This is my final installment in my lengthy review of G. K. Beale’s A New Testament Biblical Theology. During the previous three parts of the review I have tried to provide the thrust of Beale’s “already-not yet new creational” model with few critical remarks (though, as a “Dispensationalist” I clearly have a bias against the author’s new way of presenting covenant theology).
In this piece I shall enter into criticism more plainly. I had envisaged a detailed critique and had lined up several pages of references to problems I see in the book, but that would be impracticable. There are literally dozens of issues where I believe Beale is seeing things that just aren’t there while missing things that plainly are there. But I will have to be satisfied with more selective comments.
The book has received more than its share of adulation since its release, and, from the perspective of supercessionist theologies, it is easy to see why. The book represents a very impressive presentation of the amillennialist thesis, mixed, as contemporary presentations of that approach are, with G.E. Ladd’s “already/not yet” hermeneutic. It employs fully up-to-date arguments and extensive “exegetical” reasoning. It seeks to persuade readers that this is how the Bible itself presents its interpretation. Moreover, despite its considerable size (circa, 1,000 closely printed pages), it makes appeal to other significant studies by the same author in support of its teachings. I want to say that the author is both brilliant and reflective. In pushing his theology into farther reaches he has done precisely what I believe a generation or more of recumbent dispensationalists have not done (I do not include progressive dispensationalists in this number, since, although one can learn from it, I believe PD is a different animal than the dispensationalism of Scofield, Chafer, Walvoord, Ryrie, or even Erich Sauer or Michael Vlach).
The following critique is from a certain point of view. Notwithstanding, I stand behind it as a solid basis for not recommending Beale’s work as an accurate account of biblical theology.
Some Quick Miscellaneous Criticisms:
1. The prolixity of the author’s style. Beale takes a long time to say what he means. Granted, one must argue a point, but Beale still needs more words than necessary to say it. Just a look at his headings and subheadings proves my point. One example from among many will do the job: chapter 19 is entitled “The Story of the Eden Sanctuary, Israel’s Temple, and Christ and the Church as the Ongoing Eschatological Temple of the Spirit in the New-Creational Kingdom.” Nuff said.
2. This problem leads to another one, which is the dearth of references to or critical interaction with opposing views (a rare example includes a note on page 350 n.94). As with some other of this author’s work (e.g. The Temple and the Church’s Mission), one gets the feeling that Beale thinks he’s just right and doesn’t need to defend his views. Hence, someone wishing to find involved discussion with other viewpoints will not find it here. This is acutely the case with dispensational writers (hardly even mentioned). This is a covenant theologian writing for covenant theologians.
3. The author’s thesis, drawn as it is from his interpretation of allusions and types, is, I firmly believe, quite beyond the ken of the vast majority of Bible students past or present. This is esoteric theology funded by esoteric reading of the Bible. Scripture’s constant “transformations” of seemingly clear teachings via the sorts of subtleties Beale appeals to make it the preserve of scholars. The Bible is not for Everyman, since the key to its interpretation is an enigma to most of us (saved or lost). Instead of just using language to tell us straight, it seems, if Beale is to be followed, that God hides the reality within the symbolically concealed. A man who can write, “Perhaps one of the most striking features of Jesus’ kingdom is that it appears not to be the kind of kingdom prophesied in the OT and expected by Judaism” (431 my emphasis), without contemplating the gravity, philosophically speaking, of what he is saying, is not, in our estimation, a safe guide. What use then are the tests of a prophet (Deut. 18:22) if fulfillments can be transformed into something the original hearers wouldn’t have understood? Those who take their queue from Paul, who told others, “Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:25), have, it would seem, gotten hold of the wrong end of the interpretative stick.
What is Missing:
1. The most glaring absentees from Beale’s book are the biblical covenants. Although one might argue that this is explained by this being a New Testament theology, the author’s subtitle, “The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New” fairly screams for attention to the covenants. He does briefly refer to covenants (e.g. 42-43, 166), and he uses Hugenberger’s definition, which, as already pointed out, presupposes covenants cannot undergo transformation and must mean exactly what they say. The “problem” of the covenants, as I see it, is that they are useless unless their words are stuck to (see Gal. 3:15). And God Himself appears to be of the same opinion (see Jer. 34:18-20). Indeed, the live illustration of the Rechabites in Jer. 35 would lose all its poignancy if the meaning of God’s words could undergo the sorts of “transformation” which Beale and others envisage. To my way of thinking at least, any biblical theology which ignores the biblical covenants needs to go back to the drawing board. The biblical covenants act as sentinels against wayward theological constructions – if they are heeded! But who heeds them?
