Cross-Eyed with Double Vision

All revelation is redemptive in nature.

It’s not just my interpretation. It’s not just a matter of method. There is a lot at stake. In a sense, one could make the seemingly outrageous claim that the Gospel is itself at stake. But since I am not a fear-monger and I generally despise outrageous claims, I won’t make it.

I have been writing over the past few weeks about the art and science of Biblical interpretation. My approach is often called the redemptive-historical approach. It is commonly set over against what is called the historical-grammatical approach. Frankly, it shouldn’t be set over against that position at all—it should be an extension of it.

Those who take the Bible seriously believe that God breathed out the Words of Sacred Scripture. We call this truth inspiration. But this isn’t all that Bible-believer believes. We acknowledge that God breathed out everything else as well. He breathed out the Word and He breathed out the world. Any study of hermeneutics must account for both of these divine actions. There is therefore no such thing as “bare linguistics” or “bare history” since God is the One who gives and governs both. We communicate through language because God has condescended to speak to us. We find ourselves in the story of the world only because the Author decided to write one. We call that script history. So any attempt to dissect the Scriptures in a way that says, “Let’s begin and end with the human aspect” betrays a seriously deficient view of God, inspiration and providence. This is true precisely because God is active in every part of His grand story—He writes the script, He forms the stage, He casts the characters, He directs the narrative, He forms the plot, He guides the tension, He builds the climax, He resolves the tension, and He consummates the story…perfectly.

Since God spoke the world as well as the words, great care must be given to rightly understand the contextual meaning as well as the canonical meaning. That is, we understand the text as it is found in its immediate context (grammar, syntax, culture, period, human author, etc.) then we view it in its ultimate context (redemptive, christocentric, christotelic, covenantal, typological, metanarrative, etc). So let us not take an either/or position between these two interpretative grids. Rather, let us adopt a both/and approach to uncover the plot and finely-tuned details of the drama of redemption.

Let me give an example. Hopefully you will see that if the Divine/human dynamic is lost then so is the organic unity of Scripture. If the organic unity of the Bible is lost, then so are we.

In the greatest calamity that ever befell our race, our father Adam abdicated his assigned role as the guardian of his wife and family. This took place when Adam was standing in the shade of a particular tree in a particular garden, and it was not really so long ago. Our mother Eve was there too, and as she reached for the fruit, she did so in the grip of the lust of the eyes (1 Jn. 2:16; Gen. 3:6), the lust of the flesh (1 Jn. 2:16; Gen. 3:6), and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16; Gen. 3:6). She was deceived, and this is not surprising because she had not yet been brought ut of Adam’s side when God had given him the single prohibition. Adam, however, knew of the restriction directly from God, and yet he stood by, mute. He was close enough to take the fruit from Eve’s hand once she had eaten it (Gen. 3:6). He was with her. And this is why Scripture says that sin entered the world through one man, and not through one woman (Rom. 5:17).

In this calamity, at this fateful tree, we all rebelled against God. When Adam sinned, we sinned in him and though him (Rom. 5:12). God in His wisdom has created mankind (or, to use the Hebrew for mankind, Adam) in such a way that we were all covenantally connected in one man. When it comes to sin, we are all close cousins. We are mankind. We are Adam. And we all sinned at the tree. God determined to provide us with a salvation that works in the same covenantal way that our loss of innocence did. Just as the disobedience of our father Adam (at a tree) plunged us into darkness, so the obedience of our father the last Adam (at a tree) resulted in our salvation.

But there are differences. In the first instance, God gave Eve to Adam, and then the disobedience followed. In our salvation, this order is reversed. God gave the second Adam a bitter cup to drink, and He drank it while hanging on a tree under the curse of God. And at that moment, a soldier on the ground took another piece of wood—the shaft of a spear—and became the instrumental cause of the creation of a bride from the second Adam. An Adam is not fully an Adam without an Eve, and this second Eve is the Church of the Living God. And the second Eve came from the side of her Adam, just as the first Eve had done.

The first Adam was put into a deep sleep in order for Eve to be taken from his side. This sleep is a picture of death. When the Lord Jesus died, He fulfilled this type—He had fallen into His deep “sleep.” And at that moment, a spear was rammed into His side, and the Apostle John takes great pains to explain how important this moment was. “But on of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (Jn. 19:34-35).
Mark well, John says—there was blood and water that came from the Lord’s side. Why? So that you might believe.

Blood and water came from His side, and the Spirit bore witness to this through John, and in that blood and water we find the formation of the Christian Church. “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood” (1 Jn. 5:6). This water and blood is very important—it is the basis of our witness and identity. Christ came by water and by blood, and this is why we come by water and blood. And this is also why we as believers must testify to it in this way. “And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one” (1 Jn. 5:8; Jn. 3:5).

Jesus is our second Adam—Scripture is explicit on this point. Christ is the bridegroom—there is no room for discussion on this point either. So who does Adam marry? She shall be called Eve, because she is the mother of all the living (Gen. 3:20). Who is this woman, this new Eve? She, too, is the mother of us all—the glorious Christian Church. “But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all” (Gal. 4:26).

Individually, we believers are the sons and daughters of the second Adam and second Eve. The Church is our mother, and Christ is our Father. Corporately, gathered together in worship we are the bride of Christ, and He is our husband.

