- 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)
Jon Moffitt: Welcome to the members’ podcast. We are so excited to be here with you.
To Justin’s first bomb drop, it is true that the whole argumentation between who is literal is unfair and unfounded. I am reading and interacting a lot with other people who have different systems. The two major systems today that are notable and legitimate to have a discussion over are dispensationalism and covenantalism. Those are really the two major systems historically – and I would say dispensational is a new system. I know a lot of them don’t want to hear that, but it is new.
The argumentation ends up being that covenantalists don’t take the Bible literally. They read things into the text or back into the text, or they spiritualize the text. I will say dispensationalists actually spiritualize the text, too, and they are not very willing to be literal. When Paul says that all the promises of God are fulfilled in Christ, they don’t take that literal somehow. There’s the argumentation going back and forth and I don’t really want to get into it. Covenantalism versus dispensationalism is not the point. It’s more of really examining our systems and seeing if they are aligning up with Scripture. Can we really say that all of Scripture is pointing us to this? When I make the statement “all of Scripture is Christian Scripture”, what do I mean by that?
Justin Perdue: What you’re pushing back against is the idea that the Old Testament is Hebrew Scripture for Hebrew people, and then the New Testament is Christian Scripture for the church.
I agree with your statement that all of Scripture is Christian Scripture and that is because all of it ultimately centers on Christ and his work of redemption that God has planned before the world began. That becomes quite obvious as we read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. Jesus and the apostles are crystal clear that all of what came before Christ was about him and what he would do.
As a Christian, a pastor, and a preacher, I preach from the Old Testament a lot. I don’t just camp out in the New Testament. Think about certain ministries that are relatively famous. Some guys will even say their goal was to preach the entire New Testament because that’s really all that matters. What about the entire counsel of God’s word?
Jon Moffitt: 2 Timothy 3:16 has to refer to the Old Testament because they didn’t even have all of the New Testament at that point.
Justin Perdue: Exactly. There are certain ministries, like I said, where guys will plan to preach the entire New Testament, and then they’ve done their job. I preach from the Old Testament a bunch. In terms of my preaching rhythm at CBC, I will alternate testaments: I’ll preach one book from the Old and then from the New and go back and forth. I want our people to learn how to read their Bibles and how to understand Scripture. When I preach the Old Testament, I preach it as a Christian pastor who understands everything that’s happening there in the Old Testament is in light of the great story of Scripture that centers on Christ. The Old Testament is Christian Scripture because it’s forward-looking. There is no way to read the Old Testament and not plainly see that it is forward-looking. It is looking forward to someone who would come, to something that would happen, to something that would be finished, accomplished, and done. It is anticipating Christ. To preach it as though that is not the case, and then to stick our heads in the sand and act like this entire New Testament is not a thing and Christ didn’t come and redemption isn’t over, when I go to the book of Isaiah, is just flat out absurd. How is this responsible biblical interpretation when you are literally ignoring the main point of the whole thing? You are ignoring what happened afterward that the Prophets, Moses, the Psalms, and everybody are writing about.
In evaluating a theological system and a theological framework, we need to ask these hard questions. Is your framework any good and right? If you’re telling me that the Old Testament was only for Jews or is only for Israelites, sometimes I don’t even know if that merits a response. It’s poor thinking, brother. I’m going to stop. I’m trying to filter myself right now because I don’t want to say things that are too strong.
Jon Moffitt: I would say that we prioritize things in Scripture. We all do. I would say there are certain systems that give priority to Israel and the prophecies given to Israel. They ended up dominating Scripture where we really dig into the text to explain Israel, the purposes of Israel, and God’s purposes to Israel. Israel is a dominant theme in the Old Testament but the question is what is God doing? What promises did God give to Israel? We tend to look at the prophetic passages that are given to Israel and say, “God still has promises that He must fulfill to Israel.” I’m saying we have to read all of Scripture and look at all of what the Bible has to say about Israel, what God is doing with Israel, and the purposes of Israel.
