- Biblical Theology (Geerhardus Vos)
- Far As The Curse Is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption (Michael Williams)
- The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, and His Kingdom (Samuel Renihan)
- Introduction To Covenant Theology (Theocast)
Justin Perdue: Welcome to the members’ podcast. As always, we want to thank you, our members, for your generous support and frankly, just for your partnership with us. We’ve been transitioning into using more of that language of partnership and it’s intentional because that’s how we view you. As our partners in ministry, you are making possible everything that goes on here behind the microphones. Everything that is written, all the messages and good content that is shared in a number of different platforms only happen because of the support of our membership. We are thankful. We are hopeful for what God has in store for the future of Theocast. Continue to partner with us in the ways that you have been, continue to spread the word about Theocast and the content we provide, and encourage others to partner with us as well. We want to see this ministry grow in every good way, and we want to see more people resting in Jesus.
Now we’re going to turn to this conversation that we’re having. In the regular podcast, we were answering the question, in one sense, of why Jesus died on the cross and why was that necessary. It was an exercise in redemptive-historical theology with Christ at the center, with the glory of Christ in the work of redemption being the main point and the focus of Scripture.
Let’s have a conversation, you and me, in this safe space with our members. Why in the world would people ever object to the glory of Christ and the work of redemption being the point of the Bible? Why in the world would people ever want to turn it into something else? What’s underneath and behind that way of thinking in that logic?
Jon Moffitt: The logic behind it is that we aren’t taking the actual words of the Old Testament literally, or even the New Testament, but of course this happens. Everyone can say the New Testament is about Jesus because that’s when Jesus arrives, but in the Old Testament, Jesus is shown in shadows and types for sure. Where the Old Testament explicitly references Jesus is where they would agree that it is Jesus, but I would say that they use the same interpretive model we do. Isaiah 53 doesn’t explicitly say this is Jesus, but anybody who has read any kind of biblical theology or systematic theology knows that Isaiah 53 is about Jesus.
Justin Perdue: Can I tell a story? I can say this because it’s the members’ area. I’m not going to get into a lot of detail, but this is just to illustrate some of the controversy that can come up over things like this. I was on staff for a period of time at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. where Mark Dever is the senior pastor. John MacArthur came to be a guest preacher one Sunday for us while I was on staff. John was an incredibly gracious and charitable man toward me. I always appreciated his interaction and have profited from him in a number of ways as many have. Mark and John are friends—they have a good relationship. One of the things that we did in DC is every Sunday night, we would gather as a staff and review the day in terms of the service, the sermon, and other various things. We talk about it together for our profit and benefit.
So John MacArthur comes and is going to preach on a Sunday morning at Capitol Hill, and he’s going to preach Isaiah 53. He gets up in the pulpit and sets the table. Capitol Hill and Mark Dever definitely have a redemptive-historical understanding of Scripture in a general sense. Even if some of the finer points are not exactly everything we say here, they’re generally where we are. So MacArthur gets in the pulpit and says, “Many of you think that Isaiah 53 is about Jesus, but I’m going to tell you right now that it’s not—it’s about Israel.”
I thought half the church was about ready to get up and walk out the room. I looked around at people’s faces and we’re all just horrified. We’re like, “Oh my Lord. What is happening?” But then here’s the great irony, Jon, to your point: having said that unnecessarily, I think, and being provocative, MacArthur then commenced to preach a sermon that was basically about Jesus. Brother, help us understand. That evening, when we talked together, MacArthur was gracious enough to come and do a service review with us. We had a very good, honest conversation about that and about what he said and about why we disagreed. It was good.
I had no intention of sharing that, but what you said just made me think of it. I’ll never forget it.
Jon Moffitt: I’d love to hear that sermon. I’m pretty sure that John believes that in the end, it is a prophecy referencing Jesus.
Justin Perdue: He did. But he tried to say it’s not about Jesus and it’s about Israel. Even John and his progressive dispensational conviction cannot get away from the fact that this is obviously about Christ, because that’s what you end up saying.
Jon Moffitt: What we’re getting at is that they are afraid of mystifying the text. They’re afraid of reading things back into the text. I appreciate it. Because the accusation is we find Jesus under every rock in the Old Testament. That’s not fair because that’s not actually what we’re doing. We’re actually using the New Testament to help us go back and interpret. We’re using their language when they say this is what is meant by this. We are using the interpretive model that the Holy Spirit gives the New Testament writers. Sam Renihan in his book says that it is demanded of us to read Scripture in this way. It’s not that it’s an option, it’s the option.
