November 1, 2012 by Jason Hood
One of the themes of my current research is the role humanity plays in the Kingdom of God. It’s a theme that first arises in Genesis 1 and appears throughout the Bible. (You can see an older post on this theme here.)
As Chris Wright notes, “Only when we link the kingship of David and his successors to the kingship of God can we make sense of texts that envision the reign of David over the nations or even over the earth.” (Mission of God, 345). Wright particularly cites the Psalms as the source of this emphasis.
In the introduction to his commentary on Psalms, James Mays explains the significance of this theme for the Psalter’s approach to Messianic Psalms. Psalm 2 has a central role to play in the Psalter’s overall message. This Psalm shows that the establishment of God’s anointed human king is
the response by the kingdom of God to the kings and rulers of earth. The king represents the kingdom of heaven on earth and will extend the reign of God over the unruly, rebellious kings of the world.
Despite the devastating failure of this mission, highlighted especially at the conclusion of Book III in Psalm 89, the Psalms continue to develop the theme, and in such a way that these psalms function as messianic prophecy.
[I]n Psalm 110, the promise that the king will represent the kingdom of God the nations of earth is renewed.
In these psalms . . . the entire history of kingship in Judah has been collapsed into the question of God’s steadfast love to David as the secret of God’s coming rule in the world.
Mays goes on to cite the way in which the assocation of Psalms with David adds one more important Christological piece. Citing Psalm 22 in particular, these psalms produce a surprising shift in the view of the Messiah; he is not just the king who bears God’s kingdom, he is
one of the lowly, beset by all of the predicaments that belong to common humanity, vulnerable and needy. . . . The prayers even imply that it is in the travail of his human nature that this David mysteriously will carry out his vocation . . .
August 9, 2012 by Jason Hood
Here’s part two of my interview with Jonathan Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, coming in October 2012 from Baker Academic. (For more on the book, including killer video introductions, see the book’s website.) Part one is available here.
(4) What are some of the “big picture,” redemptive historical ideas that shape the way you read the gospels?
From how I’ve defined the gospel above you might rightly surmise that the kingdom or reign of God is central to my thinking, as it seems it was to Jesus’ as well, if his preaching and teaching are any indication!
At the same time, I am convinced that the goal of Holy Scripture (which I spend some time discussing in the book) is our personal transformation through God revealing to us both our brokenness and the full-orbed redemption available to us in the gospel. So, I think a wise reading of the Gospels will not only ask theological and redemptive-historical questions about the kingdom, but also about the nature of God and his redeeming ways with his people. Again, the Gospels are heavily-laden, low-hanging fruit-filled trees on these important matters. At every turn the stories of the Gospels reveal Christ’s gracious greatness and our need for redemption.
(5) Are there any under-appreciated or underexplored aspects of the theology of the kingdom for church today? Are there elements where we haven’t quite gotten the message of the gospels right (i.e., preaching, ethics, evangelism, political engagement, building a worldview or a biblical theology)?
This is obviously a huge question. I will just tackle one small part that is related to what we’ve been discussing. I think we have largely misread the Gospels as if they are the historical data while the rest of the NT is the theological and ethical interpretation of Jesus’ life. This is quite mistaken at many levels. The Gospels themselves are finely-tuned, well-honed, fully-theological and practical interpretations and applications of Jesus’ message. They are, in my opinion, more universal and comprehensive than the epistolary literature, which is largely occasional in nature.
As a result, I believe our understanding of NT theology (and biblical theology overall) is often somewhat pear-shaped by preferencing a certain way of reading Paul and not taking into account the whole NT witness, including the vast bulk of it: the Gospel accounts. When we begin to read the Gospels as theological (even homiletical) messages it will potentially affect how we articulate many things including our worldview, political engagement, evangelism, and ethics.
I absolutely agree, Jonathan, and I don’t think I’m alone. I have been teaching OT of late, I’ve noted the same problem with the way we read the OT books. We take them as historical accounts (to be defended or critiqued, depending on whether we lean left or right) while downplaying or overlooking the theological and pastoral purposes of those books.
