Dal.Komm Coffee, Sidney Greidanus’ “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament”

Dal.Komm Coffee, Centrepoint, Orchard Road, Singapore

After: Ephesians with med students; post-: loads of catch-up chats with parachurch workers, there was a bit of a breather to sit down for a mug of K3 cafe latte at Dal.Komm Coffee (a Korean joint, apparently famous for being in a famous Korean sitcom) and to binge-read Sidney Greidanus’ Preaching Christ from the Old Testament.

D.A. Carson demonstrated that there is little scope for clearly delineating objects/themes of continuity and discontinuity in the Old and New Testaments.

Perhaps, then, Greidanus’ theories, undergirded by biblical evidence (some more convincing than others), might be the way forward.

Dangers

  • danger of Christomonism – replacing God with Christ; “the impression that faith in Christ had replaced faith in God or that faith in Christ had been added to faith in God as though an increase in the number of items in one’s faith meant an increase in salvific effect”. Rather, “Christ is not to be separated from God but was sent by God, accomplished the work of God, and sought the glory of God.” “Today some would use the divinity of Christ as a way of preaching him from the Old Testament. Some speak of “Christophanies”…like the Angel of Yahweh, the Commander of the Lord’s army, and the Wisdom of God are…identified with Christ…but this…short-circuits the task of preaching Christ as the fullness of God’s self-revelation in his incarnate Son…when the New Testament authors speak of Christ as God, their intent is not to suggest that Christ can be identified with a number of figures in the Old Testament, but to witness to the divinity of Jesus.”
  • danger of “preaching the Old Testament in a God-centered way without relating it to God’s ultimate revelation of himself in Jesus Christ“. We need to realise that we “cannot understand God unless we understand who Jesus was and is.”
  • danger of focusing on Jewish methods of interpretation. The New Testament writers interpreted the Old Testament in unique ways that were different from rabbinic practices. They were conscious of interpreting the OT “(1) from a Christocentric perspective, (2) in conformity with a Christian tradition, and (3) along Christological lines.”
  • danger of using the NT as a textbook on biblical hermeneutics. “Simply to copy their methods of interpretation in preaching on specific Old Testament passages is to go beyond their intent.”

However, he follows the advice of Longenecker who opines that:

  • where NT exegesis is based on a revelatory stance, where it evidences itself to be merely cultural, or where it shows itself to be circumstantial or ad hominem in nature, do not reproduce such exegesis
  • where NT exegesis treats the OT in a more literal fashion, with historico-grammatical exegesis, then we can reproduce such exegesis

Sidney Greidanus' As I was saying to MK (via the magic of the internet, while taking a break from Greidanus), an old friend in Sydney: we’d all grown up with the constant refrain of Spurgeon crashing through hedge and ditch to get to Christ, and of teachers chanting that “Christ is the prism” and “Jesus is the lens” through which we must interpret the OT, etc etc. but hardly anyone ever explained in detail what that looked like, or what principles ought attend such an outing.

Everyone would of course express shock at anything that smelled of a “character study”, yet we were hard-pressed to explain the difference between that and apparently-ok application questions in OT studies asking:”So how can we be/not be like David?”

According to Greidanus, the overall map to Christ should look like this:

  • first, understand the passage in its original historical context: (i) literary – what genre of literature is this? How does it mean what it means? (ii) historical – what was the author’s intended meaning for his original hearers? (iii) theocentric – what does this passage reveal about God and his will?
  • next, understand the message in the contexts of canon and redemptive history as sensus plenior – (i) canonical interpretation – what does this passage mean (not just in the context of the book, but) in the context of the whole Bible? (ii) how does the redemptive-historical context from creation to new creation inform the contemporary significance of this text? It will reveal continuity as well as discontinuity (as noted above). (iii) consider the Christocentric interpretation – what does this  passage mean in light of Jesus Christ? What does the passage reveal about Jesus Christ?

Sound Blending, Dal.Komm Coffee, Centrepoint, Orchard Road, SingaporeAnd Greidanus suggests that the specific legit routes to Christ would be:

  • redemptive-historical progression – the context of the Bible’s metanarrative or Story is the “bedrock for preaching Christ from the Old Testament”. Every OT text and its addresses are seen “in the context of God’s dynamic history which progresses steadily and reaches its climax in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and ultimately in the new creation.” OT narratives can be understood at 3 levels: (i) personal history, (ii) national history, (iii) redemptive history.Eg. the story of David and Goliath. (i) personal history – David with only a sling and a stone killing giant Goliath. Ooooh, courageous boy, commentators coo. But that’s not the point. (ii) biblical author actually goes to great lengths to show that this is an important part of Israel’s national/royal history. David, God’s anointed king, delivers Israel and secures its safety in the promised land. (iii) the essence though is not just Israel’s king defeating the enemy but the Lord himself defeating the enemy of his people (1 Samuel 17:45-47). This leads straight to Jesus’ victory over Satan.
  • promise-fulfilment – this is embedded in redemptive history. (i) take into account that God usually fills up his promises progressively – in installments, (ii) in interpreting the text, move from the promise of the OT to the fulfilment in Christ and back again to the OT text “in order not to miss the full impact of the prophetic message as a basis for the hope in the promise of God”.
  • typology – this is quite different from allegorical interpretation. Typology “functions within redemptive history because God acts in redemptive history in regular patterns. The New Testament writers are able, therefore, to discern analogies between God’s present acts in Christ and his redemptive acts in the Old Testament…Typology is…characterised by analogy and escalation…but also by theocentricity, that is, both type and antitype should reveal a meaningful connection with God’s acts in redemptive history”. Types are “persons, institutions, and events of the Old Testament which are regarded as divinely established models or prerepresentations of corresponding realities in the New Testament salvation history”. To guard against the danger of eisegesis, genuine type can be identified by: (i) literary-historical interpretation first, (ii) looking for type not in the details but in the central message of the text concerning God’s activity to redeem his people, (iii) determining the symbolic meaning of the person, institution, or event in Old Testament times. If it has no symbolic meaning in the OT times, it cannot be a type, (iv) noting points of contrast between the OT type and the NT antitype. “The difference is as important as the resemblance, for the difference reveals not only the imperfect nature of OT types but also the escalation entailed in the unfolding of redemptive history”, (v) in moving from the OT symbol/type to Christ, carry forward the meaning of the symbol even as its meaning escalates…do not switch to a different sense. Eg. God providing manna in the desert symbolising God’s miraculous provision in keeping his people alive, should not be linked to “daily bread” but Jesus as “the bread of God” (John 6:33), (vi) not simply drawing a typological line to Christ but preaching Christ.
  • analogy – this is more general than promise-fulfilment and typology. The “pivotal position of Christ in redemptive history enables preachers to use analogy to direct the Old Testament message to the New Testament church. For through Christ, Israel and the church have become the same kind of people of God: recipients of the same covenant of grace, sharing the same faith, living in the same hope, seeking to demonstrate the same love.”  Look for: (i) analogy between what God is and does for Israel and what God in Christ is and does for the church, (ii) similarity between what God teaches his people Israel and what Christ teaches his church, (iii) parallels between God’s demands in the Old Testament and Christ’s demands in the New Testament.
  • longitudinal themes – tracing themes from the Old Testament to the New. Ask: (i) what truth about God and his saving work is disclosed in this passage? (ii) how is this particular truth carried forward in the history of revelation? (iii) how does it find fulfilment in Christ?
  • NT references
  • contrast

