Posts Tagged ‘theology’

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by John M. Frame

            It has become increasingly common in Reformed circles, as it has long been in Lutheran circles, to say that the distinction between law and gospel is the key to sound theology, even to say that to differ with certain traditional formulations of this distinction is to deny the gospel itself.

            Sometimes this argument employs Scripture passages like Rom. 3:21-31, emphasizing that we are saved by God’s grace, through faith alone, apart from the works of the law. In my judgment, however, none of the parties to the debate questions that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, by the imputed righteousness of Christ alone. But it is one thing to distinguish between faith and works, a different thing to distinguish law and gospel.

1. The Traditional Distinction

            The distinction between law and gospel is not a distinction between a false and a true way of salvation. Rather, it is a distinction between two messages, one that supposedly consists exclusively of commands, threats, and therefore terrors, the other that consists exclusively of promises and comforts. Although I believe that we are saved entirely by God’s grace and not by works, I do not believe that there are two entirely different messages of God in Scripture, one exclusively of command (“law”) and the other exclusively of promise (“gospel”). In Scripture itself, commands and promises are typically found together. With God’s promises come commands to repent of sin and believe the promise. The commands, typically, are not merely announcements of judgment, but God’s gracious opportunities to repent of sin and believe in him. As the Psalmist says, “be gracious to me through your law,” Psm. 119:29.

            The view that I oppose, which sharply separates the two messages, comes mainly out of Lutheran theology, though similar statements can be found in Calvin and in other Reformed writers. [1] The Epitome of the Lutheran Formula of Concord, at V, 5, recognizes that gospel is used in different senses in Scripture, and it cites Mark 1:15 and Acts 20:21 as passages in which gospel preaching “correctly” includes a command to repent of sin. But in section 6, it does something really strange. It says,

But when the Law and the Gospel are compared together, as well as Moses himself, the teacher of the Law, and Christ the teacher of the Gospel, we believe, teach, and confess that the Gospel is not a preaching of repentance, convicting of sins, but that it is properly nothing else than a certain most joyful message and preaching full of consolation, not convicting or terrifying, inasmuch as it comforts the conscience against the terrors of the Law, and bids it look at the merit of Christ alone…

I say this is strange, because the Formula gives no biblical support at all for this distinction, and what it says here about the “gospel” flatly contradicts what it  conceded earlier in section 5. What it describes as “correct” in section five contradicts what it calls “proper” in section 6. What section 6 does is to suggest something “improper” about what it admits to be the biblical description of the content of gospel, as in Mark 1:15 and Acts 14:15. [2] Mark 1:15 is correct, but not proper.

2. Law and Gospel in Scripture

I have been told that proper at this point in the Formula means, not “incorrect” or “wrong,” but simply “more common or usual.” I have, however, looked through the uses of the euaggel- terms in the NT, and I cannot find one instance in which the context excludes a demand for repentance (that is, a command of God, a law) as part of the gospel content. That is to say, I cannot find one instance of what the Formula calls the “proper” meaning of gospel, a message of pure comfort, without any suggestion of obligation. And there are important theological reasons why that use does not occur.

Essentially, the “gospel” in the NT is the good news that the kingdom of God has come in Jesus (Matt. 4:23, 9:35, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:43, Acts 20:24f). [3] “Kingdom” is (1) God’s sovereign power, (2) his sovereign authority, and (3) his coming into history to defeat Satan and bring about salvation with all its consequences. [4] God’s kingdom power includes all his mighty acts in history, especially including the Resurrection of Christ. 

God’s kingdom authority is the reiteration of his commandments. When the kingdom appears in power, it is time for people to repent. They must obey (hupakouo) the gospel (2 Thess. 1:8, compare apeitheo in 1 Pet. 4:17). The gospel itself requires a certain kind of conduct (Acts 14:15, Gal. 2:14, Phil. 1:27; cf. Rom 2:16). 

When God comes into history, he brings his power and authority to bear on his creatures. In kingdom power, he establishes peace. So NT writers frequently refer to the “gospel of peace” (Eph. 6:15; cf. Acts 10:36, Rom. 10:15), sometimes referring to the “mystery” of God bringing Gentiles and Jews together in one body (Rom. 16:25, Eph. 6:19). 

It is this whole complex: God’s power to save, the reiteration of God’s commands, and his coming into history to execute his plan, that is the gospel. It is good news to know that God is bringing his good plans to fruition. 

Consider Isa. 52:7, one of the most important background passages for the New Testament concept of gospel: 

How beautiful upon the mountains

            Are the feet of him who brings good news,

            Who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,

            Who publishes salvation,

            Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (ESV)

It is the reign of God that is good news, news that ensures peace and salvation.

Even the demand for repentance is good news, because in context it implies that God, though coming in power to claim his rights, is willing to forgive for Christ’s sake.

            So gospel includes law in an important sense: God’s kingdom authority, his demand to repent. Even on the view of those most committed to the law/gospel distinction, the gospel includes a command to believe. We tend to think of that command as in a different class from the commands of the decalogue. But that too is a command, after all. Generically it is law. And, like the decalogue, that law can be terrifying to someone who wants to trust only on his own resources, rather than resting on the mercy of another. And the demand of faith includes other requirements: the conduct becoming the gospel that I mentioned earlier. Faith itself works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without good works (James 2:17).

      Having faith does not merit salvation for anyone, any more than any other human act merits salvation. Thus we speak of faith, not as the ground of salvation, but as the instrument. Faith saves, not because it merits salvation, but because it reaches out to receive God’s grace in Christ. Nevertheless, faith is an obligation, and in that respect the command to believe is like other divine commands. So it is impossible to say that command, or law, is excluded from the message of the gospel.

It is also true that law includes gospel. God gives his law as part of a covenant, and that covenant is a gift of God’s grace. The decalogue begins, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Only after proclaiming his saving grace does God then issue his commands to Israel. So the decalogue as a whole has the function of offering Israel a new way of life, conferred by grace (cf. Deut. 7:7-8, 9:4-6). Is the decalogue “law” or “gospel?” Surely it is both. Israel was terrified upon hearing it, to be sure (Ex. 20:18-21). But in fact it offers blessing (note verse 6) and promise (verse 12). Moses and the Prophets are sufficient to keep sinners from perishing in Hell (Matt. 16:31).