Unlike our first husband, unlike our first father, the Lord Jesus has not abdicated. He has not abandoned the priestly duty that was assigned to Him—the priestly duty of guarding and protecting His wife, and all the children God gave to Him. Collectively, we are that wife, and individually we are those children. This is why the Lord Jesus is able to say, “Behold I and the children which God hath given me” (Heb. 2:13).

Some may object to all of this by saying, “Genesis no where explicitly says that Adam and Eve are types of Christ and His Church.” This much is true. But God has made it abundantly clear in the full revelation of inspired Scripture. It should be noted that Genesis no where says that Adam is our covenant head, that we sinned in him, that we are all culpable in his transgression, that our death is directly tied to his, or that he was a figure for the Greater Adam who would come. But once again, God has made it abundantly clear in the full revelation of inspired Scripture. The immediate context is the only place to begin. But it is never the place to end. The redemptive Christ is always present. The God who breathed out the words of the text also breathed out the Word into the text. Find Him.

“Paul’s Pistol to the Romans”

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

It is once again Reformation Month.  This means that it is that time of year when all good Protestants take up torches and burn the Pope in effigy.  Or just eat lots of hard candy… Those of us who conscientiously identify ourselves as “Reformed” often hold special services in order to give voice to our remonstration (but NOT like those other Remonstrants, fiends all).  We protest we know not what in a “care not why” way.  We haven’t seemed to grasp the fact that the more mud we sling, the more ground we lose.

The modern evangelical church is in an embarrassed condition, and this embarrassment is made excruciatingly evident whenever Roman Catholic apologists pose certain difficult questions. Even Reformed defenders of certain essential doctrines such as sola Scriptura have done little better. Without a coherent doctrine of history and the place of the Church within history, the Bible necessarily becomes a book that is suspended, in a good arbitrary fashion, in mid air. And thus a collection of books about the meaning of history, given within history, by various historical means, including the historical Church, have come to be revered by a group of evangelical saints with virtually no historical sense.

But when we open our Bibles, before we come to the Word of God at Genesis 1:1, we come to the word of the Church at the Table of Contents. No one holds that the Table of Contents is part of inspired Scripture; rather it points to inspired Scripture. However, it is necessary for us to see that the Table of Contents page is important, and that on that page someone or something is authoritatively identifying the boundaries of Scripture. The Westminster Confession teaches that the Holy Spirit gives “full persuasion and assurance” concerning Scripture to converted persons. These converted persons are in turn enabled to see the other abundant evidences, which include the testimony of the Church (WCF I, 4.).  The problem with contemporary Protestants is that they have no doctrine of the Table of Contents.

With the approach that is popular in conservative evangelical circles, one simply comes to the Bible by means of an epistemological lurch. The Bible “just is,” and any questions about how it got here are dismissed as a nuisance. “Obviously God just dropped it from the sky,” seems to be the sentiment. But time passes, the questions remain unanswered, the silence becomes awkward, and conversions of thoughtful evangelicals to Rome proceed apace.

But this is an inconsistency among modern Protestants and is not at all an inconsistency within the historic Protestant position. Of course, this should not surprise us; if Protestants do not understand the history of the Bible, how can we expect them to understand their own history as Protestants?

Now all this is just to set the stage; the point of this particular tirade is not to lament current evangelical inconsistencies, but rather to point out that the Roman Catholic Church shares those inconsistencies in remarkably similar ways. I think part of the reason many evangelicals are attracted to Rome is that they have discovered they have so much in common. When men “swim the Tiber” and go over to Rome, they believe they have answered these great historical questions; but what has actually happened is they have joined a communion which is old enough for them to assume that the answers have to be around here somewhere. But if we investigate, we soon discover the same embarrassed silence so characteristic of evangelicalism.

Those who have submitted to the Roman magisterium, the teaching office of the Church, have actually submitted to an historical abstraction. The magisterium is the doctrinal application of the depositum fidei, itself revealed in both Scripture and Tradition. The Church, according to her doctrine, is guaranteed infallibility as the bishops, in concert with the bishop of Rome, teach the faith.

According to this position, the Church has been
performing this service for two thousand years. So the question is this: where is the Table of Contents? Put another way, what are the precise boundaries of the magisterium? Conservative evangelicals know what they are submitting to, but they do not know why. Roman Catholics know why they are submitting, but they do not know what they are submitting to. Evangelicals should be asked, regarding the Bible, “Why is your Table of Contents?” Roman Catholics should be asked, regarding the magisterium, “Where is your Table of Contents?” Why has the Church not performed for the magisterium the same service she performed when testifying to the canon of Scripture? Does the magisterium have canonical boundaries, and if so, what are they? Anything with an imprimatur?

This is why debates on church infallibility between Protestant Catholics and Roman Catholics are debates about the issue in the abstract. We do not have a complete list of infallible pronouncements anywhere which we can discuss in concrete terms. In this area, the Roman church has been specific about this or that doctrine, but has not been specific about the historical boundaries. Mark the point well. The magisterium as it is being exercised today may be clear enough to some, but I am raising an historical question, and on this question of history, the Roman church is just as blurry as the modern evangelicals are. Put simply, my challenge contains two questions: Has the Roman Catholic Church made infallible pronouncements throughout her history? And may we have an infallible and complete list of them?

Given the nature of history, and what the Bible teaches about the nature of historical growth and development, this problem is not surprising. All these issues revolve around genuine church authority, and this leads to the second great question, one prompted by a much neglected warning delivered by the apostle Paul.

