What is covenant theology? And why the question can be misleading

Today, a friend asked me to explain what is covenant theology. I get the question and it’s one I would have asked years ago at the mere mention of the name. In fact, when I first heard the term several years ago, my immediate frame of thinking was this: it is a system of thought imposed on Scripture especially when terms like covenant of works and covenant of grace are used to describe it. Unfortunately, unless you’re immersed in Reformed and particularly Presbyterian circles, this idea of imposition can cause a spurning of sorts as if somehow this is contrasted with the just reading the Bible. In simple terms, covenant theology can be rejected because of an erroneous belief that it is doctrine imposed on Scripture and wholly separate from a biblical theology derived from simply reading Scripture.

In reality, covenant theology is not an imposition on Scripture at all but rather an extraction from Scripture. In other words, covenant theology is essentially derived from a holistic rendering of Scripture and considers the anchor that holds the 66 books together: that is God’s gracious actions towards his creation based on covenant which is embedded throughout the biblical narrative. Covenant theology looks at the whole picture and asks ‘what is God doing?’ from Genesis to Revelation. So terms like covenant of works (or more appropriately life-the foundation for his creation) and covenant of grace (his rescue of a fallen creation from the kernel promise of Gen. 3:15) are essentially capturing God’s redemptive action towards his creation based on this whole picture.

Through my many years as a Christian, I have found the way the Bible is approached leads to a segmentation and bifurcation of it’s parts and hinder a consideration of the big picture. But when you steps back and takes a 20,000 foot view of sorts, you can’t help but see the beauty of the interlocking parts culminated in God’s redemption through his Son. In his Intro to Covenant Theology, J.I. Packer says this; Continue reading

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Uneasy about death? You should be and its ok

Recently, a friend from church was sharing about her episode with anaphylaxis shock. She was home alone with her infant when suddenly and without warning, her body started reacting to what, is unknown. She couldn’t make it to the phone to call her husband or mother-in-law and barely made it to the computer to type a message out. She was going in and out of consciousness and wondered if this was it, was she going to die. But instead of the cheery easiness with which we Christians tend to treat death, there was an easiness about it. Almost a fear, more like dread.

Now this is a strong believer and someone who has had to trust God through some rough stuff. I know there is nothing she would want more than to be in the sweet arms of Jesus. She is not alone. I recall when my son and I were robbed at gunpoint and flashes of losing my life were before me and conjured up that same kind of dread. Or times when experiencing turbulence in airplanes and the mind flashing to a scenario of the plane crashing.

We talked about how these reactions seem contradictory to almost giddy like treatment of death as being a transition from one stage to the other, as if it’s something we should look forward to. I mean, Paul did say, “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” I would speculate that a good number of Christians experience this kind of apprehension and guilt for thinking it.  Are we weak and unfaithful Christians for being apprehensive about death?

No because there is something else to consider: death is a wretched result of the Fall. Death does to us what God did not intend for our bodies to do, be ripped apart. Death reminds us, or should remind us, what tragedy occurred through one man’s disobedience that plunged God’s creation into cosmic devastation. Continue reading

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The things hoped for: on faith and the resurrection

As we Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of our Lord, we loudly proclaim that he is risen. Now through much of my Christian life, I tended to translate that into merely a spiritual enterprise. Meaning, the resurrection signifies the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to the Father, baptism into the kingdom of God and union with Christ. It is that transaction that raises us to new life in Christ (see Romans 6:5-11).

Over time, I’ve come to recognize how this frame of thinking circumvents the significance of Jesus’ bodily resurrection. For his resurrection not only points back to God’s intention in creation but also brings the future of that intention into the present. In other words, it’s not enough for us to reduce the resurrection to merely a spiritual enterprise, that we are now part of God’s adopted family but there is a broader framework in which this reconciliation happens related to God’s restoration of what he intended. It’s why Paul emphasizes our bodily resurrection in 1 Cor 15, to which Christ’s resurrection is a first fruit. Death is an enemy because it is antithetical to creation. The entrance of sin and death unleashed such cosmic wreckage that the whole of the Bible’s story explains God’s plan and action to redeem his creation from that cursed grip.

In that regard, here’s a connection to the resurrection and faith I found quite interesting and insightful. I’ve been reading through this incredible book by Michael D. Williams, professor at Covenant Seminary. Far as the Curse is Found: the Covenant Story of Redemption  is essentially a biblical theology of God’s historical-redemptive narrative from Genesis to Revelation, or in other words, “the biblical story of God’s unfolding covenant relationship with his people.” I absolutely love that he starts the book off with The Resurrection: the Single Best Page of the Story to show that the whole story of redemption is anchored in and centered on the work and person of Christ according to what God intended from the beginning.

The writer of Hebrews writes, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1). How does this relate to the resurrection? Continue reading

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An Old Testament lesson in thorns and sufficient grace

One of my favorite Old Testament stories is found in 2 Chronicles 20:1-33. King Jehoshaphat and the people of Israel find themselves in a tough spot. Their literal enemies came against them in battle. Of course, this is nothing new in the Old Testament. God’s people were perpetually the target of surrounding nations who wanted nothing more to conquer those people who had some strange thing going on. Hear Jehoshaphat’s response;

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord, from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord.

And Jehoshaphat stood in the assemble of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said, ‘O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend? And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you–for your name is in this house–and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save. (2 Chron. 20:3-9)

I have often considered this story in relation to those sudden calamities in life that befall us, where we feel cornered and need some divine intervention to save us from a desperate spot. Is that not what is going on here? And the response is even more incredible. Jehoshaphat, not knowing what to do cries out to the Lord, “we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (vs. 12)

But what about those areas in our lives that persist in sudden attacks, areas of grief and loss, the thorns that don’t go away. Surely this story is applicable for those sudden calamities but is it not also for the hard areas of life we may have experienced that prick at our soul when we least suspect it? Continue reading

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The real good fight: why security in Christ matters

 I confess, one of my guilty pleasures for the past few years was watching The Good Wife every Sunday evening. The series ended last Spring 2016. So I was intrigued by the spin-off series The Good Fight. One of the key characters, Diane Lockhart, played by Christine Baranski, has always enjoyed a certain security as partner in the prestigious law firm that played a central role to the story of The Good Wife.

And so The Good Fight opens with Lockhart at the top of game. She is set to retire, has millions stashed away in retirement (or so she thought) and awaits the carefree life on a French villa she has in escrow. But then it all comes crashing down. The close friend investment banker with whom she entrusted her millions, gets arrested by the FBI. It is discovered that he created a ponzi scheme, bilking several people out of hard earned retirement savings. Not only that, Lockhart had so much faith in her friend that she recommended others to invest. Her accountant tells her the best she can do is to try to hang on to what she has, namely cancelling her retirement.

Well, I think we know what happens next. On top of losing millions of dollars, she seeks to hold on to the security of her partnership but to no avail. She has already signed an exit agreement and with the scandal of losses, they don’t want her anyway. She tries in vain to secure another partnership at firms that before would have turned over tables to have her on board. But this wretched event has left her tainted and spurned. She is left with no employment, no prospects, no savings and a scarred reputation.

All the while I’m watching this, I kept thinking about how grateful I was that my trust was not in riches. Though it was a fictional drama, it was not lost on me that this kind of thing happens on a regular basis. I was smugly satisfied that my security was not in the wealth of this world but in the riches of Christ. I was mindful of my recent reading in the book of Matthew 6:19-21; Continue reading

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