When Covenant Theology Met Narrative Theology

You’ve probably seen the 1989 motion picture When Harry Met Sally. Whilst the title of this post might sound like it hints towards this film, you’ll be glad to hear that the two have nothing in common!

Now, before we go any further, you really do need to be familiar with Covenant Theology and  Narrative Theology, otherwise very little I write below will make sense to you.

I can personally see the benefits of Narrative Theology, but would like to offer an alternative view of the five act play presented by Wright[1] and adapted by Wells[2]. This view is not meant to discount the fine work of Tom Wright and Samuel Wells, rather it is intended to build upon the work.

Sandra Richter in The Epic of Eden offers Covenant as a way of reading the Old Testament. Covenant is a ‘structuring point for the history and theology of redemption’.[3] As we learned  previously, Covenant can also be seen as a ‘contract’.[4] Viewing scripture in this way should help give biblical authority to Narrative Theology. Richter sees Covenant as the narrative of God accomplishing his plan of bringing the ‘children of Adam’ safely home to Him.[5]

The table below summerises Tom Wright’s and Samuel Wells’ views of the Five Act play of Narrative Theology. It also contains theologyidiot’s own interpretation; this will be discussed later.

Act Tom Wright Samuel Wells theologyidiot
I Creation (Genesis 1 and 2) Creation and Fall (Genesis 1 to 3) Creation and Fall
II Fall (Genesis 3) Israel (Genesis 12 to the New Testament) Old Covenant

Scene i – Noah

Scene ii – Abraham

Scene iii – Moses

Scene iv – David

III Israel (Genesis 12 to the New Testament) Jesus (The Gospels)

Central to the narrative

Jesus (The Gospels)

New Covenant

IV Jesus (The Gospels) The church living an improvised performance (beginning at Easter and Pentecost) The church
V The church living an improvised performance (beginning at Easter and Pentecost) The Eschaton (see Eschatology)

This puts the sovereignty of God in the outcome of his creation

The Eschaton

Act One, like Samuel Wells would be Creation and the Fall.[6] This act would run right up until Act Two, which begins with Noah. Act Two would be called Old Covenant and would cover the remainder of the Old Testament. Each of the Divine Covenants; Noah, Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic would be a scene within this act. Act Three, and centrally placed like Wells’ would be Jesus. Here would also begin a narrative which will not be completed until Act Five, that of New Covenant

Act Four would then be the Church improvising to a planned, but unscripted narrative towards Act Five, the Eschaton.
The Eschaton would be the finale of the play taking us from Creation to the New Creation. Like James Graham’s play Privacy, this play requires audience participation, with no room for passivity.[7]

[1] Tom Wright, ‘How Can The Bible Be Authoritative?’, 1991 <http://ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Bible_Authoritative.htm&gt; [accessed 31 March 2015]

[2]  Samuel Wells, Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics (London: SPCK Publishing, 2004), p.. 53.

[3] Sandra L. Richter, The Epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2008), p. 91.

[4] Richter, pp. 61–91.

[5] Richter, p. 224.

[6] Richter, p. 103.

[7] Mark Lawson, ‘Paying to Play: The Rise and Risks of Audience Participation’, The Guardian <http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/may/12/rise-and-risks-of-audience-participation&gt; [accessed 2 April 2015].

Advertisements

From the Old Things to the New … Covenant Theology Part 6

In Covenant Theology Part 1 we learnt about Divine Covenant. In Part 2 we learnt about Yahweh’s first Divine Covenant; his Covenant with Noah and all creation. Part 3 taught us that Yahweh extended his Covenant from one man, to one family with his Covenant with Abraham and his descendants. In Part 4 we learnt how Yahweh’s Covenant with Moses was made on behalf of the nation of Israel and how in Part 5 through his Covenant with King David, he established his kingdom forever.

If the Davidic Covenant established David’s kingdom forever, then the New Covenant opened that kingdom to all people. The New Covenant is promised  in Isaiah 9:6-7  and prophesied in Jeremiah Chapter 31.