2. Ignoring dissimilarities. A real danger for Bible interpreters is to fasten on to similarities which appear to support their position while disregarding important dissimilarities. Proponents of the mythical Jesus, for instance, like to compare the resurrection stories to ancient myths of Osiris and Tammuz while neglecting major differences between them. Evolutionists commonly do this in their superficial discussions of homology; choosing not to notice crucial discrepancies in their comparisons. The dissimilarities tend to show themselves in the details (i.e. in the context). His remarks about God overcoming chaos and establishing “creational order” (39) find no foothold in Genesis. On page 40 he avers, “Just as God had achieved heavenly rest after overcoming the creational chaos…” Where does he get this? Assuredly from connecting Genesis 1 with ANE creation accounts (cf. 247 n.44; 630 n.36).
Millennial references are routinely given new creational (as in New Heavens and Earth) fulfillments (56, 71, 101, 109, 121, etc.). In chapter 19 Ezekiel’s Temple is equated with the New Jerusalem (615), which in turn is the entire new cosmos (616). As an aside, thanks to the pliability of “apocalyptic genre” Stephen Smalley, in his commentary, can make New Jerusalem the new covenant! Unperturbed that the New Jerusalem is distinguished from “the new heaven” (Re. 21:1-2), and “the new earth” (Rev. 21:24), and “no temple [is] in it” (21:22), or that the temple in Ezek. 40ff. has specific detailed measurements differing markedly from those in Rev.21:16-17, which God commands it to be built to (Ezek. 43:10-12); that Zadokite priests minister in it (43:19; 44:15), including offering sacrifices for sin (43:21), whereas other Levites serve within it in a lesser capacity (44:10-14), and that it is distinguished from the land around it (47:12-23), the similarities trump all this and the dissimilarities are assimilated.
Are Abraham and Israel truly given Adam’s commission (47-53)? Does the fact that the Church shares the same general descriptions as Israel mean the many discontinuities between the two vanish in the typological ether? Do all the patent repetitions of covenant oaths to Israel run out of gas when Jesus comes? Just what is God saying in Jer. 33:14-24? Read more »
As we continue to the end of this impressive book we come to the second part of Beale’s two chapter treatment of supercessionism (although the doctrine permeates the whole work).
The author is among those who believe all the phenomena in Joel’s prophecy recited by Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:16-21 came to pass, even though it didn’t really. But that is ancillary to his argument, which is that the prophecy was aimed at Israel (689), and in Christ gentiles become tagged as Israel (690). This is helped by another allusion, this time to Isaiah 2:2-4; the first part of which “implies that gentiles become identified with Israel.” (691). Once more, some will miss the subtlety of the connection Beale makes, more particularly because of the physical phenomena described in Isaiah 2 and its seemingly obvious connection to places like Isaiah 11:1-10; Zechariah 14 and Romans 8:18f., which appear to place this transformation after the Second Advent.
The same passing over descriptions of physical transformation occurs in the writers comparison of Isaiah 32:13 with Acts 1:8 (693). Chapter 20 closes with a look at the work of Rikki Watts and David Pao and their extension of “the view of such scholars as C. H. Dodd and Francis Foulkes that the citation of or allusion to OT passages in the NT are indicators of broader hermeneutic frameworks, storylines,…” and such like (699). Beale lists five points from Pao which he thinks show that hearers of these OT allusions in the early church would have been able to make the same connections a few twentieth and twenty-first century scholars have made (700). How many readers and hearers since that time have been able to do likewise is an open question.
Chapter 21 examines several NT passages pertinent to the discussion: Rom. 9:24-26 and 27-29; 10:11-13, 25-26; 2 Cor. 6; Gal. 4:22-27 and 6:16; Eph. 2:13-18; and sundry passages in Hebrews, 1 Peter and Revelation. It would take extended comments to analyze Beale’s treatments of these texts, but the upshot is that few naysayers would be won over to his views, whereas those already in agreement would feel more secure in their position (the exception would be Romans 9:24-29 where even many “Dutch school” covenant theologians would argue against Beale).
