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.