Wednesday, February 22, 2006

How Incurable God-Lovers Should Discuss Theology, Part 2 By Steve Lehrer

I must admit that it is frustrating to talk to someone who I am sure holds the wrong view about something. It is even more frustrating to talk to someone that I know is wrong when he thinks that he is right and is unwilling to listen. It is tempting to think that I know what I am talking about and the person I am discussing theology with is “ignorant”. But such thinking is sinful and wrong. Perhaps I have the knowledge and the intellect to run rings around someone. Perhaps I have the theological weight with which to squash him like a bug. Now, what do I owe this “ignorant” person with whom I am discussing theology? This is a theological question that should be answered before I ever begin to have a theological discussion.
If I am a believer (that is, if I am an incurable God-lover), then I have been saved by grace. I was so helplessly and hopelessly locked up in my own self-centered God-hating little world that I didn’t realize or didn’t care that the God of the universe was my enemy. My whole life was an offense to our perfect Creator. He sees and knows every sinful and shameful thing I have ever thought or done. He is always right in all of his judgments and action and, well, I’m not. If you were to call me an ignorant twit in comparison to God, it would be the highest compliment you could pay me and it would far overestimate my abilities and virtues. God is not only able to squash me like a bug, but I deserve to be squashed. I deserve to be in hell forever and ever because I have rebelled against God. But God, “who is rich in mercy,” decided not to squash me like a bug. While I was still insulting God and living as His enemy, God decided to give me mercy. He decided to satisfy His wrath, which He was storing up for me, on His innocent Son so that I might live for Him and enjoy Him forever. I received grace—the undeserved, unearned and inexhaustible love of God. As we stand basking in the love and mercy shown us through the cross of Christ, let me ask the question again: What do I owe someone with whom I am discussing theology? If the answer hasn’t leapt to your mind just yet, let’s consider some Scripture that might help us grasp just what we owe everyone with whom we interact:

1If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. 3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! 9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
(Philippians 2:1-11).

34A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:34-35).

29Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (Ephesians 4:29-32).

7Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves
has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God,
because God is love. 9This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us (1 John 4:7-12)

Listening to Understand: The First Step in Theological Discussion

It seems rather obvious, but since it is violated so often (as I write this I am cringing at the memory of my own sin in this area) it is worth making some remarks about. How can I put the needs of the person I am talking with above my own if I am not willing to actually listen,understand, and consider his point of view? How can I claim to love my brother and yet not be willing to let him fully explain himself? If I am actually going to seek to love the person with whom I am discussing theology, I need to understand his point of view thoroughly. I may disagree with every part of his theological position, but I need to understand his point of view so well that I am able to explain it to him in such a way that he can honestly say, “I couldn’t have represented my view better myself.” For those of us who are theological veterans, there is a danger in dismissing this point. There are few theological positions that we have not been exposed to and do not thoroughly understand. If someone tells me he does not believe in limited atonement, I can be fairly certain that I know all of the texts that the person will go to in order to prove his point of view and I am also pretty sure how he will attempt to explain away all those texts that seem to point in the other direction. Why should I bother listening to him explain a point of view I already understand perhaps better than he does? The reason I need to bother listening to him is because God has commanded me to love him self-sacrificially. Even if I have heard his theological position stated a thousand times before by other people, there is no excuse for me not to listen to him state his point of view with the patience and attention that I owe him (always keeping in mind how God is so patient and attentive to me).

But we can’t stop simply at listening in order to understand someone’s theological position. In order to truly love this person, I need to do more than simply understand his point of view academically. I need to understand how he understands his point of view. I need to draw out of him why he believes it and what he thinks the implications of his view are. If I am actually striving to love this person (which, as a Christian is my obligation to everyone, even to my enemies) then I desire to serve him in some way in our discussion about the things of God. This means that I need to get to know what makes him tick.

