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Posts Tagged ‘covenant curses’


One of my congregants was born in another country, and another branch of the family of faith. When they moved to America and joined our congregation there was much that was new to her. One thing in particular was Covenant Theology.

Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God's Unfolding Promises to His PeopleShe and her husband were listening to Ligon Duncan’s lectures on the subject but was wondering if there was a book I could recommend. Months earlier I had picked up Covenants Made Simple: Understanding God’s Unfolding Promises to His People on sale. It came highly recommended by others. I hadn’t read it yet but lent them my copy. It turned out to be one of her favorite books of the year. As a result, I read it (at the time we were thinking of writing a middle school curriculum on Covenant Theology).

The book is appropriately named. To be fair I’ve read many of the key books on the subject, but Rhodes does keep it simple. He doesn’t duck controversies, but neither does he get bogged down in them. He doesn’t use technical language because this is intended to be for the average person in the pews. He succeeds, as indicated by the many recommendations I’ve seen online. The book includes a number of helpful diagrams (not charts!) to illustrate his point in a given chapter. These visual aids supplement the text nicely.

Covenants are often misunderstood. They are about relationships. One of the more famous definitions is O. Palmer Robertson’s “bond in blood”. The problem with that is it doesn’t work for the first covenant in Scripture. Nor the eternal covenant between the Father and Son if you hold to that (I do). Jonty Rhodes seeks to get at covenants through a series of questions (good questions) that bring us to the ultimate questions of how can I know God’s promises are reliable.

He begins in the Garden with what is commonly called The Covenant of Works. But he begins that chapter in the Upper Room and Jesus’ mention of the blood of the covenant. We can’t really understand Jesus’ death if we don’t understand covenants. Covenants are throughout Scripture, and Rhodes rightly notes “Covenant is the theme that links the different books of the Bible to make them one united story.” But, you might say, the Bible is about Jesus. Yes, and He reveals what He’s going to do through those covenants.

The word occurs more than 300 times. While it is connected to the word “to cut” we see from its use and context that “a covenant is a conditional promise.” Or to flesh it out some more, he says “A covenant is an agreement between God and human beings, where God promises blessings if the conditions are kept and threatens curses if the conditions are broken.” This doesn’t mean there aren’t covenants between nations or individuals (David and Jonathan made a covenant of friendship) but our focus is on the biggies that shape the Scripture.

Now Rhodes goes back to the Garden. God has created, separated and filled creation. He made Adam and Eve in His image to fill, subdue and rule it. These creation mandates involve marriage & family, work and study, arts and sciences. In addition to these positive commands about how they are to spend their time, we see the provision of food to sustain them. There was one negative command, that one tree whose fruit they couldn’t eat. Keep the commands and this Garden temple will grow to fill the earth to God’s glory, but break them and they ruin everything. The Bible never mentions that this comprises a covenant but we see commands, prohibitions and sanctions anyway (as well as the historical prologue of creation). We also see, Rhodes notes, the reality of Adam as a covenant or federal head in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15. How can we properly understand how all humanity fell in Adam apart from a covenant? If we rule that out, we rule out the means of salvation with Jesus as the head of the new covenant.

As Rhodes notes, plenty of people don’t like the term covenant of works. Other terms used are covenant of life or covenant of creation. There doesn’t seem to be any grace in works. Adam did receive all kinds of benefits in creation without initially earning them. Continuing in them was a different story. But this intramural debate doesn’t interest him much.

The greatness of the Garden didn’t last long. Adam ruined it for himself, and all of us. His actions have affected every single human being who has lived, is living and will live. He is literally the most (or 2nd most) influential person ever. The second chapter engages us in Satan’s assault on God through His image, Adam. When he sins, the curse breaks out. God is applying the sanctions of the covenant, not having a conniption of divine proportions. The curses affect the creation mandates: our filling, subduing and ruling. Each is not attended with futility and failure, pain and problems.

Yet we see mercy as well. God did not simply execute these traitors, he let the live. But He also have them a promise that someone would come to set things right again. Rhodes also gets to the more “theological” aspects of the curse that need to be dealt with: guilt, grime (internal corruption) and the grave.