From day one, the people of God started with Adam and Eve, and then there was another group of the people of God that God narrowed out saying, “Through Abraham, I’m going to do a work.” But God never excluded the other nations. Other nations could come and be a part of the people of God. It was never the exclusion. As a matter of fact, Israel was designed to bring us the Messiah so the Messiah could include all nations. The promise to Abraham is that all the nations would be blessed. Somehow we think that God is isolating out and will only work with Israel. It has always been the people of God, not one nation, but God’s people.
When you don’t allow the New Testament and further revelations to help explain and interpret previous revelation, you end up making things a priority. I think it’s obvious the Bible just doesn’t make it a priority. When you do, it changes the purpose of the Bible.
I will say that the redemptive-historical understanding of Scripture has had its different flavors and there have been some different ideas. But the overarching theme of Jesus as the point of the Bible has been the interpretive model for forever. When you think about dispensationalism, it has shifted in shape and form and has had so much change. Even the dispensationalism of today is not even close to what dispensationalism was when it first got created. That’s because as you look at Scripture, we can’t really hold to that because it doesn’t really fit. I would say covenantalism, Jesus as the point, has been around for a long time.
Justin Perdue: several things that are worth commenting about. One is how dispensationalism in particular read the Prophets and will take the prophetic words to Israel and read them over the rest of Scripture. They will take the Prophets and what God says through them and read that back onto Moses, for example. Then they will say that it’s illegitimate to read Jesus and the apostles back onto the Old Testament. To me, that’s very inconsistent.
In addition, you have to think about the promises made to Israel – inevitably we’re getting into covenant theology here and I’m not going to get us mired in the weeds, but these comments are worth saying to the membership. When God makes certain promises to Abraham, to his physical seed, that He’s going to give them a land, that kings would come from him, and all those kinds of things, we need to see that those promises do find their immediate fulfillment in the pages of the Old Testament but there is a greater fulfillment that they point to. Inevitably, we’re talking about what’s called typology. When God says, “I’m going to give you a land,” we see that fulfilled immediately in the conquest of Canaan. God kept his promise that He had made to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants.
Then we also understand in the language of the Prophets, for example, when they will talk about how there will be a return from exile. That actually happens; we see it written about in Nehemiah and Ezra when the people come back from exile and start rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. Then we also understand that there’s something greater going on there, too. The land of Canaan is ultimately fulfilled in the new heavens and the new earth; the return from exile is as well. We are exiled because of our sins and we’re sojourners and pilgrims in this land; we’re going to be brought into the heavenly city. That’s the kind of thing that we’re talking about. To realize that once those initial temporal promises are fulfilled, we don’t need to carry those things over into eras yet to come.
I think that’s what often happens within dispensationalism. There are these promises made to Israel that are held onto as though they haven’t been fulfilled already – and they have. Their ultimate fulfillment has to do with the people of God from all time. It’s a new heavens and new earth redemptive reality. Those things are just completely lost.
Jon, I stand by what I’m about to say, and you can disagree with me if you want and I won’t be offended. Dispensationalists say Israel is the point of Scripture and the church is kind of the parenthesis. What we would say is that the church – the people of God from every tribe and tongue around the throne of God forever – is the point and Israel was the parenthesis because God worked primarily through Israel for a season of time in a certain period of redemptive history. But the plan was always for the nations to be blessed through the promised seed of Abraham. You see it in Genesis 12 – it’s undeniable. Paul says the gospel was preached to Abraham when God said that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through his offspring. That’s all we’re saying. When we talk in these redemptive-historical and covenantal ways.
Jon Moffitt: If I were to talk to a dispensationalist, they would say actually the point of God’s word is something that they call it the sine qua non. You have the three pillars: you have a grammatical-historical understanding of Scripture, God’s glory as the point of Scripture, and the separation of church in Israel. I can hold on to the first two and say, ultimately God is glorified through the redemption of sinners. If someone wanted to come to me and say the overarching purpose of Scripture is God’s glory, I can’t disagree with you on that because God is glorified. In Ephesians 1, it says that for all of eternity, we will be the reflection of His glory and we would be the trophies of His glory. To the praise of his glorious grace. If you want to argue that all of Scripture ultimately is about God’s glory, I would be okay with that.
But to help you interpret, you have got to take one step down, which is how does He do that? How does God get glory? Someone would say all of these stories are just random stories about how God gets glory. No, there’s one overarching story and he makes it pretty obvious. Paul, in that same passage about glory, talks about predestining sinners to redemption. I would say God’s glory and redemption – how does He accomplish that? He accomplishes it through the people of God, specifically beginning with Israel and going forward.