……………………

Dal.Komm Coffee
The Centrepoint, 176 Orchard Road
#01-01/02, #01-03/04,#01-05/06, #01-102/103
Singapore 238843

Review of regular K3 cafe latte:
coffee: good chocolate and cherry bod
milk: pity the foam was so thick you needed a spoon to tunnel through to the drink
air-conditioning: yes, and quite fierce in some parts of the cafe
free wifi: yes
power sockets: yes at tables along the walls

Other specialty coffee cafes near Orchard Road to sit and do work in

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Good morning, Vietnam

It is well past noon when we hurry down a dusty alley in Danang, Vietnam. On one side of the alley, bored women, sequestered behind their piles of brown dried meats and mounds of maroon meat floss, fan themselves in the afternoon heat.

banh xeo, Danang

Where the alley turns right into another row of bored dried-meat vendors, sits a bánh xèo institution. There is a ravenous silence around the sterile stainless steel tables as we stuff rice paper with fresh herbs and leaves and cool raw cucumbers and a tumeric-laced “crepe”, itself already bursting with tasty bean sprouts and shrimp and pork, and dip the whole fat roll into bowls of tangy satay-style sauce.

Little time for chit-chat. Much has already been said about external persecution – beatings and destruction of property and threats, and about internal strife – denominational division and sheep-stealing. Now we need to ride on to Hoi An to meet another group of brothers and sisters.

Hoi An will be our third stop. We are somewhat exhausted from bumpy roads and hard beds, but encouraged by God’s work.

Hoi An lanterns

That evening, after dinner, I speak about the importance of trusting God’s word in the Bible,  of the Bible being both a divine word and a human word, and as a human word – capable of being understood by the normal means of comprehension and consideration of context. Context to be considered: literary context, book context, historical context, and whole Bible context. I see furrowed brows during the hour-long session and pray that God would use this poor dry attempt to somehow help his people.

Untitled

God deigns to use his weak vessels. Over little piles of hến trộn the next day, brothers talk about how struck they are that God’s word is primarily about God and what he is doing in the world, and about changing our fallen view of the world – not about going off to do something; and sisters say how mortified they are that they’ve been doing character studies on the life of Joseph.

Oh, that they will see the stupendous banquet that awaits them as they dig properly and heartily into the Scriptures. How much firmer they will be able to stand, knowing that the unspeakable sovereignty of our Father and the eternal salvation wrought by his Son, and the glorious hope of the new creation.

And this we pray too, for ourselves.

The Past Weekend – Genesis Cliffhanger, Daniel’s Non-Nightmare, Psalm 119 – word!, Fat Boy’s Burger Bar, 3D Latte Art

Where did the weekend go?, you wonder tritely as you arrive rudely at Monday with a raccoon nest on your head, last Thursday’s dust still on your shoulders.

Let’s see:

Friday was spent reading the first bit of Genesis (Genesis 1-11) with M. In Genesis 1-2, the world is perfect and Adam and Eve live in perfect relationship with God and each other and the rest of the world. Far too quickly, they rebel against God and suffer the consequences of their sin (Genesis 3) – broken relationship with God and each other and the rest of the world, and death. In the next few chapters (Genesis 4-5), the wonderful proliferation of mankind in the world (their creational mandate) unfortunately means the proliferation of sin: violence and more rebellion against God.

Ah Genesis 6:1 – 9:17. Erroneously famous for the animals lining up in pairs to get into Noah’s ark. If any one ever thought this world’s multitude of problems could be solved by destroying it all, and leaving one righteous man (en familia) to start it all again, well, they have another think coming. Noah the righteous man was given a clean world to do his best, but before anyone could say “fermented grape juice”, sin entered again (Genesis 9:18-29).

More humans populated the world from Noah’s progeny, but t’was the same old story – mass rebellion against God culminating in the building of the Tower of Babel to usurp God (Genesis 10-11).

What a cliffhanger…what would God do now? Wipe out the whole of humankind after giving one chance too many?

————-

Shovelled down a bit of lunch before legging it to a thankless Thanksgiving Service which started badly when the speaker declined a Bible, and proceeded to speak for the next hour about how God had blessed and disciplined him, rather than focusing on the glories of God himself.