The Roman church teaches that her lampstand cannot be removed. Among other things, this is maintained on the strength of the promises made to Peter in Matthew 16:13-20. Now it is quite true that Christ promised to establish His Church, and to build it, and we believe that nothing can ever stop this process. At the same time, precisely because this promise to the true Catholic church stands firm, the Bible is clear that particular churches may be removed from that Catholic church. This is done by Him as a very important means of fulfilling His promise to the universal and apostolic church.

For example, the church at Ephesus is no more—her lampstand was removed—but this in no way nullifies God’s commitment to the greater Church. Rather, this was done in fulfillment of His promise. A gardener prunes in order to save, not destroy. The tree remains; not every branch remains. The true Church of which Ephesus was once a part continues to this day. And because of this, true saints today maintain complete communion with the true saints who were in Ephesus in the first century. But in history, the tree has been pruned. A lampstand has been removed from a particular place.

Such discipline of particular churches is a wonderful example of God’s faithfulness to the greater Church. God will not tolerate gross immorality or doctrinal corruption indefinitely—although in His great mercy He often tolerates it for a season. The illustration of the Jewish church is apropos at this point. Caiphas was a true high priest, despite his wickedness and unbelief, and even prophesied concerning the Christ (John 11:49-51). And yet, just a few years after Caiphas held that office, the apostle John writes off some of the gatherings of the Jews as “synagogues of Satan.” So while we agree that corruption is not the same thing as apostasy, the Bible is very clear that complete apostasy of particular churches is a very real possibility.

This pattern is given to us in the New Testament in the form of a very stern warning. Paul used the illustration of the olive tree in Romans 11 to show that Gentiles can be removed from the covenant in just the same way that unbelieving Jews were removed. The olive tree is the True Catholic Church, the true Israel of God, and the Lord Jesus Christ is the root. That tree will never be chopped down; we have God’s word on it. Moreover, we have His word that the tree will grow and flourish, as a visible Church, until the earth is filled with its fruit.

Does it then follow that no branches can ever be removed? As Paul might say, may it never be! This sin of covenantal presumption was exactly the sin that was the downfall of the Jews, and Paul warns the Gentiles not to think that what happened to the Jews was impossible for them. The church at Rome has many ancient glories, but what does it have that Jerusalem did not have? It was the Lord Jesus Himself who told the Church at Jerusalem that not one stone would be left on another. And again, Paul: “Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (Rom. 11:20-22). To join a particular church which maintains, as a point of dogma, that it cannot be cut off, appears to be a very perilous course of action.

Now in response to this, Rome would maintain that she is far more than just a particular church in a particular city, that she is not just a branch on the tree, but rather that she is the tree. This is internally consistent with their theology, but this is not what Paul tells them. These words are not just being applied by me to the Church at Rome, they were written by Paul to the Church at Rome. Paul expressly warns the Gentiles at Rome (Rom. 1:7; 11:13) that their removal from the Catholic Church was a very real possibility. “Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee” (v. 18). What we have here is a letter from Paul the apostle to the Church at Rome, telling her that she is not the root, but simply another branch on the tree. He states further that if she becomes haughty and proud, she could be removed as completely as previous branches were removed.

The point here is not to attack the insolence and wickedness of some of the Renaissance popes, Alexander VI, for a good example. Good men in every communion know wickedness when they see it. The question rather is what such wickedness potentially means. The issue is whether or not the apostle Paul warned Rome of what could happen to her status as an ancient church when she began to produce men who looked more like Caiphas than Peter. Do not be haughty, he said, but fear. “Fear what?” the question comes back. The apostle told Rome to fear removal.

But as a point of doctrine, Rome says she has nothing of this nature to fear. She could produce a hundred Alexanders and a thousand more just like Caiphas, and she would nonetheless remain permanently on the tree. The doctrine of the apostle was a little different, and the doctrine was given first in a letter to Rome, a lesson that was first neglected, then forgotten, and now formally denied.

Now all this leaves us still with the question of the identity and location of the true Catholic church, a question that will have to be developed at length another time. But in the meantime, it was Irenaeus who said, and said well, that “where the Church is, there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church.” Where is the olive tree? The answer of Scripture is plain: Where there are olives.

Behold the Lamb

One million pens could never write the story.
The poet’s tongue fails still the tale to tell.
He left the Father’s side and left His glory,
And came to us, Our Lord, Immanuel.

The prophets wait with great anticipation.
They see the Christ in myriad shadows clear.
The Promised Seed will come to bless the nations.
In fullness of the time He will appear.

In Abel’s flock we see God’s plan unfolding.
The firstling from the fold He did require.
Through Isaac’s ram we see God’s wrath withholding,
A lamb would come and bear for him the fire.

The blood of sacrifices filled the pages,
But never was the stain removed from men.
The message heard throughout the countless ages,
“A lamb will come and bear away our sin.”

The angels watch with holy fascination,
The prophet sees a Stranger on the shore.
He lifts his voice in joyous proclamation,
“Behold the Lamb that we’ve been waiting for!”

Ten thousand times ten thousand saints in glory,
Join singing out the blessed sweet new song.
Redeemed from every tongue now tell the story,
“Worthy the Lamb who is upon the throne.”

Thanks to Dean Olive for providing several helpful suggestions.

Eisegesis Doesn’t Mean “I See Jesus”

Typology is good if a man use it lawfully.