Justin Perdue: He accomplishes that clearly through Christ. Even thinking about a passage like Philippians 2, you know that at the end of history, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. You cannot divorce Jesus in the plan of redemption from God’s mission to glorify Himself. Those two things are inextricably linked in the plan and mind of God.
Jon Moffitt: The reason I point out the sine qua non of the whole system with dispensationalism, which is the last part separating church in Israel, that becomes such a hard line for them. They actually presuppose that upon the text. They end up prioritizing Israel: what happened to Israel in the Old Testament and the promises of what they think is going to happen to Israel, which is they’re going to be their own separate nation in all of eternity, and that we’re going to be there as a celebration. There’s a lot of different explanations. The point of it is that we’re always looking for the reestablishment of Israel as if God’s point of writing the Bible is for all the world to be watching Israel. That ends up messing with people’s assurance.
I talked to people who are heavily into the end times and the priority of Israel: there is no rest and there is always this unease. Christ is not centered in their theology. The hope of Christ is not in focus. As a matter of fact, their Christology tends to be very weak but their understanding of end times – and I don’t know how much of that you can actually understand meaning that it is allegorical and it is apocalyptic language. There’s this massive emphasis on Christ and him crucified, but they want to spend all of their energy on Israel, on the promises of Israel, and the future of Israel.
How is it that Paul says his emphasis is on Christ and yet your emphasis seems to be on Israel? This is not true of all dispensationalists so I’m not categorizing everybody, but it seems like the system pushes you in that direction.
Maybe we need to have a conversation one day. This is not covenantal against dispensational, but this is a hermeneutic. I’m saying that your hermeneutics should, according to Scripture, lead you to assurance and it feels like a lot of people’s hermeneutics lead them to doubt.
Justin Perdue: I want to clarify what I said when I say that dispensationalists will say that Israel is the point: I don’t mean the point of the whole Scripture. As far as the people of God are concerned, Israel is the point and the church is the parenthesis. What we would say is that Revelation 5 is the point and Israel is the parenthesis.
You mentioned how a dispensational framework and this obsession with the end times, eschatology, the fate of Israel and how all that is going to play out tends to erode assurance. I think the reason that is true most fundamentally is because of what dispensationalism does with apocalyptic literature wholesale and what dispensationalism does with the book of Revelation in particular. In dispensationalism, how in the world is a person supposed to understand the book of Revelation? You get your charts out and hope that you’re going to get something right here, whereas we would contend that the point of the book of Revelation is not so that 21st century theologians can get PhDs with the most outlandish interpretations imaginable. The point of the book of Revelation is the apostle John is writing to persecuted Christians in the first century who are wondering how this is going to turn out for them.
The point of the entire letter is that Jesus wins, Christ is victorious, and that he will save the day. He has already won the day and he will come back, and that everything is going to be well eternally. So do not be afraid and keep the faith because your Savior has you. To interpret the book with any other authorial intent in view is misguided. That’s when you start doing this crazy stuff with it, and you turn it into this Rubik’s cube or this crazy puzzle where you have this ornate, extravagant code and unlock it. I don’t think that that’s at all what the biblical author intended to do in writing to people who were suffering and wondering if they made a good decision in trusting Jesus.
Jon Moffitt: There are parts of Revelation that should cause fear because it’s like Hebrews, if you walk away from Jesus, you should be afraid. But the majority of it is to bolster assurance and not fear.
Justin Perdue: Even to point out the righteousness and the holiness of God, that vengeance belongs to the Lord and there will be judgment and wrath poured out upon all those who have not trusted the Lamb.
Jon Moffitt: There will probably be more said. I guarantee you on this subject. Stay tuned for future episodes because we love this subject. We’ll probably even do an entire education series one day on interpretive models. I’m sure it would be beneficial to us and our churches. We tend to talk about what we think our churches need. We’re pastors at heart and this is what we want to do: we want to shepherd and love God’s people. You just happen to hear the conversations that we like to have. We are thankful that you’re supporting us to have those.
We’ll see you next week.