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Take it or Leave it

04 August 2011 by Frank Turk

We've hit a patch of catechism here where my friends and I get a little squeamish with our baby-baptizing truly-reformed fellow workmen -- the question of covenants as the whole framework of salvation.

Here's why I'm personally squeamish about these questions, and then a brief bit about why it's probably unwarranted.

I'm squeamish because it makes the issues here a little sterile. How many covenants? two covenants. What is God's mercy? An agreement. How does God love? with a promise. As categories, they are fine - perfectly serviceable and systematically puzzled and then machined to an accuracy +/- 0.01%.

As explanations of what the Bible says about the God who made us and holds us together and saves us because we are somehow envious that we ought to have Him instead of Everything Else, it seems to miss the point.

You know: Jesus chastises the Pharisees for being the brother who stays in the house in reward-minded obedience when they have a licentious brother who squanders the family fortune. There, the father doesn't check to see which covenant(s) are necessary to make right the return of his son to the family: he simply pays the price for his son's disobedience -- personally, relationally, socially, legally, emotionally, and with his own dignity -- and runs to him when the young man is seen coming home from a long way off. (Luke 15:11-32)

Talking about the covenants doesn't really uncover that sort of truth about God.

And then there's that fellow Jonah, whom God called to bring salvation to the evil city of Ninevah. I mean: the city was evil -- it was like Sodom except that instead of being sexually violent, they were bloody enemies of Israel, bent of warring with Israel and destroying them. And there the prophet was unwilling to save the city but God was intent to do it. The talk of the covenants -- two covenants -- doesn't even enter into it from God's perspective. He says instead this:
But God said to Jonah, "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?" And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die." And the YHVH said, "You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?"
No mention of a covenant there -- yet it is the most New Testamenty moment in the Old Testament as God deals not just with the disobedient, not just the errant or sinful, but with his enemies.

But if that's true, what good is it to frame up what we believe about God in two covenants? How about three good reasons, and then you can take it or leave it.

1. God's intention is explicit, and not merely implicit. That is to say, we can use a lot of experiential descriptions of God to sort of feel what God is doing, but God isn't accidentally or vaguely trying to make things better. He's not some kind of performance artist who wants to see if you can figure out what he may or may not mean. He's God, and he loves you, and he has a message which, frankly, he wants understood and acted upon.

2. Christ's work is, explicitly, the new covenant in his own blood. I mean: Jesus says that -- this isn't the invention of some seminarian with a clever interpretive schema which analogically redefines the relationships between the ineffable and the imperfect by analyzing the suzerain treaties of semitic people. Jesus said, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood."

3. We fallen, fragile people need something which can give us confidence. I am certain God could have made a perfectly-reliable systematic theology out of cups and saucers if he had conceived of it that way, but he didn't. God knew -- and this, for me, is pretty compelling from a credibility standpoint for Scripture -- how the minds of people work. He knew that we are prone to unbelief, prone to interpret things down and prone to be hopeless in spite of all manner of assurances. So rather than make his message to us especially "deep" by making it somewhat impenetrable, he makes it transparently simple and allows the depth to settle under it as we have confidence and faith and experience with that message. It sort of works like this: you are actually pretty bad; you need a solution; my solution is work that I am doing; you can have confidence in it because it is not just an offer, or a promise, but it is in fact my announcement and decree of salvation sealed with blood so that the commitment and conclusion cannot be broken. This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

So get comfortable with the idea of God's covenant. You might not like the way it tastes when someone makes up their denominational batch of eggs and hash with it, but it is what it is -- and it's for your good.

Comments

David Regier

Apparently people don't comment on awesome.

Neil

We were just waiting for a lickspittle to go first.

It's hard to comment on awesome.

Frank Turk

I think the purple armor scares them.

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