The author’s decided replacementism surfaces again in his closing comment on Gal. 6:16:
Here [Gal. 6:16], as in 2 Cor. 5:14-7:1, it needs to be emphasized that the church in fulfilling Israel’s end-time restoration prophecies [n.b. Israel didn't fulfill them!] is also fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecies of new creation. (724).
On page 728 Beale provides five ways in which the new covenant has been understood. However, he misses a sixth way: that the same new covenant, who is Jesus Christ, is made with both the church (at the first coming), and with national Israel (at His second coming). As all God’s covenant obligations depend for their consummation on righteousness obtained through Christ, once that righteousness is given, nothing stands in the way of literal fulfillment of the original covenanted promises [see e.g., this post].
In the next chapter (22) Israel’s land promises are dealt with. The now common route of expansion of “the land” is the tack taken. As per writers like O. Palmer Robertson, the promise is thought to begin in Eden (751) of which the land covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a recapitulation. This is called an “expansive temple-land theology” (753) wherein the “temple/land” is to extend throughout the new earth of Rev. 21. As usual, none of the texts used to prove the contention actually say that this is the case. Neither is the simple fact that Israel is never equated with its temple dealt with. What needs to be in place to make it all work is the joint assumption that the NT reinterprets the OT, and the deductive skills of the interpreter play a magisterial role. For an instance of the latter, the author cites Heb. 11:13 as teaching that Christians have reached New Jerusalem even while living on earth (766), whereas the writer of Hebrews appears to say nothing of the kind. Read more »
The Argument of the Book (continued)
I said in the first part of this review that Beale is a supercessionist (he believes the Church is the “true Israel”), and the second half of the book makes this crystal clear (although it is not absent from the first half). Although building on things said in the first half, I found the allusions and Beale’s interpretations of them (especially in light of what was overlooked in the contexts), to be more strained and partisan than the previous sixteen chapters.
Part Six investigates the role of the Holy Spirit in the “already/not yet eschatological” paradigm which Beale has set up. He cites Ezekiel 36:26-27 and 37:1-14 (560-561) as examples of OT Spirit-texts. Although he has commented on these passages before he does not read them in light of their clear covenantal context (e.g. 34:11-15, 23-27, 36:22-28; 37:22-26), nor does he notice the constant refrain “O mountains of Israel” tying these chapters together. One should beware of coming to these chapters only to plunder one or two proof texts before departing. Beale ties these passages to Isaiah 32:15 (but notice v.1) and 44:3-5 (“Jacob” is referred to 3 times in the context, and also in vv.21-22). Taken as read they relate to a time when “Jacob” (Israel) will be redeemed and blessed in their land and shepherded over by the promised Davidic king; a covenant promise which Beale has already shown was expected to be fulfilled literally. But it quickly becomes apparent that for Beale “Jacob” is not national Israel, and the fulfillment is upon the “true Israel” and the national promises have dissipated. Beale associates, rightly, Ezekiel 36 with John 3, and draws the common though questionable conclusion that,
Jesus himself” interprets the new birth as “the inbreaking new age as [being] the beginning fulfillment of the Ezek. 36-37 prophecy that the Spirit would create God’s new people by resurrecting them. (570).
But there is a good deal in Ezekiel 36 and 37 (not to mention chs.34, 40ff.) which is being filtered into this opinion; especially when it is realized that Beale’s now-but-not-yet “resurrection” is in view, along with the belief that “God’s new people” means different people than the nation addressed by the prophet (see 572, 592). A couple of pages later is a chart (Table 17.2) where comparisons between several Isaianic passages are supposedly being alluded to in Acts 1:8, but I’m afraid all I see are coincidences in wording, which can scarcely be avoided.
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 is then appealed to to prove that we are participating in resurrection life now (579), and then I Cor. 15:20, 23 and Rom. 8:23 are brought together to teach “the believer’s new resurrected spiritual being” (582) shall in future be united to the resurrected body. The thinking is that we are already resurrected in Christ’s resurrection, even though that resurrection was physical. There follows a section connecting the fruit of the Spirit with Isaiah, although again, some scholars see things others do not. Next the “two witnesses” of Revelation 11:11-12, whom Beale believes represent the church, are connected with the symbolic resurrection depicted in Ezekiel 47:5, 10, thus closing the circle.