Once again, I will brake down the Covenant by using the four sections explained in Part 1.

1. The Vassel is Jesus Christ on behalf of the whole of humanity.

2. The contents of the New Covenant are that Yahweh  promises to ‘remember their sin no more’ (Jeremiah 31:34).

This promise could be seen as ‘internal, immediate and intimate’, with Jesus as the only mediator[1].

3. The seal of the New Covenant is the gift of the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 44:32 Corinthians 1:22 and Ephesians 1:13) and was fulfilled in Acts 2:1-2. Yahweh also promises to restore Jerusalem (Jeremiah 31:38).

4. The terms of the New Covenant are that we should ‘Repent and believe the good news!’ (Mark 1:15). The terms of the  Old Covenant, or Sinai Covenant were written down in the Decalogue (see Part 4); in the new Covenant they are written on people’s hearts (Jeremiah 31:33).

The New Covenant is cut by Jesus’ death to Atone for our Sin and to bring us to Salvation. Jesus refers to his own blood as the ‘blood of the new covenant’ (Luke 22:20). These words are often repeated when Christians celebrate Holy Communion.

Looking back, we can see the New Covenant as a fulfillment of what is promised and anticipated in previous Covenants of the Old Testament [2]. It has been argued that there is only one Covenant in the Old Testament, people often cite Psalm 105:9-10 as just one example of evidence of this [3]. The New Covenant is also different to the Old Covenants as through Jesus and the Holy Spirit we can each know Yahweh intimately and live out his mission in a way which wasn’t previously possible (Matthew 28:29-20). [4]  The fulfilment of the promise of the Holy Spirit came in Acts 2:1-2.

Readers should also read forward to Yahweh restoring Jerusalem and all creation to himself in the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1-4), establishing through Jesus, the throne of David forever and fulfilling both the Old and New Covenants.

Because of the strong argument discussed above for there only being one Old Covenant in the Old Testament, and because of the strong links in the fulfillment of both of the Old and New Covenants it is believed by many reformed Christians, including John Calvin, that there is in fact only One Covenant which is continued throughout history.[5] [6]

[1] Tremper Longman III Making Sense of the Old Testament: 3 Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998) p.69.

[2] Longman III Making Sense of the Old Testament: 3 Crucial Questions p.71.

[3] Sinclair Fergusson et al. (ed.) ‘Covenant’ in New Dictionary of Theology (InterVarsity Press: Leicester, 1989) pp. 173-174.

[4] Michael Pahl From Resurrection to New Creation: A First Journey in Christian Theology (Cascade Books: Eugene, 2010) pp.75-76.

[5] Herman J. Selderhuis, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms (Texts and Studies in Reformation and Post-Reformation Thought) (Baker Books, 2007).

[6] J. I. Packer and David F. Wright Sinclair B. Ferguson, New Dictionary of Theology, ed. by David F. Wright and Sinclair B. Ferguson (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), pp. 175–176.

The Throne Room … Covenant Theology Part 5

In Covenant Theology Part 1 we learnt about Divine Covenant. In Part 2 we learnt about Yahweh’s first Divine Covenant; his Covenant with Noah and all creation. Part 3 taught us that Yahweh extended his Covenant from one man, to one family with his Covenant with Abraham and his descendants. In Part 4 we learnt how Yahweh’s Covenant with Moses was made on behalf of the nation of Israel.

If Yahweh’s Sinai Covenant created the nation of Israel, then his Covenant with King David establishes his kingdom forever in 2 Samuel 7. This is the same David who defeated Goliath in 1 Samuel 17, who became King of Israel in 2 Samuel 5:1-5. This Covenant is often called the Davidic Covenant.

Once again, I will brake down the Covenant by using the four sections explained in Part 1.