A person’s theology is not formed in an academic vacuum. Our lives actually inform our theology just as our theology informs our lives. For example, some time ago I had a discussion with a very bright man who is an able interpreter of Scripture about the biblical basis for the doctrine commonly called “the age of accountability,” wherein some believe that Scripture teaches that young children automatically go to heaven up to a certain age. They believe that when children reach an age when they have a clear understanding of right and wrong, only then does God holds children accountable for sin (their own sin and the imputed sin of Adam). We examined several passages of Scripture and I was shocked at what I believed were flimsy and irrational arguments. It made little sense to me how such a bright and knowledgeable person could hold what was a theological position seemingly without biblical warrant. Then we began to chat about his family and he told me about how his wife had one miscarriage and his first child died soon after birth. Suddenly I understood that his theological conviction was most likely not grounded in Scripture but in a traumatic experience. I was then able to point him away from the “age of accountability” and toward the hope that Scripture gives us in the midst of such a tragedy like losing a child. The point is simply this: theological discussion is not only about the text but about the person as well. It is not only about winning a point but also about showing love and concern for one of God’s servants. It is about listening to understand the point of view and the person.

Steve Lehrer is the director of biblical counseling at In-Depth Studies.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

How Incurable God-Lovers Should Discuss Theology, Part 1 By Steve Lehrer

An incurable God-lover is that rare and supernaturally changed person we call a Christian. He is someone whom God called out of the darkness of unbelief and self-centeredness into the light of knowing God and living for Him. An incurable God-lover has come to understand that he has rebelled against the God of heaven and earth and that he deserves God’s unending wrath. He recognizes that when he sins against God, it is not simply breaking a rule in God’s book, but it is a personal offense against God Himself. He understands “in his bones” that sin grieves God. He is not only remorseful over sin, but he desires never to do it again. An incurable God-lover lives and breathes grace. This person feasts on the fact that God showered His love on an undeserving sinner and rebel. He delights in the truth that Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God in his place. When he commits a sin, this grace of God is that which causes him to repent of his sin and redouble his efforts to live for Christ. An incurable God-lover has the Spirit of God in his life pushing him on to continue to love God more than sin until he dies.

How to Go About Discussing Theology

Over the years we at In-Depth Studies have been involved in more than our fair share of controversial theological discussion and we have received more than our fair share of black eyes and uncharitable responses. I am not writing this to tell you how awful those who disagree with me have behaved. My involvement in discussing theology has brought to light something far more disturbing than that. I have perceived my own motives for discussing theology turning more and more sinful as I have received both negative and positive responses to my writing and speaking. I find myself wanting to belittle my opponents rather than putting their interests above my own. In addition, I find that I desire people’s praise far too much. In short, I find myself discussing theology for the wrong reasons and, at times, in the wrong manner. So this leads to the question: How should incurable God-lovers discuss theology?
Theology is not a hobby or a game. It is not about getting every point right, although it is important to have correct theology. Theology is about knowing God through the Scriptures. The stakes are high because theology not only affects how we live now, but the theology we embrace is directly related to where we spend eternity. Theology is the most important field of study that exists because God is the most important person that exists. When someone has wrong theology they not only dishonor God by misrepresenting Him, but their lack of understanding can lead other people astray. In short, wrong theology can smear God’s good name and can hurt His people. I am not for blind ecumenicalism in which you are limited to small talk about sports because you disagree violently about everything else. I believe it is necessary to divide over important theological issues and to create different local church bodies that clearly teach and live out what they believe Scripture says. But neither am I for churches that are hermetically sealed off so that we have no exposure to those who differ from us. I believe it is of vital importance that we talk about, laugh, discuss, and wrestle through our differing theologies. If you are a Preterist, a Covenant Theologian, a Premillenialist, a Pentecostal, a Charismatic, an Arminian, or a Calvinist, you should strive to be talking with those who differ with you. But you should also strive to be talking with those who differ with you in a way that honors God and displays His wonderful grace and mercy.
It seems as if many times the theology most people embrace is wrong. I say this not because their stated theology always differs from mine, but rather because the way they go about discussing this most important of subjects reveals their unstated theology. The normal fare in theological dialogue can range from an unwillingness to listen to the point of view of others, to name calling and harshness, and sadly, arrogance. It is not at all unusual that our actions and our stated theology can be in conflict because of the way we discuss theology. But if this happens,God is being dishonored by the manner in which we try to defend His truth. The goal is that ourstated theology and our actions so harmonize that we give evidence that what we understand about God, we actually believe! As basic as this may sound, a great need in Christian circles is that we actually live out our theology when we are speaking about the things of God with other people. This will revolutionize the way we discuss theology with those with whom we disagree and even the way we divide from others.
Steve Lehrer is the director of biblical counseling at In-Depth Studies.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A King & A Kingdom