We have been considering how to read all of the Bible as Christian Scripture. The apostle Paul resolved to know nothing but Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 1: 22-24). I grew up in a tradition that interpreted this as requiring a simple gospel message every Sunday. So every seven days, the faithful saints gathered, and heard a message explaining to them how they could become Christians. And then an invitation to go forward was given. Needless to say, the sermons traveled in a well-worn groove. If preaching Christ, or preaching the gospel, means a proclamation of how to become a Christian, and that is all it means, there are only so many ways to do this.

Early in my ministry I determined that it was necessary to preach from the entire Bible, and not just from John 3:16 and its close cousins. This meant preaching from Zechariah, and Deuteronomy, and Proverbs, and so on. And yet, the apostolic comment was still there. The Bible talks about a large number of things, and if the preacher addresses them all, then how is he preaching “Christ and him crucified”? Some challenging examples would be the prohibition of co-signing a note in Proverbs (Prov. 11:15), dealing with running discharge in Leviticus (Lev. 15:13), and knowing what to say to stupid people (Prov. 26:4-5).

Some within the Reformed tradition have tried to solve this problem by making every text into a launching pad, from which we may eventually get to Christ in some sort of ham-handed way. This is often described as “preaching Christ.” Not every town in the United States is New York, but I can start from any town in the U.S. and get to New York if I take enough turns. But this can turn every text into a pretext. However well-intentioned it is, this attempt to get to Christ from everywhere overlooks a key element of how Christ comes to us in Scripture.

We don’t need to get to Christ from any point in Scripture; He is everywhere already. Christ is the end of the law, to everyone who believes. The faithful preacher does not see Christ from the law, there in the distance. Faith sees Christ in the law.

Faith sees Christ in every scriptural truth, in every passage, in every story, in every proverb, in every law—taken as such. Christ is near us, in our mouths, and in our hearts. This means, not to put too fine a point on it, that about rotating your tires or changing your oil every three thousand miles—we should not start with such a text, and work the message around to the point where we see Christ as the “tires” that will take us to heaven when we die. Christ is far greater than our personal salvation. Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, and everything in between.

Such a text should confront us with the fact that we do not yet see Christ in the most mundane of our duties. But Jesus is Lord, and He is Lord of all. The mundane texts are not Mount Pisgah from which we view the promised land. Every mundane text, treated honestly for what it is, is another square foot in the promised land. And even in the law, in the proverbs, in the stories, the grapes of Eschol are the size of Volkswagens.

“What about the Priest in High Heels?”

Last week I ran a across a very interesting (and needful) article by John J. Murray published by The Banner of Truth. The article addresses the perennial battle of Middle Earth—Truth versus Error. The author was mostly interested in how we go about choosing up sides. While I think that the article is very helpful, I also think that there some very large issues that lie at the heart of the conflict that go beyond just neatly dividing the combatants into “shirts and skins.”

Decades ago when the fundamentalists attacked Billy Graham for his willingness to share his platform with theological liberals, it was easy to dismiss their concerns with a roll of the eyes. At that time, modern evangelicalism still had something of a doctrinal backbone, and it was possible to see the whole effort as a form of strategic evangelism. But since that time, in what he is willing to bless, Billy Graham has capitulated both to Roman Catholicism and liberalism. Far from winning liberals with the gospel, the liberals tragically won him. And, so as far as this issue goes, the fundamentalists were demonstrably right. But underneath the controversy was another issue, and in this matter the fundamentalists were as compromised as Billy Graham was and contributed equally to the problem.

Because American evangelicals (and fundamentalists) tend to believe that the invisible church is visible, this means that to include someone in the church is tantamount to a declaration of peace and harmony. Conservatives see that the Christian faith and liberalism are two antithetical faiths in principle, and so they exclude liberals. The whole thing is so simple: those guys can’t be Christians. Evangelical moderates see that schism is distressing, and so they raise the welcoming glass to just about anyone, and try to promote the general glow of bonhomie. The conservative wants standards and no unity. The moderate wants unity and no standards. The biblical requirement is to demand both unity and standards, backing up the demand by fighting for both.

So the covenantal alternative is to accept these liberal gentlemen as fellow Christians, and then fight them to the death.
Take the example of marriage. A theological liberal in a mainstream denomination should be considered covenantally a Christian, even though he denies the virgin birth, the substitutionary death of Christ, the resurrection, and the final judgment. He is a Christian in just the same way that an adulterous husband is a husband. The unfaithful man remains a husband—even though he has slept with Suzy, Sally, Shirley, et al.

The fact such a man is a husband compounds his guilt; it does not lessen it in any way. If we knew that a man was promiscuous, and then found out he was married, we wouldn’t say, “Well, at least he’s married!” His covenant vows make his sin worse. When a single man sleeps around, his sin is great. When an infidel says that God didn’t create the world, his sin is great. When a married man is sexually treacherous, his sin is multiplied many times over. And when a liberal bishop says that Christ was merely a man, he is more than wrong. He is an antichrist. But he does belong to that which he betrays. Judas was this kind of liberal bishop (Acts 1:20).

So in the traditional debate over ecumenical issues, a false assumption has plagued us throughout the whole thing. One side knows we must fight this or that heretical error, and so we say those who are guilty of the error are not Christians in any way. Those who know they are Christians in some way assume that we should therefore not fight with them. But we must fight them especially because they bear the name of Christ.

What does a faithful shepherd do with a savage wolf? He fights. And where do savage wolves appear? “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29—30).

So, are these men in the covenant? Of course they are, which is why they are so dangerous.