So the definitions that sharply separate law and gospel break down on careful analysis. In both law and gospel, then, God proclaims his saving work, and he demands that his people respond by obeying his commands. The terms “law” and “gospel” differ in emphasis, but they overlap and intersect. They present the whole Word of God from different perspectives. Indeed, we can say that our Bible as a whole is both law (because as a whole it speaks with divine authority and requires belief) and gospel (because as a whole it is good news to fallen creatures). Each concept is meaningless apart from the other. Each implies the other.

      The law often brings terror, to be sure. Israel was frightened by the Sinai display of God’s wrath against sin (Ex. 20:18-21). But it also brings delight to the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22). Similarly, the gospel brings comfort and joy; but (as less often noted in the theological literature) it also brings condemnation. Paul says that his gospel preaching is, to those who perish, “a fragrance from death to death” and, to those who believe, “a fragrance from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:15-16; compare 1 Cor. 1:18, 23, 27-29, 2 Cor. 4:3-4, Rom. 9:32). The gospel is good news to those who believe. But to those who are intent on saving themselves by their own righteousness, it is bad news. It is God’s condemnation upon them, a rock of offense.

3. Which Comes First?

            In discussions of law and gospel, one commonly hears that it is important, not only to preach both law and gospel, but also to preach the law first and the gospel second. We are told that people must be frightened by the law before they can be driven to seek salvation in Christ. Certainly there is a great need to preach God’s standards, man’s disobedience, and God’s wrath against sin, especially in an age such as ours where people think God will let them behave as they like. And very often people have been driven to their knees in repentance when the Spirit has convicted them of their transgressions of law.

            But as we have seen, it is really impossible truly to present law without gospel or gospel without law, though various relative emphases are possible. And among those relative emphases, the biblical pattern tends to put the gospel first. That is the pattern of the decalogue, as we have seen: God proclaims that he has redeemed his people (gospel), then asks them to behave as his covenant people (law). Since both gospel and law are aspects of God’s covenants, that pattern pervades Scripture.

            Jesus reflects that pattern in his own evangelism. In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that he can give her living water that will take away all thirst. Only after offering that gift does he proclaim the law to her, exposing her adultery. Some have cited Luke 18:18—30 as an example of the contrary order: Jesus expounds the commandments, and only afterward tells the rich ruler to follow him. But in this passage Jesus does not use the law alone to terrorize the man or to plunge him into despair. The man does go sadly away only after Jesus has called him to discipleship, which, though itself a command, is the gospel of this passage.

4. The “New Perspective” and Paul’s Gospel

Since the apostle Paul is most often in the forefront in discussions of the meaning of gospel, something should perhaps be said here about the “new perspective on Paul” in recent scholarship, based on writings of Krister Stendahl, E. P. Sanders, James D. G. Dunn, and others. In that perspective, the problem with Judaism, according to Paul, was not works righteousness, but its failure to accept God’s new covenant in Christ, which embraced Gentiles as well as Jews. On this perspective, Paul’s gospel is not an answer to the troubled conscience of someone who can’t meet God’s demands. Rather, it is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham to bless all nations. The “works of the law” against which Paul contends are not man’s attempts to satisfy God’s moral law, but the distinctions between Jews and Gentiles such as circumcision, food laws, and cleansings.

Discussions of this new perspective are very complex, entering into details about the nature of Palestinian Judaism at the time of Paul, Paul’s own history, and the exegesis of crucial texts. I cannot enter this controversy in a short paper. I do agree with those who believe that Sanders and others have been too selective in their references to Palestinian Judaism, and I believe that the new perspective fails to deal adequately with a number of Pauline passages, such as Rom. 4:4-5, 11:6, Eph. 2:8-10, Phil. 3:9, which make plain that Paul rejects, not only legal barriers between Jew and Gentile, but also all attempts of people to save themselves by their works. Luther’s doctrines of sola gratia and sola fide are fully scriptural and fully Pauline. [5]

But the new perspective legitimately warns us against reducing Paul’s gospel to soteric justification by faith. Paul’s confrontation with the Jews was on several fronts. And his gospel deals with a number of different issues, as my earlier discussion also implies.

5. Legitimate Use of the Traditional Distinction

Now if people want to define gospel more narrowly for a specific theological purpose, I won’t object too strongly. Scripture does not give us a glossary of English usage. A number of technical theological terms don’t mean exactly what similar terms sometimes mean in the Bible. Regeneration and election are examples, as is covenant. [6] We can define our English terms pretty much as we like, as long as those definitions don’t create confusion in our readers. 

Over the years, we have come to think of gospel as correlative with faith and law as correlative with works. In this usage, law is what condemns and gospel is what saves. Although this distinction differs from the biblical uses of the terms, it does become useful in some contexts. For example, we all know a type of preaching that merely expounds moral obligations (as we usually think of them: don’t kill, don’t steal) and does not give its hearers the knowledge of Christ they need to have in order to be saved. That kind of preaching (especially when it is not balanced by other preaching emphases) we often describe as a preaching of mere law, legalism, or moralism. There is no good news in it. So, we are inclined to say, it is not preaching of the gospel. So in this general way we come to distinguish the preaching of law from the preaching of gospel. That is, I think, the main concern of the Formula: to remind us that we need to do both things. 

We should be reminded of course that there is also an opposite extreme: preaching “gospel” in such a way as to suggest that Christ makes no demands on one’s life. We call that “cheap grace” or “easy believism.” We might also call it preaching “gospel without law.” Taken to an extreme, it is antinomianism, the rejection of God’s law. The traditional law/gospel distinction is not itself antinomian, but those who hold it tend to be more sensitive to the dangers of legalism than to the dangers of antinomianism. 

Such considerations may lead us to distinguish in a rough-and-ready way between preaching of the law and preaching of the gospel. Of course, even in making that distinction, our intention ought to be to bring these together. None of these considerations requires us to posit a sharp distinction. And certainly, this rough-and-ready distinction should never be used to cast doubt on the integration of command and promise that pervades the Scriptures themselves. 

It should be evident that “legalist” preaching as described above is not true preaching of law, any more than it is true preaching of the gospel.  For as I indicated earlier, law itself in Scripture comes to us wrapped in grace.

6. Law/Gospel and the Christian Life

The Formula’s distinction between law and gospel has unfortunate consequences for the Christian life. The document does warrant preaching of the law to the regenerate, [7] but only as threat and terror, to drive them to Christ Epitome, VI, 4. There is nothing here about the law as the delight of the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2; compare 119:34-36, 47, 92, 93, 97, 130, 131, Rom. 7:22). 