Biting Christian-culture commentary from Derek Webb, whose latest album, Mockingbird, I've been spinning for the last week:

there are two great lies that i’ve heard:
“the day you eat of the fruit of that tree, you will not surely die”
and that Jesus Christ was a white, middle-class republican
and if you wanna be saved you have to learn to be like Him

so my first allegiance is not to a flag, a country, or a man
my first allegiance is not to democracy or blood
it's to a king & a kingdom

Right on.

No Checks, Many Imbalances

An interesting op-ed from George Will concerning the wiretap controversy appears in today's Washingont Post. He says, in part:

"Administration supporters incoherently argue that the AUMF also authorized the NSA surveillance -- and that if the administration had asked, Congress would have refused to authorize it. The first assertion is implausible: None of the 518 legislators who voted for the AUMF has said that he or she then thought it contained the permissiveness the administration discerns in it. Did the administration, until the program became known two months ago? Or was the AUMF then seized upon as a justification? Equally implausible is the idea that in the months after Sept. 11, Congress would have refused to revise the 1978 law in ways that would authorize, with some supervision, NSA surveillance that, even in today's more contentious climate, most serious people consider conducive to national security.

Anyway, the argument that the AUMF contained a completely unexpressed congressional intent to empower the president to disregard the FISA regime is risible coming from this administration. It famously opposes those who discover unstated meanings in the Constitution's text and do not strictly construe the language of statutes."

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Israel: An Unbelieving People of God, Part 3 By Steve Lehrer

Israel in The New Testament

The Gospels

Beginning with the Gospels we find a New Testament pattern in which Jesus and the Apostles go first to the Jews who reject salvation and then they turn to the Gentiles. In the introduction of the Gospel of John this pattern is clearly revealed:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God- children born not of natural descent or a husband’s will, but born of God (John 1:11-13).

The constant emphasis in Scripture is that although the Israelites were born into the people of God by “blood” or physical descent, that does not get them into the kingdom. There is a reconstitution of the people of God moving from physical descent or those related to Abraham by blood to spiritual descent or those possessing the faith of Abraham irrespective of physical descent.

In Matthew chapter 8 when Jesus is talking to a Roman centurion, the soldier expresses his trust that Jesus has the authority to simply speak and it will be done. That is, he expressed his conviction that Jesus was God Himself. Jesus goes on to compare the faithfulness of this gentile to the unfaithfulness of Israel:

When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:10-12).

The “sons of the kingdom” are the nation of Israel and to be “cast out into the outer darkness” is eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 22:13) given to all unbelievers who rebel against God. D.A. Carson writes concerning this passage, So the ‘subjects of the kingdom’ are the Jews, who see themselves as sons of Abraham…, belonging to the kingdom by right…But Jesus reverses roles (cf. 21:43); and the sons of the kingdom are thrown aside, left out of the future messianic banquet, consigned to darkness where there are tears and gnashing of teeth- elements common to descriptions of gehenna, hell.[3] Matthew is plain that the majority of Israelites are going to face God’s eternal judgment because they have rejected Him. In this passage Matthew clearly states that the Israelites will be replaced in the kingdom of heaven by a people who actually love God.

The Children of Abraham in Galatians

In the book of Galatians “the children of Abraham” are redefined as all those who place their trust in Jesus Christ, that is Spiritual Israel, rather than those who are simply related to Abraham by blood. The book of Galatians is written to professed believers in Asia Minor who were in danger of going back under the Mosaic law by redefining the Gospel to include both trust in Jesus and obedience to the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. So Paul begins to explain to them that they completely misunderstand the purpose of the Mosaic Covenant and the Mosaic Law. In chapter three and four he explains in some detail the purpose of the Mosaic Covenant, the Abrahamic Covenant, and their relationship to one another:

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith (Galatians 3:6-9).

