SERIES: Christ at the Center: The Fulcrum of Biblical Covenantalism –
1. Introduction: Part 1a, 1b, 1c
2. Jesus and the New Covenant: Part 2a, 2b, 2c,
3. The Covenant God Incarnate: Part 3a, 3b,
4. The Role of Jesus, the Word, as the Ground of Meaning and Significance: Part 4a, 4b, 4c, 4d
5. Christ and the Triadic People of God: Part 5a, 5b, 5c, 5d
6. Jesus and the Restitution of All Things: Part 6a. 6b
7. Christ in Biblical and Systematic Theology: Part 7a,
Christ and Systematic Theology
From the things we have already said it is not difficult to see that by placing Jesus Christ at the center of Biblical Theology – a position advocated in these posts and called “Biblical Covenantalism” – it becomes natural to move on to formulating doctrines.
Many both within and without the evangelical tradition have written about the connection between Biblical and Systematic Theology. In fact, perhaps most scholars who are not evangelicals are less than confident that Systematic Theology is a viable exercise at all. The reason for this is their findings in Biblical Theology.
The first post stepped right into matters of Christology (unsurprisingly), Creation, and Ecclesiology. By the end of the second we were on firm Eschatological ground. In the third post I could write:
Hence, the Plan of God outlined in the biblical covenants converges on the crucified Jesus and emerges from the resurrected Jesus!
My contention in Part Two was that the other unconditional covenants were channeled through the New covenant, because the salvation realized under the New covenant ensures covenantal continuity into the kingdom era. Thus, both Soteriology and Providence were in view.
In Part Three: “The Covenant God Incarnate,” I of course dealt with the Incarnation. But I also referred to the interesting surmise of Meredith Kline that the pre-incarnate Christ was the antitype of the bodily form of Adam. Hence, we were dealing with Anthropology.
My discussion of Christ as the Logos in Part Four brought me round again to Creation and the doctrine of God. Included in this chapter was something about the connection of the Word as God with the Bible. I was writing concerning biblical interpretation (Hermeneutics), and so was in the realm of Bibliology. The hermeneutical question; tied as it is with the Person of Christ as Revealor and New covenant; with the Person of the Father as covenant-Maker; and with the Holy Spirit as the Author of Scripture and agent of eschatological new life, points inevitably to the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of the veracity of God.
In all this I was always on Eschatological ground, as every good Theology is. This led into the important theological issues to do with Israel and the Church, as well as the Nations, and their part in reflecting the Triunity of God (Part Five).
Then in Part Six we returned to the Cross and the offices of Christ. Finally, the Resurrection was viewed as “a glorious anachronism” which points us all to the fervent hope of His appearing and Kingdom.
Although this series could not go into much detail in connecting Biblical Theology to Systematic Theology, I truly hope that I have done enough here to arouse the interest of those who want the Lord Jesus Christ to be central to both disciplines, but who, like me, are not impressed by the pretensions of Covenant Theology, with its overwhelmingly inferential way of “Christotelic” formulations – stuffing Christ into texts where He doesn’t fit; and most Dispensational Theology, where Christ only pops His head in now and again under certain categories of the system.
Biblical Covenantalism brings Christ forward in both disciplines in two main ways. Firstly, by simply paying heed to what is plainly said about Him in the Bible. To recall something said in Part 4a:
I want to make sure that we have established a very strong connection in our minds between the Bible, the world, and the personal Savior who is our Lord. Just as the Bible is His, this world is His and we are His; and all these things exist, in the first place, for Him. He is the judge of all of His creation and He shall rule over all of the creation. This world is of Him, for Him, by Him, to Him. If we’re going to have a scriptural doctrine of the Creation it will bear some correlation to Jesus Christ. I don’t say we must “find Him in it,” only that we must relate it to Him.
The same applies then to the doctrine of the Revelation of God. Here the danger of abstraction becomes a very real one. The teaching about the Bible has got to be in accord with the worldview which springs from the Bible. And, as we hope we have begun to make clear, a world and life view that is a truly biblical one will have to be centered in the Person of Christ.
The Bible puts the Lord Jesus in the middle of everything!
In the second place, and this point calls for some reflection: Christ has been “set forth” (cf. Rom. 3:25) by the Father and exegetes Him (Jn. 1:18). Christ is witnessed to by the Spirit; so that to know the first and third Persons one must go through the second Person. What this yields, I believe, is a starting assumption of doing Systematic Theology first Christo-centrically. Many theologians have started Trinitarianly, and I am not decrying that. But the makeup of Scripture places the access to the Divine Trinity through Jesus Christ. He is the Designer, Creator, Sustainer, Archetype, Savior, Covenant Guarantor, Restorer, King and Judge over all Creation. The Father has willed it be so. The Spirit makes sure it is so. So the Lord Jesus is the means by which Biblical and Systematic Theology live in harmony. As Word and Covenant Jesus Christ puts all around Him in its proper place!
