first one to go below the line.    Kierkegaard concluded that one could not arrive at synthesis by reason alone.  Rather, one achieves everything of real importance by taking a “leap of faith.”  Schaeffer, therefore, maintains that Kierkegaard’s conclusions gradually led to the absolute separation of the rational and logical from faith.

The Leap of Faith and the Line of Despair

What is this leap and what does it involve?  Schaeffer teaches that Kierkegaard’s leap put away the hope of any unity.  Schaeffer writes, “The leap is common to every sphere of modern man’s thought.  Man is forced to the despair of such a leap because he cannot live merely as a machine . . . If below the line man is dead, above the line, after the non-rational leap, man is left without categories.  There are no categories because categories are related to rationality and logic.  There is therefore no truth and no nontruth in antithesis, no right or wrong – you are adrift.” (Escape From Reason, 241, 256).

Schaeffer continues to chronicle the subsequent philosophers who followed Kierkegaard’s thought including the atheistic existentialism of Karl Jaspers, Jean Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger.  These men reasoned below the line of despair and gave up hope of a rational answer to the questions of life.  The end result: they are left with only the anti-rational.

Schaeffer proceeds to explain what he considers the further steps under the line of despair.  The first as noted above began with philosophy.  The second step was art.  The third – music.  The fourth – culture, and the fifth step was the new theology which was opened by Karl Barth.  While most refer to this brand of theology as “liberal” or “neo-orthodox,” and rightly so, the issue at hand runs deeper than labels.  Indeed, liberal theology rejects the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture and the New Testament miracles.  The new theology knows nothing of man being created in the image of God.  But Schaeffer adds further clarity to the issue:  “All the new theology and mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of contentful communication.  You can bear ‘witness’ to it, but you cannot discuss it.  Rationality and faith are out of contact with each other” (The God Who Is There, 64).

Man, therefore, is left in a state of despair which “arises from the abandonment of the hope of a unified answer for knowledge and life.  Modern man continues to hang on to his rationalism and his autonomous revolt even though to do so he has had to abandon any rational hope of a unified answer” (Escape From Reason, 235-236).

The Consequences of Despair

The consequences and despair of modern man can be found in three areas.  alling prey to nihilism or embracing a worldview that offers no hope.

The second is  found in the fact that he accepts a false dichotomy (what Schaeffer calls an “absolute dichotomy”) between nature and grace.  However, the modern scheme is presently a dichotomy between contentless faith (no rationality) and rationality (no meaning).  “All the new theology and mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of contentful communication.  Rationality and faith are out of contact with each other” (The God Who Is There, 64).

Third, since there is no integration point between rationality and faith man engages in acts of desperation in order to find meaning, namely, he accepts a mysticism which gives an illusion of unity to the whole.  Hence we understand why the influx of eastern religion such as Hinduism, i.e. the New Age Movement has gained such a popular foothold in America today.  If there is no hope of a unified field of knowledge one must cling to a mystical world-view that has no rational base but promises hope for the present and the future.

Schaeffer enhances his discussion by contrasting the Christian faith with modern man’s faith which has turned inward.  In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed.  So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time.  This makes the Christian faith open to discussion and verification (The God Who Is There, 65).

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: The Turning Point in Truth – Part 2

The Truth Crisis

Francis Schaeffer sets the tone for his apologetical procedure by explaining the crisis of truth in America:  “We are fundamentally affected by a new way of looking at truth.  This change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem facing America today” (The God Who Is There, 6).  He believes a paradigm shift occurred around 1935 when the American attitude toward truth changed.  Prior to this time, American’s were devoted to thinking about presuppositions, namely, the existence of absolutes, particularly in the areas of morals (ethics) and knowledge (epistemology).  But the average American took it for granted that if a certain idea was true, it’s opposite was false.  In other words, “absolutes imply antithesis.”  The working antithesis is that God exists objectively (in antithesis) to his not existing.

Schaeffer believes that presuppositional apologetics would have stopped the decay.  Incidentally, he maintains that the use of classical apologetics was effective prior to the shift because non-Christians were functioning on the surface with the same presuppositions, even though they did not have an adequate base for them.

The Role of Thomas Aquinas

Dr. Schaeffer maintains that Aquinas opened the way for the discussion of what is usually called the “nature and grace” controversy (Escape From Reason, 209). He contends that Aquinas set up a dichotomy of grace versus nature.

Aquinas taught that the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not.  The net result, according to Schaeffer, is that man’s intellect is seen as autonomous.  Schaeffer maintains that the teaching of Aquinas led to the development of the so-called Natural Theology where theology could be pursued independent of the Scriptures.  The vital principle to understand according to Schaeffer is that “as nature was made autonomous, nature began to ‘eat up’ grace” (Escape From Reason, 212).

Anthropology

Schaeffer militates against this so-called  “grace/nature” dichotomy and insists that Christ is equally Lord in both areas.  He suggests that God made the whole man and is consequently interested in the whole man.  When the historic space-time Fall took place, it affected the whole man, not merely the will as Aquinas taught.  Thus, Schaeffer taught that the whole man is saved and the whole man will eventually be glorified and perfectly redeemed.

