Dispensationalism, Theonomy, and Biblical Theology (Lints)

The Fabric of Theology It is very important to remember that there is historical progression in Scripture. The Bible is a historical book that records stories from the beginning of the world to the 1st century AD (and beyond, if you think of the prophecies).  But the Bible isn’t a regular history book; it is what we call redemptive history.  That means the Bible contains the inspired history of God’s redemption of his people.  Hand in hand with this truth is the fact that there is also a progression of God’s revelation in Scripture.  As time marches on, God slowly but surely reveals more of himself to his people.  There is progression in God’s revelation from Genesis to Revelation.  These are some assumptions of biblical theology gleaned from Scripture.

Richard Lints does a nice job explaining the importance of bibilcal theology in chapter seven of The Fabric of Theology. He wrote this in 1993, so it might be a bit more nuanced today, but it is still a helpful quote:

“A theological framework that fails to capture the ‘organic unity’ in this flow of redemption and revelatory history will likely be guilty of unnecessary abstraction from the text of Scripture.  Normally one of two errors is committed by modern evangelical interpreters who take this route.  Some overstress the continuity between the epochs (a la theonomy); others overstress the discontinuity of the epocs (a la dispensationalism).  I concur with Edmund Clowney’s observation that ‘modern dispensationalism rightly recognizes that there are great divisions in the history of redemption; it errs in failing to grasp the organic relation of these successive eras, as the developing manifestations of one gracious design.'”

“The theonomic movement rightfully recognizes the underlying unity of the Old and New Testaments but fails to notice the organic progression present between the two Testaments.  While I cannot settle all of the exegetical questions that arise in this context, I do think it is important to remember that an interpretive framework built on the assumption of divine authorship in history will seek to make clear the organic relations among the divergent epochs of the Bible.  This need not result in a bland uniformity or essential contradictions of principles across epochs; rather, it should help the reader to see the overarching purpose progressively revealed through the different epochs of the Scriptures.”

Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology, p. 278.

Shane Lems

The Popes of Evangelicalism (Lints)

(This is a re-post from December, 2015)

I always think it’s ironic and comical when a Christian mocks or discredits creeds and confessions then turns around to favorably quote popular evangelical leaders on social media. While social media is new, this anti-confessional and pro-popular leader mindset is not new. It was a central characteristic of 19th century American revivalist religion. For example, Charles Finney talked said it was “highly ridiculous” for a church to recognize and utilize the Westminster Confession of Faith. Finney called the Westminster Confession a “dead Pope;” he said “It is better to have a living than a dead Pope.” Richard Lints explained this well in 1993:

“The revivalist located the ‘living Pope’ not in Rome but in the human heart. The experience of the Holy Spirit became the lens through which the works and words of God were interpreted. The work of the Spirit was severed from the confessions and creeds of the church in such a manner that an individual led by the Spirit was considered to be directly and immediately in touch with the meaning of Scripture. The work of the Spirit was not mediated by the community of past believers….”

“A curious effect of this emphasis on the subjective leading of the Spirit was the growth in power of the ‘popular popes’ of evangelicalism. Though highly individualistic in their approach to salvation and populist in their biblical interpretation, populist Bible teachers and preachers served to draw people together in a mass movement largely through the strength of their personal popularity. As Mark Noll puts it, ‘Evangelical interpretation assigned first place to popular approval.’”

“The right of private interpretation that they promoted can be understood as a desire for freedom from opposing viewpoints. It would seem that the early evangelicals were not so much interested in removing all human authority as they were in choosing human authorities with whom they agreed. And once they found these individuals, they were willing to invest them with a great deal of de facto authority.”

There’s another downside to this trend/movement:

“A striking result of the rise of the popular leader was the displacement of the theologian from the place of preeminence in the evangelical movement. The new leaders of the movement were popularizers of the gospel message, revivalists, and Bible conference preachers. This tradition persists today; the theological leadership of the movement is provided by preachers who travel the circuit of popular conservative Bible conferences” (p. 34-35).