The next chapter (ch.18) develops the author’s previous work on the church in Jesus as the “End-Time Already-Not Yet Eschatological Temple.” Jesus proclaimed Himself as the the end-time temple in John 2:19-22 (593), and “the underlying narrative” of Acts 2 is interpreted as Christ’s ongoing construction of the spiritual temple by His Spirit. He cites Isa. 4:2-6, 30:27-30; Jer. 3:16-17, and Zech. 1:16-2:13 to show that the OT itself conceives of “a nonarchitectural temple” (594. cf. 643 n.55) – these prophecies finding initial fulfillment at Pentecost. Some Bible students may fail to make the same connections Beale does.
The author also believes that through allusions to Jewish interpretations of Exodus 20:18a,
Luke was intending to some degree that his readers have in mind God’s revelation to Moses at Sinai as a backdrop for understanding the events leading up to and climaxing at Pentecost. (596).
If this is so then Acts (and so also Luke) was clearly written for a Jewish audience (which seems problematic). This would simplify the problem of interpretive expectation, but would intensify other matters (e.g. Acts 1:6; 3:19-21; 26:7). Also, did the people prophesy in Acts 2:16-17? Beale thinks so (602). What about Acts 2:19-20? Even non-premillennial interpreters are cautious with their interpretations of Joel’s prophecy in Acts 2.
There follows an enlightening excursus about Sinai being a kind of temple, although it is surely possible to see a temple as a physical representation of the true tabernacle (Heb. 8:2-5)?
Chapter 19 is where he really gets going with the temple motif, where he summarizes the argument of The Temple and the Church’s Mission. Rev. 21:1-22:5 is called an “apocalyptic vision” (615), raising questions about what New Jerusalem really is. Then there is some interesting information about the parallels between Eden and Solomon’s Temple along with the reassertion of Adam being the one referred to in Ezekiel. 28:13 (618), his fall being depicted in 28:16 (621). While this speculation has more going for it than most, it could be argued that the temple was more a remembrance picture of Eden (e.g., A. P. Ross), than Eden itself being a temple. Still, it is worth pondering. Read more »
A Review of G. K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011, xiv + 1047 pages, hdbk, $54.99.
G. K. Beale is among the most prominent evangelical scholars. He is acknowledged in the evangelical world as being something of an expert on the relationship of the OT to the New. Together with D.A. Carson he is the general editor of the Commentary of the Use of the Old Testament in the New, and the subtitle of the present book is “The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New.” Among other notable publications he has authored the Commentary on the Greek text of Revelation in the NIGNTC series, and The Temple and the Church’s Mission. Beale is a covenant theologian who teaches at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia. His eschatology is amillennial and supercessionist.
The book under review has been called magisterial. It is certainly big. It is without doubt as impressive as it is imposing. And it is possibly the most thorough apology for amillennialism ever put into print.
1. Brief Overview of the Book
A New Testament Biblical Theology is divided into ten parts with an introduction. In the introduction Beale explains how the NT authors were employed in “creatively developing the original sense beyond what may appear to be the ‘surface meaning’ of the OT text.” (4). In this he is following the line of Richard B. Hays and others who have scrutinized the OT allusions they find in the NT. This produces a reading of the Bible wherein the NT transforms the OT storyline (6, 9, 15, 16). This means that the OT storyline has to be understood, in the final analysis, through the lens of the NT; even though Beale does claim that either Testament “deserves to have its own witness heard on its own terms.” (10). I shall have cause to return to this claim in my critique.
In the opening chapters of Part One (chs. 2-3) the storyline of the OT is mapped out with special emphasis on Genesis 1-3. The next chapter reviews Jewish eschatological opinions of the day, then come two chapters on NT eschatology, particularly in terms of the Latter Days. By “eschatology” the author means an “already-not yet new-creational reign in Christ” (177), a definition loaded with theological baggage which must be inspected. This leads in to Part Two (ch.7), which argues for the time between the advents as being the “inaugurated end-time tribulation,” and Part Three (chs.8-11), which set out a framework for NT biblical theology centered in the resurrection, understood as both physical and spiritual (viz. regeneration). Parts Four through Six, consisting of chapters 13 to 19, deal with the restoration of the Divine image in man in salvation, and his settlement in the already-not yet eschatological temple, which is the Church.
Parts Seven and Eight (chs.20-24) will set premillennialists fidgeting as Beale’s replacement theology shifts into top gear. Chapters 25 and 26 comprise Part Nine where the Christian life is viewed as a participation in the new creation now. Then comes the Conclusion in Part Ten (chs. 27 and 28). A Bibliography and good indices complete the volume.