Strangely enough, your criticism is the opposite criticism employed by Bultmann and the early Barth against 19th and early 20th century liberalism. That movement was guilty of over-emphasizing the gospels (but by mining for acceptable moral gems and reconstructions of the historical Jesus, famously categorized by Schweitzer as looking intently for Jesus only to find we’re looking into a well and seeing our own reflection) and downplaying soteriological concepts found in Paul and Luther.
(6) A hypothetical student in “old school” dispensationalism picks up this text. What will he or she encounter that will be challenging?
Well, if they truly are old school dispensationalists then they won’t appreciate the fact that I think the Gospels’ teachings are the Church’s teachings! That is, as I was just suggesting, the Gospels are post-Pentecostal interpretations of the Christian faith, not time-bound data about the historical Jesus in his own dispensation nor teachings for Israel in the millennium. This is, according to my understanding, a classical dispensational view. I know it is not the view of today’s “progressive” dispensationalists, thankfully.
Indeed, the edgiest part of RGW is the final chapter where I boldly suggest that the fourfold Gospel book should be understood as the epicenter or keystone of the archway for all of Holy Scripture. I don’t suppose this fits overly well into an old school dispensational view, nor indeed into most evangelical views! You’ll have to read the book and evaluate the arguments for yourself.
Bruce Waltke answers the question, “What is your favorite book of the Bible?”: “Whichever book I’m currently studying.” I imagine your text will help students dig into the gospels so that they become favorite texts for many, Jonathan! Thanks so much for your time, and best wishes on this new publication and your new position as Director of the PhD program at Southern Seminary.1 Comment
August 8, 2012 by Jason Hood
Friend of SAET Jonathan Pennington has a new textbook coming out on the gospels: Reading the Gospels Wisely: A Narrative and Theological Introduction, coming in October 2012 from Baker Academic. I recently asked him a few questions about this work and his approach to the gospels. (For more on the book, including killer video introductions, see the book’s website.)
(1) You’ve been teaching gospels for how long now? What are some of the key elements you want students to take into the pastorate?
I’ve been teaching from the Gospels at several levels for about ten years now – everything from church seminars to Greek Exegesis of Matthew, from Sunday preaching to NT Survey courses.
I want my students and all readers of this book to grow in their love for the theological and literary depth and beauty of the Gospels – and of course, for the Subject of their narrative. I want students to learn how to read narrative texts well and how to apply the narrative portions of Holy Scripture theologically and personally. Most importantly, I want to see the Church rediscover the central role that the Gospels can and should play in all our teaching and preaching.
(2) I still have your ground-breaking dissertation, Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew (click the title for an impressive slate of reviews) on my desk for fast reference. What’s the connection between that work and this present work? Obviously one is a dissertation, the other a textbook; but are there links would someone see and identify as the seedbed of the “Pennington” school of thought?
Very funny and rather scary idea that there would ever be a “Pennington school of thought”! But it is a good question about what connections there are between my earlier work on Matthew and Reading the Gospels Wisely. The biggest difference is that RGW is written as a rather far-reaching, supplement textbook on how to read the Gospels overall.
There is a similarity in approach in that I still primarily read the Gospels through a literary and theological lens; this is evident in both books. But while Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew makes a sustained argument for the existence of a particular literary theme in Matthew, RGW covers a range of hermeneutical, historical, and theological issues concerning all the Gospels. In many ways it is really an ecclesial hermeneutics book for the Gospels.
(3) Your promotional video has a bit of a provocative edge to it, pushing back against “small” gospel. How do you situate your book with respect to the wider conversation in evangelicalism on the definition of the gospel? How does your experience as a professor of the gospels shape your definition of the gospel?
Yes, I suppose there is a bit of an edge in that video, but I hope a nice, smooth edge, not a jagged one! Though the scope of RGW is much wider than the issue of how to define the “gospel,” I do address this issue in the first couple of chapters and I do care about this important current discussion.