————-

Arrived late for the Friday Bible Study, where Daniel 9 was the passage being discussed. Both Nebuchadnezzar (king of Babylon and most of the known world then) and Daniel had had dreams before about the rising and falling of nations, and the persecution of God’s people, but ending with God’s king ruling over God’s everlasting kingdom. Daniel had always gotten an adverse reaction to his night visions, but seemed much less agitated with Gab’s message this time. Not because God’s people were now going to be saved from suffering, but perhaps because there was the promise that would be a finishing of transgression, an end to sin, an atonement for inquity (Daniel 9:24). But how would this happen?

A continuing cliffhanger…if one did not sneak a look at the Gospels…

Got home past midnight.

Psalm 119 at Artease, Serangoon CentralWoke up with some semblance of the sun on my face on Saturday, with half an hour to spare before meeting S at Artease Serangoon (facebook. Blk 261 Serangoon Central. Salted caramel ) to start a read-through of Psalm 119. How does this fit into the book context of Psalms, I wanted to know. Why all the rich vocabulary for God’s word (precepts, laws, decrees, commandments etc), S wanted to know.

Then hurried a few roads away for a study on Revelation 12-14 that was not to be because one person had taken ill at home and another was stuck in a planning meeting for Christmas. G and I had a good chat about present struggles and found comfort depending on God in prayer.

Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapo re Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore

Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore Fat Boys Burger, Far East Plaza, Singapore

Full of joy for the day well-spent but relieved to get a little alone time at Fat Boy’s The Burger Bar (facebook. Far East Plaza). A fantastic gobstopper. The fresh buns were buttered and grilled – so tasty on their own. I usually like my patties with a little more bite, but could not fault this well-seasoned charred-edge wagyu-beef-texture tender meat piece. And the whole handful of happiness (with pickles and cheese and bacon) worked together – well-assembled so you wouldn’t be distracted from your meal by being made far too aware of the individual parts of each bite.

————–

Stumbled into church on Sunday, chatted some, and stayed on for prayer meet. This month, we were praying for Wycliffe Bible translators’ precious work in getting God’s word into the hands of different language groups all around the world.

Your Prayers Help People Get the Bible from Wycliffe USA on Vimeo.

Does correlation always mean causation, asked a group member. Indeed not, but we pray knowing that we will be heard by a good and loving God, and also knowing that the solely sovereign God does whatever he wants.

More chatting into the afternoon, then a light dinner with the usual dinner gang at Changi Village food centre without the morose brother we’d asked to join us.

Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi Village
Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi Village
Latte Foam Art, Chock Full of Beans, Changi VillageOh, what childish joy was wrought by this simple 3D latte art (sculpture?) creation at Chock Full of Beans (facebook. Blk 4 Changi Village Road). A nice end to the weekend.

Learning to Read the Bible with Mortimer Adler’s “How to Read a Book”

Mortimer Adler's "How to Read a Book" and a cup of coffee, The Orange Thimble, Tiong Bahru Estate, Singapore

Today, I re-read a book that had been a little hard-going for me when I was a wee one. But that’s the problem with trying to a book on how to read a book – you need a bit of a push to get you started on the trajectory.

Now, by surely no small amount of God’s grace in the intervening years, I’ve had enough experience of trying to do so, so that this re-read of Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book was not only understandable; it also proved fruitful in learning how to help others to read.

And by “reading”, Adler doesn’t just mean deciphering the symbols to form words and sentences, but to understand the central thought of the passage/book, to see the thrust of the arguments and the subordinate points, to perceive precisely the shades of meaning.

The Bible is a collection of books, and can thus be chewed in almost the same way. It’s no surprise then, that much of what Adler says has been echoed by David Jackman at the Cornhill Training Course, or Nigel Beynon and Andrew Sach in Dig Deeper, etc. None of these (just the lecture alone or guidebook alone) have been terribly helpful I’ve found.

  • The advantage of the Adler book is that it is able to articulate what exactly needs to go on in the reader’s head to be able to digest a book
  • What the Adler book does not address of course, since it is only concerned with books written by human authors and not the Bible, is (i) the one-story connection between the books of the Bible, written by different people in different countries over a vast sweep of time; (ii) the limitation of our fallen minds in comprehending the word of God; (iii) the need for the Spirit of God to illumine our minds so that we can grasp the revelation and have it shape our view of the world, and move our wills so we actually obey it

Bible Overview – God Dealing with the Cause and Effects of the Fall, and Butter Coffee and Kaya Toast at Heap Seng Leong Coffeeshop

Dr. Michael You’s talk to the St. Helen’s Bishopsgate Student RML Leaders is a masterful overview of the Bible. An incredibly exciting and rewarding 3.5 hours, some part of which might have been spent drinking butter coffee and nibbling on kaya toast at Heap Seng Leong Coffeeshop (10 North Bridge Road).

Why a Bible Overview is Necessary

The Bible is one story, but even though it has a plot, it doesn’t go linearly from the beginning to the end. There is also a development through the Bible, but not always – some things get superseded and some don’t. Unless you see the plot, it’s hard to work out what has changed and what has not. You need to see the plot to be faithful to what God is saying.

So the point is not to jump forward to Jesus. It might have something about Jesus but that might not be the point of the story, and you miss what God is saying.

This really revolutionises how we understand God and what he plans to do with the world:

  • If the Fall is in Genesis 3, why didn’t God send Jesus in Genesis 4? Because until we understand sin and God, we won’t properly understand Jesus. We know that Jesus is the answer but we are normally confused about the problem – is it poverty? ill-health? Then you get social justice, liberation theology, health-and-wealth gospel.
  • You need to understand what is big in the Bible and what is not. Alot of confusion comes about because of a failure of this. And heresies come about not just because of adding to the Bible or subtracting to it, but also by distorting things in the Bible.
  • Good for the biggest theological challenges of our time. (See end of talk.)

This is not just an academic exercise: understand what God/Jesus is actually doing all the way through the Bible.

Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore

In Short, the Story of the Bible and the World

In Genesis 1-2, God creates the world effortlessly. Everything is very very good. Humans are the pinnacle of his creation – he relates to Adam and Eve in a special way. He loves them, cares for them, gives them responsibility for ruling the world. In Genesis 3, it goes horribly wrong. Adam and Eve rebel against God and throw his love back in his face, the relationship is broken. Instead of blessing them, God punishes them and sends them away from the Garden of Eden.

16 To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;     

in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband,

and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife     

and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,     

‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you;     

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;

18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;    

 and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face     

you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,     

for out of it you were taken; for you are dust,     

and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:16-19)

Whereas in Genesis 2, God is for humankind, now God is against them. Thorns on the ground, childbirth will be painful, they will die.

14 The Lord God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,     

cursed are you above all livestock     

and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go,     

and dust you shall eat     

all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:14)

17 And to Adam he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife     

and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you,     

‘You shall not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you;     

in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; (Genesis 3:17)

Creation is clearly cursed, MY argues that humans are effectively cursed as well, even though the word “curse” isn’t used. If all this isn’t curse, what is curse? Instead of living forever, humans now die and have no access to the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:19,24).

4 categories where things go horribly wrong because Adam and Eve rebel against God:

  1. relationship with God – ruined, broken
  2. land – Eden – lost
  3. curse
  4. death

It’s worth holding in your mind that there is a problem, and there are 2 sides to the problem:

  • our sin
  • God’s response to our sin – seen in the 4 categories of how the world is wrecked because of our sin

Then we go to the Revelation 21-22, and we see that all the things that went wrong in the Fall have been put right in the new creation.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

And God has given them a wonderful new home to live in, a new heaven and new earth, a second Garden, but it is better. And there is a difference – it is a city:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.We see that God is once again for his people. (Revelation 21:1-2)

There will be blessing not curse:

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. (Revelation 22:3)

And there will be no death. Where at first they were precluded from access to Tree of Life, now tree is slapbang in middle of the city, where they will have access to it at all times:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:2)

And there is nothing sinful in the city.The cause of the Fall has been dealt with:

27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27)

Here we have explicit opposites at the end of the story. That’s where it’s heading. (There are other things that happen as well – but in the overview, lots of things will be left out.)

So we read the Bible with two questions:

  1. how does God put everything right? and
  2. how does Jesus end up slapbang in the middle of new creation?

It is a story of victory, the ultimate happy ending, the true happy ending.

Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore

The Pentateuch

But it takes the whole Bible to get there. Let’s go back to beginning, lots of twists and turns and unhappiness. In Genesis 4-11, sin is universal. God’s verdict is that people are evil all the time. And they are all the way through the Bible, and in the world today.

In Genesis 6, God responds by punishing the whole world, and starts again with Noah. Noah is popular in Sunday school with the animals going into the ark two-by-two. But we should ask how this functions in the plot rather than on its own. Here there is a change of society, change of environment, social engineering, so things will be better. It is the ultimate act of social engineering. God gets rid of everyone but most righteous man in the world. It is a washed world, with no bad influences. But it doesn’t work.

Abrahamic Covenant

In Genesis 12, God chooses one man and gives promises to him. Before, with Noah, there was no chance of improvement; it was just about survival. What is promised to Abraham and how does it compare with what went wrong before?

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their possessions that they had gathered, and the people that they had acquired in Haran, and they set out to go to the land of Canaan. When they came to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:1-7)

And also:

14 The Lord said to Abram, after Lot had separated from him, “Lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, northwards and southwards and eastwards and westwards, 15 for all the land that you see I will give to you and to your offspring for ever. 16 I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth, so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted. 17 Arise, walk through the length and the breadth of the land, for I will give it to you.” (Genesis 13:14-17)

and

Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God.” (Genesis 17:3-8)

There will be restoration of relationship with God, land as everlasting possession, blessing…and there will still be death but people will live on in their descendants. This is the first sign that things might get better. But Canaan is a scrubby bit of land, nothing compared to Eden. And there is no sign of what to do with sin. So this is a partial restoration, but the beginning of solution.

We are left asking: how will promise of partial restoration turn to full restoration? How will gap between promise and experience be bridged? How will sin be dealt with? Who will benefit from all this? Everyone was affected by the Fall, but it seems Abraham’s family will benefit primarily, though blessing will go to the nations indirectly through them.

Mosaic Covenant

For the next 400 years, nothing much happens, then things get worse: they are slaves in Egypt, leading miserable lives, no land, not much relationship with God (Book of Exodus). What they do have is a lot of descendants. God intervenes again at beginning of Exodus – just a promise but he is beginning to act. (We need to keep the two – promise and act, separate.) He rescues them through Moses and leads them to Mount Sinai, where he gives them the Mosaic covenant – how they can inherit the Abrahamic covenant.

God is rescuing them from something, to something – the fulfilment of promises. Quite different from Noah, who was merely rescued. So even now, we are rescued from sin and judgement – rescued for eternal life, new creation, everything put right. God re-promises all the categories:

“If you walk in my statutes and observe my commandments and do them, then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last to the time of the grape harvest, and the grape harvest shall last to the time for sowing. And you shall eat your bread to the full and dwell in your land securely. I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. You shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall chase ten thousand, and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword. I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. 10 You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. 13 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves. And I have broken the bars of your yoke and made you walk erect. (Leviticus 26:3-13)

and

The Lord will command the blessing on you in your barns and in all that you undertake. And he will bless you in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. The Lord will establish you as a people holy to himself, as he has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in his ways. 10 And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. 11 And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. (Deuteronomy 28:8 – 11)

This is not just a re-promise, but extends the Abrahamic promises; it spells out and extends the promises – especially, the promise of a relationship with God is made much more clearly (Lev 26:11-12). He will walk with them like in Eden.

“And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 28:1-2)

13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them. (Deuteronomy 28:13-14)

However, conditions now attached. They will need to obey all God’s commandments to receive the blessings.