The Formula then goes on to say that believers do conform to the law under the influence of the Spirit, but only as follows: 

Fruits of the Spirit, however, are the works which the Spirit of God who dwells in believers works through the regenerate, and which are done by believers so far as they are regenerate [spontaneously and freely], as though they knew of no command, threat, or reward; for in this manner the children of God live in the Law and walk according to the Law of God, which [mode of living] St. Paul in his epistles calls the Law of Christ and the Law of the mind, Rom. 7, 25; 8, 7; Rom. 8, 2; Gal. 6, 2. (Epitome, VI, 5).

So the law may threaten us to drive us to Christ. But truly good works are never motivated by any command, threat or reward.

            In my view, this teaching is simply unbiblical. It suggests that when you do something in obedience to a divine command, threat, or promise of reward, it is to that extent tainted, unrighteous, something less than a truly good work. I agree that our best works are tainted by sin, but certainly not for this reason. When Scripture presents us with a command, obedience to that command is a righteous action. Indeed, our righteousness is measured by our obedience to God’s commands. When God threatens punishment, and we turn from wickedness to do what he asks, that is not a sin, but a righteous response. When God promises reward, it is a good thing for us to embrace that reward.

            The notion that we should conduct our lives completely apart from the admonitions of God’s word is a terrible notion. To ignore God’s revelation of his righteousness is, indeed, essentially sinful. To read Scripture, but refuse to allow its commands to influence one’s conduct, is the essence of sin.

            And what, then, does motivate good works, if not the commands, threats, and promises of reward in Scripture? The Formula doesn’t say. What it suggests is that the Spirit simply brings about obedience from within us. I believe the Spirit does exactly that. But the Formula seems to assume that the Spirit works that way without any decision on our part to act according to the commands of God. That I think is wrong. “Quietism” is the view that Christians should be entirely passive, waiting for the Spirit of God to act in them. This view of the Christian life is unbiblical. The Christian life is a battle, a race. It requires decision and effort. I am not saying that the Formula is quietist (Lutheranism rejected quietism after some controversy in its ranks), but as we read the position of the Formula, it does seem that quietism lies around the corner from it.

7. The Objective and the Subjective

Part of the motivation for this view of the Christian life, I believe, is the thought that one’s life should be based on something objective, rather than something subjective. On this view, our life is built on what Christ has done for us, objectively in history, not on anything arising from our own subjectivity or inwardness. So in this view, gospel is a recitation of what God has done for us, not a command to provoke our subjective response. 

This understanding focuses on justification: God regards us as objectively righteous for Christ’s sake, apart from anything in us. But it tends to neglect regeneration and sanctification: that God does work real subjective changes in the justified.

I have no quarrel with this understanding of justification. But in Scripture, though justification is based on the work of Christ external to us, it is embraced by faith, which is subjective. And faith, in turn, is the result of the Spirit’s subjective work of regeneration (John 3:3). [8] So nobody is objectively justified who has not been subjectively changed by God’s grace.

So the Westminster Confession of Faith 18.2, even in speaking of assurance of salvation, refers not only to the truth of God’s promises (objective), but also to the “inward evidence of those graces” and “the testimony of the Spirit of adoption,” which are in some measure subjective.

In fact, we cannot separate the objective and the subjective. Objective truths are subjectively apprehended. We cannot have objective knowledge, confidence, or assurance, unless we are subjectively enabled to perceive what God has objectively given us.  

8. The Two Kingdoms

            We should also note the “two kingdoms” view of Christ and culture, that draws on the sharp distinction between law and gospel. [9] In general, that view states that there are two kingdoms of God, one, as Luther put it, the kingdom of God’s left hand, the other the kingdom of his right hand. The former is secular, the latter sacred. In the former, God rules by law, in the latter, by his word and Spirit.

The problem is that the two-kingdom doctrine claims a duality, not only between law and gospel as such, but also in God’s standards, his norms. There are secular values and religious values, secular norms and religious norms. Secular society is responsible only to natural laws, the morality found in nature. So, Gene Veith says, “morality is not a matter of religion.” [10] The church is subject primarily to the gospel, but in a secondary sense (as we have seen above) subject to both law and gospel, the whole content of the word of God. Therefore, although the Christian can participate in the general culture, he should not seek to Christianize it, to turn it into a Christian culture. There is no such thing as a Christian culture; there is only secular culture, and a Christian church. Nor, of course, should he try to bring secular standards into the church: secular music, for instance. [11]

It is true that we should not try to force unregenerate people to become Christians through civil power. The church does not have the power of the sword. Nevertheless, there are not two sets of divine norms for civil society, only one. And those norms are in the Bible. Morality is most emphatically a matter of religion. The unregenerate have some knowledge of God’s law through natural revelation (Rom. 1:32), but believers see that law more clearly through the spectacles of Scripture. The biblical view of civil government does not require us to force unbelievers to behave as Christians in every way, but it does call upon us to restrain their (and our!) sin in certain areas. We should be active in society to promote those godly standards. [12]

Concluding Observation

The sharp distinction between law and gospel is becoming popular in Reformed, as well as Lutheran circles. It is the view of Westminster Seminary California, Modern Reformation magazine, and the White Horse Inn radio broadcast. The leaders of these organizations are very insistent that theirs is the only biblical view of the matter. One has recently claimed that people who hold a different view repudiate the Reformation and even deny the gospel itself. On that view, we must use the term gospel only in what the Formula calls the “proper” sense, not in the biblical sense. I believe that we should stand with the Scriptures against this tradition.


[1] Lutheran theologians, however, frequently complain that Reformed theology “confuses” law and gospel, which is in the Lutheran view a grave error. The main difference is that for the Reformed law is not merely an accuser, but also a message of divine comfort, a delight of the redeemed heart (Psm. 1:2). Also, the Reformed generally do not give the law/gospel distinction as much prominence within their systematic theological formulations. And, historically, they have been more open to the broader biblical language which the Lutheran Formula of Concord calls “correct” but not “proper” (see below).

[2] The passage cited by the formula, Acts 20:21, does not use the euaggello root, the usual term for “gospel” and “gospel preaching,” but the term diamarturomai. But Acts 20:21 is nevertheless significant, since it gives a general description of what Paul did in his preaching to “both Jews and Greeks.” That preaching was certainly gospel preaching. Paul resolved in his preaching to “know nothing but Christ and him crucified.” Luke 24:47 is also significant, for it includes both repentance and forgiveness of sins as the content Jesus gives his disciples to preach (kerusso) to all nations.