7 thoughts on “Christ at the Center: Conclusion (Pt.7b)”
“In fact, perhaps most scholars who are not evangelicals are less than confident that Systematic Theology is a viable exercise at all. The reason for this is their findings in Biblical Theology.”
Can you elaborate on the last sentence?
More “liberal” scholars say that Systematic Theology must presume a thematic continuity between the Bible’s authors. But they argue that this simply cannot be sustained. For example, John’s Gospel does not jive with the Synoptics; James clashes with Paul, as, for different reasons, does the writer to the Hebrews. In the OT it is thought that later prophets (including second and trito – Isaiah and the “Deuteronomist”) react to situations which were not envisaged earlier, and have to adapt and redirect the message along other lines. A good example is how many scholars see the prophets as uninterested in sacrifice in opposition to the Law.
These are all findings from Biblical Theology – and they have been influential in evangelical quarters. Many evangelicals have simply re-shaped liberal arguments to bolster their own theological preferences. The biggest impact is upon hermeneutics. Mess with hermeneutics and you mess with Theology.
Hope that helps.
God bless you and yours.
Although perhaps not intended, you have in this series, provided a Biblical and logical response to those who would tout the increasingly popular view that true Biblical theology leads to an amillennial understanding of eschatology. I know this is but one aspect of the discussion but nevertheless it is vitally important. For example, Sam Storms recent publication, ” Kingdom Come: The Amillennial Alternative” needs to be rebutted by competent scholars who hold to a dispensational hermeneutic. Sadly, those who would stand in the gap for the defense of “true” Biblical theology are few in number. Please keep the salvos coming and may they be used by God to encourage others to stand with you.
Thank you Ray! Actually, I cannot plead innocent here. It is my intention to ground Biblical Theology upon the plain-sense of God’s Word. 🙂
God bless you (and please feel free to put in your link)
Thanks Paul for this important and magnificant article. I wish to back up what Ray said above that it is fashionable for more serious evangelical Christians to have a unified understanding of biblical theology, often they have been pioneered by anti-dispensationalists that arrive at an amillennial conclusion of the Bible (possibly CT or NCT) plus 4.5+ or 5-point strict Calvinism.
I was tempted to go down that route when a desire to search for the Scriptures at more detail and decrying of relativism and pragmatism by Calvinist teachers led me on a path to almost full Calvinism. It must be God affirming very deeply in my mind that Israel as the Jewish people (understood as the physical nation are are descendants of Abraham through Issac and jacob) are still God’s beloved, they have survived despite the overwhelming odds, and His Son Jesus will one day restroe Israel when He returns, and knowing that a NCT or CT will mean I will throw the Jews under the bus theologically speaking, that stopped me from going down the track. And then your series on TULIP forced me to seriously re-evaluate where the traditional Reformed understanding of TULIP have gone wrong shed lights on where there has been a subtle substitution of Scrripture contexts by human logic (regeneration prior to faith means limited atonement) and human conception (dead in sin as in dead as corpse analogy).
I have been feeling like just as I got so close to Calvinism so quickly a couple years ago, now I’m feeling like on a train departing from Calvinism and slowly drifting into either Moderate Calvinism (Ryrie-Moderate Calvinism) or your type of non-calvinistic mongerism. I wonder if I will end up landing into Calvary Chapel Calminianism again? 😉 [that was a tongue in cheek remark]. I’m so convinced by unconditional election from John 6:39-40,44 that I doubt this will happen, but I’m definitely drifting away from Reformed teachings even though I still find most of their stuff containing theological gems plus their godliness can’t be faulted, notwithstanding my disagreements with some parts of their theology.
This series has been helping me to see it is possible to gain an understanding of biblical theology with Jesus Christ as the focus/centre but with a view that the prophecies to national israel will be fulfilled when Jesus returns.
Thank you for that. May this be used in church Bible study/Adult Sunday school sessions, or even for discipleship sessions, for the further knowledge of God to His glory.
PS: since you mentioned in Part 5 a triadic people of God. Most recognise the field to study eccelsiology on the church, and Jewish-background dispensationalists like Arnold Fruchtenbaum pioneered the study of Israelology on Israel (although a majority of evangelicals disputes this field exists). Would the study of systematioc theology require a new field on the nations (this would include much of diverse social issues currently studied under Christian or even Catholic social teachings, ethics, Christian and social justice, and dispensational undersdtanding of God’s working in nations during OT and our time and the future Tribulation)? Or DV this has to wait until the Millennial Kingdom to happen?
I did ponder that very question myself. My answer is that the doctrine of the Church involves far more than eschatology, so it is a different case than either Israel or the Nations. In their case, I think, both of their hopes are wrapped up under eschatology (as indeed is the church’s). Therefore, I am not persuaded by Fruchtenbaum’s case for “Israelology” – although I think the book is great. In short, the future hopes of the triadic people does not require separate corpora.
God bless you brother,