Last night, I went to a dinner and dialogue event that was hosted by the Dialogue Institute of the Southwest. The theme was the story of Abraham and there were two speakers representing the Christian and Muslim perspective respectively. My pastor represented the Christian perspective and did an amazing job both presenting and addressing questions during the Q & A portion. The Lord was truly at work!
I heard him explain how Abraham’s story fits into the broader context of God’s story. He built on themes of promise and faith, spring boarding off Gen. 12:1-3 and the blessing to many descendents. As he told the story of the son of promise and the request for a sacrifice, my skin got tingly knowing that he was building up to the ultimate giving and sacrifice of the Son. And he weaved this together masterfully, demonstrating that Abraham’s story was only a foreshadow of the main character – Jesus Christ. That God’s redemptive story involved promise and fulfillment that ultimately found in the Son because we needed a rescuer. Connecting Abraham’s story to Christ, he concluded with this passage in Galatians;
Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying ‘In you shall all nations be blessed.’ So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham the man of faith. (Gal. 3:7-9)
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who hanged on a tree’ – so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Gal. 3:13-14)
But I could not help but think of other versions of Abraham that I’ve heard within Christian circles and wondered what it would have been like if that version was presented instead. This alternate version treats Abraham as more of an example. Of course, he does foreshadow faith by demonstrating its importance in acceptance of Christian belief. But the example angle would go more like this: God have Abraham a promise of people and land so that we can expect that too. It’s not that this version does not recognize Christ, but that he serves as the means by which we can expect to model Abraham. Of course, that is not what the Galatians passage is saying nor should we expect to receive physical blessings like Abraham, since that was not the point of the promise. I kept wondering if that is what our Muslim friends heard, it probably wouldn’t have sounded too different from their belief.
But the bigger issue is that it ignores the themes of promise and fulfillment that are so weaved into the story of redemption. God’s acts in the Old Testament related to gathering a people to himself through designated means, has a relationship to what would ultimately be accomplished in the New Testament. A holistic consideration of God’s grand story demonstrates that we can’t just look at isolated incidences of God’s interaction with people in Scripture and conclude the point that it serves as an example to us.
And this is something I’ve noticed when it comes to other topics, such as the topic of my thesis, which addressing what it meant for God to speak and how his speech culminated in the Son, demonstrating (hopefully), the themes of promise and fulfillment. Because Scripture sufficiently testifies to Christ, it is sufficient for the purpose in which God spoke. No surprise, I encounter persistent push back to the idea that God spoke sufficiently through Scripture.
There are two retorts that I hear as rejection of cessation of speech. Related to the theme of this post, one of them involves looking at God speaking to people throughout Scripture and concluding that this serves as an example for what we should expect today. Again, this ignores the reason he was speaking to people in relation to his redemptive program. That he spoke through the law and prophets, ultimately finds its fulfillment in Christ (Matt 5:17-20). God wasn’t just talking to people because they needed to hear him, he spoke in order to reveal Himself as He did progressively through the Old Testament which ultimately finds fulfillment in the Son. Speaking had a much richer meaning than just direct communication from one to another.
A key text I’m interacting with is found in Hebrews 1:1-3
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of is power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high;
This passage sets the tone for the whole book of Hebrews, which demonstrates that Christ fulfilled the designated means that God would rule over his people through priests, prophets and kings. To not see these means in the Old Testament and opt for a host of examples instead, is to fragment and distort the beauty of God’s redemptive story and undermine it for personal gain. Now I’m not saying that there are no examples to follow but we have to consider what all these examples mean in relation to the bigger story. This is why we must look at the Scripture holistically, seeing how all 66 books fit together instead of using the Bible as a manual for examples as prescriptions today.
You’re dead right, Lisa. This is the big hermeneutical emphasis at our College. We call it biblical theology and teach biblical theology in a separate course in first year. But it colours all our exegesis, study of biblical books and preaching and comes into systematic theology too.
I like your biblical theology of prophecy. You’ve done some excellent thinking. What struck me was your taking it even further: why God speaks to us. Spot on. Smart gal!
Thanks John. It really is the heart of my thesis. J.I. Packer has brought some very helpful clarification regarding this perspective on prophecy in God Has Spoken: Revelation and the Bible and also your fine work. In terms of hermeneutics, needless to say I’ve really embraced a redemptive-historical model.