What's the Big Idea?
I was in discussion with some ministers earlier this week and we were talking about how to teach the Bible's story to our people. There was some debate about systematic theology versus biblical theology and which approach is best suited for communicating with a 21st century congregation. So I pose the question, 'Does the Bible have a Big Idea and if so how may we find it?'
Supposing it were possible to identify the 'hot spots' of divine-human intimacy in Scripture, where would they be found? Or if we could plot on a graph the progress of divine revelation at what points would the graph spike? If we wanted to study the nature of the relationships which God makes with people where would we look? Or if we travel the road from Eden to the New Jerusalem where would the intersections occur?
The answer is surely to be found around the figures of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and supremely Christ! And what is the common thread that links these characters together and makes these moments in time so important? Isn't it the covenant that God establishes with these people? It is these intrusions into the story that keep the biblical narrative moving towards its climax in Christ?
Our Lord Jesus himself indicated that the real significance of the cross-death was that it
inaugurated 'the new covenant' - a bond sealed with the blood of the Lamb of God. In fact the covenan presents us with the bible's own framework, a framework within which all
the other themes develop.
If we want to know how God relates to us humans, we read the covenants. He condescends to speak to us, He stoops to make promises to be a God to us. We discover that (in D. A. Carson's expression) he is a God who 'writes his own agreements.' He is Creator and Sovereign, Promiser and Preserver, Lawgiver and Redeemer in Christ.If we want to know where history is headed, they will point us out the gates of Eden to Ur, to Sinai, to Jerusalem and on to the Holy City on Mount Zion. If our interest is in the mission of God to the nations, then there we disover in whom the nations will be blessed. If we want to know where the king and the kingdom theme fits into the biblical storyline, we will find its proper place there. It is the covenants that teach us how to clealy distinguish between law and grace; and between saving grace and common grace.
And reading along the story of the bible, paying close attention to the unique insights of each covenantal moment, builds up a clearer picture of the One to whom they point. Every story whispers his name. He is the second and last Adam, the true ark of our salvation, the author and perfecter of our faith, a better mediator than Moses, the true and obedient Israel who fulfils all righteousness, David's successor and Lord who will inherit the nations.
For those of us who love the doctrines of grace, the covenant is a rich resource of comfort and encouragement to our souls. Listen to Spurgeon:
It is a wonderful thing that God should enter into gracious covenant with men. That he should make a man, and be gracious to man, is easily to be conceived; but that he should strike hands with his creature, and put his august majesty under bond to him by his own promise, is marvellous. Once let me know that God has made a covenant, and I do not think it wonderful that he should be mindful of it, for he is 'God that cannot lie.' 'Hath he said, and shall he not do it?'
In the end it is the activity of God through the various administrations of the covenant of grace that delivers Christ to us, and in Christ the forgiveness of sins and the New Jerusalem where at last God himself will be with us as our God. Covenant theology merely recognizes the shape of the biblical story and breathes the fresh air of truly biblical theology. It has been taught by Irenaus,Augustine and the Reformers and it needs to be taught to the church today. Because, in the current climate, if we don't use it we'll lose it.
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Systematic Theology, Volume 2
Hauerwas: A (Very) Critical Introduction
The Doctrines of Grace