58 “If you are not careful to do all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, the Lord your God, 59 then the Lord will bring on you and your offspring extraordinary afflictions, afflictions severe and lasting, and sicknesses grievous and lasting. 60 And he will bring upon you again all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were afraid, and they shall cling to you. 61 Every sickness also and every affliction that is not recorded in the book of this law, the Lord will bring upon you, until you are destroyed. 62 Whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, you shall be left few in number, because you did not obey the voice of the Lord your God. 63 And as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuteronomy 28:58-63)

If they disobey, no only will God not give any more blessing, but even what God has given them he will take away. This would be how much the relationship with God would have broken down. This is shocking. If they disobey, he will make them worship other gods, and send back to Egypt. This will be even worse than the first time, because now, no one will want them. Right at the bottom.

In the Abrahamic covenant, sin wasn’t a big deal; now it is. so not curse but blessing. It’s not that God left it out the first time, but that he hadn’t got there yet. Now he is saying that the cause of the Fall (sin) must be dealt with, not just the effects of the Fall (curses).

Here in the Mosaic covenant, it is 50:50 responsibility – man’s responsibility to sort out the cause, and God will do something about the effect. The sacrificial system will deal somewhat with sin, but not all the way.

The Mosaic covenant was not a mistake – it was just not the way God will use to reverse the Fall; it will not work. And God knew this:

16 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. 17 Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ 18 And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods. (Deuteronomy 31:14-18)

God is using this to teach us. The whole of the Old Testament is to teach. So that when Jesus comes, we will understand. The Old Testament doesn’t achieve anything – it explains and teaches:

  1. cause of the Fall must be dealt with if God will fulfil promises;
  2. Israel is incapable of dealing with sin herself since the golden calf incident – God must do something;
  3. sacrifice goes some way in dealing with God’s wrath;
  4. about God himself – powerful god, etc.

The Mosaic covenant doesn’t contradict the Abrahamic covenant. If Israel did obey, they would get the promises; if they didn’t obey, they won’t, but the Abrahamic covenant still stands. butter coffee (kopi), Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore A lot of the rest of the Bible is about first 250 years of the Mosaic covenant.

Because of Israel’s sin, they end up wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Joshua then leads Israel into Canaan. Things look pretty good, but Israel keeps sinning, so this doesn’t last, and they don’t inherit the promises. There is no peace, and God is hostile towards them. It looks like curses are kicking in.

10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 15 Whenever they marched out, the hand of the Lord was against them for harm, as the Lord had warned, and as the Lord had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. (Judges 2:10-15)

The big problem is sin: not obeying the terms of the Mosaic covenant. Until sin is dealt with, they won’t inherit all the promises.

Looking for a leader

What we learn here is that a good leader can help. How did they get out of Egypt and into the Promised Land? Moses, Joshua. And in the first 200 years, whenever Israel repents, God’s solution is to raise a leader. The leader helps, the judges help people keep the law, but they always die.

What’s the answer to a leader dying? In a monarchy, the line doesn’t die. Judges implies the need for a king:

25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)

A king not to fight for them but to get them to obey God’s laws. Saul was not much use. David gets the land and peace with neighbours. Under Solomon, life is good:

20 Judah and Israel were as many as the sand by the sea. They ate and drank and were happy. 21  Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. They brought tribute and served Solomon all the days of his life. (1 Kings 4:20-21)

25 And Judah and Israel lived in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, all the days of Solomon. (1 Kings 4:25)

10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1 Kings 8:10-11)

Yet, David sins with Bathsheba, and Solomon sins even more by marrying non-Israelite women who lead him to worship other gods.

Davidic Covenant

But a king seems the way forward – God makes a third big covenant: David’s descendant will inherit all that God promised Abraham.

10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. (2 Samuel 7:10-13)

David’s descendant will build God a house which will enable God to dwell with Israel. There will be peace, a home, a kingdom. This implies land and lots of descendants, blessing. And the descendant will reign forever, so all that has been promised will be Israel’s permanently. There are no conditions attached – this is important. Even if king fails, God won’t take his love away.

Israel is now under 3 covenants – they are not terminated or superseded.

The sin of the kings

The Davidic covenant is a promise for the future. The experience under her kings is far from this. And David and Solomon’s successors sin even more. In 1-2 Kings, Israel and Judah’s kings keep sinning. We are constantly disappointed.

The effects of sin

Because of Israel’s sin, God punishes Israel. Over the next 350 years, there are 3 great disasters: after the sin of Solomon, the kingdom splits – Judah and Israel.

922 B.C. –  because of sin, the southern kingdom (Israel) gets exiled

200 years

722 B.C. – 150 years exile of Judah

597/587 B.C. – two waves bring Judah and Israel to an end. By the exile, the temple had been destroyed, the land taken away, they were no more a people, they ceased to be a nation. The curse of Mosaic covenant had come into play.

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month—that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon—Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 10 And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls round Jerusalem. 11 And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile. (2 Kings 25:8-11)

David, Solomon could have been the ones through whom fulfilment would have come, but they didn’t obey. This reinforced that sin is the big problem. Israel split because of sin; the exile happened because of sin. When you teach sin as doctrine, it doesn’t seem so bad. Read the story and understand that sin is really a bad problem.

The Prophets and the Promise of Full Restoration

But nothing has gone awry from God’s perspective. He has made unconditional promises and he will fulfil them. God speaks through prophets and reveals that he will make a new prophet. The exile and what God is saying through exile is important – God’s revelation in and around time of exile in the second half of the Old Testament.

25 “I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. 26 And I will make them and the places all round my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. 27 And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. 28 They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. 29 And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. 30 And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 34:25-30)

24 “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. 25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever, and David my servant shall be their prince for ever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst for evermore. 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst for evermore.” (Ezekiel 37:24-28)

What has been promised compared to the Abraham/Moses categories is the restoration of God’s relationship with the people (Ezekiel 37:27). And the land will be a good land – many problems of land won’t be there.