His third chapter brings us back to the reality of covenant conflict, or rather the conflict in the OT seen through the lens of the covenant. Satan continues his war on God’s people in an attempt to thwart the seed of the woman. The conflict is frequently one of words, with the false messages of the Evil One continuing. Here he address the covenant with Noah. He slips in a little about common grace since this covenant is not specifically about salvation but provides the stage for redemption. It also mirrors the creation mandates and promises. Like Adam, this “second” Adam sins and fails to bring comfort to God’s people.

This brings Rhodes, and us, to the covenant with Abraham (his new name by virtue of the covenant). The seed of the woman will come through Abraham’s line. God promises a great name (unlike Babel which sought to make a great name for itself), great people and to bring a great blessing to the nations. God will repair the damage done by Adam, but through Abraham’s promised seed. The covenants progressively reveal God’s promises to His people. They are rightly seen as building upon one another rather than disconnected from one another.

The Mosaic covenant is one that continues to perplex people today. Is it reflective of the covenant of grace, the covenant of works or does it have elements of both?

It arises because God has been keeping His promises to Abraham about a great nation, and is about to fulfill His promise about the land. Their redemption from slavery helps form a gracious background to this covenant. Yet, like the covenant of creation it seems very much about how to remain in the land, or be removed from the land for prolonged & persistent disobedience. We should see the sacrifices as provisional until the Seed comes. This covenant doesn’t lay aside the promise, and like Abraham they were accounted righteous by faith. Like Abraham they were also to walk uprightly before Him (Gen. 17). To think that conditions, or holiness, reflect back upon the covenant of worship seems to be mistaken. Rhodes puts it this way, the covenants with Abraham and Moses are the same girl in a different dress. To put it another way: while obedience doesn’t produce salvation, salvation produces obedience.

The next development is the covenant with David. God narrows down the line for the seed further. The skull crusher will come from David. We see here, as well, God’s conditionality. If a particular son disobeys, he will be disciplined. But there is the son who will set all things right. Just as David disobeyed at times, Solomon gets distracted by girls, gods and gold. David’s line is more failure than faithfulness until the Babylonian exile.

In the chapter of the New Covenant, Rhodes addresses the newness of the covenant. He also draws out the consistency of the New Covenant with the previous ones. It has the same promises, not different promises. He also develops and already-not yet approach to this covenant. We see forgiveness as well as holiness. We see the promise of a new heart and the Spirit. We see the familiar promise that “they will by My people and I will be their God.” Like the earlier covenants, they are all about salvation, not simply forming a nation with land. Those served the purposes of redemption and the boundaries are about to be expanded. The Gentiles doesn’t replace the Jews, but are grafted onto the vine (or more properly, Vine). We are admitted into the true Israel.

It is here that he finally addresses the question of the covenant of redemption between the Father and the Son. This is alluded to in many Scriptures, particularly in John’s Gospel. The Father makes a conditional promise to the Son: He will give Him a people for His pain. Jesus fulfills the covenant of works for their salvation. It will not be wasted work based on the promise of people given to Him. This brings us to the doctrine of election. It also brings us to double imputation and union with Christ. The covenants are not an isolated doctrine but inform a number of doctrines.

He further explores these in covenant salvation which explores the role of each member of the Trinity in salvation, previously agreed upon. The Father chooses, the Son dies & intercedes, and the Spirit applies that salvation to the people chosen by the Father at the appointed time. This brings us to the doctrine of limited or particular atonement. It is best understood with the framework of the covenant. He brings this forward to the question of assurances. Aside from this covenantal understanding of salvation we lose the grounds of assurance.

Rhodes then explores the covenant people further with a view toward church government. He provides an interesting approach. Congregationalism is like a bunch of self-governing circles, lots of churches but seemingly no Church. The Presbyterian form of government sees a chain, self-governing congregations that are joined to for a Church. The Episcopal form is a pyramid with all under the authority of one head on earth who mediates that power through bishops to pastors and congregations. From here he moves into the visible and invisible churches and then into the question of infant baptism. The covenant is essential for understanding the church and sacraments properly.

The last chapter returns to covenant life, how the covenant informs our experience of life in the Church and the church. We receive the promised Holy Spirit (promised explicitly in the New Covenant but discussed by Paul in terms of the Abrahamic covenant in Galatians) who produces obedience in us. This is because the Spirit unites us to Jesus. He briefly touches upon the law and gospel distinction.

