Who Owes Me Three Dollars?

January 21, 2007

The Bible is a very big book. Its sheer size…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ineedsheetmusic @ 1:36 am

The Bible is a very big book.

Its sheer size, its varied genres, its obtuse nature have prevented many Christians from finding in it the special revelation that its author has intended for us to have. Is the Bible a magic book of lucky charms, a manual for successful living, a violin upon which you can play any song that comes to mind? Affirmative answers to these questions guarantee failure to truly apprehend the special revelation of God that is contained within its pages.

Many express the mantra that Christianity is not a religion but a personal relationship with God. Correlated with this view is the idea that the primary purpose of the Bible is to provide a guide for entering into this personal relationship. The idea of personal relationship then is used as a lens with which one understands the Bible.

Little better is a central dogma approach. This method accentuates one doctrine over against all others. For example, some see the Bible primarily speaking about God’s sovereignty and as a result highlight so-called Calvinism. Others, recognizing the immense importance of justification settle on it as the hinge doctrine of the Bible. Other examples of this abound.

Rather than go into detail explaining why these approaches quickly fail to deliver on their promises, I suggest a different approach and a different and considerably more ambitious goal: The best way to approach Scripture and more specifically systematic theology is through the lens of the covenant because God himself is a covenantal God.

I am considering posting my Christian Mind paper in its entirety. Why? I just got it back and reread it. I like it. So did the prof.



  1. In and of themselves they may fall short but I think there’s much truth in each approach.

    Comment by out of thin air — January 22, 2007 @ 12:18 am

  2. So why is your approach not simply centralizing a dogma of covenantalism? Is there a way to know whether any one particular ‘central’ dogma really is the central one?

    Comment by RubeRadhttp://ruberad.wordpress.com — January 22, 2007 @ 5:09 am

  3. There is truth in each approach, but not as a lens.

    Other approaches fail as a lens to all of scripture. The covenant is not a locus (or dogma, or one of the many subjects about which the Scriptures speak) but the lens (a wide angle lens) into the whole story. Trying to employ any of the many dogmas as this lens eventually breaks down somehere or another.

    I have an friend who says that real preaching is just speaking from the heart. Well, try that method over the whole Bible and I fear you’d get one sermon repeated over and over (and from a wicked sinful heart at that). And you’d get totally stymied trying to preach your way through Nahum, for example.

    The best reason that the covenant works as a lens for apprehending the Bible is that the Bible is the canonical covenant document. And it is not a manual for successful Christian living etc.

    Comment by Bruce S — January 22, 2007 @ 5:58 am

  4. Couldn’t other people argue for other wide angle lenses? For example, the Kingdom of God or (as I have seen) missions. I’d read your paper if you posted it.

    Comment by Sister — January 22, 2007 @ 6:42 pm

  5. Getting closer, I think. But still not a lens. More of a wide locus. Note the thesis addresses systematic theology specifically. So, at least for that reason, neither the Kingdom of God nor missiology really work as lenses. Although Horton’s suggestion is that both Covenant and Eschatology together work as a lens and therefore it seems that the Kingdom of God can be brought into the story via eschatology.

    I will post excerpts from the paper and maybe gain some converts to the idea.

    Comment by Bruce S — January 23, 2007 @ 2:57 am

  6. Covenant is not a dogma. It’s a structure of the Scriptures themselves.

    There is no central dogma of Scripture.

    Luther tried it with justification, and he wanted to throw out the book of James. (Because sadly, he didn’t understand James’ statements. An honest mistake, but a mistake nonetheless.)

    Rome does it with their doctrine of the church, and we all know where that took them.

    Central dogmas don’t work because there isn’t one.

    Covenant is not a central dogma because it isn’t a dogma at all. It’s not an item in Systematic Theology; it’s not a doctrine like doctrine of God or doctrine of man, etc. Covenant is the nature of the structure of God’s revelation to us.

    In some ways, we can think of covenant as a language in which God speaks to us, making himself known. Covenant is the form of God’s self revelation. He reveals himself to us BY making covenants with us.

    Covenant is just a fancy way of saying “relationship”. But it is a bit more than a relationship. It’s more like a legal contract. But the kinds of contracts God makes with us, and the nature of the terms, etc, help us to understand who and what God is.

    But by aligning our perception of the Scriptures to the covenants simply teaches us that we don’t know God as he is in himself. We only know him as we experience him in relation to us.

    In other words, we don’t know God, per se. What we know is what God has done to/for us. We know what he requires of us, and we know what he did in response to our failure to live up to what he requires of us. In this process, we learn a lot about God. But nothing we know about God comes to us apart from how he is relating to us. We don’t know who he is, we know what he has done.

    The covenant helps to remind us of this, and saves us literally from a mountain of errors, which I’m sure Bruce would love to elaborate on in a future post.

    This helps us to remember something very important about theology. Theology is not like biology or chemistry. It isn’t a science about something that is “over there”. We aren’t just trying to satisfy our curiousity. We actually have a vested interest in what theology has to say, because everything it has to say is relevant to us, because nothing in the Bible comes to us apart from the context. In other words, everything we know in the Bible, in theology, has to do with how God relates to us by way of covenant.

    See WCF 7


    Comment by Michael — January 24, 2007 @ 5:19 am

  7. PS

    The sovereignty of God doesn’t work as a central dogma either. Some errors that this results in are as follows:

    – You might absolutize the sovereignty of God, and then everything must be interpreted through that, leading to the next,

    – you might begin to think that free will is an illusion or something like it.

    – You might begin to think that God doesn’t react to us in any way, or that the covenant is illusory.

    – You might think that God has not really bound himself to us, perhaps finding that “Jesus wept” is a profound mystery that can’t be easily explained, or that Jesus wouldn’t know when he would return, but only the Father knows.

    – You might come to think that the gospel serves the sovereignty of God. Therefore, if you preach that “God is sovereign”, you might think you have done your duty to preach the gospel, even though you haven’t. I’ve seen this done.

    There can be a whole host of errors that can stem from having a central dogma. But again, the covenant is not a central dogma. It’s the context of all dogma.

    Again see WCF 7.


    Comment by Michael — January 24, 2007 @ 5:28 am

  8. CHAPTER 7
    Of God’s Covenant with Man
    1. The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

    2. The first covenant made with man was a covenant of works, wherein life was promised to Adam; and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience.

    3. Man, by his fall, having made himself incapable of life by that covenant, the Lord was pleased to make a second, commonly called the covenant of grace; wherein he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ; requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved, and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto eternal life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing, and able to believe.

    4. This covenant of grace is frequently set forth in Scripture by the name of a testament, in reference to the death of Jesus Christ the Testator, and to the everlasting inheritance, with all things belonging to it, therein bequeathed.

    5. This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law, it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come; which were, for that time, sufficient and efficacious, through the operation of the Spirit, to instruct and build up the elect in faith in the promised Messiah, by whom they had full remission of sins, and eternal salvation; and is called the old testament.

    6. Under the gospel, when Christ, the substance, was exhibited, the ordinances in which this covenant is dispensed are the preaching of the Word, and the administration of the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper: which, though fewer in number, and administered with more simplicity, and less outward glory, yet, in them, it is held forth in more fullness, evidence and spiritual efficacy, to all nations, both Jews and Gentiles; and is called the new testament. There are not therefore two covenants of grace, differing in substance, but one and the same, under various dispensations.

    Comment by Michael — January 24, 2007 @ 5:36 am

  9. Especially section 1 makes the point.

    Comment by Michael — January 24, 2007 @ 5:37 am

  10. This is helpful, very helpful. To point out the covenant is not like all those dogmas is a great reminder. I have been focusing on the idea that covenant is a lens, forgetting to emphasize the negative – namely what covenant is not. It is not a locus (or a dogma).

    Comment by Bruce S — January 24, 2007 @ 5:41 am

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