The language is striking, for the servant is actually identified as a covenant. A covenant, however, in this instance is not a pact or agreement between two equal parties. From the parallel word light (i.e. salvation), we learn that it is actually a divine bestowal of Grace. God sovereignly bestows to man His blessings of salvation and it is this sovereign dispensation that is called a covenant.
That the servant is identified with the covenant of course involves the idea of his being the one through whom the covenant is mediated, but the expression implies more. In form it is similar to our Lord’s “I am the resurrection and the life,” or the phrase in 49:6, “to be my salvation.” To say that the servant is a covenant is to say that all the blessings of the covenant have their root and origin in, and are dispensed by him. … Moses was a mediator of a covenant but the servant is the covenant. In New Testament terms, this means that they to whom God sovereignly bestows the grace of salvation receive the servant Himself.
As one of many in New Covenant Theology circles who is trying to push the discussion forward while seeing a stronger Biblical Theology/Redemptive History case made for what we believe to be the best understanding of Scripture, it grieves me to see those who advocate NCT — even some of its pioneers — aim to shut down the discussion, ostracize brothers, or toss people out of the movement.
On one hand, there are those in what has been called the “Classic NCT” camp who would like to shut down any discussion of what is the nature of the Law of Christ. So-called Classic NCT wants to find a new set of statutes in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. I’m among those who would respond that Jesus did not come to die for sin, rise from the grave and ascend to the Father only to bind people to a more stringent law, but that He came as the One with all authority to free us to walk in the light, live without fear, and love without limit. Christ is the enfleshment of the law.
Furthermore, He gave us His Spirit to dwell in us as the fulfillment of ff and ff; the Holy Spirit is Himself the promise fulfilled.
I’m convinced that this understanding lays great groundwork for the pioneering thought and study that has preceded us. Unfortunately, instead of opening up dialog, it has caused those who advocate this understanding to be made targets by some of those who champion so-called Classic NCT.
Certainly discussion and critique of any view should be welcomed. But putting people outside of the camp should not be tolerated.
Similarly, another assault has been made — unnecessarily — on those in NCT who hold to a premillennial view, suggesting that they should not be part of NCT. I’m not a premillennarian myself, but I see no need to push people out of the discussion who are.
This movement is too new and its foundations still are being constructed. It is sinful to ostracize those working to grow the movement and build its foundations. And it is most egregious to see those who have themselves been ostracized take part in it.
33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (ESV)
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. (ESV)
The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s premier enemy is one we often call “legalism.” I like to call it performancism. Still another way of viewing it, especially in its most common manifestation in Christians, is moralism. Strictly speaking, those three terms — legalism, performancism, and moralism — aren’t precisely identical in what they refer to. But there’s so much overlap and interconnection between them that we’ll basically look at them here as one thing.
And what really is that one thing?
Well, it shows up when we fail to believe the gospel. It shows up when behavioral obligations are divorced from gospel declarations, when imperatives are disconnected from gospel indicatives. Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game.
Our performancism leads to pride when we succeed and to despair when we fail. But ultimately it leads to slavery either way, because it becomes all about us and what we must do to establish our own identity instead of resting in Jesus and what he accomplished to establish it for us. In all its forms, this wrong focus is anti-gospel and therefore enslaving.
Tullian Tchvidjian is one of the best voices for grace and the Gospel out there. He writes today:
But while I’m not surprised when I hear venomous rejoinders to grace, I am saddened when the very pack of people that God has unconditionally saved and continues to sustain by his free grace are the very ones who push back most violently against it.
Justin Taylor of Crossway has an interview today on The Gospel Coalition website with Dr. Stephen J. Wellum of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on credobaptism. I agree with the way that Dr. Wellum lays out the case, and he does it very well: succinctly and completely.
After explaining that paedobaptist Reformed theology “flattens out” the covenants and wrongly — and perhaps simplistically — equates Old Covenant Israel with the New Covenant church, Taylor asks, “What does that have to do with baptism?”
Everything. Under the old covenant, one could make a distinction between the physical and spiritual seed of Abraham (the locus of the covenant community is different from the locus of the elect). Under the old covenant, both “seeds” (physical and spiritual) received the covenant sign of circumcision and both were viewed as full covenant members in the national sense, even though it was only the remnant who were the true spiritual seed of Abraham. But this kind of distinction is not legitimate under the new covenant where the locus of the covenant community and the elect are the same. In other words, one cannot speak of a “remnant” in the new covenant community, like one could under the old covenant. All those who are “in Christ” are a regenerate people, and as such it is only they who may receive the sign of the covenant, namely baptism.
Update: we’re postponing the launch until January 2 so that we can get the largest possible participation.
More about the Porterbrook Network may be found on our local site’s website, porterbrookROC.com.
Porterbrook Network is a two-year church-based theological training program with a supported self-study structure with others who are training in a similar field, church or geographic affiliation.
Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, co-authors of Total Church and founders of The Crowded House, created The Porterbrook Network in the U.K. in 2006 in response to a conviction for churches to become more Gospel-Centered and for new Gospel-Centered churches to be planted.
The vision of Porterbrook is to equip individuals and churches to rediscover mission as their DNA, to become better lovers of God and lovers of others, and to proclaim the Gospel through word and action for the Glory of God. Porterbrook is being used in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Italy, Ukraine, India, South Africa, and Australia, and Porterbrook Learning material is currently being translated into Chinese, Russian, and Italian.
By request, here’s the complete paper from July 2010 from which the Completed by the Spirit blog series was adapted. You’re welcome to download it and distribute it freely as long as you do not modify it:
The folks at Grace to You frequently condemn the concept of “contextualization” and do so by defining it in light of those who abuse the term. John MacArthur and Phil Johnson in particular have portrayed contextualization as watering down the message so people aren’t offended by it.
Ed Stetzer correctly defines contextualization and the need for it on his blog today:
I have said it many times, but it always seems to bear repeating — contextualization is not watering down the message. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. To contextualize the gospel means removing cultural and linguistic impediments to the gospel presentation so that only the offense of the cross remains. It is not removing the offensive parts of the gospel; it is using the appropriate means in each culture to clarify exactly who Jesus was, what He did, why He did it, and the implications that flow from it. Oftentimes, it is unclear communication (and a lack of contextualization) that contributes to some rejecting something they do not understand. If the feet of those who bring the gospel are beautiful upon the hills, it is at least partly due to the fact that those who hear the gospel understand and appreciate its life transforming truth. This often occurs through critical contextualization.
My often-used definition of contextualization: communicating in a way so as to make the offense of the gospel most clear.