I would say that I believe in a grammatical-historical understanding of Scripture, meaning that I look at the grammar, I look at the word construct, and I look at the original intention of the author as he wrote to his readers. I believe it in its history. But that doesn’t mean that is the final illustration and final meaning of that text, because Jesus then takes the serpent in the wilderness and uses it as a fuller meaning and an explanation of the original meaning and explanation.
Justin Perdue: And that’s just one example of literally dozens of explicit examples, if not hundreds.
Jon Moffitt: Right. “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”
Justin Perdue: All of that. We could just go on and on. That’s just from the list of Christ.
Jon Moffitt: Right. Paul talks about how they drank of Christ when Moses struck the rock in the Old Testament. Someone will say we’re reading that into the text. I would say no, I’m reading you Paul; Paul read that into the text, or I would say Paul interpreted that in the text because Christ is the one who is leading Israel because Christ is the salvation of Israel. Israel is leading us to Christ and Israel is being saved by Christ. These are really important interpretive models because they help us make sure that we get the point.
My biggest struggle with a lot of interpretive models that are out there is that a lot of times people don’t even realize they have one. Justin and I just did a whole podcast on this called Is Your Theological System Any Good? Today is an illustration of how to use the right interpretive model. It comes on the heels of this is the system and this is how you use it. It’s the plain and obvious way of using Scripture because it is pointing you to the purpose of it. What ends up happening is in our sinful hearts and our desires, pietism, which is in all of us, we want to prove to God that we are worthy of being His child. We are worthy of our salvation. We end up reading the text in this way where we can see men who have done noble and heroic things in the Bible: Daniel being on his knees and praying, David standing up to the Goliath, and all of that. We use that and say, “I, too, will stand up for God.” The narrative of Scripture becomes about me and not Jesus.
Justin Perdue: We don’t need any help trying to make everything about us—that’s just what we do naturally. If I’m going to say it in a provocative way, it’s just like Spurgeon said about Pelagianism about how we don’t need to be taught Pelagianism because we get it in our mother’s milk. The same is true of pietism—we do not need to be taught pietism. We do not need to be taught how to turn everything in Scripture into something about us, because that’s just what we do. It’s as natural as breathing. Our default position is this very self-centered pietistic perspective that makes us the point. That’s why it happens all the time. I may come back to that in just a minute.
Just a couple of comments before we leave the textual stuff that you were mentioning, Jon, where sometimes the charges raised against us is that we’re not taking the Bible literally, or we’re not looking at history and grammar and all that—and I think you refuted that.
One thing that I would say about interpreting the Bible wholesale, and this is true from Genesis through Revelation, is there are a number of different genres contained within Scripture and that matters in our interpretation of them. There are a lot of different kinds of language in Scripture that would matter for our understanding. A lot of times, when we read things from a redemptive-historical perspective, when we read things from a type of logical perspective in the Old Testament, people will say we’re not taking the Bible as literally as we need to take it. To which I would say that I could come up with a million illustrations of how they do the exact same thing in different places.
For example, when Jesus says in John 10 that he is the door, I trust you understand that he is speaking in metaphor. You don’t literally think he’s a door. “I am the bread.” “You need to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” I don’t assume that you think that Jesus is encouraging people to cannibalism.
Jon Moffitt: In the context, they did take him literally.
Justin Perdue: Exactly. There is a metaphorical figurative meaning, dare I say, in so many of the things contained in Scripture. Again, members’ area, safe space: frankly, it is naive, absurd, and you demonstrate a lack of understanding. You demonstrate that you probably haven’t read very much or thought very much about hermeneutics and how to apply and interpret the Scripture when you just make a blanket statement like, “You’re just not taking the Bible literally.” It’s like you are demonstrating your lack of depth of understanding in trying to think through really serious and sincere things that people have wrestled with for millennia in terms of how to understand and interpret Scripture rightly.
Jon Moffitt: To add to that, I think those of the dispensational camp or people who think they have no interpretive model but the Bible is to be interpreted literally, I agree with you—I think you do and I think I do. The question is are you using all of Scripture to interpret Scripture literally as it was intended to be interpreted? If someone says, “I’m just reading the Bible and I’m taking it at face value,” that’s fine. But do you understand how and why the Bible is structured like that? For instance, when I say it’s raining cats and dogs, Justin isn’t running outside, looking at splattered animal bodies all over the place. He understands it’s raining a lot. The Bible does this. We were just talking about curse and tree. There are idioms and references and types and shadows.