The contrast in this passage is between law and faith. Abraham’s faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness. This is biblical shorthand to say that Abraham gained acceptance from God not by anything that he did, that is not by obedience to the law, but by taking God at His word. Now, we have the first mention of “sons of Abraham” in the book of Galatians in verse 7. But this definition of who the sons of Abraham are should cause us to wonder. The impression we get from Genesis 17 is that the children of Abraham are those who are physically descended from Abraham, the Jews:

Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you and I will be their God” (Genesis 17:3-8).

There is nothing in the context of Genesis to lead us to understand the descendants or seeds of Abraham to be anything other than those who are physically related to him. But now in Galatians we find that the children of Abraham are all those who are “of faith.” Make no mistake about it, this is God’s inspired interpretation of who the children of Abraham really are.

Later in the book of Galatians Paul refers to Genesis 12:7 and the Abrahamic promise:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say, “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ (Galatians 3:16).

Now this should strike us as a very strange statement given that in Genesis 15:4-5 God tells Abraham that the promise of a seed is “plural”:

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars- if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “so shall your offspring be.”

Again we have a clear redefining of terms by God through Paul in the book of Galatians. Paul is interpreting the physical picture given in the Old Testament and showing us the Spiritual reality to which it pointed. The Abrahamic Covenant is the revealing of God’s plan to save a people. Isaac as “the seed of Abraham” is the key to the promise given to Abraham. But of course that promise extends to all of the physical descendants of Abraham through Isaac. Therefore, through Isaac the children of Abraham are as many as the stars in the sky. In the same way, God uses one seed, that is Jesus Christ, to save a Spiritual people and make them His own. Jesus Christ is the one seed that God brings into the world to save a people, and those who are united to him by faith become seeds or children of Abraham. We find this explicitly stated in Galatians chapter 3 verse 29:

If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to promise.

So the children of Abraham are redefined as being all those who trust in Christ, rather than all those who are physically descended from Abraham.


As we have seen, Scripture clearly identifies the Israelites as an unbelieving people. There always has been a small remnant of believing Israelites, but they exist as the exception rather than the rule. If our theological system does not allow us to identify the Israelites as primarily unbelievers, then it is our system that needs to be retooled to agree with God’s Word.

[1] Lane, W.L., Hebrews 1-8 (Word Biblical Commentary 47a) Waco, Texas: Word books, 1991, page 83.

[2] Ibid., 84.

[3] Carson, D.A., “Matthew,” in Expositor’s Bible Commentary 8, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984, pages 202-203.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Israel: An Unbelieving People of God, Part 2 By Steve Lehrer

Judges: Living Like Hell In The Land of Promise

The people obviously made a great start at living for God, but did they continue? The book of Judges gives us a glimpse at the nation of Israel after they had begun to possess the land. Do the Israelites live up to the promises they made to God and to Joshua in Shechem? Not exactly. The constant refrain of the book of Judges is, “then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2:11, 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1, 10:6; 13:1). It is a history that causes the reader to ask the question, “how can a holy God who demands loyalty and faithfulness put up with the evil and rebellion of the nation of Israel?” But a thoughtful Christian might look at his own life and see the same pattern of rebellion, repentance, and restoration as seen in the book of Judges. It is true that Christians struggle with sin, but notice the type of sin in which these Israelites were involved:

Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They FOLLOWED and WORSHIPED various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths (Judges 2:11-13 emphasis mine).

Imagine, on your most sinful day, are you tempted to stop at the local Mosque or Buddhist temple to worship another god? The Israelites actually bowed down to pagan gods and perhaps participated in human sacrifice in the process of their “worship.” Let’s look at another sin the Israelites were involved in:

The Israelites lived among the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizites, Hivites and Jebusites. They took their daughters in marriage and gave their own daughters to their sons, and served other gods (Judges 3:5-6).

Blatant idolatry and intermarrying with God’s enemies were the two big and consistent sins that plagued the Israelites. These are not the normal sins that Christians struggle with. To go and actually worship another God and give yourself over to the immoral practices that these Canaanite religions required, not to mention marrying into a people that God has marked as His enemy fit only for destruction is more than just a day to day struggle to live for Christ. This is out and out hardened unbelief that we would be surprised to see in the most wicked pagan. This sort of sin was being committed by the nation as a whole, punctuated only by brief periods of repentance, and it went on for a period of about 300 years!