The land will be a new creation:

17 “For behold, I create new heavens
    and a new earth,
and the former things shall not be remembered
    or come into mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice for ever
    in that which I create;
for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
    and her people to be a gladness.
19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem
    and be glad in my people;
no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping
    and the cry of distress.
20 No more shall there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not fill out his days,
for the young man shall die a hundred years old,
    and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed.
21 They shall build houses and inhabit them;
    they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 They shall not build and another inhabit;
    they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
    and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
23 They shall not labour in vain
    or bear children for calamity,
for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the Lord,
    and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are yet speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb shall graze together;
    the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
    and dust shall be the serpent’s food.
They shall not hurt or destroy
    in all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17-25)

The people will be blessed – this takes the form of peace (Ezekiel 34:26) and prosperity (Moses) death.

  the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
And a highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Way of Holiness;
the unclean shall not pass over it.
    It shall belong to those who walk on the way;
    even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. (Isaiah 35:7-8)

He will take away death; they will actually be resurrected. He promises of full restoration of everything that went wrong. The first mention of new creation is Isaiah 65. Before Abraham, at best, nothing will get worse. This is the first inkling of full reversal of everything that has gone wrong.

Promise to Deal with Sin

How can this happen? Why unconditional? Because sin is the cause of the problem and man cannot deal with it, God has committed himself to dealing with problem of sin.

35 And they will say, ‘This land that was desolate has become like the garden of Eden, and the waste and desolate and ruined cities are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations that are left all around you shall know that I am the Lord; I have rebuilt the ruined places and replanted that which was desolate. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.

37 “Thus says the Lord God: This also I will let the house of Israel ask me to do for them: to increase their people like a flock. (Ezekiel 36:35-37)

But he was wounded for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6)

God describes what he will do in different ways. But God will do it all. In Ezekiel, God will wash away all our sins and put a new heart in us to change us, and give us the spirit. In Isaiah, he will provide a sacrifice that will actually work. Dealing with sin is a big deal.

These different ways are complementary, not mutually exclusive. And they will have the everlasting Davidic king:

25 They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there for ever, and David my servant shall be their prince for ever.  (Ezekiel 37:25)

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
    and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
    there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
    to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time forth and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

 A king who is going to be God himself.

Summary of the Old Testament

Let’s summarise what God has promised.

In the first half the Old Testament God promises that everything that went wrong will be put right. There are 3 great promises. God promises a full reversal of the effects of the Fall. This is the first time this has happened – massive step forward. God will deal with cause as well as results; not 50:50 mosaic covenant. God will deal with both halves. He will deal with sin and effects. They will definitely get it, and their king will be God himself.

This is an astonishing statement in the middle of the Old Testament. A human being in line of David will be almighty God, everlasting Father. Which is why in Revelation 21, the Lamb is sitting on throne. That is why the New Testament is so adamant that Jesus is god. Only because Jesus is God that he can do it all.

By end of exile to end of bible, no new promises are made. In exile, they have been promised everything but have gotten nothing.

This is why if you don’t read the Old Testament, then won’t understand the New Testament. Israel is a complete deadend. It achieved as little as the flood.

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
    a monument and a name
    better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
    to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
    and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
    and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
    will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
    for all peoples.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.” (Isaiah 56:3-8)

When they return from exile, do they get what they were promised? They returned in 540 B.C. under the Persians. But still remain part of the Persian empire. They were under rule. They had no king of any sort, far less Davidic king. Israel still sins.

23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. 24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. 25 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them swear in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. 26 Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. 27 Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” (Nehemiah 13:23-27)

This is the very last reference to Israel. They are still sinning. Nehemiah comes 100 years after the end of the exile. A century after, they are still in this position. How little has actually happened.

Nehemiah 1:3 – Jerusalem is still a ruined wreck. 4:2-3 – not a great wall, absolutely not glorious return. 5:1-5 – back in land, but famines, slavery, in debt – not prosperity, peace, happiness. They are sinful people still.

We are waiting for God to rescue his people as he has promised. Old Testament – massive revelation, no fulfilment. Wisdom literature – even when you get what this world offers, doesn’t satisfy. This world doesn’t work. Don’t think you can get fulfilment in this world. Prophets – God will solve it. There is a shift from this creation to the new creation.

And Isaiah 66:22-end: a book of new creation and resurrection, ends on note of hell.scraping off burnt bits of toast with cover of condensed milk tin. Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore

The New Testament and Fulfilment of the Promises of Dealing with Sin and with Restoration

The New Testament opens by saying that Jesus is coming to fulfil the Old Testament testaments.

68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
    in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies
    and from the hand of all who hate us;
72 to show the mercy promised to our fathers
    and to remember his holy covenant,
73 the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
74     that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
75     in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. (Luke 1:68-75)

God is now coming to fulfil the promises. Notice references to the promises to Abraham, David, prophets, not Moses. There are no conditions, all the blessings instead.

In what way does Jesus fulfil all that God has promised? We all still sin, we are not in new creation. Jesus’ fulfilment is two stage affair:

1. first coming – 4 key promises fulfilled:

(i) Davidic king who is God himself. when the king comes, that’s when God will bring about all that he has promised.

(ii) sacrifice that fully cleanses us from sin:

26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:26b-28)

Jesus’ blood dealt with sin.

(iii) inaugurates the promised new covenant:

20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:20)

The Old Testament prophets don’t actually make a new covenant. There is promise of new covenant rather than a new covenant actually made. The new covenant was actually made at cross.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbour
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord’,
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful towards their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:8-13)

The new covenant replaces the covenant made when Israel was brought out of Egypt, the one that depended on Israel obeying. This depends on God doing it.

Our enjoyment of it will only be at the second coming. Jesus will judge the whole world and punish God’s enemies. Will not tolerate rebellion forever.

