Typology vs. Secular Modernity


In Against Christianity (pp. 56-58), Peter Leithart writes:

One of the contributions of twentieth-century Catholic nouvelle theologie, and of Henri de Lubac and Hean Danielou in particular, was a rehabilitation of patristic and medieval typological exegesis of the Bible. Typological interpretation assumes that events and institutions of the Old Testament present, to use Augustine’s terminology, “latent” pictures of Christ. Typological interpretation, in short, sees the whole Bible as gospel, with the gospel narrowly conceived (the story of Jesus) as the culmination of a larger story.

Of equal importance is the insight that the Christ to whom the Old Testament testifies is the totus Christus, Head and body, Jesus and His Church. In this, the fathers and medieval theologians were fully in line with Paul, who wrote that the history of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness were “things written for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11). The gospel is the story of the Church as well as the story of Jesus. Following the apostolic example, the fathers saw the brides and harlots of Old Testament history as the Church under various guises, and thus they could view Old Testament history as the story of Yahweh’s stormy betrothal with His headstrong bride, fulfilled now in the Father’s arranged marriage to His Son in the Spirit-prepared Church. Augustine made it a basic principle that the Psalms are now the words of the Savior, now the words of His people crying for salvation, now, mystically, both together. Psalms is the songbook of the whole Christ: in it Jesus speaks “of us, by us, in us, while we speak in Him.”

At its best, typological interpretation is quite different from allegory. While Greek allegorists interpreted myths as embodiments of timeless and abstract principles (thus turning the Bible into theology [1]), the fathers plundered the Old Testament to divine the patterns of history. When it has paid attention to the Old Testament at all, modern theology has approached it in a very different manner. Rejecting typology as fanciful and unscientific, many theologians have treated the Old Testament as a purely historical document with little or no religious significance for the Church. Others, no less hostile to typology, see the transition from Old to New as a change from a historical, material, bodily, and social religion to a timeless, spiritual, and individual one (i.e. Christianity).

Opposition to typology not only fuels Christianity but, because of that, assists in the establishment of secular modernity. If the hermeneutical trajectory is from the Old Testament events to the motions of the individual soul, then, as de Lubac argued, Christ’s coming has delivered the whole of public life over to the rough play of secular and impersonal forces. So Schleiermacher, the preacher of what Barth called “conciousness theology,” says that the Old Testament is to be utterly repudiated as part of the Christian Bible and, consistently, also castigates those who would wish to drag religion from the “depths of the heart into the civil world,” where, presumably, it can only be contaminated. A privatizing and spiritualizing hermeneutics thus helps outfit a public square that, if not entirely naked, wears a skimpy thing that scarcely covers what looks like an iron cage.

By emphasizing that the Church as a real historical institution and communion was prophesied and typified under the old order, typology makes clear that it is of the essence of the Church to deny that the public square is dressed in a flag and nothing but a flag.

If the Church is to recover the gospel, she is to recover typological interpretation and learn to repeat, without irony or embarrassment and as a political credo, the words of Paul: “Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”

*   *   *   *   *

Typology is often seen as a marginal enterprise—cute, but not the stuff of serious biblical scholarship nor important to the Church’s mission. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Typology is one of the chief weapons in the Church’s war against Christianity.

Which is to say, typology is one of the chief weapons in the Church’s war against secular modernity.

If Dr Leithart’s title seems confusing, there’s a helpful review here:

“Christianity, Leithart argues, is a religion formed around a haphazard arrangement of modern values and practices.  It understands Christian community to be a religious layer on social life; it emasculates biblical religion through intellectualization and privatization.  Instead of confronting the language of existing culture with a robust language of its own, it offers theology, a sterile environment in which one speaks of God using clean terms, removing Him and His work from time in order to dissect timeless truths.  Theology merely adds religious words and phrases to the stock of existing language.”

See also: Exhibit A – Typology, Typology, Symbol and the Christ, A Terrible Marvel and Typology’s War Against Modernity.