If we learn this, we will learn to fight without being schismatic in attitude. Because we conservatives think this way, we have come to divide almost as a matter of course. And this becomes (soon enough) the way we handle disagreements among fellow conservatives—our spirits have become narrow and truncated. But in a fight a man needs a large heart and a narrow sword. We have jumbled everything and now have narrow hearts, and our swords are clumsily made from two by fours.

American Christians only know one method of fighting, which is to divide and run off to yet another splinter denomination, the presbytery of the True Flame. This, to use the military parlance, is called retreating. Moderates fraternize with evil covenant members and call it unity. A better term would be betrayal. Conservatives run from evil covenant members and call it purity. A better term would be rout.

Of course, as we learn this, it will not be long before the local liberal ministerial association writes you a polite letter (with typing all up and down the margins and a lot of exclamation points) that indicates, ahem, that perhaps you might be able to find another association more to your liking. We cannot do what we cannot do.

But something we can do is alter our language. We can stop talking as though we can see hearts. We can stop acting as though Christ’s standards for fighting are optional. We can stop acting like the hireling, who doesn’t care about the sheep.

This is That…

This is that which was spoken by the prophet Joel. And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams…

But this looks nothing like that. The scene in Acts two doesn’t actually look like what Joel said does it?  Come on! Where are the melting moons and blood-oozing suns?!

Ministers have to learn how to read.  This means that ministers also have to learn how to type.  That is, they have to learn how to see the meaning of the text and hear the redemptive rhythms that undergird the inspired Word.  Texts are portraits, symphonies, sonnets, and jokes.  Preachers desperately need to locate their funny bones.  If Scripture is sufficient for all things, then surely it must be sufficient to teach us how we are to handle the text of Scripture. The writers of the New Testament provide us with many examples of typological interpretation from the Old Testament, and we have a prima facie obligation to learn how to read Scripture the same way.

But a very important question was raised in the last article which was not answered in any detail. Where are the brakes on this system of interpretation? How can we handle Scripture in this way without flying off into fanciful or frivolous interpretations? The fact that other schools of interpretation have to answer the same question does not mean that we have answered it.

So what prevents fanciful interpretation (it should be noted that we don’t even have a ground for establishing what “fanciful” means apart from the Scriptures)? How should we begin our lessons in a sober and biblically grounded typology? Perhaps an analogy can help. Consider the text of the New Testament on a single sheet as an overlay for the Old. The Old Testament is a single sheet underneath. Every place the New Testament interprets the Old in a particular way, (metaphorically) drive a nail through both testaments. Let the New Testament fix the meaning of every Old Testament passage it addresses.

What does this do to the passages that are not addressed directly? The passages that we have fixed in place limit our range of motion. Let me illustrate. To understand Adam as a type of Christ is settled by the New Testament (Rom. 5; 1 Cor. 15). Adam had a wife named Eve (Gen. 3:20 ), and Christ has a bride also—the Church (Eph. 5:25). If we were to call the Church the last Eve, we are saying something that Scripture does not explicitly say anywhere, but which Scripture does implicitly require. Our fixed points of reference require this of us. We cannot consistently deny that the Church is an Eve—she is married to an Adam.

But if we were to say that Eve is a type of “Madeleine Albright listening to the United Nations serpent,” then we are exercising our imaginations, not interpreting Scripture. Our interpretation amounts to little more than a common vocabulary exercise in elementary schools, where the students are told to write a story using this week’s vocabulary words. Very few objective constraints are put on the work of imagination. The Madeleine Albright illustration is biblical interpretation only because biblical vocabulary words, like Eve, are used in it. As C.S. Lewis once said of fanciful interpretation, if the text had had small pox, the sermon wouldn’t have caught it.

An exercise that could be very helpful to pastors in accomplishing this mindset is one that was instrumental in helping me shake loose many of the unbiblical doctrinal assumptions I picked up over the years. Most copies of the New Testament mark citations from the Old in some way. The unfortunate thing is that the reverse is not usually done—those places in the Old Testament which are quoted later on in the New are rarely marked as such. The thing to do is to fix the problem yourself with marker pens. Look up every place in the Old Testament which is quoted in the New and mark it with a highlighter. Then off in the margin write down the New Testament reference where it is quoted.

When this is done, it is time to read through the Old Testament, together with all the reminders that the New Testament contains authoritative teaching on the marked Old Testament passages. For example, when you come to Psalm 2, you are reminded at once that there is teaching on what the Psalm means in multiple places in the New Testament.

The first thing that will become apparent is that Jesus and His apostles had favorite books and passages. Anyone who wants to grasp the teaching of the New Testament has to master Genesis, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah, which are quoted in the New Testament constantly. And the way to learn these Old Testament books (and all the others) is to learn what the New Testament says about them. But this is rarely done. Any preacher who uses commentaries when preaching through Old Testament books can testify how rare it is for the apostolic interpretation to be taken into account by the commentator as he seeks to find the meaning of the text before him. Surely this should be a cause of astonishment.

The modernist approach to the text is to interpret it according to certain modernist rules, and to the extent the apostolic teaching is referenced at all, it provides anachronistic embarrassment. Once, while taking a class on hermeneutics at an evangelical seminary, I heard the instructor say that Paul was, and I quote, “wrong” in his handling of Hagar and Sarah. But this instructor never would have dreamed of saying that the academic experts were wrong about Genesis because they didn’t see two covenants in these women.