1.  The Vassel is King David on behalf of the whole kingdom of Israel.

2. The contents and 3. The seal of the Davidic Covenant are that a descendant of David’s will build a house for Yahweh’s name and Yahweh promises to ‘establish David’s throne through all generations’ (v.13). [1]

4. The terms of the Davidic Covenant are unconditional, Yahweh does not make any demands of King David nor his descendants. Berhnard Longman views the Davidic Covenant as a reaffirmation of an existing relationship, a continuation of the previous Covenants.[2]

There are many things which we can learn from the Davidic Covenant. By reading Matthew 1:1-6 we can look back and see that David is a descendant of Abraham and the King of Israel. This is a fulfillment of  the Abrahamic and Sinai Covenants, teaching us that Yahweh keeps the promises he makes.

Looking forward, we can see that King Solomon builds the temple, the house for Yahweh’s name (1 Kings 6). This fulfills part of the seal of the Davidic Covenant. David’s throne is established forever through the birth of Jesus Christ, the New Covenant, although this will not be completely fulfilled until Jesus’ Second Coming (see Eschatology Part I).

In Part 6, we will be looking at the New Covenant.

[1] Bernhard Anderson The Living World of the Old Testament (London: Longman Group, 1980)  pp.182.

[2] Tremper Longman III Making Sense of the Old Testament: 3 Crucial Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998) p.61.

The Referee’s Decision is Final … Sola Scriptura

Sola Scriptura is Latin and refers to a method of Biblical Interpretation.

‘Sola’ means single or sole, whilst ‘Scriptura’ means scripture. This gives us the short phrase ‘by scripture alone’.[1] It means that Scripture, (the Bible) is the only source for the basis of faith, Doctrine and practice of the Christian faith.

Picture the scene…

It is the 1966 World Cup Final at Wembley Stadium and the hosts England are drawing 2-2 with West Germany in the first period of extra time. Geoff Hurst kicks the ball with his right foot. The ball beats the goal keeper and hits the crossbar before falling to the ground. It is unclear (without a replay) if the ball crossed the line or bounced on it. The only person who could make the decision on the goal was the referee, no one else. The Referee decided it was a goal and England went on the win the match 4-2.

With Sola Scriptura, the Bible could be seen as a combination of the referee and the rule book, the only source of what is (in footballing terms) allowed or disallowed.

The main sources for Sola Scriptura in the Bible are:

2 Timothy 2:15: Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

And 2 Timothy 3:16: All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.

Sola Scriptura could be seen as the ‘highest court of appeal’ for Christians who hold this view of Biblical Interpretation.[2]

Some Christians who hold to Sola Scriptura disagree with the Narrative Theology view of Biblical Interpretation. D. A. Carson, for example feels that Narrative Theology misses the point  by not seeing ‘rules’ as an important part of Scripture.[3] Tom Wright however, counters this by arguing that the New Testament stories, for example should be seen as ‘vehicles for authority’.[4] Of course, a more Catholic reading of scripture would not see scripture as the only source of divine authority.[5]

For any Biblical interpretation it is important that the reader asks the Holy Spirit to guide the reader. For without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, our understanding of the Bible can become mechanical.[6]

It has also been argued that living under Biblical authority is a prescription not just for Theologically correct behaviour, but also for a positive spiritual life.[7]

All of these views are considered Orthodox. (For more on Orthodoxy see: Was William Webb Ellis a heretic?)

[1] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction, 4th Edition (Oxford: Blackwell, 2007), p. 48.

[2] Roger Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (Downers Grove, Ill. : Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press ; Apollos, 2002), pp. 99–100.

[3] D. A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture (Nottingham: IVP, 2010), pp. 298–299.

[4] Tom Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (London: SPCK Publishing, 1992), p. 140.

[5] Olson, pp. 100–101.

[6] J. I. Packer, David F. Wright and Sinclair B. Ferguson, ‘Scripture’, in New Dictionary of Theology, ed. by David F. Wright and Sinclair B. Ferguson (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988), pp. 627–630.