28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:28)

Sin and salvation have been dealt with.

In second coming, the results of the Fall will be dealt with. The cause-effect penalty has been dealt with, the real me has been transformed.

just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

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 the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)

The Bible gives us pictures of what the new creation will look like with Jesus as king, shepherd, priest. We don’t compare him with the Queen of England – the Bible tells you what king really is.

butter kopi and kaya toast, Heap Seng Leong, 10 North Bridge Road, Singapore Applying the Overview

We are not David, Moses, and not even Israel. They needed to keep sacrifice, not work on sabbath. Many things no longer apply to us. This is revolutionary and transforming.

The Overview applies on most fundamental level – it challenges what the world is about and where it is going. If i tell you that you need a QT every day, it’s a discipline. If you realise what a privilege it is to have a relationship with God, and really begin to get that, QT is not a hardship, but a joy. We’re looking at the heart level. See world differently, see world that God sees.

Right from Two Ways to Live, people think that we rule the world, the crown on my head is the big thing that non-Christians are focused on – my comfort, my prosperity, contentment, security, peace. Or our comfort, prosperity, contentment, security, peace. Everyone is concerned about this world.

The Bible tells us that God is not concerned about this world but concerned about the new creation. This is the most fundamental change. All the stuff that you are living for – exam results, careers, fun, popularity, are irrelevant in eternity. That matters infinitely more than anything, everything in this world.

Leaders don’t have to tell members that you have to give up things for the gospel – they will. What happens here doesn’t work. Relationship with God from fall onwards is a big deal. If people realise how relationship with God is a privilege, not ought to do but want to do. The puritans call this the changing of affections, changing what you want. This should happen in all bible studies.

Theological Challenges

What big theological challenges are there? Postmodernism is opposed to one plan for the whole of history. God has a plan for the whole world, he made it, he will judge it, he will rescue it. The world hates the idea that the world is not the centre of everything. God’s focus is not on this world but the next. Not on this world whether health and wealth, charismatic, social justice. This world vs new creation.

The first 500 years since Christ have been about the nature of god – is Jesus truly God? The next 400 years were about how am i saved? Faith not works. The 300 years since enlightenment – where is truth? Postmodernism is part of that. The last 50 years have been about this world vs the next – materialism.

Warnings to Followers of Calvin and Calvinists

Phillip Jensen of Sydney recorded a very useful interview about Calvin and Calvinism with Matt Perkins of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate in London. Calvin was a Bible man first and so was able teach the complexity of the Bible truth, whereas many Calvinists go to their simplistic systems first and are more interested in defending their systems. I thought he was quite nuanced in saying that this was a family quarrel about emphases, shibboleths, but recommended that we ask why moving away from expositional gospel ministry has led to unhappy outcomes.

Paul Levy of Reformation 21 then made a strange sneery comment about the video that contained no constructive argument and didn’t really engage with any of the points Jensen made. Elsewhere, Levy writes vaguely about the benefits of criticism, so perhaps he thinks that his gadfly-ing helps with the biblical ministry of others. Yet he simplistically assumes that all criticism is useful. His mockery is so incoherent that people (like Stevens and Ovey) generally have to help clarify his criticism before replying.

I would have dismissed him as yet another internet troll if he was not shepherd of the congregation at International Presbyterian Church, Ealing. Unfortunately, this appears to be his regular way of engaging with a certain tribe(?) of Christian brothers – a quick search turned up a not-very-nice comment on Lee Gatiss on the same Reformation 21 site, as well as a very gracious reply from John Stevens to his criticism of FIEC, and a generous response by Richard Perkins putting this all down to Levy’s Welsh wit.

Perhaps these are backhanded compliments? But he is quite complimentary about many others without a lot of nasty words. Even if we’ve misunderstood his “Welsh wit” (or precisely because it would be globally misunderstood all the way from America to Australia), James’ injunction about controlling the tongue comes to mind.

Demonstrating what useful commentating looks like, Mike Ovey, principal of Oakhill Theological College, wrote a good article on the topic. Quoting it in full in case it gets taken off their website*:

Family rows: Followers of Calvin and the Calvinists

‘… yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible…’ Paradise Lost Book 1, ll. 62-3

It is always a tad awkward when two people one highly respects have a go at each other’s positions on the Web. Thus, Phillip Jensen has drawn a distinction in a recent video between followers of Calvin and Calvinists, very much to the latter’s disadvantage, while Paul Levy has responded with a piece affecting to see this as advanced Australian satire. He suggests this is simply revisiting the tired and discredited old idea that the Calvinists are at odds with Calvin.

I admire and respect both men. As a further complication, my day job involves teaching systematic theology and it is difficult not to feel that I amongst others am in the Jensen crosshairs.

What to do?

Let me focus on what I think is the central and most important point Phillip raises: the risk of preaching a human theological system rather than the Bible. Phillip argues that Calvinists are not true followers of Calvin, because where Calvin was a Bible theologian first, Calvinists are systematic theologians first and when preaching the Bible end up preaching their system because they approach the text with that so strongly in their minds.

In particular, while we need to systematise when we teach, Phillip says, preaching the system does not allow for the rich complexities of the Bible. Followers of Calvin do what Calvin did, not what Calvinists do. Phillip goes on to argue that the outcome of Calvinism is to kill evangelism in favour of education and to commit us to presuppositional rather than evidential apologetics.

We must now distinguish several different issues of varying importance.

1. Is this a fair characterisation of Calvinists, who do, after all, labour under the impression that their views bear some passing resemblance to those of John Calvin and would count themselves precisely as ‘followers of Calvin’?

2. Does this capture what Calvinists think they are doing when preaching the Bible?

3. Who are these Calvinists anyway?

4. Does this capture what in fact happens when a Calvinist preaches?

Of these, the last is the most important. Do Calvinists preach a system rather than the Bible? Given that the Bible is to be our final authority in life and doctrine, of course this is the most important question and, since I am, as I type this, not yet perfect but am still tempted to disregard God’s Word, I do well to listen to Phillip’s challenge and examine it. I am after all, simul justis et peccator, both justified and sinful: mild apologies for letting my systematic theology peep out there.