[3] N. T. Wright believes that this use of gospel has a double root: “On the one hand, the gospel Paul preached was the fulfilment of the message of Isaiah 40 and 52, the message of comfort for Israel and of hope for the whole world, because YHWH, the god of Israel, was returning to Zion to judge and redeem. On the other hand, in the context into which Paul was speaking, “gospel” would mean the celebration of the accession, or birth, of a king or emperor. Though no doubt petty kingdoms might use the word for themselves, in Paul’s world the main ‘gospel’ was the news of, or the celebration of, Caesar,” “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire,” available at http://www.ctinquiry.org/publications/wright.htm. Of course both of these uses focus on the rule of God as Lord, and both involve what is traditionally called law.

[4] This a triad of the sort expounded in my Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publications, 1987), Doctrine of God (forthcoming from the same publisher in 2002) and elsewhere.

[5] Although I am critical of the general stance of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and their publication Modern Reformation on this issue, I would strongly recommend Kim Riddlebarger’s essay, “Reformed Confessionalism and the ‘New Perspective’ on Paul,” available at the Alliance web site, www.alliancenet.org, as an excellent introduction to this discussion. I fully endorse the conclusions of that article.

[6] The phrases “covenant of works” and “covenant of grace” found in the Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.2-4 are not found anywhere in Scripture. Covenant in Scripture refers to particular historical relationships between God and his people, mediated by Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. “Covenant of grace” generalizes the common features of these historical covenants, seeing them as successive manifestations of God’s redemptive Lordship. “Covenant of works” finds in God’s relation to our first parents features identical to his later covenants with, of course, significant differences.

[7] Theological literature speaks of three “uses of the law” : (1) to restrain sin in society, (2) to terrorize people in order to drive them to Christ, and (3) as a guide to believers. In Lutheranism (not in Reformed circles) there has been controversy over the third use, though the Formula affirms it. But in Lutheranism, it is often said that “the law always accuses.” So the third use is essentially the second use directed at believers, driving us to Christ again and again and away from our residual unbelief. Reformed writers do not deny our continual need for Christ and the importance of hearing again and again that we are saved only by his grace. But in Reformed theology, the law also plays a more direct role, giving us specific guidance in God’s delightful paths.

[8] So, again, saving faith works through love (Gal. 5:6) and is dead without works (James 2:14-26).

[9] See, for example, Gene Veith, “Christianity and Culture: God’s Double Sovereignty,” from The Whirlpool (Jan.-Feb., 1997), available at http://www.alliancenet.org.

[10] Ibid.

[11] There are, of course, reasons to criticize the use of secular music in the church other than the two-kingdoms concept. But if that concept is rejected, then the distinction between sacred and secular is relativized somewhat, and one must evaluate “secular” music piece-by-piece, rather than as a general category.

[12] In terms of the categories of H. Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (NY: Harper, 1951), we should be “transformationalists,” not “dualists.”


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Outline of G. K. Beale and Sidney Greidanus — See Below *


The Basic Presuppositions of the Redemptive Historical Christocentric Interpretation of the Old Testament

A.  The assumption of corporate solidarity or representation.

B.  That Christ is viewed as representing the true Israel of the Old Testament and true Israel, the church, in the New Testament (Isa. 49:3-6; Lk. 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23).  Christ and the church fulfill what is prophesied of Israel in the OT.

C.  That history is unified by a wise and sovereign plan so that the earlier parts are designed to correspond and point to the latter parts (Matt. 11:13-14; Eccl. 3:1-11; Isa. 46:9-11; Rev. 1:4, 8, 17; 4:8; 21:6; 22:13; Eph. 1:11).

D.  That the age of eschatological fulfillment has come in Christ (Mk. 1:15; Acts 2:17; Gal. 4:4; 1 Cor. 10:11; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1; Heb. 1:2; 9:26; 1 Pet. 1:20; 2 Pet. 3:3; 1 Jn 2:18; Jude 18).

E.  As a consequence of (C) and (D), the fifth presupposition affirms that the latter parts of biblical history function as the broader context to interpret earlier parts because they all have the same, ultimate divine author who inspires the various human authors, and one deduction from this premise is that Christ as the center of history is the key to interpreting the earlier portions of the Old Testament and its promises.  Be sure to make note of both continuity and contrast (2 Cor. 1:10-21; Matt. 5:17; 13:11, 16-17; Lk. 24:25-27, 32, 44-45; John 5:39; 20:9; Rom. 10:4).


The Basic Approach of the Redemptive Historical Christocentric Interpretation of the Old Testament

1.  Understand the passage in its own historical-grammatical (immediate) context (grammatico-historical method of interpretation).

This original, historical meaning provides the only objective point of control against deriving from the text all kinds of subjective and arbitrary messages.  Once the plain meaning has been abandoned, control over interpretation is gone and Scripture may mean anything that the interpreter may see in it.

Once you have the basic meaning of the passage in its own context, you basically have a glass partially filled with a description of God’s divine revelation of his nature or a painting only partially completed.  A Christocentric method of interpretation fills this description/meaning full with Christ as the most complete revelation of God’s progressive revelation of Himself (ie. the attributes of God, the law of God, teachings, prophecies, visions, etc.).

How do we view the whole counsel of God in light of Jesus Christ?  Only after we have heard a passage the way Israel heard it can we move on to understand this message in the broad contexts of the whole canon and the whole of redemptive history.

A.  Literary Interpretation:

1.  How does it mean? 

What is the genre? (narrative, wisdom, psalm, prophecy?)

What is the sub-genre? (law, parable, proverb, lament?)

What are the figures of speech? (metaphor, simile, hyperbole, irony?)

2.  What did it mean in the context of this particular book?  How does the passage function in the context of the book? (study the grammatical questions of the text).

B.  Historical Interpretation:

1.  What was the author’s intended meaning for his original hearers? (author, original hearers, approximate period, social and geographical setting, purpose of writing — who wrote this text? to whom? when? where? and why?)

2.  What need of the hearers did the author seek to address?

C.  Theocentric Interpretation:

What does this passage reveal about God and his will?  (God’s acts, providence, covenant, law, grace, faithfulness, etc.)

This question gives the passage a God-centered focus.

2.  Understand the passage in the contexts of canon and redemptive history.

We cannot understand an Old Testament text in isolation, but must always understand the text in the contexts of the whole Bible and redemptive history.

A.  Literary or Canonical Interpretation:

What does this passage mean (not just in the context of the book, but) in the context of the whole Bible?  Each passage (whether promise, prophecy, type, law, etc.) is developed or filled up with meaning until it finds its fullest meaning in Jesus Christ.  Because of progression in God’s redemptive history and revelation, one will discover both continuity and discontinuity in Old Testament promises, themes, and laws.

B.  Redemptive-Historical or Historical Interpretation:

 NOT, “what was the human author’s intended meaning for his original hearers?,” BUT rather, “How does the redemptive historical context from creation to new creation inform the contemporary significance of this text?”  The context of redemptive history will reveal continuity as well as discontinuity.

 C.  Christocentric or Theocentric Interpretation:

 NOT, “what does this passage reveal about God and His will?,” BUT rather, “what does this passage mean in the light of Jesus Christ?  And what does this passage reveal about Jesus Christ?”

Some scholars speak of this as the “sensus plenior,” or fuller sense, or the “theological literal sense” which means nothing other than the meaning of the scripture read as a whole and in the analogia fidei (rule of faith).  Others refer to the “canonical interpretation” or better yet the “redemptive-historical interpretation.”  Whatever we call it the important point is that a passage understood in the contexts of the whole Bible and redemptive history may reveal more meaning than its author intended originally.


The 6 Ways of the New Testament Authors Read the Old Testament

 A.  The Way of Redemptive-Historical Progression:

 Redemptive history, or kingdom history, is the bedrock which supports all the other ways that lead to Christ in the New Testament.

 1.  Pivotal Points in Redemptive History

 Creation-Fall-Redemption-New Creation

 a.  Creation — God’s acts of turning chaos into his structured kingdom (Gen. 1-2).

 b.  Redemption in the Old Testament times — God’s acts, after the fall into sin, of redeeming his people Israel to be a light to the nations (Gen. 3-Mal. 4).

 c.  Redemption through Jesus Christ — God’s acts in Jesus to redeem all nations and restore his fallen creation into his kingdom (Matt. 1-Rev. 20); and,

 d.  New Creation — God’s final victory over evil and the establishment of his perfect kingdom on earth (Rev. 21-22).

When we survey the entire Old Testament, we find ourselves involved in a great history of movement from promise toward fulfillment.  It flows like a large brook — here rushing swiftly, there apparently coming to rest in a quiet backwater, and yet moving forward as a whole toward a distant goal which lies beyond itself.  That goal is Jesus Messiah and ultimately the rule of God over a restored and transformed creation.

 2.  Characteristics of Redemptive History

In order to confront men with the crucial questions of Christ, our preaching must center in the history of redemption.  We do not confront men with Christ by preaching theological ideas, nor by ethical exhortations, but by rehearsing the saving events witnessed in Scripture.

 Because redemptive history is a unified history, sound interpretation requires that every part of this history be interpreted in the context of its beginning and end or goal.  The way of redemptive-historical progression sees every Old Testament text and its addresses 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.  The whole Old Testament throbs with a strong eschatological beat.

 CREATION > God’s redemptive acts in Israel > God’s redemptive acts in CHRIST > God’s redemptive acts in church and world history > NEW CREATION

B.  The Way of Promise-Fulfillment

a.  Take into account that God usually fills up his promises progressively — in installments, as it were.  Prophecy, in the sense that it reveals some part of God’s redemptive purposes, is capable of being filled, of achieving fullness, so that when it is filled full it is fulfilled.

b.  In interpreting the text, move from the promise of the Old Testament to the fulfillment in Christ and back again to the Old Testament text.

[eg. Isa. 61:1-4 in exile; Return of remnant 583 B.C.; Jesus Coming Dawn of Jubilee Lk 4:21 (but not day of vengeance yet); Day of Judgment and full Jubilee]

[eg. Isa. 7:11-17, Immanuel promise; Young woman in 732 B.C.; Jesus; Holy Spirit at Pentecost; God with us in New Creation]

 C.  The Way of Typology

Def.:  a type is an event, a series of circumstances, or an aspect of the life of an individual or of a nation, which finds a parallel and a deeper (final, climatic, eschatological, Christocentric) realization in the incarnate life of our Lord, in his provision for the needs of men, or in his judgments and future reign.

Typology is rooted in the historical character of Old Testament revelation and the consistency of God’s nature and actions.  God repeats his actions of blessing and of judgment.  But God does not merely repeat his deeds of the past; he will do greater things, climatically greater (eschatological movement).

God’s mighty acts (magnalia dei) in history point forward to his final salvation/judgment and his relations with his people look forward to the restoration and renewal of the New Covenant.  When God acts in history we progressively learn more truth about God’s character and nature.  That truth, which was taught in that previous act in history, carries through to the revelation in Christ where it finds is final, complete and heightened fulfillment.  In Christ we see the truth of God’s character and nature in its fullest revelation. 

Edmund Clowney says, “Typology is grounded in God’s design.  It flows from the continuity and difference of God’s saving work.  There is continuity, for it is God who begins His work of salvation long before He gives His Son.  Yet there is discontinuity, too.”

Characteristics of a Type:  A genuine type is historical, theocentric, exhibits a significant analogy with its antitype, and is marked with escalation.

Rules for Using Typology:

a.  Always precede typological interpretation with literary-historical interpretation (literary includes grammatical).  We must know the author’s message for Israel before we look for ways to focus the message on Jesus Christ and apply it to the church.

b.  Look for a type not in the details but in the central message of the text concerning God’s activity to redeem his people.  In short, don’t wander off the typological trail in to the morass of incidental parallels and farfetched analogies.

c.  Determine the symbolic meaning of the person, institution, or event in Old Testament times.  If it has no symbolic meaning in the Old Testament times, it cannot be a type.  Geerhardus Vos says, “A type can never be a type independently of its being first a symbol.  The gateway to the house of typology is at the farther end of the house of symbolism . . . .  Only after having discovered what a thing symbolizes, can we legitmately proceed to put the question what it typifies, for the latter can never be aught else than the former lifted to a higher plane.  The bond that holds the type and antitype together must be a bond of vital continuity in the progress of redemption  . . . . We must ask where do these religious principles and realities, which the event, person, thing (ie. type) served to teach and communicate, reappear in the subsequent history of redemption, lifted to their consummate stage?