My study throughout the years has convinced me that the Gospels – intertextually rehashing Isaiah in particular – help us see that the “euangelion” (good news) of the Bible is the message of God returning to restore his reign. It is, to use Matthew’s unique phrase, “the gospel of the kingdom” (Mt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). The shorthand version is that the gospel message of Scripture is the story of God’s reign coming from heaven to earth, from creation to new creation, centered in Jesus the Christ. There is no place in Holy Scripture where this is more clearly or fully developed than in the fourfold Gospel book.
Stay tuned for part two of the interview, coming tomorrow.1 Comment
April 29, 2012 by Jason Hood
Or at least, one of the most important keys: when the OT prophets speak to their audiences, they often speak of an ongoing redemptive process that began in their era and continues forward to our own and beyond to New Creation.
Willem VanGemeren, Interpreting the Prophetic Word, was one of my favorite textbooks in seminary, and now I get to return the favor for my OT students. Here is one gem of an observation, from p. 316:
[T]he new covenant is an eschatological reality whose fulfillment takes place in the progression of redemption, including the postexilic era, the renewal of covenant in Jesus Christ, and the present church age.
He then cites Calvin at length:
Hence the Prophet here intimates that God’s favor would be certain, because he would not only give leisure to the Jews, when they returned, to plant vines, but would also cause them to enjoy the fruit in peace and quietness. . . . He extends God’s favour to the country and the villages, as though he had said, that the land would be filled with inhabitants, not only as to the fortified towns, but as to the fields…Now, were one to ask, when was this fulfilled? We must bear in mind what has been said elsewhere,—that the Prophets,…included the whole Kingdom of Christ from the beginning to the end. And in this our divines go astray, so that by confining these promises to some particular time, they are compelled to fly to allegories; and thus they wrest, and even pervert all the prophecies. But the Prophets, as it has been said, include the whole progress of Christ’s Kingdom when they speak of the future redemption of the people. The people began to do well when they returned to their own country; . . . It was, therefore, necessary for them to look for the coming of Christ. We now taste of these benefits of God . . . We hence see that these prophecies are not accomplished in one day, or in one year, no, not even in one age, but ought to be understood as referring to the beginning and the end of Christ’s Kingdom.
Calvin is commenting on Jer 31:5, 24 (emphasis is WVG’s). We can also cite similar comments from Calvin’s commentary on Isaiah 52:8.
When he restored the Jews to liberty, and employed the ministry of Zerubbabel, Erza, and Nehemiah, these things were fulfilled. Yet at the same time they ought to be continued down to the coming of Christ, by which the church was gathered out of all parts of the world. But we ought also to go forward to Christ’s last coming, by which all things shall be perfectly restored.
October 20, 2011 by Jason Hood
There’s a great deal of debate over the degree to which the message of the NT was “counter-imperial.” There’s also an ongoing debate over the nature of the church’s mission.
Here are thoughts from John Frame, whom we interviewed for our series on political theology last year: “ . . . in a well-planted church, people should eventually be taught what Scripture says about politics (above). The first church planters of the Book of Acts did not stress politics (except for the Kingdom of God, a very political concept). But eventually, as in Rom. 13, they dealt with the political implications of the Gospel.”
Elsewhere Frame sums up the political implications of Jesus and his mission (paragraph breaks added for clarity):
So historia salutis [salvation viewed from a historical rather than personal perspective] focuses on non-recurrent historical events of a corporate, public, and visible nature. As such, Scripture often describes it in political terms.
The history of salvation is the coming of the Kingdom, to allude to Herman Ridderbos’s important volume by that title. God calls Israel to defeat by his power all the ungodly nations of Canaan. These are holy wars, and God promises Victory to Israel when she is faithful to him. John the Baptist, and later Jesus, preached “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
The apostolic church preached “Jesus is Lord,” Kyrios Iesous, a phrase with a deeply political meaning. The Roman emperors proclaimed their own Lordship; the Christians proclaim the Lordship of Jesus. The Romans crucified Jesus, and later persecuted the church, because they thought Jesus presented himself as a rival Caesar. The Romans, of course, misunderstood Jesus’ claims in some ways; but in other ways they were deeply insightful.
The mission of the church was nothing less than to establish a new world order.
