This Mystery

reflections on theology and life

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The servant is the covenant

From E. J. Young’s three-volume Isa­iah com­men­tary, Vol. 3, pages 120–1, on :

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.

“I am the Lord; I have called you in right­eous­ness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the peo­ple,
a light for the nations, (ESV)

Wallowing in darkness is a form of self-righteousness

Erik Ray­mond has a great post today about what hap­pens when we as believ­ers wal­low in our own sin­ful­ness. The quote from Spur­geon is price­less. Read more here: The (poten­tial) Stinger in the Tail of All that Sin Talk | Ordi­nary Pas­tor.

Not the time for NCT to build fences

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.

(Pas­tor Todd Braye has sum­ma­rized this argu­ment well in a recent out­line at Christ My Covenant, Five Rea­sons Why I Object to Clas­sic NCT’s Def­i­n­i­tion of the Law of Christ.)

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 greatest threat

I’ve been fol­low­ing Tul­lian Tchividjian’s pas­sion­ate advo­cacy of the suf­fi­ciency of the gospel and the dis­cus­sions he’s had with oth­ers who want to drive peo­ple to law for sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion. Two peo­ple at our church have brought up Tchividjian’s lat­est book,Jesus + Noth­ing = Every­thing, so I thought it was about time I read it. This snip­pet is from a sec­tion of the book sub­ti­tled, “The Great­est Threat”:

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.

Tchivid­jian, Tul­lian.Jesus + Noth­ing = Every­thing. Wheaton, IL: Cross­way, 2011. Print. (p. 45–46)

I haven’t com­pleted the book yet, but I’d rec­om­mend it on hav­ing read the first third of it alone.

Addicted To Law?

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.

Read the whole thing at The Gospel Coali­tion: Might As Well Face It, You’re Addicted To Law.

Why I believe in believer’s baptism

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?”

Wellum responds:

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.

You can read the com­plete inter­view at The Gospel Coali­tion web­site: Why I am a Cre­dobap­tist.

Wellum and co-author Peter J. Gen­try have a book com­ing out next June (cover shown above) which could be a ground­break­ing ref­er­ence: King­dom through Covenant: A Biblical-Theological Under­stand­ing of the Covenants.


Porterbrook ROC brings Porterbrook Network to Rochester, N.Y.

We’re very excited at Evan­gel­i­cal Church of Fair­port to be the 11th Learn­ing Site in the U.S. for the Porter­brook Net­work.

Our first fall term begins Oct. 3.

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,

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.

Completed by the Spirit: Download the original paper

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:

Com­pleted by the Spirit: New Covenant Sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion in Paul (PDF, 240 kb)

Setting things straight on ‘contextualization’

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.

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