Clowney further adds, “An Old Testament event, a ceremony, or a prophetic, priestly, or royal action may . . . symbolize, pointing to a revealed truth at a particular point in the history of redemption . . . . We may be sure that this truth will be carried forward to Jesus Christ . . . .  We may therefore connect the event, ceremony, or action directly with that truth as it comes to full expression in Christ . . . . the line of typology. 

d.  Note the points of contrast between the Old Testament type and the New Testament antitype.  The difference is as important as the resemblance, for the difference reveals not only the imperfect nature of Old Testament types but also the escalation entailed in the unfolding of redemptive history:  one “greater than Jonah is here.”  The contrast is between law/covenant of works and gospel/covenant of grace (John 1:17).

e.  In moving from the Old Testament symbol/type to Christ, carry forward the meaning of the symbol even as its meaning escalates.  Do not switch to a different sense.

f.  Do not simply draw a typological line to Christ but proclaim Christ.  John Stott writes, “The main objective in preaching is to expound Scripture so faithfully and relevantly that Jesus Christ is perceived in all his adequacy to meet human need . . . . The preacher’s purpose is more than to unveil Christ; it is to unveil him that people are drawn to come to him and receive him.”  Beginning with the Old Testament type, Christian preachers can proclaim the person and work of Christ so that people will commit themselves to this Savior and Lord, put all their trust for salvation in him alone, and seek to obey him in every area of life.

 D.  The Way of Analogy

There is a unity of redemptive history that adheres in Christ; the continuity between Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church in accomplished only in Christ.  Jesus Christ is the key connection within this analogous relationship.  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.

To look for analogies between the Old Testament and the New Testament, you should ask:

a.  What God is and does for Israel and what God in Christ is and does for the church?

b.  What is the similarity between what God teaches his people Israel and what Christ teaches his church?

c.  What are God’s demands in the Old Testament and Christ’s demands in the New Testament?

Although there will be differences because of the progression in the history of redemption and revelation, analogy concentrates on locating the continuity, the parallels, between what God is and does for Israel, or demands of Israel, and what God in Christ is and does for the church, teaches the church, or demands of the church.

 E.  The Way of Longitudinal Themes

Clowney writes, “The Bible records revelation given in the course of history.  This revelation was not given at one time, nor in the form of a theological dictionary.  It was given progressively, for the process of revelation accompanies the process of redemption.  Since redemption does not proceed uniformly but in the epochs determined by God’s acts, so revelation has an epochal structure, manifested and marked in the canonical Scriptures.”

Clowney suggests:  Ask what truth about God and his saving work is disclosed in this passage?  How is this particular truth carried forward in the history of revelation?  How does it find fulfillment in Christ?

Major Old Testament themes which function as highways leading to the person, work, and teaching of Christ are the kingdom of God (reign and realm), the providence, covenant, the presence of God, the love of God, the grace of God, justice, redemption, law, sin and guilt offerings, God’s concern for “the poor,” mediator, the Day of the Lord, etc.

F.  The Way of Contrast

The way of contrast clearly centers in Christ, for he is primarily responsible for any change between the messages of the Old Testament and those of the New.  The person, the work, and the teaching of Jesus Christ are the main reasons for the contrasts we observe.

Look primarily for the contrast between law and gospel, or the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.  Progression will also necessarily mean that when something finds its fulfillment in Christ then that previous shadow or type will now become obsolete.

G.  The Way of New Testament References

The New Testament authors frequently use Old Testament passages to support their messages.  Many of these references (both explicit and implied) can be found in the appendix of the Greek New Testament, a good concordance, cross-reference Bible, or the Treasury of Scripture Knowledge.



*Beale, G. K. “Did Jesus and His Followers Preach the Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?  An Examination of the Presuppositions of Jesus’ and the Apostles’ Exegetical Method.”  In The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?  Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New.  Ed. G. K. Beale.  Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1994, 387-404.

Clowney, Edmund P.  Preaching and Biblical Theology.  Nutley, N.J.:  Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1975.

Clowney, Edmund P.  “Preaching Christ From All the Scriptures.”  In The Preacher and Preaching.  Ed. S. Logan, Jr. Phillipsburg, NJ:  Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986, 163-91.

Clowney, Edmund P.  Preaching Christ in All of Scripture.  Wheaton, IL:  Crossway, 2003.

Foulkes, Francis, “The Acts of God:  A Study of the Basis of Typology in the Old Testament.” In The Right Doctrine from the Wrong Texts?  Essays on the Use of the Old Testament in the New.  Ed. G. K. Beale.  Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1994, 342-371.

*Greidanus, Sidney.  Preaching Christ from the Old Testament:  A Contemporary Hermeneutical Method.  Grand Rapids:  Eerdmans, 1999.



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Original posted by Nathan Pitchford  in www.reformationtheology.com. 

Not only does trinitarian theology shape the goal toward which the Christian mission is striving; it also clarifies the means which are to be used in the pursuit of that goal. Redemption is ultimately an accomplishment of the triune God; he alone is the doer of the work, and therefore, any human activity must flow from his prior activity, and be directed and empowered by him. The mission that God left his people with is ultimately his mission, and advances on the basis of his eternal, immutable design; and so, any human activity which fails to take into account God’s redemptive plan as he has made it known is bound to be frustrated. Human mission endeavors are likely to be successful only as they understand the divine agenda and lean upon divine strength. This means that a first qualification for any missionary is a knowledge of the triune God; an awareness of the role of the persons of the Godhead in the work of redemption, as revealed in the scriptures; and a heart-attitude of faith in those joint operations of the persons of the Trinity.

For example, take the scriptural revelation of the work of the Father in the plan of redemption: he is the ultimate planner, the source from whom the whole work flows and is governed. We see throughout the gospel of John that the Son, in the fulfillment of his part of the redemptive work, acts in an unceasing obedience to the Father’s will (e.g. John 5:17-19, 30; 8:28-29; 10:17-18; 14:31; 17:4). Likewise the Spirit, when he comes, speaks not on his own, but only what he has heard from the Father and the Son (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-14). This role of the Father in planning out the work of redemption is seen with special clarity in the aspect of his choosing its subjects. We have already observed that the Father has chosen a specific people to give to the Son, and that the Son has purposed to redeem these alone (e.g. John 6:37-40; 10:29; 17:1-2, 6, 10); we may add to this testimony the witness of the epistles, which speaks of the Father’s choice of a certain people to be redeemed in no uncertain terms (e.g. Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:3-6; 1 Peter 1:1-2). We may learn further from the revelation of scripture that this people is chosen out of every kindred, tribe, tongue, and nation (e.g. Revelation 5:9), and that it will be called out only when the gospel is proclaimed in all the world (e.g. Matthew 24:14).