Frame’s comments on the Roman’s perspective square with the assessment, made by a number of NT scholars, holding a moderate position on the “Fresh Perspective,” or the degree to which the NT is counter-imperial.2 Comments
September 13, 2011 by Jason Hood
Al Wolters (author of this amazing book) wrote a great article dealing with 2 Pet 3:7-10. “2 Peter 3 speaks of three ‘worlds,’ each consisting of heaven and earth: a world before the flood, called ‘the world that then existed’ (3:6), the present world between the flood and the Day of the Lord, called ‘the heavens and earth that now exist’ (3:7), and a future world after the Day, called the ‘new heavens and new earth’ (3:13).” These aren’t three worlds, Wolters notes; they “are really the same world in three periods of its history.”
Peter’s comparison of a final eschatological shift with the flood points not to mere destruction, but ultimately to transformation and recreation. What Peter is describing is not a “burning up” (the normal Greek term for “burning up by fire” is not used) but a melting purification or refinement. What has thrown us off for centuries is the fact that the KJV, based on much later texts, including the normal Greek word for “burning up.” Notice in the ESV on 2 Peter 3:7-10 that the footnotes account for several options. The last part of verse 10 is probably best taken as saying something like, “through fire, the earth and its works will show what they are made of.”
Wolters concludes that some earlier scholars “have read into Peter’s text features of a Gnostic worldview which looked on the present created order as expendable in the overall scheme of things. The text of 2 Pet 3:10, on our interpretation, lends no support to this perspective, but stresses instead the permanence of the created earth, despite the coming judgement.”
In a recent version of Tyndale Bulletin, Jonathan Moo follows the same train of thought for 2 Pet 3:7.
For nerds, Al Wolter’s article, “Worldview and Textual Criticism in 2 Peter 3:10,” WTJ 49 (1987) 405-13 is online. For theocultural spectators, Wolters’s book Creation Regained (1985) made him one of the chief architects of the resurgence of the neo-Calvinist, Kuyperian approach to culture in the Keller/Covenant/A29 wings of the Young Reformed movement. But if you’ve never heard of him, don’t fret. Wolters is singularly uninterested in marketing himself or his accomplishments.0 Comments
August 15, 2011 by Jason Hood
Jesus’ exaltation and kingship is about his divinity and the fact that he is David’s Son. But the NT also insists that his royalty and exaltation are tied to his humanity. Consider:
(1) The NT applies Son of Man language to Jesus (Dan 7:13-14):
…before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
In my last post (the Meaning of Kingdom Come), I quoted from Daniel 7 to describe the role of the saints in the kingdom of God. When the saints inherit the kingdom, they do so because the Son of Man has been glorified and enthroned, and they share in what is his. Their rule is the result of God’s original design for humanity, not Davidic sonship or divinity.
(2) NT writers regularly use the Psalms to teach that Jesus was the Messiah, Son of David. But one of the Psalms most frequently tied to Jesus’ exaltation is Psalm 8, which speaks of the enthronement of humanity, not just David.
(3) The gospel summary in 1 Cor 15:1ff is one of the few that does not include a reference to Jesus as Son of David (contrast Rom 1:3-4, 2 Tim 2:8). But the summary leads into a discussion of the resurrection that focuses squarely on Jesus’ as a royal Second Adam.
He is the vanguard or “firstfruits” of exalted, victorious humanity (15:24-28). Our resurrection will provide us with an “imperishable” body like his for “image”-bearing, “immortality,” “glory,” and “honor” (15:42-43, 49). In other words, that resurrection body will enable our participation in his victory and enthronement. Then, like him, we will inherit the kingdom of God (15:50).
Dan McCartney nails the implications for the Kingdom of God:
This exaltation of Jesus as man suggests some explanation for our first question, as to the way in which the ‘reign of God’ has now come where it was not here before. The coming of the kingdom, the arrival of God’s sovereign reign, is not a reinstatement of God’s sovereign exercise of power to accomplish his purposes (which was always true). The arrival of the reign of God is the reinstatement of the originally intended divine order for earth, with man properly situated as God’s vicegerent.