Some might still be suspicious of reasoning “by good and necessary consequence” from fixed reference points. In the abstract, it can sound scary, but it is still academic. Most of us could spend several profitable years discovering how thoroughly typological the New Testament handling of the Old Testament actually is in all the “fixed” places. Even if we never take a step beyond that, we will still find ourselves with a much richer understanding of the Word than we currently have.

And if we do take the next step, as we should, we will simply be following dominical and apostolic leadership.

Shadows Aren’t Mirages…

Jesus is not merely symbolically present in the Old Testament; He is sacramentally present.

The minister is the herald of God. His chief duty is to enter the pulpit and proclaim the truth as it is revealed in sacred Scripture. In order to do this, he must first handle the Word of God. But how shall he handle it?

Of course we want to say that he should handle it wisely and well, but this is not helpful when it comes to the basics of exegesis. Wisely and well by what standard? Most modern pastors have been trained in what is called the historical/grammatical method of exegesis, but which might more accurately be called the tight historical/grammatical method. “Tight” means that the exegesis is limited to lexical, syntactical, historical, and contextual study, which is to say, Enlightenment exegesis.

But a problem for this approach is created by the New Testament. As conservative ministers of the Word, we are fond of affirming the sufficiency of the Word for all things, and in all things. We do not need supplementary help from secular psychiatry, secular astro-physics, or any other branch of secular whatever in order to supplement the Scriptures. The problem is we abandon this admirable stance when it comes to our method of getting at the Word of God.

Scripture is sufficient for all things, including the task of teaching us how to learn from Scripture. And does this not mean we should learn how to handle the Scriptures from the Lord Jesus and the Apostles? The New Testament is filled with citations from the Old Testament, and we have more than enough material to show us how they handle the text. This presents a problem of loyalties.

Moderns want to say that the “allegorical method” of interpretation arose because Greek philosophers were embarrassed by the shenanigans of their Homeric gods (whose authority could not be directly challenged), and so they devised allegorical interpretations to provide edifying meaning for all Zeus’ bedhopping. And this is true—that is exactly what happened. And so they continue, the early church father Origen brought this fanciful exegesis into the Church because he was swayed by such pagan allegorists, and so the medieval church was brought under the pernicious influence of “edifying” allegorism.

Before replying to this historical reconstruction, let it first be said that allegoristic exegesis in the Church was frequently taken to excessive lengths, and amounted to little more than imbecilic trifling with the text. My personal favorite is the view that the Shulamite’s belly, that lovely heap of wheat, actually represented the Great Sanhedrin. I picture a group of bearded rabbis sitting in a solemn assembly, and it just plain tickles me.

But such an historical sketch is too facile. If the appeal to a sensus plenior, the fuller sense, came from Origen, or from other Alexandrians before him, then what are we to make of the very common assumption throughout the New Testament that the Old Testament had a sensus plenior? Where did Jesus and Paul get this hermeneutical technique? Did they get it from embarrassed Greek philosophers too? I am afraid we have honestly trained ourselves to miss what the New Testament writers are doing with the text—and we act like the early fathers received no encouragement whatever from the New Testament.

But Christ was a Rock that followed the Jews in the wilderness. The flood in Noah’s time was a typological representation of Christian baptism. The bronze serpent in the wilderness was a type of the crucifixion. Sarah and Hagar were representative types of two covenants. Melchizedek was a type of Christ, and the etymological history of his city—Salem, meaning “peace”—was also typologically significant. The writers of the New Testament saw Christ in the Old when He was expressly predicted (“A virgin will conceive”), but it has to be said that they also saw Him everywhere else. And Jesus was the one who taught them this hermeneutic.

So then the question becomes whether we the uninspired are to learn from their handling of the Scripture: How is it to be done? Is this a don’t-try-this-at-home kind of thing? If the latter, then how and where does Scripture teach us our hermeneutic? If the former, then we have to learn how uninspired men can learn from inspired men how to handle the Scriptures. In his book on this subject, Richard Longenecker allows that various forms of typological exegesis are very common in the New Testament but wants to say that we should not attempt this apart from special revelation. For him, literal exegesis is safe—staying close to the shore.

The problem here is that when Jesus teaches His two disciples on the road to Emmaus about these things, He rebukes them for not having read the Old Testament in this way already—apart from special revelation. In other words, we do not abstain from this method of exegesis (rightly performed) because we are concerned for exegetical prudence, but rather because we are slow of heart to believe everything the prophets have spoken.  Hebrews read the Bible backwards and so should we.

The question immediately arises—where are the brakes on this thing? Why is the erotic rabbis’ interpretation wrong? A detailed answer will have to wait until another time, but a few comments should be made here. First, the concern is in principle correct—given the sin and folly still resident in any interpreter, we do need to know where the brakes are. The full answer is that Christ is Lord. And, as an afterthought, we need to remember that every hermeneutic needs brakes, and not just the typological. And the Enlightenment hermeneutic is a 350-year-old runaway train.

I conclude with a few good quotes from Westminster’s Lane Tipton from the book, Confident of Better Things. 

What is the ‘original context’ of the Old Testament? At minimum we must begin with the notion that the Old Testament is the self-revelation of the triune God. As such, God’s being and revelation provides the ‘original context’ that situates the Old Testament. The human and historical are therefore subordinate to the Trinitarian self-disclosure of God (p. 203).

The Old Testament is the history of special revelation. As the history of special revelation it is not possible to construe the “original intent” of a given Old Testament text “only” in terms of “original human historical meaning.”… The human dimension of the Old Testament is a subset of a more basic historical reality, namely, the redemptive revelation of the triune God (203-204).