So how does this truth affect the task of the Christian missionary? First, it gives him a clear directive in the pursuit of the task: as the Church continues to spread across the world, believers may know that in their missionary endeavors they ought to target the kindreds, tribes, tongues, and nations which are yet unreached, because they know that the conversion of representatives from these peoples is the Father’s will. Their task remains undone as long as there is any people group that has not heard the gospel, or that has not yet seen fruit from the proclamation of the gospel. Second, this understanding gives hope to missionaries laboring in the most difficult places. When Paul was experiencing opposition in Corinth, he was comforted by the realization that the Father had many people in that city, chosen for a redemption which had not yet been applied (see Acts 18:9-11). In the same way, the missionary who understands the biblical representation of the Father’s role in redemption has a strong hope that his labor will not be in vain, and has cause to cry out to God in faith for the success which has been promised. Because God has chosen a people, our ultimate success is guaranteed. This foundational awareness of the Father’s revealed role in the work of redemption drives a faithfulness which would otherwise wilt under the discouragement of unfavorable circumstances.

Consider as well the Son’s role in the work of redemption: he has determined to redeem the people God has chosen through his sacrificial blood, shed in their behalf; and in consequence of this redemption, he has won the right to return and judge the world, saving those who believe in him and condemning those who do not believe. Understanding this role clarifies the missionary’s task of proclaiming the gospel: for the account of this work is precisely the gospel he must proclaim. To the extent that one has not understood the role of the Son in redemption, he cannot proclaim the good news of that redemption. When Paul labored to bring the gospel to people, he emphasized Christ’s role as the returning judge and his resurrection from the dead, which had given him the authority to be Lord of the living and the dead (e.g. Acts 17:31; Romans 14:9). He also emphasized his shed blood, which serves as a fully acceptable propitiation for the sins of all who believe in Christ, and on that basis exhorted people to be reconciled to God (e.g. Acts 13:38-39; Romans 3:23-28; 1 Corinthians 1:23-24; 2 Corinthians 5:20-21). Now, to forget the part of Christ’s redemptive work which promises him the authority to come and judge the world, casting his enemies into eternal punishment, strips the gospel of its necessary context. Just asking a person, “Do you want to be saved?” is meaningless unless it is made clear what he must be saved from. But saying, “God has raised his Son from the dead, vindicating his authority to return to the earth and judge all who are opposed to him; would you be saved from the wrath that he will soon bring upon the earth in great fury?” – that provides the necessary background to display the surpassing goodness of the good news. But not only must Christ’s judging role be emphasized; so also must his atoning, propitiatory role be emphasized, or else the news is not good at all. Saying, “Jesus has risen from the dead, and is Lord over all” is only bad news for anyone still in his sins. To the extent that the missionary does not understand the role of the Son in the work of redemption, therefore, he is left without a message to take to the nations of the world, the message by which all the Father’s chosen people will be called out.

Similarly, without an understanding of the Spirit’s role in redemption, the missionary is apt to be frustrated. It is only through the Spirit’s empowerment that the missionary can proclaim the good news with boldness and clarity (see Acts 1:8); and likewise, it is only through the Spirit’s work of convicting and regeneration that the elect of the Father can understand and come to Christ (e.g. John 3:5-8). Understanding the role of the Spirit directs the means of praying for and pursuing the evangelistic task; it also provides the ongoing confidence in the missionary’s own secure position in the favor of God. The Spirit is sent to seal and guarantee the final salvation of all who have once come to Christ (e.g. Romans 8:11-17; Ephesians 1:13-14); and without that constant witness and encouragement, the missionary is apt to despair at his own condition, especially when his circumstances grow difficult.

So then, an understanding of the inter-trinitarian roles in the work of redemption is a necessary foundation for the Christian missionary, shaping the message he has to take, clarifying to whom he has to take it, and providing inexhaustible hope and encouragement along the way. But there is also another way in which the doctrine of the trinity serves as the means of Christian evangelism; and that is, it is only as the trinitarian nature of God is displayed in the lives of Christians that unbelievers will come into a relationship with this triune God.

In his last discourse, Christ revealed to his disciples the means by which the world of unbelievers would recognize that they were truly followers of Christ: and that means was nothing other than the love they had for each other, which is reflective of the inter-trinitarian love of the persons of the Godhead (see John 13:34-35). When believers are brought into a covenantal relationship of love which is reflective of the eternal trinitarian covenant of love, people take notice. Mankind was created to display the image of God, and until he does so, he is living a life devoid of ultimate purpose. Mankind was created to know and enjoy God; and when he gets a glimpse of God’s nature, in the lives of believers, he realizes that he wants something like that, but he does not yet have it. This is why, in John 17:21, Jesus prayed that the disciples would be one even as he and the Father were one – so that the world would believe that the Father had sent him! When the world sees the blessed trinity reflected in the lives of the disciples, it is only then that they will believe in the actual trinity, the Father and the Son whom he sent.

So then, the shaping element of the doctrine of the trinity for the means of the Christian mission goes even beyond the fact that the knowledge of the redemptive work of the Godhead is a necessary foundation for taking the message to the world; in fact, the display of the inter-trinitarian relationships in the lives of the disciples constitutes a necessary means through which the gospel message may be understood and desired. — from “How the Doctrine of the Trinity Shapes the Christian Mission”.



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IT’S WELL PAST TIME TO GET READY By Ken Silva pastor-teacher on Oct 20, 2009 *

Red Sky

“The Pharisees also with the Sadducees came, and tempting desired [Jesus] that He would show them a sign from heaven. He answered and said unto them, When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather today: for the sky is red and lowering. O ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye not discern the signs of the times?” – (Matthew 16:1-3, KJV)

Each Morning The Sky Grows A Darker Red

Beloved of God, no doubt as this apostasy accelerates within the very heart of the evangelical community, those with eyes that see can see the dark red sky above us each morning. We also recall that our Lord Jesus has said:

The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  – (John 10:3-6)

Now in it’s immediate context our Master is speaking to us. He’s talking to the remnant of His people that He is currently calling out of a rapidly decaying evangelical Christianity, mortally wounded as it is by the poison of the Church Growth Movement (CGM) vomited out of Fuller Theological Cesspool; essentially good ol’ ruggedly individualistic [read: proud] American business savvy repackaged as a centered on the self spiritually. I offer the following as an exhortation not to be surprised if “suddenly” you find yourself looking at your local church through a new set of eyes almost overnight.