Let me make some comments on this primary question.

First, yes, of course there is a risk that Calvinists preach their system and not the Bible. They are humans who are not yet perfected and that risk is therefore always there. Phillip is giving me a sharp but valuable warning.

Secondly, this risk is not confined to Calvinists. History is replete with those who end up teaching their systems rather than the text. The obvious contemporary example are Jehovah’s Witnesses. We may say that the risk Phillip highlights is not simply due to the fact that one is a Calvinist, but more to do with the fact one is human.

Thirdly, the risk is greatest for those who claim they do not approach the Bible with preconceptions but just allow the Bible to speak on its own terms. Again the church scene is and has been full of those who say just this: Open theists today and, come to that, various 19th century liberals would claim precisely that they were the ones handling the Bible ‘properly’. In fact, my blood runs cold when I hear someone say they just give me the straight Bible with no preconceptions: this is one of those cases where Phillip is right to remind us that the Bible gives us a complex picture.

Part of its complexity are those texts which remind us not just of the corruption of our hearts pre-conversion, but of the ongoing temptation and falling into sin we experience post-conversion (1 John 1:8, 2 Timothy 4:3). If I am to handle God’s Word rightly for others, I do well to examine my own heart and how I as a human creature in space and time continue to be affected by the world around me. I cannot assume I approach the Bible with purity.

Fourthly, a key issue is this: when am I preaching my system and when am I doing the necessary systematisation of which Phillip approves? There is a danger here. It is tempting to write somebody else off as ‘just preaching their system’ and vindicate myself as ‘just doing necessary systematisation’. This is dangerous because if I say ‘Squiggins is just preaching his system – again’, then I tend to stop asking if Squiggins is in fact right.

The language of ‘over-logical’, ‘logic-chopping’, ‘doing theology by numbers’ does not help clarify matters. I am very much afraid it sometimes serves us as a way of saying, ‘I don’t like this, but can’t see where it’s wrong, so I’ll just write it off without thinking properly by dismissing it as logic-chopping’. If we get to that point, then we are in real danger of becoming unteachable ourselves. And I am at my most unteachable when I hold opinions so deeply I am not aware even of holding them. The most uncorrectable systematic theologian is the one who denies he or she has a systematic theology.

What counts as over-logical? At its best, ‘over-logical’ describes a position I have deduced that does not fit with the teaching of the whole counsel of God. At its best, ‘over-logical’ arises when I am simply wrong because, for instance, I have disregarded the complexity of the Bible. I am completely with Phillip to that extent. My problem arises not simply because of questions asked about Calvinists – they should be asked. My problem lies in the very unfortunate implication that the ‘followers of Calvin’ do not face the same issues, and sometimes fall into the same traps.

*also, can’t seem to find any copyright info there. hope this is ok!

Bak Kwa 肉干 Biscuits or Candied Bacon Cookies, and that Man with a Demon

Saddled with several bags of Chinese New Year 肉干 bak kwa, I thought of possibly making bak kwa ice-cream at last, having talked about it repeatedly to patient friends for the last half decade. Then, like a strange re-interpreted re-enactment of the fable of the Stone Soup, there came a bag of flour and a bag of instant oats and half a tray of eggs, so bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies in Americanese) it would be.

Had a look at several bak kwa cookie recipes online. The ones here and here looked delightful, but I was thinking of something not quite so melty-in-the-mouth, something crispy outside and chewy inside, something very Anzac bikkie-ish.

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)So here’s an attempt – the sugar and salt were included to emphasise the sweet-savory-ness of the bak kwa. Not too bad, imho!

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)Every year when bak kwa appears in homes everywhere during the Lunar New Year, I think of a classmate of mine who had been sad not to be able to eat pork. We, of course, were careful not to put temptation in his way either. One day, I asked why pig meat was considered unclean. Because, he said somewhat bitterly, Jesus had driven demons into pigs.

Reading through the Gospel of Mark today accompanied by Andrew Sach & Tim Hiorns’ excellent Dig Deeper into the Gospels, I wished we were still in touch. Mark 5:1-20 records the event my classmate probably had in mind:

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, 12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out, and entered the pigs, and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and were drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marvelled.

I suppose one solution to my friend’s unhappiness would have been for him to realise that since the pigs drowned, they had no opportunity to pass on their demons to future generations of piggies (assuming that demons worked genetically or by vector).

"Dig Deeper into the Gospels" posing with bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies) But the better solution would be to find out why Mark wrote this in the first place. It wasn’t the back story to pigs being stinky things to be avoided at all costs. The focus wasn’t on Porky but on Jesus.

It was, in the context of the whole Gospel of Mark and in light of the preceding and succeeding accounts of Jesus calming the storm and healing the bleedin’ woman and Jairus’ daughter, about Jesus’ incredible frightening power. This passage is thick with fear, not just from the begging demons but also from the begging humans who witnessed his power.

So it’s not “oh, how nice, I’ll put him in my address book just in case I need a good exorcist next time”. Nor is it so much “Jesus is powerful to save, so don’t be afraid but trust him.” It’s “OMG, Jesus is bigger and badder (well, the street-speak meaning of “powerful-scary” at least) than anything you are afraid of. Both trust and fear him instead!”

bak kwa biscuits (or candied bacon cookies)

Recipe

115g unsalted butter
100g dark brown sugar
67g caster sugar

1 medium egg
¼ tsp vanilla extract

146g flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp sea salt

45g instant oat flakes
120g bak kwa, lightly toasted then chopped

PS. apparently Plain Vanilla Bakery (34A Lorong Mambong, Singapore, facebook) sells bak kwa cookies, but i’d have to wait till next year to grab some.