We discover that this book about covenants brings us to consider much of theology. They are not isolated but form the structure of Scripture and therefore theology. This is a book well-worth studying. It is worthy of recommendation to your people. It may not dig as deep into some controversies as someone may like, we see the breadth of issues that may interest people. This is not a plunge into the deep end but like wading into the pool while inviting people to swim in the deep end when they choose.

 

 

 

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I have really appreciated The Gospel According to the Old Testament series. Since I’m preparing to teach on Hosea, it was time to read the volume on Hosea: Love Divine and Unfailing by Michael Barrett.

Based on the previous volumes I had high expectations. Perhaps too high. Perhaps unfairly. But this volume didn’t meet my expectations.

This is a good an helpful book. It was expecting, or hoping for, a great book.

Why I was disappointed may be explained by his comments in the conclusion:

If you picked up this book expecting an expositional commentary, you have been disappointed. … My concern was to put in focus the big picture that will ultimately help us understand the details and grasp the significance of Hosea’s message.

I was hoping for a volume that tracked with the flow of Hosea, particularly since I’m teaching it in that way. I did not expect a commentary since this is not a commentary series. But I wanted it to work through the book. Barrett handled it from a more thematic approach. He said many helpful things, but it was not as “user friendly” for the teacher.

In the first part he focuses on “just the facts” of Hosea. This begins with Hosea as a Messianic Man. Hosea is a shortened form of Joshua (or vice versa) and means “salvation.” Joshua is the Hebrew name translated into Greek as Jesus. Hosea was anointed as a prophet which is a “messianic occupation.” Barrett spends some time explaining the role of the prophet in the life of Israel. He also puts him in his time and place: the northern kingdom during the reign of Jeroboam II.

The second chapter expands on the historical context of Hosea. It was a time of declining power and prosperity. Assyria was gaining strength and was a looming threat that is addressed in the book.

In the third chapter, His Creed, the focus is on Deuteronomy’s influence on what we read. The prophets viewed their circumstances through the covenant and declared the appropriate blessings and curses according to the covenant. Hosea makes no sense if you aren’t familiar with Deuteronomy. Barrett spends some time explaining how the Mosaic covenant points to, anticipates and explains the ministry of Christ.

The second part of the book focuses on his life, particularly his marriage. His marriage to a wayward wife named Gomer was a living sermon intended to reflect God’s marriage to Israel. It is viewed as an analogy. There are points of correspondence, but not complete identity. Barrett points in particular to the exclusivity of relationship. This means that apostasy, or syncretism, is like adultery: Gomer’s adultery in particular.

Christianity parallels the ANE process of marriage. The Father gave a people to the Son to be His Bride. The Son has paid the bride price with His blood. The Spirit establishes the covenant union between the Son and the Church (invisible).

Then Barrett goes into Hosea’s marriage. Hosea was not the only prophets who undertook prophetic or symbolic actions. Some of them were strange, like Isaiah walking around naked and barefoot (Is. 20) to symbolize the coming exile. You have Ezekiel laying on his side all day, cooking over dung, to symbolize the siege upon Jerusalem. In this case Hosea’s whole life became symbolic or prophetic. His marriage and kids pointed Israel (and Judah) to deeper realities.

Sin and rebellion will be met with covenant curses. The northern kingdom hRedemptionad strayed, stepped out on their covenant lord, with other gods and nations. The consequences were coming. But God’s purpose was not to ultimate destroy His people but to bring them back. The third section, The Sermon, lays this all out.

Too often people think of the Mosaic Covenant as grace-less. They are wrong and Barrett explores that gracious element for us. He helps us to understand the role of law in the covenant, not for gaining life but how God’s redeemed people are to live to bring Him glory. He then moves into the (re)new(ed) covenant and some of the ways it is “new and improved” rather than completely new. He also brings in the horrible price to be paid for their rebellion. But rebellion, and misery, is not the final word.

Therefore, as disgusting as Gomer may appear, every Christian must admit the Gomer that is his or her own heart.

Barrett ends with the way home. He talks about the gospel more exhaustively in this chapter. He speaks of repentance. Hosea’s message was not given to take away all their hope but to call Ephraim back from the abyss.