If you’re going to read it literally, you have to read it in the context literally where when there’s something that’s being referenced, you have to allow that. The problem is we aren’t trained to read the Bible in this way. We think we just need to sit down and through the power of the Spirit, we’ll read what’s there and fully understand it. Maybe if you’ve been trained on understanding how context works, as well as different literature works, narrative, and poetry. I would say, to the defense of my dispensational brothers and Presbyterian brothers whom I love dearly, all three of us along with our brothers claim to read the Bible literally. Let’s not hurl that against each other anymore. It’s just not fair.
Justin Perdue: It’s not a helpful thing to say.
Jon Moffitt: No, because what you’re saying is, “I don’t take the Bible literally. I don’t take it seriously.”
Justin Perdue: Or, “You’re not really submitting yourself to the word of God.”
Jon Moffitt: Right. The other thing is, “You’re allowing the authority of confessions to dictate how you read Scripture.” Anyone who reads Scripture has something that they are presupposing on the texts, which we talked about in our last episode.
Justin Perdue: What we talked about last week is the question, “Where does your system come from? Is it any good?” We would contend that this system, this redemptive-historical Christocentric, typological way of understanding the Bible, was actually taken from Scripture. It comes up out of the text. It’s not something that we’re imposing upon the text; it comes out of it. I think we’ve demonstrated that in some ways, even today, and we’ve talked about it in past episodes.
Jon Moffitt: I think it’s healthy. It’s good for us. I’m in constant conversations with my dispensational friends on trying to further understand their point of view of Scripture. I think these are the kinds of things that will exalt Christ. If we’re trying to get down to the bottom of the text for the glory of Christ, I don’t care to be right for the sake of being right. People say, “Well, don’t you care about the truth?” Yeah, of course.
Justin Perdue: I know we’ve been a little bit here, there, and everywhere with this, but I’m going back to one other thing that is in the text. In particular, I have in view our dispensationalist friends, but certainly also people that read things in the Old Testament and want to take the Bible on their own terms and are not quite sure what to do with it. When God will say things to Israel through Moses, for example, and underneath the covenantal frameworks like the Abrahamic covenant and the Mosaic covenant are ruling the day, he says things like for example, “This statute is forever. It’s for all your generations.” People look at that and they think this is going to last forever. Then whatever is happening with Jesus comes in after that, so it must not be the end of this. They’re just trying to figure out how to understand Scripture.
How would we understand this forever language? This is again where we have to understand the Bible in terms of its pattern of fulfillment. How all of the promises of God find their yes and amen in Christ. In particular, there are certain things that find their fulfillment in Jesus in such a way that they cease to be once Christ comes on the scene. Exhibit A is the sacrificial system. Another is I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people ask me, “Shouldn’t we be celebrating the Passover? God says that we’re to do it forever.” We do in that Jesus is our Passover Lamb, and Jesus instituted a meal that fulfilled that Passover meal. We do it every time we come to the table. We’re feeding on Christ by faith in his substitutionary work in our place. We look forward to the wedding feast of the Lamb in the new heavens and the new earth. That’s what the Passover was about. It’s here, and there’s a greater reality yet to be at the right after the resurrection, but this is the kind of stuff that we have to help people understand because people read that the Passover’s forever and we don’t do it anymore. Are we in sin? No, we’re not.
I just want to give people the benefit of the doubt and be charitable that there are a lot of well-meaning Christians who have read something like that and don’t know what it means. How does this square with the practices that we have in the church? This is the duty of pastors: to teach the Scripture. This is why confessions, the rule of faith, and the history of interpretation help us because we’re able to do theology with people who have been long dead and we together understand Scripture.
Anyway, I hope all of this has been helpful for people to wrestle through this in their own minds.
Jon Moffitt: If you haven’t listened to our covenant theology series yet, please do so. It should be available now for everyone. You can listen to it on the private podcast feed or go to theocast.org/members and on that page are all of our classes and all of that information. It’s a five-part series that Justin, Jimmy, and I have been dialoguing and working on. We wanted the simplest introduction possible that we could think of. This is our attempt to help you get the foundation on covenant theology so that you can start building on it.
Justin Perdue: Avail yourselves of those resources. We hope they’re helpful to you.
Thank you again for your partnership with us. We’re encouraged by you. We’re encouraged to see the membership continue to grow. We pray that it happens more so that we can do more things with and for Theocast and for our members. We hope to see this message continue to spread to as many people as possible.
I’ve enjoyed the conversation today. I have been edified in the Lord, Jesus Christ, thinking about why he died on the cross for us and what he has accomplished in our place. I hope that’s true for you, our members, and that you’ve been edified and encouraged in Christ as well. We will speak with you again next week.