Dan G. McCartney, “Ecce Homo: The Coming of the Kingdom as the Restoration of Human Vicegerency,” WTJ 56 (1994), 2.
In other words, one can find Jesus’ royal humanity elsewhere in the NT.2 Comments
August 14, 2011 by Jason Hood
The usual explanation for the coming of the kingdom of God in the NT runs along these lines: God is king in heaven, and there his will is fully done. But in the NT, his reign begins to come on earth “as in heaven.”
This observation is correct and provides vital insight for understanding the NT’s gospel and NT theology more generally. But we need to add two caveats.
(1) This world is the sphere of rebellion, but that does not mean that Satan and humanity operate outside divine concern and restraint.
(2) Thus, the coming of the kingdom preached by John, Jesus, and their followers was not a matter of God alone ruling on earth. It was also about humanity again becoming enthroned according to God’s original design. When humans return to their thrones, they will be the glorified human image-bearers God intended.
And then God’s commands will be done and his name hallowed, when his earthly kingdom on earth is restored to his vice-regents:
The saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever……the Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom….Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.
July 14, 2011 by Jason Hood
Why does Jesus say that “whoever does not receive the kingdom like a child shall not enter it”? One important part of the answer involves the way a child receives:
The child was never set up as a model of discipleship, at least not until Jesus came along…. I suspect that in the first place Jesus had in mind the fact that children have no difficulty receiving gifts….
An adult, on the other hand, often has difficulty or feels uncomfortable with receiving a gift from someone he or she has not given a gift to. Why is this?….Our culture is fundamentally works-oriented, not grace oriented.
We like to think of ourselves as those who need no help, but rather, given an opportunity, we can get it for ourselves. We like to be independent. A child, on the other hand, knows very well that he or she is dependent on others. Children are under no delusion that they have all that they get because they have or must have earned it or that it comes as part of some sort of gifts exchnage, some sort of “you scratch my back, I’ll scracth yours” reciprocity ritual.
Ben Witherington III, Imminent Domain: The Story of the Kingdom of God and Its Celebration, 33.0 Comments
May 25, 2011 by Jason Hood
This month I came upon an older article on the royal nature of deities in the ancient Near East: “The Concept of God/the Gods as King in the Ancient Near East and in the Bible,” TrinJ 3 (1982), 18-38.
Gary Smith (now at Union University) surveyed ANE texts and cites a variety of similarities in ANE and OT descriptions of deity. The ancients needed analogical language to describe deities, and they often did so with sociopolitical terms: “Lord and king of the world,” “mighty warrior who destroys his enemies,” “a judge over his kingdom.”
Smith concludes with some important differences between ANE and OT. In light of yesterday’s tornado in my childhood home, and last month’s record floods, felled trees, and lightning that knocked out our cable/internet in my adopted home town, the following difference jumped off the page:
“When the power of 1000 nature gods is concentrated in the power of one God, he becomes king in a way that was foreign to Mesopotamian thinking.”
Indeed. Yahweh is King in a way that blows all categories for deity in the ancient Near East–and the modern world as well.
Next week we begin a residency program in Memphis: college students join us for two months of service and teaching, either in our congregation or in urban ministries and congregations in Memphis.
The first topic we address is king/kingdom, in order to calibrate a few key concepts:
- the nature of Scripture — the word, the story, and the covenant of the King…we believe what it teaches and do what it says
- the gospel — the King’s solution for rebels, adoption as royal sons and daughters, etc
- our tasks in the kingdom — servants, stewards, children and heirs, ambassadors, images, etc.
When the Bible pulls back the curtain that divides heaven and earth, we often see Yahweh portrayed as King. Few concepts are more challenging to contemporary approaches to life, religion, and self-conception than the belief that God is Emperor, Lord over all. But few concepts are as encouraging, ennobling, and enlightening. If He is King, he can save us from ourselves, our enemies. If He is King, he can make us heirs of all things.
Perhaps, as Smith suggests, kingship can function as “a conceptual framework which will unite the biblical functions of God into an overarching framework.”1 Comment