Barrett consistently points out the gospel connections and message to be found in Hosea. There are some exegetical questions that are not discussed sufficiently, particularly the use of “Adam” (8:1). He does have a helpful appendix discussing Matthew’s use of “out of Egypt I called my son”.

While not a book that met my admittedly high expectations, it was a good and helpful book to read as I prepare to teach Hosea. If you are planning on preaching through it, or teaching on it, I would recommend reading this book.

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I really like Matt Chandler’s preaching. He’s a little edgy, and has that Baptist almost screaming thing at times. But I benefit from much of what he says. He also experiences similar reactions to the gospel as I did in small city Florida. He just experiences it on a much larger scale in the Big D. His frustrations with people being inoculated to the gospel ring true in my time in Florida.

I’ve read Jared Wilson’s blog for some time now. I like how he tries to keep the gospel central. You have to like a guy who moves to Vermont to pastor a church, especially when he adopts the local sports teams. That’s good missional thinking, right?

9781433530036_1024xWell, they wrote a book together. Matt was the primary author, and Jared helped him out. The book is The Explicit Gospel, and it has blurbs filled with praise from the likes of Rick Warren, D.A. Carson, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, Ed Stetzer and more. A literal hodge-podge of famous (and some might say infamous) pastors. Incidentally, CavCorollary #167 is don’t believe the blurbs.

I am half way through the book, and thought this would be a good time to process it. The first half focuses on “the gospel on the ground.” The second focuses on the “gospel in the air”.  Think trees versus forest. It is the same gospel, but from different perspectives, or angles. On the ground you see the trees, but from the air you see the forest.

“If the gospel on the ground is the gospel at the micro level, the gospel in the air is the story at the macro level. … One crucial thing that viewing the gospel on the ground helps us do is distinguish between the gospel’s content and the gospel’s implications. … On the ground, the gospel comes to us as individuals.”

The gospel on the ground, according to Chandler, distinguishes between the gospel and its implications. It focuses on the personal aspects of the gospel instead of the cosmic aspects of the gospel. We need both. But we need to distinguish them or we get all messed up. This is one of the problems that he mentions in some “gospel” preaching- they talk as if the implications of the gospel (social justice, good works, community etc.) were the gospel itself. So they distort and obscure the gospel as a result.

But let’s get back to the beginning.

Chandler’s main point is that many churches are not explicit about the gospel. They mention Jesus a lot, but they are not clear about the content of the gospel. People aren’t hearing about God’s glory, their sin and Christ’s redemptive and reconciling work. His premise is that churches need to explicitly preach the gospel, to consistently show these things from the Scriptures lest we lapse into the common moralistic therapeutic deism that fills so many churches today. They are to make it explicit instead of assumed.

“We carry an insidious prosperity gospel around in our dark, little, entitled hearts.”

So, he starts with God’s glory and sovereignty so we know who we are dealing with in the gospel. There is a focus on God’s incomprehensibility, as well as His revelation of Himself to us in the Scriptures. In terms of His omniscience, he hits both the macro (God’s transcendent knowledge) and the micro (God’s immanent knowledge). He explains the folly of us trying to play God’s counselor with a story of his 4 year-old daughter claiming they are lost on a trip to San Antonio. We easily, and arrogantly, forget that God’s knowledge far exceeds ours and that He could benefit from our help. The gospel is God’s plan for our salvation. We don’t and can’t improve it. His work in our lives is the result of His wisdom- it is the absolute best way for Him to accomplish His purposes in our lives.

In this context, he alludes to what John Gerstner called the problem of good. We question all the time about the difficulties and afflictions we experience as though the Judge of all the earth has failed to do right. We don’t question why good things happen to such pathetic sinners as ourselves. We are not amazed at both common and saving grace. Spiritually, we are part of the moocher class. We’ve become the Occupy Heaven group. We want it be to all about us, not God. But God is passionately committed to His glory. Unlike us, God is no idolator!