Israel and Her Kings

The books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings portray the nation of Israel as even worse than the book of Judges! In rejecting the prophet and last Judge, Samuel, the people of Israel are said to be rejecting God Himself:

And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you (1 Samuel 8:7-8).

Although that doesn’t sound like a good report about Israel, a golden age is about to begin for Israel when David is made king. Perhaps this godly king can redeem the tarnished reputation of the nation of Israel. Perhaps it is after this point in history that we can then understand Israel as a believing people rejoicing in God their savior. As we examine the history of this period and God’s own evaluation of Israel, we will find Israel once again to be lacking the qualities of true children of God. God promises David an everlasting dynastic kingdom (2 Samuel 7:6-16). We see a seeming fulfillment of this promise as we enter the golden age for Israel. The borders expand under David and under Solomon in his early years. In short, we see economic prosperity for Israel that is unprecedented. But as history moves on we see the people of Israel engaging more and more in idolatry and immorality. Of course leading the way in this sin is unfaithful king after unfaithful king. After the division of Israel and Judah, God first pours out his wrath on Israel by exiling them using the Assyrians (722 B.C.) as His chosen instrument. Then Judah is next to experience the wrath of God for their rebellion when He sends in the Babylonians to clean house in 586 B.C. We are not left to our own imaginations to interpret exactly what God was saying to the Israelites when this happened. God makes it clear that this was not simply His fatherly and loving hand of discipline but rather his wrath against unbelievers:

The Lord said through his servants the prophets: “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and hand them over to their enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their foes, because they have done evil in my eyes and have provoked me to anger FROM THE DAY THEIR FOREFATHERS CAME OUT OF EGYPT UNTIL THIS DAY (2 Kings 21:10-15 emphasis mine).

Here we have clear biblical evidence of God’s own evaluation of the nation of Israel from the time of their inception until the time of the exile of Judah. They were a wicked and unbelieving people from the first day until the last. There seems to be no room to call them a believing nation. But for the die-hard supporter of the position that the nation of Israel is seen in Scripture to be a believing people, an attempt at “redeeming” national Israel might be made by looking to the post-exilic days of Ezra and Nehemiah as the days in which the people did truly turn to God and become a nation of believers. Yet, even after all of the attempts at reform, we find Nehemiah beating people for their rebelliousness:

Moreover, in those days I saw men of Judah who had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. Half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod or the language of one of the other peoples, and did not know how to speak the language of Judah. I rebuked them and called curses down on them. I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair. I made them take an oath in God’s name and said: “Your are not to give your daughters in marriage to their sons, nor are you to take their daughters in marriage for your sons or for yourselves. Was it not because of marriages like these that Solomon king of Israel sinned? (Nehemiah 13:23-27).

We have seen that the entire history of Israel reveals the nation of Israel as an unfaithful, rebellious and unbelieving people. In each significant historical epoch of the Old Covenant era, Israel turns away from God and is judged accordingly. We now need to turn our attention to the New Testament and see if once again test our thesis that Israel as a whole is viewed in Scripture as an unbelieving people against the Word of God.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Israel: An Unbelieving People of God, Part 1 By Steve Lehrer

One of the most confused areas in evangelical theology today concerns the place and standing of the nation of Israel in Scripture. Covenant Theologians teach that Israel is continuous with the church in the New Testament and that the major change we see in Scripture is the inclusion of the gentiles into the people of God in the New Covenant era. On the other hand, Dispensationalists teach that God has two faithful peoples of God, Israel and the church. We believe both theological systems are in error in the way they view the nation of Israel. New Covenant Theology teaches that Israel is an unbelieving picture of the people of God and (except for the remnant of Israelites who actually believed) the individuals of that nation received God’s judgment. In the following pages we intend to show that the uniform teaching of Scripture is that the nation of Israel was never a believing people as a whole.

The History of Israel

The nation of Israel is first established through the sons of Jacob and really comes into its own in Egypt under the tyrannical shadow of Pharaoh. Its beginning was tenuous but God caused them to be fruitful and became their deliverer through Moses.

