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03/08/2015

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Phil Ledgerwood

I was actually a little disappointed in the book. I think, from the get-go, a project defined as integrating the insights of biblical theology with the insights of systematic theology is bound for difficulty. It's like trying to integrate the insights of War and Peace with the insights of the Cliff's Notes for War and Peace.

The thing I do like about the book is that it might make some of the work of current biblical scholarship more accessible and less threatening to audiences who primarily access the Bible by way of systematics (John Murray fans, etc.). But exegesis needs to serve the purpose of correcting systematics. It's not a dialogical relationship and, in a few areas, serves to blunt some of Treat's points.

Lee

Phil, could you be more specific? What are the areas where exegesis serves to blunt some of Treat's points?

Phil Ledgerwood

Sure. I don't have the book in front of me, but I do remember a couple of things. And just to be clear, I meant his commitment to systematics blunted his points, not exegesis. I actually would have preferred a purely exegetical work without reference to systematics at all.

One example is that I thought his conclusions about the kingdom were muddled because of the need to account for the systematics categories of atonement and forgiveness of sins. It's as if the forgiveness of sins was an end unto itself and a characteristic/feature of the coming kingdom. From a traditional systematics standpoint, individual sin tends to be their biggest problem, but in the historical revelation of the coming kingdom, it's Israel's sin that has the effect of bringing the curse rather than the kingdom. The purpose of the kingdom isn't to forgive Israel's sins; the forgiveness of Israel's sins has the purpose of bringing an end to exile and restoring the kingdom.

He relies a lot on the 1 Corinthians 15 passage for this, about Christ dying for our sins and rising on the third day according to the Scriptures, but the only Scripture (except for the Jonah typology) that mentions the Messiah rising on the third day is Hosea 6, and this is clearly done as a step in the process to bringing about the renewal of Israel. By having to "reconcile systematics," the kingdom becomes, at least partially "about" forgiving sins, which seems to skew the exegesis.

In this same vein, I also remember him talking about the original Passover lamb being a sacrifice for sin, otherwise the Israelites would meet the same fate as the Egyptians, but this is exegetically screwy. God quite clearly says at the beginning of the plagues that no harm will come to Israel because He differentiates between them and the Egyptians. His whole initiative to free them was because of the patriarchal promises. Israel's sin doesn't even come into the picture until after the Law comes. But, because of systematics, we have to bring in the universal problem of human sin and justification into the Passover, which just muddies the whole kingdom concept being presented in that part of the Exodus.

I understand the point of the book is to "reconcile" the theme of kingdom with atonement, but it seemed to be at least this was mostly done by starting out with some pretty decent exegesis, and then remembering at the last minute that we had to work the systematics doctrine of atonement into it, somehow.

Lee

Phil, thanks for being more specific. Also, thanks for clarifying that you meant "his commitment to systematics blunted his points." I'd like to respond a bit to the substance of your comment. I struggle with your use of the term "systematics." You refer to atonement and forgiveness as "systematic" doctrines or categories, as if they did not belong to biblical theology. In my view, instead of dividing up biblical concepts into different bins, it is better to view ST and BT as different methods of examining the same biblical concepts. "Atonement" is clearly a biblical concept that can be examined using both methods. Using a BT approach one would do a diachronic study of the historical development of the atonement concept from the OT sacrificial system to the Suffering Servant into the NT's use of such categories fulfilled in Christ. Using the ST method one would examine the logic of atonement in light of the attributes of God (especially justice and love) or in its connections with the ordo salutis (especially forgiveness/justification). In these two approaches we're not studying different biblical concepts but the same concept using complementary methods, one more historical and the other more logical.

Related to this, it seems (although I am not sure if I am reading you correctly) that you are making an unwarranted distinction and separation between corporate Israel's sin and restoration/forgiveness and individual sin and forgiveness. (Jeremy Treat actually addresses this in his book. It's one of his criticisms of N. T. Wright.) But in my view the two are closely interconnected as type and anti-type. Corporate Israel's sin, exile, and restoration is not something different from the "systematics category" of our individual sin, alienation from God, and forgiveness. This can be seen in the way the NT draws upon the corporate categories of Israel's national experience to describe the soteric realities of salvation in Christ. For example, Matthew takes pains to emphasize Israel's exile and the Messiah's coming to save his people from their sins (Matt 1:17, 21), all in fulfillment of OT prophecy concerning Israel's future restoration. If you insist on making the Israel narrative of corporate sin and exile and restoration something different from atonement and soteriology, something that exists independently, apart from what we have in Christ, then how do you avoid dispensationalism? If the atoning work of Christ and the soteric blessings we possess in him (new life, forgiveness, justification, adoption, glorification) are not totally fulfilled in Christ as our mediator, then wouldn't you have to affirm a future restoration for national Israel?

Lee

My last sentence needs to be rewritten: If the atoning work of Christ and the soteric blessings we possess in him (new life, forgiveness, justification, adoption, glorification) do not constitute the total fulfillment of God's promises to Israel, then wouldn't you have to affirm a future restoration for national Israel?

alex

Genesis 3:15 (the seed of the woman who crushes the serpent’s head but whose heel is bruised in the process)

It is clear to me that this did not happen simultaneously. Yes, there was a victory (for humans) in the pierced heel but the crushing of the head seems to refer to a greater sphere than that of humans.

In my thinking the two events are separate and both refer to the "hours" of Christ. Jn. 2.4 is an "hour" where Christ would provide the wine: referencing the kingdom. The other "hour" is the time of crucifixion.

Phil Ledgerwood

Hi Lee,

Thanks for the response. When I say "systematics," I suppose I mean that as shorthand for "the topical articulation of theological categories as summaries of doctrinal statements," so in its most basic form, creeds would be systematic documents, but I have in mind more of a popular conception of systematics. For example, if you walked up to Joe Reformed and said, "What is justification?" he might give you the Catechism, or he might give you an ad hoc summary statement, but what he probably won't do is recite the biblical narrative of Israel's vindication in history.

By contrast, BT focuses on God's revelation in history, which is how the Bible itself was written and received. Systematics should be derived from and critiqued by this process of inquiry and not represent targets that BT should hit. 90% of Reformed sermons go the other way on that, but I perceive that as a weakness.

I didn't quite follow how Matt. 1 unites Israel's corporate salvation in history and someone's individual redemption. Surely Matt. 1 is entirely about Israel being saved in history from her sins. Jesus came to save -his people- from -their- sins in Matt. 1, and being saved from their sin meant deliverance from exile and the renewal of Israel. Matthew 1 does not Jesus came to save you from your sins so you won't go to Hell. While we might theologically draw out those individual implications from this, it isn't in that particular text (although it may be in others).

This actually is a good demonstration of what I see as the core weakness of Treat's work. We can't let Matt. 1 be about Israel's salvation in history and use that to critique our ideas of atonement. Somehow, Matt. 1 has to be about individual salvation because that is the central problem dealt with in most systematic articulations of salvation.

It isn't dispensationalism because God's salvation of His people has always been primarily corporate and historical, and this includes the inclusion of the Gentiles into His covenant people. I'm having trouble coming up with a verse that talks about salvation in individual, trans-historical terms, but there probably is one somewhere.

What -would- have been a good project for Treat is a similar, but slightly modified one, where he went, "We're going to look at how the overarching theme of the Bible is God and His kingdom, and we'll find that the implications of that line up with traditional systematic statements about atonement." But instead, here's the narrative about the kingdom, and here's the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, and we have to make these match. No, we don't. If they do end up matching, terrific. But making them match is not a valid project. This is how you end up with a Confession of Faith that is de facto infallible.

Phil Ledgerwood

Reading back over your comment, I don't think I addressed your point about Christ's work being the total fulfillment of God's promises to Israel.

Ultimately, Christ's work is what brings about the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel. I don't think either of us would say Christ's work in the NT is the complete fulfillment of those promises, because then we wouldn't be looking for a new heavens and earth, corporate resurrection, fullness of the elect coming in, final destruction of sin and evil, etc.

At the same time, the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel are not soterical abstractions. It is the creation of the new people of God apart from Torah in these Christ-communities scattered throughout the nations that is the promised restoration of Israel, and our individual union with Christ is derived from and finds meaning in being part of that picture. My individual redemption is not the final goal of kingdom.

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