The Old Testament, on its own terms, prior to Jesus’ advent in redemptive history, is Christian Scripture—Scripture that mediates the gospel of Jesus Christ and all his benefits to the faith of Old Testament saints through earthy promises, types, and sacrifices. As Christian Scripture it presents the gospel on its own terms in typological categories (p. 211).

It’s time to turn away from deficient concepts of grammatical-historical meaning, historicist constructions of typology, and artificial disjunctions between original contextual meaning and christological fulfillment. It’s time to turn back to the redemptive revelatory activity of the triune God and to the organic richness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, accenting all of its manifold hermeneutical presuppositions and implications. It is time to proclaim clearly and without reservation that Christ enters the Old Testament through the front door (p. 213).

The Second Coming of Christendom

Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.

A modern Christian has been watching the news on his new sixty-five inch color TV set in the living room of his comfortable home. He switches the set off and comments to his wife that the world is in a horrible condition. He wonders how long it can go on—he is very discouraged as he goes to pour himself a third glass of iced tea.

An old Puritan is tied to the stake, and is about to be burned alive for his faith. He lifts his face toward heaven and rejoices that Christ is on His throne, and that He will be worshipped from the river to the ends of the earth.

What is the difference between these men? Very simply, it is a matter of faith in the promises of God to save the world. One sits at ease and is overwhelmed by troubles. The other is surrounded by troubles, and yet speaks a word that goes forth conquering and to conquer. The first has won his life in what he thinks is a losing battle. The second loses his life in what he knows to be a winning battle.

When the twelve spies went into the land of Canaan, ten of them were like our modern Christian, and fell into the sin of unbelief. They saw that the land was good, but in their sin they saw only the strength of the enemy. There were giants in the land. They forgot that their was a God on the throne. But Joshua and Caleb—troublemakers both—saw the Word of God and the opportunity for obedient conquest.

Now unbelief is not necessarily simple; it can be complicated by many factors. We have our reasons, and our theologies, and our church traditions, for remaining in the sin of unbelief. But Christ told us that our job was to lead the nations to faith in Him; consequently, any theology that rejects our duty to do so is therefore on some level an unbelieving and disobedient theology.

A man says that he has his dispensational charts and diagrams which prove we are living in the last generation. We say that if he would rather sit on the roof doing calculations than obey his Lord in subduing the earth for His glory, he had better hope that Christ doesn’t come back right now. Another man says that Satan is the god of this world. “The task can’t be done—Satan is too strong.” But we say that the God of the Bible is stronger than any creature, including Satan, and God is the one who has given us this task. And if God has given this task, accompanied with a promise, then the task is not impossible.

We do not have the authority to disobey Christ for the sake of an unbelieving systematic theology. Several very popular theologies (dispensationalism and amillennialism) say that effective world evangelization is impossible, whilst Christ says that world evangelization is our bounden duty. The one that we follow is the real authority in our lives, and in this case, we can’t follow both. It is never fashionable to speak this way. We live in an age when it is considered rude to speak plain truth, but the plain ungarbled word is what we need. Christ is King, not our theologies, and our task is to proclaim His advancing and invincible kingdom throughout the world.

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He assigned an apparently overwhelming task. “And Jesus came and spake unto them saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Mt. 28:18-20). Like many familiar words, these often just float by us. We think we undersand them simply because we are accustomed to hearing them.

But an understanding of this passage must always be at the center of any thoughts concerning a distinctively Christian culture—not because our Lord’s words are primarily concerned with politics, but because they are not. Following the Lord’s authority, one of the distinctives of Christian cultural understanding is that it is also minimally concerned with politics. The restoration of the nations is not, in any important sense, a political process. Rather, the process is one of baptism and catechism. The means given for the conversion of the heathen were Words and water. When the lessons have been learned, there will of course be some political consequences. But they will be minimal for the simple reason that the state itself, in a nation that has come to repentance, will also be minimal. For the Christian, the political realm is a creature to be redeemed, sinful like the rest of us and with a long way to go before it retires to more biblical proportions.

The state is certainly no redeemer and political theory no savior. Our problems really aren’t political anyway. They are spiritual and the solutions are Word and sacrament. The charge was not “go ye, and elect right-of-center congresspersons.” Now certainly the gospel has an effect on all of culture, as it should. But results are not causes; apples are not roots.

In our history, as the gospel spread throughout the Gentile world, of course it began to have a cultural and civic impact. How could it not? The eventual cultural effect of this was Christendom—a motley collection of nations which together, with varying degrees of success, acknowledged the Lordship of Jesus Christ over them. Beginning with the time of Constantine, warts and blemishes were plentiful, but there were glorious times in Christendom as well. But the spiritual conditions of these once-converted nations is now, it seems, just history. Can these bones live? Lord, Thou knowest.

It is safe to say that with the birth of materialistic secularism, the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, the rise of industrial statism, the arrogance of militant unbelief, and the cultural retreat of virtually all believing Christians—in short the triumph of modernity—the vaunt of the secularist appears to be warranted. The issue appears to be settled. When the Confederate States of America surrendered at Appomattox, the last nation of the old order fell. So, because historians like to have set dates on which to hang their hats, we may say that the first Christendom died there, in 1865. The American South was the last nation of the first Christendom.