The Exodus Generation

After delivering the Israelites out of the hands of Pharaoh, God made certain that they did not enter the promised land because of their rebellion. Are we to understand this punishment as merely a temporal discipline which God gives to His children for their good (Hebrews 12:3-11)? Or should we see this as God’s eternal wrath poured out on an unbelieving generation? The book of Hebrews addresses this issue by using that generation of Israelites as an example to spur on believers who seem to be turning away from Christ due to hard times (Heb. 3:7-14)

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “ Today, if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, they shall never enter my rest.”

William Lane in his commentary on the book of Hebrews writes concerning this passage: His (the author of Hebrews) concern is that the community should maintain its integrity and continue to live in terms of the divine promises. The memory of Israel’s failure in this regard, as set forth in Ps 95, provides the basis for the sober warning that a refusal to listen to God’s voice and to respond in obedience would entail the tragic loss of their promised inheritance.[1] The loss of inheritance that we see for the Israelites is the loss of the promised land. But clearly this is shown to be a picture of or analogous to spiritual salvation resulting in eternal life. Lane goes on to write: In 3:7-19 the quotation from Ps 95 furnishes the basis for the exhortation to remain sensitive to the promise of eschatological salvation…His interpretation of the text was heavily influenced by Num 14. According to Num 13-14, Israel was camped at Kadesh in the Desert of Paran, on the verge of entering Canaan. Entrance into the land was the goal of the Exodus and was necessary for the fulfillment of the promise. When those who had been sent into Canaan to explore the land brought back a bad report, however, the Israelites refused to enter. They rejected the promise through unbelief.[2] What is illustrated for us in the Old Testament is a people unwilling to believe God’s promise concerning a physical inheritance and therefore a refusal to obey resulting in a loss of the inheritance. This is then interpreted by the Holy Spirit through the author of the book of Hebrews to point to the reality of people refusing to trust in the work of Jesus Christ alone to save them resulting in loss of a spiritual inheritance and receiving spiritual condemnation. This becomes alarmingly clear in verses 15-19 of Hebrews chapter 3:

As has just been said: “Today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they ere not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

The message of these verses can be paraphrased as follows: “The Israelites of the wilderness generation turned from God and experienced his judgment. They were a disobedient people who lost their inheritance because they were UNBELIEVERS. Don’t be like them.” The wilderness generation, who had the blood of Abraham coursing through their veins, was a generation of unbelievers. They heard the “good news” and they did not believe and therefore received God’s eternal judgment. This judgment is illustrated to us by their physical death before entering the Promised Land. But this is only the first step in our journey in understanding the biblical identity of the nation of Israel. Perhaps Israel learned her lessons and turned to God in true repentance and faith leading to a bright and godly future. It is to this possibility that we will now turn our attention.

Crossing The Jordan

Moses addresses this next generation as he is about to die and just before they cross over the Jordan into the land of Canaan and he prophesies in Deuteronomy 31:24-29

After Moses finished writing in a book the words of this law from beginning to end, he gave this command to the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord: “Take this book of the Law and place it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God. There it will remain as a witness against you. For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die! Assemble before me all the elders of your tribes and all your officials, so that I can speak these words in their hearing and call heaven and earth to testify against them. For I know that after my death you are sure to become utterly corrupt and to turn from the way I have commanded you. In days to come, disaster will fall upon you because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord and provoke him to anger by what your hands have made.”

These are pretty strong words from Moses about the future of national Israel. Was Moses correct? Were the people of Israel to continue in rebellion after the death of Moses? Or were these bitter words from a dying prophet? The first step to answering these questions is to look at the very next stage in redemptive history, the entrance into and possession of the Promised Land found in the books of Joshua and Judges.

Joshua: Turning Over a New Leaf?

The book of Joshua presents Israel with a bright new start. We have a brand new people to start over with after the horrible rebellion that brought God’s judgment just a generation before. We also find that Israel has a brand new leader and the future looks bright. In order to make things clear that the Israelites are starting over, we read of them telling Joshua, “Whatever you have commanded we will do” (1:16) which is reminiscent of the promise their fathers made to Moses in Exodus 24:7 before their rebelliousness flared up. In the first few chapter of the book of Joshua the Israelites are obedient and seem to have turned over a new leaf. Although there are moments of disobedience that punctuate the account of Israel in Joshua, on the whole it as a positive account of God’s people being brought into the promised land and possessing it. At the end of the book the Israelites have a positive outlook on life as we get to witness Joshua renewing God’s Covenant He made with Moses now with this new generation. But it is hard to read this dialogue between Joshua and the people without Moses’ stinging words from Deuteronomy 31 ringing in our ears. Here is part of the dialogue:

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.”

