Month: April 2014

The [Ecumenical] Evangelical Theological Society

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The [Ecumenical] Evangelical Theological Society, Eastern Region, 2014 meeting in Baltimore

ImageThe present-future chasm between Interfaith Ecumenical Evangelicals, Post Conservative Evangelicals,Neo-Evangelicals, and Conservative Evangelicals

As “Ecumenical Evangelical” is an oxymoron, “conservative Evangelical” is a redundancy. By definition, “Evangelical” historically included the idea of “not-ecumenical” (unless it meant to work for unity among the diverse body of Evangelicals). And “Evangelical” by definition meant conservative (not Historical-critical or Neo-orthodox) in regards to hermeneutics and theology. Correspondingly, are not “Post-conservative” and “Neo-Evangelical” also oxymoronic ways of saying “no longer conservative”?
Image The [E]-ETS met for their Eastern regional meeting for 2014 at Saint Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore, about a mile from our Protestant and conservative evangelical seminary. It was unquestionably the strangest Evangelical Society meeting that I have ever attended: a love-fest of faiths and a goodly number of quirky “Evangelical” papers (not meaning to disparage all the topics, but very few were on the Bible itself), including an interfaith response panel to Gerald R. McDermott’s first excellent keynote presentation. That panel consisted of a Mormon, an atheistic Jew, an orthodox Jew, and was chaired by the moderate former editor of Christianity Today. (Unfortunately, for such an interfaith extravaganza, I am told the Muslim respondent was not able to attend.) Even though the speaker was given response time, he was rather outnumbered by those respondents who pounced on his call for the freedom to persuade, among other things. After McDermot’s second keynote address, he did not have sufficient response time (ten minutes to rebut seventy minutes of criticism). Also, for the two rebuttals of his second address, there was no equivalent presentation of a counter-perspective, making both sets of counter-arguments to the speaker appear biased by design against the speaker’s presentation. Perhaps an oversight, but such unprofessionalism on such serious matters could (inadvertently) communicate a biased jury of a rigged courtroom, especially if ETS Eastern region is interested in real debate.

 I am all for friendship, dialogue, and debate in their proper contexts (ETS?), in so far as it is possible, but in light of the keynote address on “The Emerging Divide in Evangelical Theology,” I see that it is not just a divide in Evangelicalism, it is a watershed chasm of confusion. It leads me to ask, what is the mission of ETS? I am told that ETS does not have a formal mission statement, but the closest representative viewpoint may be found on the ETS website front-page: “We serve Jesus Christ and his church by fostering conservative, evangelical biblical scholarship.” Dialogue and vigorous debate can be wonderful, and I certainly learned very interesting things through the panel responses, but I still doubt that this event served our mission of advancing evangelical biblical scholarship. I understand that guest speakers for ETS meetings are sometimes not members of ETS, and ETS even allows speakers who could not sign our basic doctrinal statement. In both cases, I question whether this actually advances evangelical biblical scholarship in the conference context.

 For example, the first response to McDermott’s second keynote address from Peter Enns, a self-described Evangelical (or as others have said, a “post-conservative”), and whose argument, in my opinion, was mocking and condescending to the speaker. By inference from what he said, I felt that it would apply to all of us who would identify ourselves as “conservative” Evangelicals. This first response, coming from someone who does not believe in the inerrancy or infallibility of the text of the Bible, led me to wonder how much he still believes of what is in the Bible (historically and theologically). Having grown up with many similar, so-called “liberals,” I was disappointed to see this respondent did not even share in their common “tolerant,” “non-judgmental” social graces. And, his cavalier dismissal of McDermott’s exhortation to hold to the faith was shameful. I fail to see how this advanced evangelical biblical scholarship. Is it lacking in grace for me to say so in this public space? Well, please forgive me, if so, but that was my assessment, and I sincerely do say it in love for someone who professes to be a brother in Christ. If we must endure such tirades at ETS, even if entertaining, then I retain the right to invite us all to repent of his trajectory for the faith “once delivered.”

 The second respondent, John Franke, to McDermott did not add much to the “conversation” (his preferred word for describing the ecumenical, interfaith agenda) beyond his usual reliance on Karl Barth and other (long passé) neo-orthodox ideas. He did make one remarkable attempt to advocate for Barth, saying that Barth never said that the Bible is not the “word of God.” This classic “Evangelical” misreading of Barth may disarm us, but it is an inexcusable misrepresentation, since we should all know by now that Barth’s term “Word of God” has little, if anything, in common with an Evangelical definition (the same being true of most of Barth’s major theological categories). Certainly a view which defines “word of God” as errant, and even possibly that which we preach, and also somehow distinct from “revelation,” is entirely out of accord with our ETS statement: “The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs.” From <http://www.etsjets.org/about>

 ETS also affirms, along with our collective affirmation of inerrancy as a membership requirement, “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.” I can confidently say that Barth’s viewpoint contradicts the “Chicago Statement”:

  Article III

  • We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.
  • We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

   Article XII

  • We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
  • We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood. From <http://www.etsjets.org/>

 The increasingly frequent claims that Barth is essentially an Evangelical may simply be the fruit of poor (or disingenuous?) scholarship, but all the same very misleading and misapplied in critiquing McDermott. I fail to see how this respondent advanced evangelical biblical scholarship. May we also turn away, in genuine repentance, from such revisions of our sacred revelation from God.

 A Bit More Seriously, if these two respondents are truly broad and liberal minded why did they for some years work to subvert the Evangelical schools (that employed them) into their own agenda of PoMo Modernism (Historical Criticism and Barthianism), while at the same time barring entrance there to “conservative” Evangelicals? Since it is common knowledge that they had to leave those respective schools, and that those schools were left to pick up the pieces, I have wondered what was gained. Would it not be the right thing for those of genuinely contrary persuasions to the schools they serve to simply start their own, or go where they can build for their own vision? I am all for Evangelical diversity and unity (properly “ecumenical” as in Eph 2:18-22), but diversion from the Evangelical heritage of the places that employ us is neither honest nor respectful of them. In reality, it seems for those who want the table open to all, even other faiths, themselves would not offer a seat (at our own table) for those who do not want the Evangelical table open to all.

Certainly, there may have been some inclinations in these schools towards this New (PoMo) Modernism, but I believe there was also an understandable reluctance by many older conservative Evangelicals to engage in hot rhetoric and debate, and more interest in a “gentlemanly” approach to disagreements. This was particularly true of those who had become battle-weary of the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversies, as well as from the costly internal conservative fights among strong “personalities” who trounced one another in various ways. Add to this their fear of the frequent new Modernists’ responses to conservative critiques (of their “Neo-Evangelical” directives for Evangelicalism) that such critiques were just “unscholarly.” These factors do not exonerate leadership from complicity in institutional compromise, even if they explain some of the drifting accommodations to secularization. They also do not explain the ongoing lack of consensus at such schools regarding those accommodations.

In conclusion, this conference raised the question of whether in the name of inclusivism the leadership of ETS was drifting from the ETS affirmations on scripture, as well as truly biblical scholarship? My “reading” of this conference may be wrong, and I hope it is. But for those who would dismiss mine as just biased, Modernist subtext, I would dissent, since it is possibly and reasonably accurate and truthful. It is, moreover, our cherished Evangelical Society I am speaking about. And, it is worthy of defense in its effort to uphold and advance (through proclamation and persuasion) the Great Tradition (and biblical scholarship) extolled by McDermott. Even though it is also worthy of ongoing reform, I believe, nevertheless, that most of us are not asking for redefinition by those who do not share our core values. Indeed, repentance maynecessarily have to precede reform here, as is often the case, and as I know well from personal experience.

I recommend to all of ETS that we each turn (yes, repent) from these PoMo trajectories that jettison us from biblical Evangelicalism and the great and precious tradition of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that we stand with our long held doctrine and mission in advancing truly evangelical biblical scholarship.

  • Romans 15:4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:1 So then, men ought to regard us as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the secret things of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.
  • Ephesians 5:6Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
  • Philippians 1:9-10 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ,
  • Colossians 2:2-4 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ,3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments.
  • 1 Thessalonians 2:4 On the contrary, we speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6 In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us.
  • 1 Timothy 1:11 that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
  • 1 Timothy 6:20 Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,
  • 2 Timothy 1:14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.
  • Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.[1]

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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God’s signs and seals of the covenant-promise


(etching) Rembrandt, The Circumcision

God’s signs and seals of the gospel-promise (Stephen T. Hague, 2014, revised Sept, 2014)

  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Adam and Eve was a seed, a Son.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Noah was a rainbow.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Abraham was circumcision.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Moses was the Sabbath.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise of atonement for sin was the Passover meal.
  • The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to David was an eternal throne.
  • The signs and seals of the covenant-promise to the church are the sacraments of water baptism and the Lord’s Table of Passover remembrance.

The promises of God were always given with a sign and a seal, and were from God not from their recipients, because the signs of the covenant and its promises are God’s initiatives that are fulfilled and completed by God himself, and not by those who receive them.

The first gospel-promise was given to Adam and Eve of a seed (descendent) who would crush the head of the serpent, though being “bruised,” was pictured in the seed motif that was a sign from God of that covenant-promise of redemption (Genesis 3:15; Luke 24:27; Hebrews 2:14; Romans 16:20). The “everlasting” sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Noah was a rainbow that recalled the judgment on the earth through a global flood and pointed forward to the eventual removal of the curse from the earth (Gen 7 8:21f; Gen 9:16-17). The sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Abraham was circumcision (Genesis 17:13-14, 23-27). There was a close correlation with the circumcision sign of the covenant and the covenant-sign of the Passover, since all (including foreigners) who wanted to celebrate the Passover had to be circumcised (Ex 12:48). This was important, because of the backward reference to the seed-promise to Adam and Eve pictured in circumcision, and also because of the redemption from Egypt (passing over the sons), as well as the other frequent motif of redemption that this sign illustrated in the spiritual (regeneration) circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16). The other sign and seal of the covenant-promise to Moses and Israel was the Sabbath as God’s promise of shalom, and the renewal of creation, and the redemption of those who receive it (Ex 31:12; Ezek 20:12; Heb 4:9). The key theological theme in this important covenant-sign was that they would remember that “I am the Lord, who makes you holy,” reaffirming the seed-promise to Adam and Eve and to Abraham, ultimately pointing forward to the Messiah who would fulfill it by redeeming his people from among all the nations. King David also received a sign of the covenant in the promise to have a son on his eternal throne (2 Samuel 7:13-16; 1 Kings 2:33; 1 Kings 2:45; 1 Kings 9:5). This sign wonderfully portrays the everlasting, kingly reign of the one who fulfills the Messianic seed-promises to Adam and Eve and to Abraham (Psalm 89:36; Isaiah 9:7). This person would also be divine, since only God is eternal (Lamentations 5:19; Matthew 25:31). Luke tells us plainly that this King in the line of David is Jesus (Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:30-36; see also Hebrews 1:8; Revelation 4:10; 5:6, 10). The King of kings fulfills all of the covenant-signs of the promise of redemption, uniting all of the motifs we find in each of those signs.

It can therefore be said that the signs are never from those who receive them, since they are all from God to those of us who embrace them. They have never been God-ward signs, since they are from God to us, not from us to God. This is the beauty of the signs; they are human-ward, and from God who fulfills them (since he always keeps his promises). Not even our faith in believing the signs is a sign, nor is our baptism a sign of our promise to God or of our faith in him. No, even baptism is God’s sign that he is saving his people, the seed of Eve and Abraham; it too is a sign that the covenant-promise is being fulfilled in us and our children, since he is faithful.

Yes, all of the signs picture poetically his covenant and covenant promises to reverse the curse and to restore his creation, wherein those who believe will dwell forever in his shalom of Sabbath rest. All of the signs, as all of the covenants, represent and reaffirm the one covenant of redemption that began with the promise to Adam and Eve of a redeemer who would reverse the curse and crush the serpent’s head.

The works and miracles of God in the Old Testament are also signs of his to encourage those who believe his promise to continue in faith:

  •  And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Exodus 3:12
  •  You performed miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt and have continued them to this day, both in Israel and among all mankind, and have gained the renown that is still yours. Jeremiah 32:20
  •  How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation. Daniel 4:3

The miracles of Jesus are also a sign that the covenant-promises were being fulfilled in him, the promised Messiah from the line of Eve and from the promised eternal line of King David:

  •  After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” John 6:14

Yet, many then refused, and still do, to believe God’s clear and sufficient signs:

Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. John 12:37

They refuse to believe even though the evidence of the signs he has given is more than sufficient evidence for them to believe:

  •  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. Hebrews 2:4  

Presently, two of the Old Testament signs particularly carry over for the church today with tremendous theological value, in our sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Those present-day signs of the covenant have deep continuity with the OT signs, since their significance as signs is not negated but rather strongly reaffirmed in the New Testament church.

That is, circumcision was a covenant-sign of the promise but in itself could not procure what it signified, since only the Spirit of God can renew a person’s heart, to which the sign pointed in part. It was a two-fold sign that only God could bring the promised seed of the line of Eve, and that only God could make the heart new (and that this could not be inherited):

  • No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Romans 2:29

Circumcision was a sign in Israel, as is baptism, that God will fulfill his redemption-promises, since it is his sign that he is faithful to his covenant of redemption. Therefore, baptism is an ongoing sign from God to us, not a sign of our promise to him, or of our faith; it too cannot itself produce what it signifies, but only the God who promised:

  • For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. Col 2:9-14

The water of baptism is also sign of the promise that God is the one who saves, and only through the Son of Eve, and it is his resurrection that assuredly sealed it:

  • and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . . 1 Peter 3:21

Further, Jesus’ circumcision and purification “according to the law of Moses” surely was not a sign of his salvation, or just that he was a Jewish son (Luke 2:21-30), but rather it was a sign of the fulfillment of the seed-promise that the Messiah would be born of a woman. His circumcision, as all the other signs, pictured graphically that the promise to Eve would be a son (Genesis 3:15) and to Abraham would be descendants more numerous than the sand and stars that would bless “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 22:17-18). This is beautifully expressed by Simeon when he praised God in the temple while holding the circumcised Christ: “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32). Therefore, this sign powerfully demonstrates the human-ward gospel of salvation for all who believe; it is for all who are the adopted sons of Abraham by faith and not by natural descent (Romans 9:6-7).

Similarly, Jesus’ baptism surely could not have been a sign of his repentance and faith, but was a reaffirmation of God’s promise to redeem his people. It was the initial sign to John the Baptist and Israel that the promised messianic Son of God had come (John 1:32-34) to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:15). Baptizing both Jews and Gentiles (Mark 1:4), John’s baptism was a sign of the covenant-promise that all peoples would now need the baptism of Christ (Colossians 2:11) to partake fully of the covenant-promises, and thus showing that circumcision only pointed to this new order of the Spirit’s eschatological outpouring fulfilling those promises. Jesus’ baptism thus inaugurated this new emphasis on the covenant-promise to all the nations that the Son of God would baptize in the Holy Spirit, thus sealing that promise. This is why the covenant-promise still holds such meaning for those households who continue placing the sign of the promise on their children through water baptism, and also upon those who enter the covenant-community later in life through embracing and trusting the promises of God. In both cases, the human-ward meaning is the same: it is God, in keeping his promise, who saves his people. Peter at Pentecost proclaimed this truth in saying, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off . . .” when he told the large crowd of those gathered from all the nations (Acts 2:1-11) to “repent and be baptized, every one of you,” and they would then receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-39).

In relation to this, a good case can be made from the long history of correlation in Jewish practice between the simultaneous circumcision and baptism of Gentile converts that the significance and meaning between both rites was readily understood when John came baptizing in the desert region of Judah. John’s baptism of both Jews and Gentiles sent a strong message to all that physical circumcision was insufficient for salvation, and that if they were going to claim Abraham as their father (the covenant-promise), then they must be truly regenerated by the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:7-9). This prophetic message of John was entirely in accord with the prophets of old who preached the same message (noted already) that circumcision of the heart (regeneration) was necessary for salvation (Deuteronomy 30:6; 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4; 27:7; see also Romans 2:29).

Lastly, Jesus’ last Passover meal recalls the sign of the covenant so clearly portrayed in Egypt when the angel of the Lord passed over the sons (seed-promise) of Israel but slew the sons of Egypt (Exodus 12:13). The Passover meal (lamb) was to be celebrated as a sign for all subsequent ages (Numbers 9:1-14; Exodus 34:25; Deuteronomy 16:1). This sign was about the promise of atonement, at the heart of redemption, showing what is requisite for salvation. This sign was most profoundly fulfilled in the death of Christ (Lamb of God) who celebrated the Passover with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion (Matthew 26:2; Mark 14:12-25; Luke 22:14-21; John 13), commanding them to continue to celebrate his substitutionary, atoning sacrifice with the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table of communion to remember him until he returns to claim his everlasting kingdom (Luke 22:19). His Passover death was the fulfillment of the covenant-promise from God that the Priest-King Messiah would reverse the curse of guilt inherited from Adam, and remove the curse on the ground. Earlier, John the Baptist had also reaffirmed this aspect of the covenant-promise when he cried out about Christ Jesus at his baptism, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29).

In conclusion, all of these gospel-promise signs represent and reaffirm the one covenant of redemption that began with the promise to Adam and Eve of a Redeemer who would reverse the curse and crush the serpent’s head. They are not signs of diverse things, nor are any of the signs presently abrogated, since the signs have the same significance in all ages because they each point towards the completion of the gospel’s covenant-promise of redemption and new creation to be consummated at the return of the Messiah at the end of the age. In sum, Christ fulfills the seed-promise sign, the rainbow-promise sign, the Sabbath-promise sign, the circumcision-baptism-promise sign, the Passover-promise sign, and now reigns forever on the throne of David, having sealed them all by his death and resurrection. This is why we continue to baptize and to celebrate the Lord’s Table: to remember his covenant-promise, and to look forward to its final consummation at his glorious return. This is the good-news of each gospel-promise-sign.