But the idea of Christendom has not passed away. God’s promise remains. He has promised that all the nations will come to His Son, and He has carefully instructed us to teach them this. When the kings turn to us inquiringly, we are to tell them to kiss the Son, lest He be angry with them. Christians should therefore not be despondent when we do not see this happening on our schedule, or our time-table. Psalm 2 says that kings should be worried about the anger of the Lord, not that the Lord’s people should be worried about the foot-dragging of kings.

Our father in the faith, the ancestor of this glorious ingathering of nations, gives us a wonderful basis for faith whenever we see the cause of the godly “die.”

For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith…even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were: who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be (Rom. 4:13-18).

As the gospel makes its way through a treacherous world, we have seen the righteous fall many times, and before the Lord comes again, we will see them fall again. But whenever the righteous fall, those who lament must be sons of Abraham. They must serve the God who calls those things that do not exist as though they did. Our God raises the dead. This truth is not a peripheral dogma; it is at the center of our faith—Christ rose from the dead. This also is the center of our hope—the nations will come, and those who have fallen shall rise again.

This means that there certainly will be a second Christendom, and if necessary, a third. The Lord taught us to expect the process to be a gradual one—as leaven works through the loaf, as a mustard seed grows—but the Word teaches just as surely that the process is an inexorable one. “And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand as an ensign for the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Is. 11:10). And the Psalmist promises us this: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindred of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations” (Ps. 22:27-28). John the Apostle repeats the same truth. “And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth of bring their glory and honor into it’ (Rev. 21:24)

Jesus did not teach us to pray, saying, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in heaven if and when we get there.” In His commission He told us to disciple the nations. Empowered by the Spirit, this is done with the water and the Word. In our prayers, Jesus told us to pray for the heavenly commonwealth to have an earthly manifestation. In short, we are to pray for the second coming of Christendom.

These prayers will be answered, so this means that the South will rise again. But this is not said with any regional or national jingoistic fervor. So will New England. So will Scotland. So will the Netherlands. And as the gospel comes to the uttermost regions for the first time, savage tribes will attend His Word. The earth is the Lord’s and He will have it. All these things will happen prior to the Lord’s Second Advent. “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps. 110:1).

After the Lord completed His perfect work of salvation, He ascended into heaven, on the clouds of glory, He approached the Ancient of Days. The Lord Christ, the Great High Priest, presented His perfect sacrifice to God the Father. It was received with great rejoicing, and the Son was given His inheritance of universal and complete dominion over all the sons of men.

In the wisdom of God it was ordained that this dominion would not be manifested instantaneously. As yeast works through a loaf of bread, the kingdom of God will slowly permeate all the nations of men, and peace will come to middle earth. As the rock cut without hands grows and becomes a mountain that fills the entire earth, so the kingdom of God will grow and subdue everything before it. As the water flows out from under the threshold of the temple, getting deeper and rising higher, so the living water of the gospel flows out of the New Temple until it fills the earth as the waters cover the sea, and all will know the Lord.

Now the Lord Jesus took His seat at the right hand of the Father two millennia ago. He is seated there now, and Scripture tells us that He will remain there until all His enemies are under His imperial heel. He is King of kings and Lord of lords; as temporal kings and lords progressively acknowledge this truth, His enemies collapse before Him. But how will they come to acknowledge such a thing? Will it be through political action or social involvement? No, the scepter in the hand of the Lord is the gospel of Christ in the mouths of His preachers. As they declare in faith who the Lord is and what He has done, the Lord sovereignly and majestically and efficaciously works in the hearts of unconverted men, and they are changed by His grace.

We have this confidence because our Lord and Savior did not come into the world to condemn the world. Nor did He come into the world to try to avoid condemning the world if He only could. His purpose in coming to our rebellious world was to save it. And His passion on the cross will not be seen to have accomplished its principle purpose until the world is saved. This is a promise of Scripture that our anemic Church has long forgotten. We have abandoned the Great Commission though redefinition; this is a grievous error. We of all people should be the ones to acknowledge that Christ is Lord of all. Was it not promised to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through Him? This does not mean all the nations of men will be thrown into hell for rejecting Him—rather it mess that His conquering cross, His efficacious redemption, will overcome their hatred of His holiness and their hostility toward His kingdom.

Do we somehow think that He, rejected by men, went back into the heaven to sulk about it? Do we think that rebellious mankind has frustrated His declared intention and purpose? That is just defeatist dreaming. He went away, but He has not left us here powerless. He has sent His Spirit to enable us to do what He commands from His throne. And what has He commanded? Did He want us to evangelize a few Pakistanis? A handful of Chinese? A thimble full of Russians? Though we might like to think in such limited terms, His command was for us to take the nations.

Popular evangelicalism wants the atonement to touch every last man, woman, and child. But in order to get it to do so, this touch is made ineffectual. The Arminian wants to spread it far and wide.  But they spread it like pie dough; the further they spread it, the thinner it gets.  At this point you can read the newspaper through it. Then there are those Pessimistic Calvinists who want the touch to be effectual…for half a dozen folks. But Christ has commanded the Church, in His name and authority, to conquer the world through the fearless proclamation of of the New Covenant which He established through His blood.

The hour is coming, and now is, when God will make His people willing in the day of His power. Preachers will speak the truth in power, the Spirit will blow upon the desert bones, dead men will rise and present themselves before the throne of God. This really is the essence of the Great Commission. Christ did not give us something to shoot for. He gave us something to do. So Christian, take heart! Christ will have the fruit of His sufferings. The next time you hear someone despairingly ask, “What is the world coming to?” Let faith arise and say to them with full assurance, “It’s coming to Jesus.”