Since God made man in His own image, man is not caught in the wheels of determinism:  “The Christian position is that since man is made in the image of God and even though he is a sinner, he can do those things that are tremendous – he can influence history for this life and the life to come, for himself and others” (Death In The City, 258).

Schaeffer argues that Evangelicals have such a strong tendency to combat humanism that they end up making man a “zero.”  He adds, “Man is indeed lost but that does not mean he is nothing . . . From the biblical viewpoint, man is lost, but great” (Death In The City, 258-259).  Therefore, Schaeffer’s anthropological position is that man is sinful, yet he is significant because he is made in the image of God.  And regenerate man is, as the Reformers emphasized, simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously righteous and sinful.

God the Son Incarnate – Stephen J. Wellum (2016)

god-the-sonStephen J. Wellum, God the Son Incarnate Wheaton: Crossway, 2016, 496 pp, $40.00

God the Son Incarnate by Stephen J. Wellum is the latest installment in the Foundations of Evangelical Theology Series. This outstanding series, edited by John Feinberg was first introduced with the publication of No One Like Him back in 2001.

The author notes that “Jesus himself understood and taught that both Scripture and God’s plan of salvation are Christocenric.” J.I. Packer adds, “Christology is the true hub round which the wheel of theology revolves, and to which its separate spokes must each be correctly anchored if the wheel is not to get bent.” Thus, the stakes could not be any higher as readers wrestle with the weight doctrines that concern the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The book contains four sections, each with a specific topic that relates to the overall matter of Christology:

Part 1: Epistemological Warrant For Christology Today

The first part should be considered the theological rebar of the book. The author explores Christology and its relationship to the Enlightenment. After sufficiently exhausting some of the major challenges to a biblical Christology, Dr. Wellum presents a biblical epistemology that will serve readers well for the remainder of the book.

Part 2: Biblical Warrant for Christology Today

The biblical plot line is presented (creation, fall, redemption, consummation) which gives readers a helpful overview and places Christology in its proper theological context. The concept of “kingdom through covenant” is discussed which ultimately leads to a rigorous discussion of Christology.

Once the biblical and theological parameters are in place, the author moves forward and discusses the self-identity of Jesus. From there, some of the crucial Christological data is ready to be revealed, including the deity and humanity of Christ and the incarnation.

Part 3: Ecclesiological Warrant for Christology Today

Part three includes some of the weighty matters that surround the discipline of Christology including the nature-person distinction and the Ante-Nicene Christological formulation.

Part 4: A Warranted Christology for Today

The final section discusses some of the more recent Christological controversies, most notably the problem of the so-called kenosis. Dr. Wellum fairly evaluates kenoticism, alerting readers to the many problems it contains.

Conclusion

Dr. Wellum nicely summarizes his work: “Ultimately, the thesis of this entire work is one theological conclusion with many parts. Based on the warrant and critique of the previous chapters, we must confess that the identity of the Jesus of the Bible is that he is God the Son incarnate.”

God the Son Incarnate is a much-needed work as the doctrinal winds continue to blow in every direction, which threaten the biblical and historical Christological. This work is a bulwark of certainty and a prompter of praise. My prayer is that it receives a wide readership, both in the church as well as the academy.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review.

Why Francis Schaefer Matters: The Line of Despair – Part 3

francis_schaeffer-1



The Loss of Antithesis

The loss of antithesis in American culture led to what Dr. Schaeffer coined the “line of despair” or giving up all hope of achieving a rational unified answer to knowledge and life.  Schaeffer outlines what he believes are the various steps below this line of despair.  He begins with the German philosopher, Georg William Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) who became the first man to open the door into the line of despair.  Hegel taught  what we really have is a thesis, and an opposite antithesis, with the answer of their relationship not a horizontal movement of cause and effect, but a synthesis, or dialectical thinking.  In the end result, Hegel’s philosophy produced a synthesis as opposed to antithesis which could be arrived at by reason.

Schaeffer believes that while Hegel opened the door to the line of despair the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard was the first one to go below the line.    Kierkegaard concluded that one could not arrive at synthesis by reason alone.  Rather, one achieves everything of real importance by taking a “leap of faith.”  Schaeffer, therefore, maintains that Kierkegaard’s conclusions gradually led to the absolute separation of the rational and logical from faith.

The Leap of Faith and the Line of Despair

What is this leap and what does it involve?  Schaeffer teaches that Kierkegaard’s leap put away the hope of any unity.  Schaeffer writes, “The leap is common to every sphere of modern man’s thought.  Man is forced to the despair of such a leap because he cannot live merely as a machine . . . If below the line man is dead, above the line, after the non-rational leap, man is left without categories.  There are no categories because categories are related to rationality and logic.  There is therefore no truth and no nontruth in antithesis, no right or wrong – you are adrift.” (Escape From Reason, 241, 256).