Perhaps you may not have stopped and thought about something else concerning the above instruction from God regarding hearing His Voice; this spiritual principle is also true in reverse. In other words, the children of their father Satan will also follow him because, well, they know his voice. Can you see this means that God is a stranger to them; and it’s also why they cannot hear what we are telling them. Have you wondered why the leaders within The Ecumenical Church of Deceit (ECoD), duplicious daughter of apostate Roman Catholicism simply cannot rightly divide the Word of Truth?

It is as the Master has just told us — “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Keep in mind that if we are teaching people from the Bible, and they respond in anger or fear, you now know the reason why. And no, we will not know for sure whether they are saved or not; but because of this backward time in which we are now living my brothers and sisters, we are going to have to turn away from prevailing views of “love” and instead — “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24, KJV).

I write also to encourage you dear Christian that you need not fear these “voices” that have been recently raised against you as a resounding gong and a clanging symbol (see—1 Corinthians 13:1), nor should you become discouraged that so few are responding to our teaching. Remember Jesus exhorts us:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

May We Begin To Earnestly Pray To Be Given Power From God The Holy Spirit

And further the Master tells us — “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19, ESV). However, at the same time, so many Christian “leaders” today in what’s become an anti-Reformational ECoD like Purpose Driven Pope Rick Warren, Emerging Church icon Rob Bell, and/or Robert Schuller knock-off Joel Osteen have the ear of the world because they speak their language (see—1 John 4:5).

Dear children, more than ever as we near the end of this Age we need to realize, and to fully believe, that these are not just mere words; but instead, they have even more pronounced meaning in our day. And I’m not talking about some escapist theology. As you know from Holy Scripture, God never does anything without first dealing with His remnant at any given time in history. This truth is all throughout the Bible; it seems that our Lord patiently endures the sin, that is inevitably produced by a corrupt and degenerate mankind in this fallen world, while He gathers in His lambs.

However, when our Lord’s Own people start to be dragged down by corruption and then wander too far off our narrow path, then God will begin His inevitable judgments with His children first. This is most pointedly spelled out by the inspired Apostle Peter when God the Holy Spirit guided him to write — “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (1 Peter 4:17-18)

And those who truly belong to Christ are now feeling a sense of “urgency”; a quickening, a longing for us to be given the ability to boldly preach His Gospel in the power of the Spirit:

grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29-31, NASB)

In closing this for now, I remind you of Henry Martyn, who was motivated to become a missionary to India and Persia after reading the biography of David Brainerd, and who was himself a great missionary to the Indians in America. Martyn would write, “The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions, and the nearer we get to Him the more intensely missionary we must become.” But sadly, despite all their blather about being “missional,” these CGM Pied Pipers of pragmatism in the ECoD are really those who are saying — “for we have made lies our refuge, and in falsehood we have taken shelter” (Isaiah 28:15, ESV).


(*) original article can be accessed by clicking here;  Pastor Ken Silva’s other articles are linked with the original post.


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My cousin, Susan, brought my attention to an article entitled ‘John Calvin: Comeback Kid’ by Timothy George posted in Christianity Today on September 8, 2009.  Although I do not fully agree always with some of the  views of the various contributors published in this magazine, may I direct you to view the full printer-friendly article though this LINK, while an excerpt is pasted below.  Indeed there is a resurgence of Reformed Theology today, thank God! The article is a primer of sorts in answer to the the following questions: Why does Calvin persist as such a controversial—and monumental—figure in the Christian story? Why does he still generate such contrary emotions? What has kept Calvin from fading into the shadows of church history? 

‘John Calvin: Comeback Kid’ contain the following sections:

  • Introduction
  • Late Bloomer
  • Ministry ‘On the Boundary’
  • A Churchly Reformer
  • ‘Preforeordestination’
  • Theology for Trekkers
  • Complex, Inconsistent
  • Calvinism Reborn

I pasted an excerpt below which brings a testimony to fore on  the fact that Reformed Christians (or Calvinists) were instrumental to a robust missionary movement in the last few hundred years contrary to what others have said concerning predestination-election theology that purports to make one complacent in the Great Commission.

Timothy George (ThD, Harvard University) is founding dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Alabama, and a senior editor of Christianity Today. He is the author or editor of more than twenty books, including Theology of the Reformers and God the Holy Trinity. He also serves as the general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture, a 28-volume work of 16th-century biblical comment forthcoming from InterVarsity Press.


Excerpt from John Calvin: Comeback Kid

Theology for Trekkers

In Calvin’s day, Geneva became a great center for church planting, evangelism, and even “foreign” missions: a group of Protestants supported by Admiral de Coligny carried the message of Christ to the far shores of Brazil in 1557, more than 60 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. William Carey, the father of modern missions in the 18th century, went to India with a Calvinist vision of a full-sized God—eternal, transcendent, holy, filled with compassion, sovereignly working by his Holy Spirit to call unto himself a people from every nation, tribe, and language group on earth.

In Book Three of the Institutes, Calvin treats predestination and prayer in contiguous chapters (Institutes3.20-21). The universal appeal of Calvin’s thought is expressed clearly in this petition he prepared for his liturgy “The Form of Prayers”:

We pray you now, O most gracious God and merciful father, for all people everywhere. As it is your will to be acknowledged as the Savior of the whole world, through the redemption wrought by your son Jesus Christ, grant that those who are still estranged from the knowledge of him, being in the darkness and captivity of error and ignorance, may be brought by the illumination of your Holy Spirit and the preaching of your Gospel to the right way of salvation, which is to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent (John 17:3).

…One of the mysteries of the mystique of Calvinism is how such a high predestinarian theology could motivate so many of its adherents to such intense this-worldly activism. Calvinism was certainly a dynamic force in shaping the contours of the modern world, including features of it that most of us would not want to live without, such as the rule of law, the limitation of state power, and a democratic approach to civil governance. Though Max Weber was off the mark in identifying the “spirit of capitalism” with the Puritan desire to find assurance of election in a joyless acquisitiveness, he was right to point to the importance of Calvinist ideals—thrift, hard work, fair play, personal responsibility—in the development of a robust economic system.

Calvin’s theology was meant for trekkers, not for settlers, as historian Heiko Oberman put it. In the 16th century, Calvinist trekkers fanned out across Europe initiating political change as well as church reform from Holland to Hungary, from the Palatinate to Poland, from Lithuania to Scotland, England, and eventually to New England. In its drive and passion, in its world-transforming vision, Calvinism was an international fraternity comparable only to the Society of Jesus in the era of the Reformation. It is perhaps ironic that Calvin and Ignatius Loyola studied at the same time in the same school in Paris.

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