Yet, here I found some factual errors. Are there not editors who are supposed to catch these things. I challenge anyone to find “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Show me! It is in the Westminster Standards, but it’s the first answer of the Shorter Catechism (slightly different from the first answer of the Larger Catechism). I don’t know why this stuff irritates me so. But this is a simple fact to check, but some guy new to the Confession will look in vain and conclude that either Chandler is lying or the reader himself is an idiot. Things like this undermine one’s credibility. Been there when I haven’t done enough fact checking for a sermon illustration.

Which leads us to our sinfulness. Chandler is a bit too reductionistic here. It calls all of it idolatry, the quest to worship something other than God. Oh, we are idolators! All idolatry is sin, but all sin is not necessarily idolatry. A minor point.

He balances the kindness and severity of God. Our tendency is to default to one or the other. Liberals the former and fundamentalists the latter. He doesn’t mention Rob Bell here (he alludes to Bell’s first book later), but that is part of the background. God is ruthlessly severe toward sin. The Bible contains both promises and warnings, or in covenantal terms- blessings and curses. While he continually affirms the horrible reality of hell, there are times when he is less than clear. The particular issue that is unclear is whether or not God is present in hell. His presence (if He’s not, He’s not omnipresent) is what makes it hell. He is present to execute justice, the curses of the covenant. Hell is intensely personal, not just some impersonal and bland place apart from God.  Perhaps I’m being overly charitable. “There is a chasm between us and presence of God that manifests the withdrawal of God’s presence and goodness from the reality of hell.” Such a concept is a theological impossibility, like the pseudo-tasks people ponder. Can God create a place where He isn’t present? Nope.

“Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet.” Thomas Watson

The gospel makes no sense apart from the reality of sin’s punishment. God’s love, rightly understood, does not rule out God’s wrath. He protects His glory, and those He loves, from all that seek to destroy them. That is what love does- it hates evil and loves good.

He then moves into the redeeming, reconciling work of Christ which is the answer to God’s goodness meeting our sinfulness. He rightly wants to keep the cross central to Christianity. He focuses on the one controversial area- the penal satisfaction. Here he alludes to Chalke and McLaren’s claim of it as child abuse. I applaud him for this.

But there are passages in the chapter whose meaning is uncertain. For instance, what law did the high priest write (pp. 56)? He seems to deny that the Father forsook the Son by referring to Psalm 22 which starts with, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He says “God does not turn his back on Jesus, ever.” Odd to me. He seems to confuse the ontological Trinity with Christ as our Redeemer who became sin for us (2 Cor. 5).

There are more unclear statements, like ” the plan known about within the Godhead since the beginning.” This plan was not merely known by God, but made by God. Yet later he affirms that the Cross was God’s idea. The editors should be noticing these things. In one place there is a sentence that makes no sense.

“The other goat, the scapegoat, is vanquished into the wilderness, carrying away the sins of Israel.”

Vanquished makes no sense. It means “to conquer or subdue by force; to defeat; to overcome.” Banished is the word they are looking for in this context.

“No, the invitation is bound up in the gospel message itself. The explicit gospel, by virtue of its own gravity, invites belief by demanding it.”

He ends with the response for which the gospel calls. He has a very good section here that talks about our focus on faithfulness instead of fruitfulness. The problem is that we look for fruitfulness. But Isaiah 6 and the Parable of the Sower indicate that fruitfulness are not guaranteed. Often the gospel hardens people. That God’s word does not return void does not mean everyone (or anyone) will convert. Mentioning this in a small group 21 years ago got me in lots of trouble with a pastor who didn’t want to start the Calvinism conversation yet. Faithful preaching is the goal, and there is no guarantee of the results. All pastors struggle with this. I see relative fruitlessness at times and wonder if I’m being faithful. Not a bad question to ask- am I being faithful. But faithfulness is not determined by the presence or lack of fruitfulness. The Spirit works according to the purposes of God, not according to ours.

“One of the things we don’t preach well is that ministry that looks fruitless is constantly happening in the Scriptures. … The power in the gospel is not the dynamic presentation of the preacher or the winsomeness of the witness, although the Spirit does empower and use those things too.”

Chandler, with Wilson, make some much needed corrections for the church in the first section of The Explicit Gospel. In that sense, this is a book that should be read. But it is not a perfect book. So far there are errors of fact, theological faux pas and some very fuzzy thoughts. These don’t undo the positives of the book, but they do make it harder to read. And that is unfortunate.

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