Schaeffer continues to chronicle the subsequent philosophers who followed Kierkegaard’s thought including the atheistic existentialism of Karl Jaspers, Jean Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger.  These men reasoned below the line of despair and gave up hope of a rational answer to the questions of life.  The end result: they are left with only the anti-rational.

Schaeffer proceeds to explain what he considers the further steps under the line of despair.  The first as noted above began with philosophy.  The second step was art.  The third – music.  The fourth – culture, and the fifth step was the new theology which was opened by Karl Barth.  While most refer to this brand of theology as “liberal” or “neo-orthodox,” and rightly so, the issue at hand runs deeper than labels.  Indeed, liberal theology rejects the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture and the New Testament miracles.  The new theology knows nothing of man being created in the image of God.  But Schaeffer adds further clarity to the issue:  “All the new theology and mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of contentful communication.  You can bear ‘witness’ to it, but you cannot discuss it.  Rationality and faith are out of contact with each other” (The God Who Is There, 64).

Man, therefore, is left in a state of despair which “arises from the abandonment of the hope of a unified answer for knowledge and life.  Modern man continues to hang on to his rationalism and his autonomous revolt even though to do so he has had to abandon any rational hope of a unified answer” (Escape From Reason, 235-236).

The Consequences of Despair

The consequences and despair of modern man can be found in three areas.  alling prey to nihilism or embracing a worldview that offers no hope.

The second is  found in the fact that he accepts a false dichotomy (what Schaeffer calls an “absolute dichotomy”) between nature and grace.  However, the modern scheme is presently a dichotomy between contentless faith (no rationality) and rationality (no meaning).  “All the new theology and mysticism is nothing more than a faith contrary to rationality, deprived of content and incapable of contentful communication.  Rationality and faith are out of contact with each other” (The God Who Is There, 64).

Third, since there is no integration point between rationality and faith man engages in acts of desperation in order to find meaning, namely, he accepts a mysticism which gives an illusion of unity to the whole.  Hence we understand why the influx of eastern religion such as Hinduism, i.e. the New Age Movement has gained such a popular foothold in America today.  If there is no hope of a unified field of knowledge one must cling to a mystical world-view that has no rational base but promises hope for the present and the future.

Schaeffer enhances his discussion by contrasting the Christian faith with modern man’s faith which has turned inward.  In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed.  So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history died upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time.  This makes the Christian faith open to discussion and verification (The God Who Is There, 65).

Why Francis Schaeffer Matters: The Turning Point in Truth – Part 2

The Truth Crisis

Francis Schaeffer sets the tone for his apologetical procedure by explaining the crisis of truth in America:  “We are fundamentally affected by a new way of looking at truth.  This change in the concept of the way we come to knowledge and truth is the most crucial problem facing America today” (The God Who Is There, 6).  He believes a paradigm shift occurred around 1935 when the American attitude toward truth changed.  Prior to this time, American’s were devoted to thinking about presuppositions, namely, the existence of absolutes, particularly in the areas of morals (ethics) and knowledge (epistemology).  But the average American took it for granted that if a certain idea was true, it’s opposite was false.  In other words, “absolutes imply antithesis.”  The working antithesis is that God exists objectively (in antithesis) to his not existing.

Schaeffer believes that presuppositional apologetics would have stopped the decay.  Incidentally, he maintains that the use of classical apologetics was effective prior to the shift because non-Christians were functioning on the surface with the same presuppositions, even though they did not have an adequate base for them.

The Role of Thomas Aquinas

Dr. Schaeffer maintains that Aquinas opened the way for the discussion of what is usually called the “nature and grace” controversy (Escape From Reason, 209). He contends that Aquinas set up a dichotomy of grace versus nature.

Aquinas taught that the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not.  The net result, according to Schaeffer, is that man’s intellect is seen as autonomous.  Schaeffer maintains that the teaching of Aquinas led to the development of the so-called Natural Theology where theology could be pursued independent of the Scriptures.  The vital principle to understand according to Schaeffer is that “as nature was made autonomous, nature began to ‘eat up’ grace” (Escape From Reason, 212).

Anthropology

Schaeffer militates against this so-called  “grace/nature” dichotomy and insists that Christ is equally Lord in both areas.  He suggests that God made the whole man and is consequently interested in the whole man.  When the historic space-time Fall took place, it affected the whole man, not merely the will as Aquinas taught.  Thus, Schaeffer taught that the whole man is saved and the whole man will eventually be glorified and perfectly redeemed.

Since God made man in His own image, man is not caught in the wheels of determinism:  “The Christian position is that since man is made in the image of God and even though he is a sinner, he can do those things that are tremendous – he can influence history for this life and the life to come, for himself and others” (Death In The City, 258).

Schaeffer argues that Evangelicals have such a strong tendency to combat humanism that they end up making man a “zero.”  He adds, “Man is indeed lost but that does not mean he is nothing . . . From the biblical viewpoint, man is lost, but great” (Death In The City, 258-259).  Therefore, Schaeffer’s anthropological position is that man is sinful, yet he is significant because he is made in the image of God.  And regenerate man is, as the Reformers emphasized, simul iustus et peccator – simultaneously righteous and sinful.