[7] Packer, Wright and Ferguson, pp. 627–630.

Yahweh’s Top 10 … Covenant Theology Part 4

In Covenant Theology Part 1 we learnt the background to the Divine Covenants. In Part 2 we learnt about Yahweh’s first Divine Covenant; his Covenant with Noah and all creation. In Part 3 we learnt that Yahweh extended his Covenant from one man, to one family with his Covenant with Abraham and his descendants.

If Yahweh’s Covenant with Abraham was made for a whole family, then his Covenant with Moses was made on behalf of a nation, the nation of Israel.[1] The Covenant takes place on Mount Sinai and can be found in the book of Exodus, Chapter 19 to Chapter 22 verse 21. This Covenant follows the Exodus of the Israelites, where Yahweh saved them from their slavery by the Egyptians in Exodus 12:31-42 and Exodus 14 where Yahweh parts the Red Sea to aid their escape. This is parodied in the ‘Parting of the Soup’ scene in the film Bruce Almighty.

Once again, I will brake down the Covenant by using the four sections explained in Part 1.

1.  The Vassel is Moses on behalf of the whole of the Israelites.

2. The contents of the Covenant are that Yahweh will make Israel his ‘treasured possession’ (19:5).

3. The Covenant is sealed when it is confirmed and cut in Exodus 24. Moses takes the blood of the Covenant as a seal and sprinkles it on the sacrificial alter (v.6) and the people (v.8), a visible sign of the drawing together of Yahweh and his people.[2]

4. The terms given to Israel are the Decalogue, more commonly known as the ten commandments (20:3-17). He also gave them the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20:22 – 23:19) which gave instructions for how the Decalogue should be applied.

The keeping of the Decalogue is not something the people of Israel do to be saved by Yahweh, rather it is an act of ‘…gratitude for what Yahweh had already done in their behalf’ through the Exodus.[3]

Yahweh’s Divine Covenant with Moses and the Israelites is also known as the Mosaic Covenant or the Sinai Covenant. This Covenant could be seen as the most significant agreement between Yahweh and his people in the Old Testament, a defining moment of Salvation.[4]

There are many things we can learn from the Sinai Covenant. Firstly, in Exodus 20:3-4Yahweh gives the instruction that ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’  When we read the Old Testament, we can do so in light of this declaration of monotheism. We can be sure that the Israelites of the Old Testament, as well as us today, Worship the one true Yahweh. (For more on Monotheism, see The Trinity)

Secondly, we can look back to the Covenant with Abraham and see the Sinai Covenant as Yahweh building on the promises he made in Genesis 15. Israel, the descendant of Abraham has become a nation (Exodus 19:5) and the land of Canaan is promised to the Israelites (Exodus 23:31).Thirdly, we can see the Sinai Covenant as the establishment of a nation ruled by Yahweh, not by any human ruler. This is also known as theocracy. Looking forward, this theocracy with the people of Israel is preparation for their moving into the Promised Land. [5]

[1] Sandra Richter The epic of Eden: a Christian entry into the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998)  p. 165.

[2] Youngblood The Heart of the Old Testament: A Survey of Key Theological Themes, P.50.

[3] Bernhard Anderson The Living World of the Old Testament (London: Longman Group, 1980) pp.75-97.

[4] Youngblood The Heart of the Old Testament: A Survey of Key Theological Themes P.49.

 [5] Richter The epic of Eden: a Christian entry into the Old Testament, p. 188.

Stars in the Sky … Covenant Theology Part 3

In Covenant Theology Part 1, we learnt about the back story to Covenant and why Yahweh chose Covenant as his way of bringing his people back to himself. In Part 2 we learnt about Yahweh’s first Divine Covenant; his Covenant with Noah and all creation.

Yahweh’s second Divine Covenant can be found in Genesis 15 and is reaffirmed in Genesis 17. If Yahweh’s Covenant for all creation was made with one man, Noah, then his covenant with Abraham was made for a whole family.[1] Once again, I will brake down the Covenant by using the four sections explained in Part 1.