But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the Lord.”

Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”

“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied (Joshua 24:19-22).

We are left wondering, “Will they obey the Lord or was Moses right that they will turn their back on God and chase after idols?” The book of Judges leaves us no doubt as to the answer to this question.

Steve Lehrer is the director of biblical counseling for In-Depth Studies.

The Fruits of Intramural Squabbling

Fundamentalist pastor Jason Janz, of fame, caused a stir recently in the evangelical blogosphere with a string of posts criticizing the producers of the movie End of the Spear for casting the homosexual actor and activitst Chad Allen to play martyred missionary Nate Saint. Today, as I was sitting in the waiting room at the optometrist's office, I saw that a quote from Janz appears in the Verbatim section of the February 13 issue of Time magazine:

I must say that I wasn't thrilled by the filmmakers' choice either, but I don't understand why Janz felt compelled to mount a campaign criticizing the decision. The fruits of his labors: the world picks up on an intramural squabble, evangelicals look like morons, and we give the world another reason NOT to believe our good news. Nice job.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New Covenant Theology: A Middle Way

For more than a century, protestants/evangelicals have had only two main theological systems to choose from: Covenant and Dispensationalism. One alternative to these is New Covenant Theology, which I see as a sort of middle way. The article below, from, is a good introduction to NCT.

What Is New Covenant Theology?

By Mike Adams, Bill Knaub and Geoff Volker

New Covenant Theology (NCT) is a biblical approach to understanding God's unfolding plan of salvation. The focus of this approach is the work and person of Jesus Christ with emphasis on what God has accomplished and fulfilled in Christ for the elect. The Lord Jesus is the grand theme of both the New and Old Testament Scriptures which unifies all of the Bible as evidenced in Ephesians 1:7-10:

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

The primary premise of NCT is that the New Covenant as mediated by Christ is a brand NEW covenant, which totally replaces the Old Covenant:

But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, `Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:6-13)

The Old Covenant was a covenant that God established with the ancient Nation of Israel only. The terms of this covenant were the Ten Commandments or Tables of Stone:

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write down these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel." Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant--the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 34:27-28)

Moses summoned all Israel and said: Hear, O Israel, the decrees and laws I declare in your hearing today. Learn them and be sure to follow them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb. It was not with our fathers that the LORD made this covenant, but with us, with all of us who are alive here today. (Deuteronomy 5:1-3)

Thus, the Ten Commandments were the essence of the Old (or first) Covenant only and Not the essence of all of God's law in every era. As the essence of the Old Covenant, the Ten Commandments function as its representative:

In addition, the Old Covenant was a legal, conditional covenant with Israel that demanded perfect obedience in order to receive the promised blessings:

Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: `You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites."
(Exodus 19:3-6)

The primary function of the Old Covenant was a ministry of death.

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! (2 Corinthians 3:6-9)

The Old Covenant was historically time-bound and was a Pedagogue that the Israelites were obligated to obey perfectly until the promised seed of Abraham (Jesus Christ) would arrive:

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:24-25)

The New Covenant is a new and better covenant. Jesus Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, which is founded on better promises:

But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6)

The New Covenant is made up of a totally regenerate membership since Christ has died only for His people (the elect) who receive the complete benefits of His reconciling work (Heb. 8:10-12; Heb. 7:25). Jesus Christ kept the terms of the Old Covenant perfectly and earned all the blessings for His people:

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians 4:4-7)

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, "The man who does these things will live by them." Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:10-14)

Since Jesus is the mediator of the New Covenant, He is the new Lawgiver and Lord of the church:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood (for on the basis of it the law was given to the people), why was there still need for another priest to come--one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law. (Hebrews 7:11-12)

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:1-3)

Thus, all Christians are under the authority of the New Covenant which is governed by the New Testament Scriptures:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-20)

The Old Covenant has been perfectly fulfilled in Christ and done away. God's law is still binding on the believer in the New Covenant era, but God's righteous standards are contained in the Law of Christ, not the Law of Moses:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. (1 Corinthians 9:20-21)

Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2)

NCT as seen above does differ from Covenant Theology and Historic Dispensationalism. In regards to Covenant Theology, the NCT view asserts that the 'Covenant of Works' and 'Covenant of Grace' cannot be found in Scripture. We would agree that God had a gracious purpose in placing the nation of Israel under the law as a covenant. However, this does not make the Old Covenant a covenant of grace. Scripture indicates that the purpose of the Mosaic Law was to bring deep conviction of sin to those under the Old Covenant:

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. (Galatians 3:19a)

But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
(Hebrews 10:3-4)

In addition, NCT views the nation of Israel as a picture of the people of God but not the real people of God:

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. (Hebrews 10:1)

For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did?These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.
(1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 11)

Thus, the nation of Israel is mainly the Unbelieving people of God who are rejected by God as a covenant nation:

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering." Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him." The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, "Go," and he goes; and that one, "Come," and he comes. I say to my servant, "Do this," and he does it." When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:5-12)

While a remnant of the nation of Israel were true believers, New Covenant era believers are now the True people of God since Jesus has purchased all those in the New Covenant:

As you come to him, the living Stone--rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame." Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone," and, "A stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the message--which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:4-10)

In NCT, the Ten Commandments are NOT the essence of the "Moral Law" but are seen as a Unit applying only as the terms of the entire Old Covenant with Israel. The Christian, then, is no longer bound by the terms of the Old Covenant. The Law of Christ is the objective standard for the New Covenant believer.


New Covenant Theology describes how the unfolding plan of salvation in Scripture is to be understood. It differs with both Covenant Theology and Historic Dispensationalism.

Relationship to Covenant Theology

Covenant Theology errs in trying to read the Old Covenant as though it were the New Covenant. It also errs in its view that the Ten Commandments are the essence of all of God's law in every era.

Relationship to Dispensationalism

Dispensationalism errs in reading the Old Covenant without taking into account the New Covenant.

The Old Covenant

The Old Covenant (Mosaic Covenant, also called the First Covenant) is a legal, conditional covenant, not another administration of the Covenant of Grace. Although God had a gracious purpose for giving the Mosaic Covenant the covenant itself is a legal covenant that was intended to show the Israelites their sin.

The Nation of Israel

The nation of Israel is the unbelieving people of God. Israel was a picture of the real people of God (the Church) that are fully revealed in the New Covenant era. Only a remnant of Israel were believers.

The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments are the essence or terms of the Old Covenant not the essence of all of God's law in every era. Although the New Covenant does restate 9 of the 10 (the Sabbath is excluded) as individual commands, the Ten Commandments as a unit are not brought into the New Covenant era. The essence of all of God's law is found in the 2 great commandments to love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, not in the Ten Commandments:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: "Love your neighbor as yourself." All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:36-40)

The Abrahamic Covenant

The Abrahamic Covenant is a revealing of God's plan of salvation through Abraham and his physical descendants. The true seed of Abraham is Jesus Christ and the believers are the true children of Abraham.

The Law of Christ

The Law of Christ is the law in the New Covenant era. The issue is not whether or not believers in the New Covenant era are under law. The issue is which law are the believers under in this present era.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Piper on the Muslim Outrage Over Cartoons of Mohammad

"Am I missing it, or is there an unusual silence in the blogosphere about the Muslim outrage over the cartoons of Mohammed. To me this cries out for the observation that when artists put the crucifix in a flask of urine, Christians were grieved and angered, but not one threatened to kill anyone. Our longing is to convert the blasphemers with the Good News of Christ's death and resurrection, not kill them. Our faith is based on One who was reviled not just in cartoons but in reality and received it patiently for the salvation of the cartoonists. These riots are filled with intimations about the glorious difference between Christ and Mohammed, and between the way of Christ and the way of Islam. And the cowing of the press around the world and the US government is ominous for the fear we are under of Islam--not just extremist Islam. I do not respect the teachings of Islam which when followed devoutly lead to destruction. So I have been pondering which will take me out first, Islam, Uncle Sam, or cancer. No matter, all authority belongs to Jesus. I just want to bear faithful witness to his glorious gospel of peace to the end."

- John Piper