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9 Responses to “Typology vs. Secular Modernity”

  • Robert Murphy Says:

    Retweeted: Typological interpretation, in short, sees the whole Bible as gospel, with the gospel narrowly conceived (the story of Jesus) as the culmination of a larger story.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    I didn’t really ‘get’ this book when I first read it. Not being fully aware of the problem can make the solution appear redundant.

  • Micah Martin Says:


    I really enjoyed this article. I just have one question. How can you see it so clearly and then apply cognitive dissonance and hold to the modern YEC / anti-typological “woodenly, literal” scientific interpretation of Genesis?

    Have you even tried jettisoning your YEC view for a Covenantal view (or non-concordance view) of Genesis and then applied that to the rest of the Bible and your hermeneutic to see if it makes more sense?


  • Mike Bull Says:

    Leithart is arguing against a gnostic-type divorce of Covenant from history. How would adopting such a divorce as proposed by Covenant Creationists help matters?

  • Micah Martin Says:


    Your assertion is wrong. If Genesis one is about Covenant then your charge falls apart. We are the consistent ones. It is Leithart, DeMar and others that argue for at least two different interpretations of “heavens and earth” depending on where you are in the Bible. (and who you are arguing against)

    It is also you guys that are more gnostic like. The FP see’s no problem with the physical universe because this is exactly the way God made it (biological death included). It is the YEC and Reformed world that believes this physical universe is bad and corrupted by evil and must be escaped or re-made. (Apparently Jesus’ work on the Cross wasn’t strong enough to reverse that part of the curse.)

    You refuse to even admit your own pre-suppositions about Genesis. Leithart has 2 Peter 3 fulfilled (covenantal context) yet it is clear to anyone that Peter is using Genesis language (Same with Isaiah 65). Your marriage to Ellen G White and her YEC paradigm is keeping you from being consistent.

    Do you believe the physical universe is under the curse of sin and needs to be renovated? Is Romans 8 fulfilled or yet to be fulfilled? How can Peter, Jeremiah, Jesus, Isaiah and almost every other inspired writer take language from Gen. 1 and then re-define it in a totally different way than Gen. 1 uses it? (according to your interpretation)

    If you want to play the name calling game at least admit your futurism is solely based on your YEC gnostic-like assumptions.

  • Mike Bull Says:


    Did you miss my point about PHYSICAL – SOCIAL – PERSONAL – SOCIAL – PHYSICAL ? If you did, it’s explained more fully in The Covenant Key. It’s a disrobing of the High Priest until all He is left with is burial linen. Christ, at the very centre of history, was personally a New Heaven and New Earth. History since then is the High Priest putting back on His robe of glory after atonement has been made. It it currently social and will again be physical.

    And it’s a nice day for an Ellen White wedding – at least when it comes to YEC.


  • Micah Martin Says:

    So do you believe we are gradually returning to Edenic physical state or does it happen all at once in the twinkling of an eye at the end of history?

    Are the lions getting tamer and eventually will they add veggies to their diet?

    (This is a serious question.)
    I know this is basically what Chilton argued for in Paradise Restored but he eventually moved on.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    Good question. I think the nations will be united (social re-integration) by the Spirit, the process begun in the gospel, first.

    We do see a gradual progression from agrarian societies to cities in history, but that is social, not creational. We are still seeing new species appear at surprising rates in smaller animals, but the rates of extinction are increasing. (http://creation.com/speedy-species-surprise). The planet is more and more the domain of man. I don’t think the animals will be tamed in this era.

    I don’t believe the created order will be restored progressively but in one go. However, that will be just another new beginning for us, with a gradual progress beyond. I’m sure our God has plenty for us to do in a restored heaven and earth. He is irreversibly dynamic.

  • Mike Bull Says:

    This might help in interpreting those “millennial animals.” They’re not millennial at all. They’re literary allusions.