1.  The Vassel is Abraham and his descendants.

2. The contents of the Covenant are that Yahweh promises to give Abram as many descendants as there are stars in the sky (15:5). He also promised that many nations will come from Abram (17:4). Yahweh renames Abram as Abraham (17:5)

3. Yahweh’s seal of his Covenant and 4. The terms he gives to Abraham are circumcision (17:10-14). This is for every male aged eight days old, both family member and slave.

The Covenant is cut by Yahweh passing through the Abram’s sacrifice (15:17). This is significant because usually a Covenant would be cut by both parties. This teaches us something about Yahweh’s commitment to his people, he is placing his life as a guarantee for the Covenant. Later, God through Jesus, would take our place through sacrificing his life to Atone for our Sin. 

Abraham went on to father Isaac in Genesis 21:1-5. Isaac fathered Esau and Jacob in Genesis 25:21-26Yahweh renamed Jacob ‘Israel’ in Genesis 32:28. Jacob had twelve sons who became the tribes of Israel. Yahweh, unsurprisingly kept his Covenant with Abraham.

This Covenant helps us to look back and see how Yahweh was growing his mission to bring humanity back to himself. It also helps us look forward seeing that this Covenant with ‘Abraham is part of a larger divine plan which will bring blessing to the whole world,[2]’ ultimately through his descendant Jesus Christ.

In Part 4 we will look at Yahweh’s Covenant with Moses.

[1] Sandra Richter ‘The concept of Covenant’ in The epic of Eden: a Christian entry into the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) p. 165.

[2] Joel  Kaminsky ‘The Theology of Genesis’ in Craig Evans et al (ed.) The Book of Genesis: Composition, Reception, and Interpretation (Boston: Brill, 2012) pp.643-848.

The Promise of the Rainbow … Covenant Theology Part 2

In Covenant Theology Part 1, we learnt what a Covenant is, what the different types of Covenant are and how they work. We found out that because of The FallYahweh needed to bring his people back to himself and chose Covenant because it was a form of contract which the people in the Ancient Near East would be familiar with. This is an example of how Yahweh meets us where we are, in a manner which we are familiar with.

We know that there are five major Divine Covenants.  The first of these Covenants can be found after the epic adventure of Noah’s Ark in Genesis chapters 6-8. Whilst this story has been retold recently in the film Noah starting Russel Crowe and in the BBC adaptation The Ark, it should be noted that neither of these versions are accurate to the biblical account.

This Covenant is located in Genesis 9:1-17. I will brake it down by using the four sections of a Covenant which are explained in Part 1:

1.  The Vassel is not only Noah, but all of creation.

2. The contents of the Covenant are that Yahweh agrees to never to bring a flood to destroy the earth (v.11).

3. Yahweh’s seal of his Covenant is the rainbow, which serves as a reminder that he will never destroy all life (v.14-17).

4. The terms given to Noah are that man shall not eat meat with its blood still in it (v.4). Noah and all creation are also told to increase in number, in a similar way to the Creation story in Genesis 1.

Through this CovenantYahweh re-establishes his relationship with fallen humanity’.[1]

This Covenant is the first sign of Yahweh’s rescue plan, it demonstrates to us that he does not want humanity to live in Sin away from him. What Yahweh wants is for humanity to live and work with him. The sign of the rainbow reminds us that Yahweh is not a destructive God, rather that ‘when everything looks black all around us, there, and only there, is the sign of the presence and purpose and power of God’.[2]

In Covenant Theology Part 3, we will look at Yahweh’s Divine Covenant with Abraham.

[1] Sandra L. Richter The epic of Eden: A Christian Entry into the Old Testament (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1998) p. 149.

[2] Joseph Fison Understanding The Old Testament (London: Oxford University Press, 1952) pp. 48-49.