This is not a great picture of evangelicalism: it doesn’t have a Pope like Rome, but it does typically have a pope within (the heart) and a pope without (a celebrity pastor).  Remember this next time someone criticizes the confessions and gushes over some quote of a popular preacher!

The above quotes are from Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Danger of Idols (Lints)

 Not many people in our American culture worship and bow down to physical images and statues.  Instead, our idols are things like money, entertainment, sports, sex, health, fitness, image, relationships, and work.  But whether the idol is an actual statue or something like football or a flat stomach, the truth is that idols are dangerous and deadly.  Here’s how Richard Lints explains it as he discusses the image of God in man as it relates to idolatry:

“The image finds its flourishing in its relationship to the original.  Creatures find their satisfaction in the God who made them.  The idol represents both a false fulfillment and a perversion or corruption of the creature.  The [biblical] canon goes to great lengths to narrate the tug in human hearts between the living God and the idols who pull them away from the living God.”

“Idols are dangerous in the same way that outside love interests are dangerous to the marriage.  Adulterous liaisons inevitably pull the marriage apart at the seams.  As with adultery, so idolatry is about both wrong beliefs (e.g. a belief about where satisfaction can be found) but more importantly, idolatry is also about corrupted desires (e.g. the desire to get gratification on whatever terms are necessary).

“All idolatry involves error in belief to some extent, if the belief in question is that some creature has a worth enjoyed only by the Creator.  If there is only one God, there is only one object worthy of worship and adoration.  Monotheism and monolatry go hand in hand.  The worship of one God (monolatry) is a necessary consequence of the belief that only one God exists (monotheism).”

These are some profound thoughts about idolatry.  It is dangerous, it is about wrong beliefs, and idolatry is about corrupted desires.  These are things to think about as we fight idolatry and seek to faithfully bear the image of God rather than sinfully bear the image of an idol we’ve made.  As the Apostle John said, Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21 NIV).

The above slightly edited quote is found on page 39 of Lints’ Identity and Idolatrywhich, by the way, is one of the best books on idolatry that I’ve ever read.  I highly recommend it!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

Typology, Providence, Sovereignty

The New Testament teaches that there are types and shadows in the Old Testament (Rom 5:14, Heb 8:5).  A 1:64 model car is a type of a real, full size car.  The shadow of a house is an image of the actual house itself.  We can learn things from the model car and the shadow of the house, but there’s something beyond them, something more.  So in the OT there are types and shadows that find their fulfillment in Jesus and the Christian faith.  I appreciate how Richard Lints explains typology in relation to God’s sovereign providence:

“Typology is founded on the notions of providence and prophecy.  While the type does have significance for its own time, its greater significance is directed toward the future.  It testifies to something greater than itself that is yet to come.  The future antitype will surely come, because God will providentially bring it to pass.  It is God’s ability to hold history together that serves as the foundation of typology.”

“The prophetic fulfillment of the original type is as certain as the God who providentially orders that fulfillment.  As typology is the foundation of the theological interpretation of redemptive revelation, so divine providence is the foundation of the theological interpretation of typology.”

“Adam was a type of Christ in his federal representation of humankind.  As Paul is quick to remind his readers in Romans 5, the link is not simply one of similarity.  There are significant and important differences, all the more important because of the similarities.  Both Adam and Christ act on behalf of those whom they represent.  Through Adam, condemnation and death spread to all people, whereas through Christ, justification and life spread to many.”

Lints also explains how Moses was a type of Christ (cf. Heb 3:5-6) and comments:

“It is the unmistakeable conviction of the New Testament that Moses prepared the way for Christ.  Moses pointed to Christ.  This was no mere accident of history, but was the outworking of the providential plan by which God brought redemption to his people.  The concept of providence is what lies behind the New Testament connection of Moses and Christ, and providence ought therefore to be foundational in our theological framework as well.”

Richard Lints, The Fabric of Theology, p. 306-7.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI