Don’t Plant Marcionite Churches

New_Exodus_lowfIn his article “Can the Gospels Teach Us How to Read the Old Testament?”, Richard Hays charges that “many ‘main­stream’ Protestant churches are in fact naively Marcionite in their theology and practice: in their worship services they have no OT reading, or if the OT is read, it is rarely preached upon.” Of course, Hays is talking about churches in the West, especially in America. However, there is a related danger for missionaries: unwittingly planting Marcionite churches.

What does “Marcionite” mean?

Marcion was a second-century bishop who sought to erase all Jewishness from Christianity. Believing that God of the OT was a false God with no relation to Jesus, he rejected the entire OT and edited the New Testament writings to exclude those parts he deemed too Jewish. For example, he rejected the canonicity of Matthew and heavily edited Luke. For Marcion, the Apostles had misunderstood Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and this misunderstanding needed to be corrected.

The Church Fathers excommunicated Marcion and rejected his teachings as heresy. However, his influence was never totally eradicated, even to the present day.

How Do Missionaries Plant Marcionite Churches?

While no one plans to plant a church modeled after the teachings of a second-century heretic, it unfortunately still happens. I have observed some of these tendencies among my own students: there is a general lack of understanding of the OT and a conscious avoidance of preaching from it. Though churches believe the OT to be God’s inspired Word, it plays virtually no role in the life of the average church.

This happens for at least three reasons:

1. The biblical grand narrative is neglected.

The grand narrative of the Bible should play an important role in all stages of ministry, including evangelism, discipleship, and leadership training. Unfortunately, some gospel presentations move directly from Adam’s sin to the cross, skipping the vast majority of the biblical story (Israel’s story). When this happens, new believers can be conditioned from the beginning to think the OT is of little value.

2. Church planters and new believers lack training in biblical interpretation.

I am convinced that the most important skill to be taught to both a church planter and a new believer is biblical interpretation. Believers need to be able to read and interpret the Bible for themselves within their new community of faith. Unfortunately, training in interpretation is often missing from discipleship programs. I have seen many curricula that emphasize teaching new believers to share the gospel and rapidly plant new churches. Others teach the basics of “how to be a Christian” — how to pray, how to have a quiet time, etc. These are all good skills to have, but if biblical interpretation is missing, we stunt growth in new believers and churches. This often leads to focusing on one’s favorite passage to the neglect of others. And, the neglected parts are usually the OT.

3. New believers are not trained in biblical theology.

Related to the above point, discipleship programs and curricula often lack basic training in biblical theology. Instead, they include isolated lessons on individual topics. While these lessons may include solid biblical teaching, they lack the necessary biblical-theological foundation that leads to worldview transformation. New believers need a new worldview, a new narrative within which to live. When this happens, the OT is inevitably neglected in favor of discipleship lessons from the NT.

How Can We Avoid This?

As a New Testament scholar, I find this disturbing. Much of my work has focused on the use of the OT in the New and I try to bring this to the classroom. One of my primary goals is to help students understand the relationship between the Testaments, especially the way in which the NT must be understood in light of the Old. I find that many students ignore OT quotations and fail to recognize OT allusions in the NT. This is largely due to their lack of knowledge of the OT. The result: a functionally Marcionite church (and a very shallow understanding of the NT).

How do we avoid starting a MPM (Marcionite Planting Movement)?

1. Make biblical theology the foundation and heart of mission strategy.

The biblical story should drive all ministry, beginning with evangelism. The goal is not simply to “get people saved,” but to make disciples of King Jesus. Making disciples means helping people lay aside the false narratives that have shaped their lives for the one true narrative of the world. And, a significant part of this narrative is the OT story. The grand narrative needs a more prominent place in missions.

2. Teach biblical interpretation.

Christians need to be able to read and understand the Bible. We need to teach and model biblical interpretation as we disciple others. This means teaching them interpretation skills and then putting them into practice as we continue mentoring. Thus, instead of telling someone what they should believe, we walk with them through Scripture, allowing them to see the process and come to biblical conclusions. This process is undoubtedly more time-consuming, but it leads to long-lasting fruit.

Related to this, there is a need in theological education to emphasize the teaching of the biblical languages. Learning Hebrew and Greek leads to greater depth in exegetical study of the Scriptures, which should lead to growth among leaders and their churches.

3. Teach the Old Testament as Christian Scripture

Finally, the OT is Christian Scripture and must be taught as such. It is not merely the background for the NT. Nor is it primarily as collection of moral teachings. Rather, it is the story of God’s faithfulness to his covenant promises. This story provides a biblical worldview for those who follow Jesus as King. It must be learned, taught, obeyed, and indwelled in community.

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Kingdom and Covenant, Part 8

Here’s the final installment of the biblical story…

The King Creates a New People

Jesus told his followers that his leaving earth to return to the Father was for their benefit. While this may seem confusing at first, it comes with a great promise. Jesus told his followers that when he left, the Holy Spirit would come. The presence of the Spirit is the presenfamily of godce of Jesus with his people. After Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit came on Pentecost. This fulfilled the Old Testament promises and assured Jesus’ followers that he was with them and would give them the power to fulfill the mission.

The New Testament calls the church the people of God. It is not that God has forgotten about Israel. Rather, there is a new Israel that includes both Jews and Gentiles who believe in Jesus. The mark of the new covenant people is the Holy Spirit. All who believe in Jesus receive the Holy Spirit to dwell within them. The Holy Spirit unites the people of God to Jesus.

The Spirit puts the law of God into the hearts of God’s people and gives God’s people the ability to obey God. The New Testament, especially Paul’s writings, consistently refer to believers as those who are ‘in Christ.’ Those united to Christ are the new people of God. Thus, salvation in the New Testament is both individual and corporate. It is individual in that each member of the new covenant must repent of their sin and believe in Jesus. Each individual member is united to Christ. However, salvation is also corporate because God calls his people into a new community, a new family.

The King’s People Have a Mission

The New Testament gives further instructions about how to live as God’s people. The people of God are to be marked by holiness and mission. They are to be holy, set apart for God. They are not to live like those outside the covenant who continue in rebellion against God. In Christ, the image of God is being renewed in God’s people and they are to reflect this restoration in the way they live. Part of this holiness is to love one another. Unbelievers are to see the love God’s people share and see that this reflects the love of God for his people.humanity world

In addition to holiness, God’s people are to be marked by mission. Jesus commanded his followers to take the good news to the ends of the earth. They are to proclaim the glorious gospel to all peoples. Just as God commanded Adam to fill the earth with the image of God and commanded Israel to be a kingdom of priests, the church is to spread the good news and thus fill the earth with the glory of the gospel. The church in obedience to the great commission is begins to bring about the completion of God’s original intentions for humanity.

New Creation

Finally, the story of the Bible ends with new creation. Actually, this is not so much an ending as a new beginning, for the new creation is eternal. The New Testament teaches that one day Jesus will return to earth to complete the restoration of all things. This restoration is will be a new heaven and a new earth – a restored, new creation.

The new heaven and new earth resemble the garden of Eden in many ways, yet new creation will be better than the first creation. The new creation will be eternally without sin. In the new creation, the resurrected people of God will dwell with him forever. There will be no possibility of sin and corruption.

king-of-kingsThe return of Jesus will trigger a number of events. First, the people of God will be raised from the dead. While the Bible teaches that we are truly saved when we believe in Jesus, salvation is completed only when Jesus returns and raises our bodies from the dead. These will be new, glorified bodies fit for the new creation.

Second, the return of Jesus will also be a time of judgment. Jesus will judge all the enemies of God, beginning with Satan. When Jesus comes back, he will completely defeat Satan and send him to eternity in hell. All those who refuse to believe in Jesus will also be judged with their master, Satan.

Third, Jesus will complete the new creation, giving his people a new place in which to dwell together forever. This is the best promise of all. Jesus announces that at that time, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

Thus, the restoration will be complete. The new creation will be far greater than anything we can possibly imagine. Everything that God intended and promised will be completed and he will be glorified by his people forever.

Jesus will give us face, create a new family, and give us the incredible blessings of God.

Kingdom and Covenant, Part 6

I have been unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. Today I continue with Part 6: The Covenant with David and the Exile…

The Covenant with David: The King Promises to Send the True King

A. David

king-davidDavid was a good and wise king, a ‘man after my own heart.’ God made a covenant with David that was intended to continue the previous covenant promises. God promised that someone from David’s family would reign as king forever. This covenant has many similarities to the covenant God made with Abraham and shows that the promised seed of Abraham would also come from the family of David. This seed of David would be the one to restore God’s blessing, God’s family, and give face to God’s people.While David was a great king, his reign also has the stain of sin. His sin would lead to problems in Israel that eventually led to the division of the kingdom after the reign of David’s son Solomon.

Therefore, after Solomon died, the one kingdom of Israel became the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, each with their own kings. These kings were judged by God according to their faithfulness. Most of the kings were unfaithful. Yet, God remained faithful and continued to give his word to his people through his prophets.

B. Exile

Destruction_of_JerusalemBecause Israel and Judah were unfaithful to the covenant God made with them and
because they failed to fulfill their mission, God judged them through exile. Foreigners again invaded Israel, this time destroying the temple and taking the people away from their land. The land represented more than simply a place to live. It was the promised land, the land of safety and rest. In the exile, it was a land of destruction and punishment.

Despite all of this, God still remained faithful. He continued to send prophets to the people to proclaim his word. The prophet word normally contained two aspects: judgment and hope. The prophets made it very clear that the exile was a result of sin. God had not only allowed it to happen, but had order it as judgment against his people. Just like Adam and Eve, Israel was driven from their special place in shame because of their sin.

Kingdom and Covenant, Part 5

In the last few posts, I have been unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. In this post, I continue with part 5 of the story – the exodus, Sinai, and the conquering of the land…

The Covenant with Israel: The King Creates a People

A. Exodus

While the growth of the nation of Israel was a result of God’s blessings, it also caused problems with the Egyptians. The King of Egypt enslaved them and began killing their babies. They were completely helpless to change their situation.

moses-and-the-burning-bush-deana-harveyGod called Moses to lead the rescue of his people. Through Moses, God demanded the King of Egypt to ‘Let my son go that he may worship me.’ The son is the nation of Israel.

Pharaoh refused to listen to God, challenging God’s power to rescue his people. Therefore, the rescue of Israel would come through the judgment of Egypt. God sent 10 plagues upon the Egyptians to demonstrate his power, the last of which was plague of death. God decreed that the firstborn in every Egyptian home would die. However, distinguished his people by commanding them to kill a lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their homes. When God went through the land of Egypt to destroy the firstborn sons, he passed over the homes that had blood on the doors.

Following this plague, Pharaoh let the people of Israel God. God rescued his people in great power.

B. Covenant

After leaving Egypt and crossing the sea, God led the Israelites to Mt. Sinai where he made a covenant with them. At first, the covenant was to be much like the covenant God made with Abraham. They were to love and obey God, just like the patriarchs were called to do. In fact, God said that the people of Israel were to be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.

They were to worship and obey, like God demanded of Adam. They were to be priests to the world so that others would be blessed through them. They were to be holy – different, set apart for God’s special purposes.sinai painting

The problem, like before, was sin. Israel, the corporate son of God, refused to listen and obey. Therefore, God added law to the covenant. The law was given as a standard of God’s holiness in all areas of life. In addition, the law established Israel as a nation, setting them apart as the people of God.

Following the making of the covenant, God led Israel into the wilderness where he protected them and provided for their needs. He commanded them to build the tabernacle, a tent that symbolized God’s presence with them. Despite all this, the people rebelled in the wilderness. They, like Adam, rebelled against their loving father and brought shame on themselves. They broke their covenant relationship with God and lost his blessings. Therefore, God punished them by not allowing any of the first generation of Israelites to enter the promised land.

Nevertheless, God was gracious. He continued giving them his word and promised that the second generation would enter the land that God promised to give Abraham and his descendants.

Despite the failure of Israel, God’s promises remained. Throughout the story of the wilderness wonderings, God reminded the people of the coming one – the seed of the woman who would be a prophet and king. He represented hope. God also promised that a new Moses would come – a prophet like Moses who would perfectly speak God’s word.

C. In the Land

rh-fallofjericho3After the death of the first generation, including Moses, God was ready to fulfill another part of his promise to Abraham. God chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel into the land that God promised to give them. Joshua courageously led the people into Canaan where God gave them the land. The conquest of the land included many miraculous victories that demonstrated God’s presence and power with his people.

However, Israel quickly forgot God’s mighty acts for them and demanded a king so that they could be like the other nations. God gave them a king, Saul. At first, Saul seemed to be a strong leader, but soon his heart turned from trusting God to trusting himself. God removed his Spirit from Saul and chose another, David.

Kingdom and Covenant, Parts 3 and 4

As noted in the last two posts, I am unpacking the biblical story that I previously summarized in one sentence here. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here (part 1) and here (part 2). Today we continue with parts 3 and 4…

3. The Covenant with Noah: The King Renews His Purposes

After the shameful rebellion of Adam and Eve, sin and evil filled the world. God decided that a new beginning was in order. He destroyed the earth and everything in it with a flood. Yet, in his grace, he spared one family – the family of Noah.

Benjamin_West_-_Noah_Sacrificing_after_the_Deluge-450-webAfter the flood, God made a covenant – an agreement between a king and his people involving promises of blessings, as well as conditions – with Noah, his family, and the entire world. In this covenant, God blessed Noah and his family with the same blessings given to Adam and Eve at creation. People were again to be God’s special people. They were to fill the earth with more people made in God’s image. Though people rebelled, God remained faithful to his purposes for his created world.

4. The Covenant with Abraham: The King Makes a Promise

Though the covenant with Noah was a like a new beginning, it was not completely new. People continued in sinful rebellion against God. If the world was going to be restored, God would have to do something big.

God promised to do so when he called Abraham to leave his home, his family, and everything that was familiar to him to go to a new place that God show him. God also made big promises to Abraham.

These promises have clear connections to the blessings of creation. God promised to give Abraham a great family (nation), to give him face (great name), to bless him, and through him to bless all the people of the world. This is even more incredible when we consider the fact that when God called him, Abraham had no family of his own and was already an old man.

abrahamstarsThese promises were made sure through God’s covenant with Abraham. God promised to
restore his original purposes of creation through the family of Abraham. God promised that Abraham’s family would outnumber the stars of the sky. God would also give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s family. The promised seed coming to restore God’s people and God’s world would also come through the family of Abraham. Best of all, God promised to be the God of Abraham and his family.

The covenant promises were passed from Abraham to his son Isaac and to his grandson Jacob. Near the end of his life, Jacob moved his entire family to Egypt. In Egypt, Jacob’s family was given good land and began to increase in number.

 

Kingdom and Covenant, Part 2

As I mentioned last week, I am unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. Here’s Part 2 of the story:

Fall: The King’s People Rebel (Genesis 3)shame2

The glorious beginning is obviously not our experience today. Rather than enjoying life as
God’s children in the beautiful garden, Adam and Eve chose to rebel against their Father the King. An enemy of God crept into the garden and tempted them to disobey God’s word. Adam and Eve chose to listen to the voice of the creature rather than honoring their Father.

Instead of enjoying the honor given to them by God, Adam and Eve sought their own honor apart from God. The result was just the opposite – rather than obtaining their own honor, they brought shame upon themselves. Immediately they hid themselves in fear andshame. They began having problems with one another. Most significantly, their relationship with God was broken.

gen 3.15God responded to all of this in judgment and grace. God threw them out of the beautiful garden and they were forced to work hard for food. They would eventually die. Nevertheless, God was gracious to them. First, he promised that someone would come from the human family that would make all things right again. He would defeat God’s enemy forever and restore God’s people. This is the hope of all people. Second, God made clothes for them. Adam and Eve attempted to make their own clothing out of leaves, but these were worthless. God made new clothes out of animal skin. These clothes symbolize the covering of their sin and the restoration of honor. Just as a king places a special robe on his child, so God clothes his children with special robes, symbolizing that their position of honor has been partially restored. The full restoration awaits the coming one.

Kingdom and Covenant, Part 1

Some time ago, I posted my summary of the biblical story in one sentence. Over the next several posts, I will unpack the story with a little more depth. I am trying to keep the story at a manageable length so that it can be useful while unpacking some of the primary biblical themes. Here’s part 1:

Creation: The King Creates His Kingdom (Genesis 1-2)

CreationThe biblical story begins with the Creator-King creating his kingdom. The climax of the
story is the God’s creation of his people – Adam and Eve – who were made in the image of God. God especially blessed his people and provided everything for them – a beautiful garden filled with food; safety; and best of all, close personal relationship with him. God’s people lived in harmonious relationship with him. He was their father and they were his children. People were also in harmonious relationship with each other and with the world.

So, the King’s children lived in the King’s garden and everything was very good. People were also given a command and a mission. The mission was to fill the earth with more people made in the image of God and thereby flood the earth with little reflections of God’s glory. They were to rule God’s world under the authority of God. The command was to obey the word of God, which was given to them for their protection and joy.

eden paintingThus, people were given the highest honor by being created as the family of God. The first man and woman had no shame before God or each other. In fact, they were naked in the garden, yet felt no shame.

Mission, New Creation, and Genesis 1-2

Genesis 1-2 points beyond itself to new creation and this is important for missions.

new-creationWhile it is obvious that new creation comes into focus after the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, there are a number of clues within the creation account that indicates new creation was the original goal. That is, there are aspects of the story that point forward to new creation as the ultimate objective.

Notice the following:

1. Beginning Implies End

First, the creation is the story of beginnings – the beginning of the world as God’s kingdom, the beginning of God’s kingdom people, and the beginning of the grand story of Scripture. Yet, beginnings by nature point beyond themselves to something yet to come. While this does not necessarily mean new creation, it is at least future-oriented, which sets the stage for later emphasis on new creation. In any case, having a beginning implies that there is a middle and end, which points forward to a goal.

2. The Impermanence of Creation

Second, it is clear that the first creation was not permanent. One of the primary ways we see this is in the possibility of corruption. After creating all things good (indeed, “very good”), God told his people that disobedience would lead to death. Thus, though very good, the first creation was not eternal since it was possible for death and corruption to enter.

3. Garden Expansion

Third, Adam and Eve were commissioned to “multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). As G.K. Beale has demonstrated, this includes the expansion of the Garden of Eden to fill the earth (see his A New Testament Biblical Theology).

expansionThe Garden was a special dwelling place for God with his people and thus is pictured like the most holy place in the tabernacle and temple. This creational most holy place was to expand, filling the earth with God’s glorious presence. Again, the point is that the Garden pointed beyond itself to a greater goal, which turns out to be new creation.

4. Sabbath Rest

Finally, the goal of creation comes into view on the seventh day – sabbath rest with God. It is well-known that the seventh day is unique in that it had no conclusion as the other six days. This establishes the sabbath as the goal – God’s unending dwelling with his people. Since the reader is very aware that this rest is yet to be achieved, the sabbath points to a future fulfillment.

What does this have to do with mission?

humanityIn short, the movement of Scripture from creation to new creation provides the goal and impetus for mission. It is not that we are able to bring about new creation through our mission efforts. Rather, the point is that in mission, we are spreading the message of King Jesus to invite people to participate in the new creation. Through faith in Jesus, people enter the kingdom of God and become covenant kingdom citizens.

Thus, the church’s mission is participation is God’s mission to fill the earth with his glory. As we proclaim Jesus as King, God is restoring his people in glory such that he is honored throughout the earth. And this is but a dim picture of new creation.

This is vastly different from “saving souls” or “getting people into heaven.” Instead, mission is about preparing people to be kingdom citizens in the new creation. This profoundly affects our evangelism and discipleship.

In addition, the hope of new creation provides the impetus for mission. We go for the honor of God’s name knowing that new creation is a future certainty. His glory will fill the earth. And, by his grace, we get to participate in this glorious work.

The Biblical Story in One Sentence

IMG_1185Biblical theology proceeds from the biblical storyline. Of course, many biblical theologians would disagree with this statement, some even denying that a unified grand narrative exists. The absence of a unified biblical story leads to the denial of the possibility of a “whole Bible” biblical theology since such a theology necessitates some form of unity within the canon. Against this view, most evangelicals affirm the presence of a cohesive narrative within the Bible from creation to new creation. Of course, such a supposition demands defense, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Admittedly, the biblical story is complex with many characters, themes, and subplots. It contains a long history, is told in multiple languages (Hebrew and Greek with a bit of Aramaic), and takes place within multiple cultures. Nevertheless, the Bible displays an astonishing theological coherency. This conherency can only be understood as it emerges from the biblical story.

Assuming that the Bible tells one, unified story across both testaments raises the question “what is the biblical story?” While one does not want to be reductionist, the main plotline of Scripture can be summarized concisely. In my biblical theology classes, I have tried to summarize the biblical story in one sentence. Here is my attempt:

God, the Creator-King, is reestablishing his kingdom in the world through keeping his covenant promises to Abraham, Israel, and David in the life, death, and resurrection of his son Jesus the Messiah, who will reign forever in the new creation with his new covenant people.

This sentence covers the primary theological themes that tie the biblical story together: creatiold-hands-bibleon, kingdom, covenant, and Christ. I find this helpful for students, church leaders, and missionaries as they grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures and apply them to life and ministry. This sentence gives the hooks on which to hang doctrinal positions. Most importantly, this sentence helps to summarize the story within which believers are called to live.