2. Description of the Argument of the Book
This is a very long and detailed work filled with impressive scholarship and a love of Scripture. The author wants to present the inner cohesiveness of Scripture by showing how the NT authors, Paul in particular, develop the OT storyline in new and sometimes surprising ways by their use of an “already/not yet” theological hermeneutics. This hermeneutics draws added strength from carefully uncovering the allusions of the NT writers to their Hebrew (well, mostly LXX Greek) Bibles. In many cases, these allusions reshape the apparent surface meaning of the text, broadening the picture in no small part through the realization that what might at first be thought of as referring to an End Times denouement, has, in fact, been inaugurated at the Resurrection of Christ, although the fuller realization and completion of this work lies ahead. Another way to put this is by Beale’s oft-repeated refrain of “Inaugurated End Time New Creation.”
The long chapters 2 and 3 begin with a focus on the opening chapters of Genesis as the basis for much of what is unfolded in the rest of the OT. Beale tries to develop several somewhat speculative notions regarding God’s overcoming of “chaos” (39), the symbolism of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (he thinks this was a “judgment tree” where Adam should have judged the serpent and then ruled over it. 35, 45), the clothing of the fallen ones, etc. Throughout the chapter, though not limited to it, words like “possible,” “seems,” “if,” “perhaps,” reoccur. Beale also manages to slip in a plea for a covenant [of Works] between God and Adam in Eden (42-43). Ezekiel 28 is utilized to tell us that Eden was apparently situated on a mountain (105); whatismore, the one who is in Eden in Ezekiel 28:13-14 is identified as Adam (cf. 74, 360 n.7, etc.). Adam was given a commission which he was unable to fulfill; a commission which was reiterated throughout OT history, but which only the second Adam could carry out. (45ff., 61). Beale even has some of the tribes of Israel attempting to fulfill it (98), though whether they were aware of this is not stated. Israel is “apparently… a corporate Adam” in this typological scenario (56, 85, 90, 95 n.22), which sees “cyclic patterns” (60) of,
progressive reestablishment of [God's] “new-creational kingdom out of chaos over a sinful people by his word by his Spirit through promise, covenant, and redemption, resulting in worldwide commission to the faithful to advance this kingdom and judgment (defeat or exile) for the unfaithful, unto his glory.” (62, etc.)
This is not a “center” but rather the main strand of the OT storyline. A better perspective from which to view this is to look at it through the lens of the beginning and the end of the Bible; the “bookends” of Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 21.
On page 115 Beale lists ten ideas which represent the OT notion of “the latter days.” Interestingly, Dispensationalists would have no trouble agreeing with this list, even if they would maybe add more details. This is not to say that they come out at the same place as Beale. It is the same when he lists four conceptions involved in Jewish interpretations of “the latter days” in extra-biblical sources (128). Again, Dispensationalists would basically agree with the picture Beale gives while wishing to provide further corroboration. Focusing only on Jewish expectations produces just such a picture of covenant understanding as Dispensationalists like to stress (esp. 111-128). Of course, Beale has already gone to some trouble to set the stage for NT transformations of these expectations, and in chapter 5 and following he will turn to the New Testament.
I thought I would put this up here as I put a little effort into it and I need to post
Some of the men in our Church are reading through the new book edited by D. A. Carson & T. Keller, The Gospel as Center. I was given the chapters on Scripture and Creation to write about. Here is what I wrote about chapter 3, “The Gospel and Scripture: How to Read the Bible.”
Pastor asked me to write something on chapters 3 and 4 of our book. Here are my thoughts on chapter 3:
Chapter 3 is by M. Bullmore on “The Gospel and Scripture.” Because I am rather pressed for time I shall have to record some problems with the chapter in with its good points. It is a rather simplistic chapter written with broad strokes, but it is clear that it is written from a point of view decidedly biased toward covenant theology (Hereafter CT). CT basically teaches that salvation in the Church is the main theme of Scripture. All the elect are under a “covenant of grace” which means all the elect from Adam’s time to the second coming are in the Church. Since neither I nor many evangelicals who believe the Gospel hold to CT it is quite wrong for it to be given preference like this in a book purporting to be written for a broad evangelicalism.
On his beginning page (41) the writer declares that by the Gospel he means “God’s eternal purpose to redeem a people for himself (1 Pet. 2:9) and to restore his fallen creation (Rom. 8:19-21),” though later he will define it as “the message of Christ.” (44). 1 Pet. 2:9 does not say what Bullmore states in that first clause. It simply refers to those to whom Peter is writing (probably the whole Church but some say the Jewish Church), as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” etc. But CT teaches that all the saved in both Testaments are in the Church (thus “a people”). Then he says, “God’s purposes in revelation can never be separated from His purposes in redemption.” (42). In an important sense he is right. But since very many are not saved and since the Bible presents to man the right way of looking and thinking about the world, this is too reductionistic.
He goes on to quote from Isa. 55 twice: first the famous verses about the efficacy of the Word of God, and then some slightly earlier verses which refer to the “everlasting covenant” God made with David and Israel. Now, if God’s Word will “accomplish everything that God purposes it to do” then surely it will accomplish the promises in the Davidic covenant to Israel? (e.g. “He has glorified you”). I say this in passing but it is worth filing away.
Is it correct to say that the Gospel is the cause of biblical revelation? Actually, only in a secondary, though important sense. You see Biblical revelation (Scripture) is necessitated because of the Fall. Hence, the primary cause of biblical revelation is the separation that exists between the Creator and the creature – not all of whom will be saved.
What about the Gospel being the effect of revelation? Yes. The Bible exists for the Gospel, although it exists for more than the Gospel. For example, the Gospel cannot be found in the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. These may help clarify aspects of the Gospel (e.g. justification by faith not law and sanctification after faith), but they are not the Gospel itself. I’m sorry, but critical thinking is needed.
Pages 44-47 outline the attributes of Scripture and is very good, although I was surprised there was no clear statement about inerrancy there. These pages are the best part of the essay. Also, the section on our need of humility is well done. But then we come a-cropper. The section on “Hermeneutics” (i.e. interpretation) is pretty awful. This may seem like a harsh statement because it reads so piously. But therein lies the danger. Let us examine a few things.
First, using Lk. 24:25-26, 44-45 and Jn. 5:39 Bullmore makes the common claim that “if we are going to read the Bible rightly. we must see it in all its parts as it relates to Christ.” (49). What does “in all its parts” mean? Well, he had just quoted Bryan Chapell’s claim that Jesus can be seen in every text of Scripture in some way. Then he says, “Jesus’ words presuppose that every passage does indeed point to him.” That sounds pious! But which words of Jesus presuppose this? Are we really to believe that on the two or three hour trek to Emmaus Jesus went through EVERY OT verse and showed Christ was there? Do you know how long that would have taken, even if it were possible? Conservatively, it would have taken several days! No, this is NOT what Jesus’ words presuppose! All Jesus was doing was going to every OT Book and showing predictions and illustrations of His person and work within them. He is in Gen. 3:15 and 18:17 and 49:9-10 and Num 14 and 24 and Job 19:25-26 and Isa. 7:14, 9:6, 61:1f. and Mic. 5:2 and Zech. 9:9 etc. But when Satan causes the deaths of Job’s children we don’t find the Gospel there! When Doeg the Edomite shows his true colors Jesus isn’t seen. Yes, like Spurgeon we ought to be able to get to Christ from any passage. But not before rightly expounding the passage and THEN relating it to Christ. But that is not what Bullmore is saying. He wants us to read all the Bible through the lens of Christ. That is, he is recommending we read Christ into every passage! That’s typical CT and it leads to gross spiritualizing of Scripture.
Not surprisingly, he writes about “spiritual interpretation of Scripture” next. This is not the same as spiritualizing but it often ends up in the same court. This can be seen in the opening remark under that head on page 49: “The Bible is qualitatively different from every other book and requires that we read it in keeping with its nature.” I entirely agree with the first part of that statement. The Bible is the Word of God so it is qualitatively different than non-inspired books. My problem is with what lurks behind the second part. You see, he goes on to say (in a rather confused outline of “Illumination”) that not only does the Spirit help us to know the Bible is true. he also states that one cannot understand the Bible without the Spirit (50). That is not what Paul is saying in the 1 Corinthians passage and it is obviously untrue – otherwise Bullmore has undermined one of his earlier proof-texts (Jn.5:39) where Jesus exhorts unbelievers to search the Scriptures. How could they unless they had the Spirit? And how can any unsaved person read the Bible unless the Spirit helps him interpret it? This is not the doctrine of Illumination! Scripture addresses the lost in many places. It even addresses Satan here and there! Furthermore, the underlying assumption is that the Bible is only written to believers. If that is true then an unsaved person cannot logically be condemned for ignoring it. I hope you see this.
The illustration using Matt. 12:1-8 is poor and unenlightening. Bullmore is right to say that Jesus was focusing the narrative on Himself. But He did so because He was “Lord of the Sabbath.” David was not above the Law – no king was (53?). But Jesus should be followed by the religious leaders for who He is. Will they join the disciples instead of condemning them? That is the crux of the passage.
The last page is also the worst (sorry!). the “plan of salvation” is not “what scriptural revelation is all about.” It is a large part of it. But only a covenant theologian would say such a thing. And only a CT would be so bold as to announce “The good news is the singular and majestic theme of Scripture” which “should inform and control our “handling” of God’s Word.” Sounds good doesn’t it? For one thing, there seems to be more than one usage of “gospel” in the Gospels (e.g. how much of the death and resurrection of Jesus did the disciples understand at first? (Mk. 9:32). Did Jesus preach it in Mk. 1:13 or Matt.4:23?). But it is plain rubbish! What he is recommending is that we come to every verse of Scripture with our mind already made up that we will find Christ in it. That is not how we do exegesis.
Further, that is not how he got an understanding of the Gospel in the first place. He did what we all should do: he read what the good news is to us in John 3 and Romans 3-5 and Gal. 1-3 and Eph. 1-3 and he believed what it said. As all Scripture is equally God’s Word should it not be treated with the same respect?
Postscript: I wanted to say something here about chapter 4 on “Creation” by Andrew M. Davis because I’m out of town till Tuesday night and may not get a chance to review it. It is simply outstanding! Without a doubt it is the best introductory presentation of the subject I have read. His use of Scripture is superb, and as a piece of composition it is a marvel.
These guidelines test the “distance” between a given theological proposal and the actual textual references alleged to lend them authority. As already mentioned in previous posts, all the major non-negotiable doctrines of the Christian Faith have a strong affinity with the wording of the biblical text. Under the “Grid of Category Formulations” of these “Rules of Affinity” all these first level doctrines are C1 and C2 doctrines. Doctrinal propositions which are arrived at by the consent of several converging biblical texts to bring about an “inference to the best explanation” are C3′s. C3′s are open to revision if better scriptural conclusions from clear texts are forthcoming.
The two other categories in the Grid which reveal little or no affinity between the words of Scripture and the doctrines supposed to be borne out of it are C4′s or C5′s. These categories are heavy on inference and light on affinity. They are chock full of human reason and empty of clear, definable connection to the verses which are being unfairly summoned to support them.
Bad Features of C4′s and C5′s
1. Another feature of C4′s and C5′s is that they often come into contention with clearer verses which contradict them (C1′s & C2′s). Why then, are they allowed to stand? It is because of our faith in our own rational faculties.
2. Yet another interesting fact about doctrines based on C4′s and C5′s is that they usually command large areas of systematic theology. For example, “the covenant of grace,” which as defined by covenant theologians (or the limp “Edenic covenant” of Confessional dispensationalists like Scofield and Chafer), enjoys no C1 – C3 support. Moreover, the texts used in support of it are not talking about it at all, but about biblical covenants like those with Abraham or David.
3. This brings up the third interesting feature of C4 and C5 formulations; because they are formulated by human reason they are already believed before the search is made for scriptural support-texts. That is to say, the doctrine is already in hand and cherished so the Bible must be ransacked for any verse which might give the impression that it supports the cherished teaching.
4. A fourth negative characteristic is that C4 and C5 formulations highlight the fact that doctrines have been manufactured not unusually from other doctrines. Although this may lend them a certain logical coherence, which can in itself be deceptive, it does nothing to show that the doctrine in question is built up from the clear statements of Scripture (C1′s – C3′s) which the fundamental doctrines are.
Still another item of notice is that even fundamental doctrines can be supported by texts with weak affinity to the proposition under scrutiny. This does not invalidate the doctrine. it does, however, encourage the theologian to look for better and clearer passages. But we shall consider this aspect in another post.
Here are some important theological propositions which, in fact, lack affinity with the Scriptures used to validate them: Read more »