Foolish Talk


When presented with the pattern of the biblical covenant, many Christians’ eyes glaze over. “Away with this joker and his apophenia!” But there is simply no other way to get a big handle on the Bible. What is the solution? To put living meat on those structural ribs, that is, to communicate how this pattern shapes every aspect of human life.

The covenant pattern is not a “5 steps” or “7 steps” method of self-help. It is a mission during which we must believe God and obey His Word, and receive the blessings He desires to bestow upon us once we are proven to be faithful. It is not only the shape of every human life but also the shape of all of covenant history. It is an incredibly practical thing to learn.

Many theologians regard the pattern as something imposed upon the text (which makes me wonder if they have any literary sensibility whatsoever) but the best theologians do understand the biblical process through intuition borne of familiarity and they arrange things accordingly. Joshua Luper writes:

In his new book, Fool’s Talk, Os Guinness says that “our age is quite simply the greatest opportunity for Christian witness since the time of Jesus and the apostles, and our response should be to seize the opportunity with bold and imaginative enterprise.”

It would be easy for Christians to adopt a posture of disengagement in view of contemporary challenges to communication. Concerns about the corrosive social and intellectual effects of mass media, social networks, technopoly, etc. are well warranted (and Guinness advances such criticisms in his book). Yet the unprecedented opportunity to proclaim the truth in the modern age should not be ignored or squandered. So how should we then witness?

Guinness says our advocacy of Christianity should be shaped by five central truths, which he identifies as creation, fall, incarnation, cross, and Holy Spirit.

“True to the biblical understanding of creation, Christian persuasion must always take account of the human capacity for reason and the primacy of the human heart.

True to the understanding of the fall, Christian persuasion must always take account of the anatomy of an unbelieving mind in its denial of God.

True to the incarnation, Christian persuasion always has to be primarily person-to-person and face-to-face, and not argument to argument, formula to formula, media to media or methodology to methodology.

True to the cross of Jesus, Christian persuasion has to be cross-shaped in its manner just as it is cross-centered in its message…

And true to the Holy Spirit, Christian persuasion must always know and show that the decisive power is not ours but God’s. For God is his own lead counsel, his own best apologist, and the one who challenges the world to ‘set out your case.’ And as Jesus tells us, his Spirit, the Spirit of truth, is the one who does the essential work of convincing and convicting.”

This is a refreshing and thorough set of emphases, which bypasses many potential pitfalls. Its advantage is that it follows the movement of the biblical narrative (creation, fall, redemption), instead of isolating one aspect (e.g. the fall) and treating it as wholly determinative. The approach offered by Guinness allows the entire biblical story to inform and shape our anthropology and apologetics.

I trust that you can see the covenant pattern in Guiness’ “central truths,” which illustrate, though imperfectly, the history recorded for us in the Bible. He begins with what a human being actually is, an image of God (Transcendence). He moves then to the failure of Adam (Hierarchy), the fulfilment of the Law by Christ (Ethics), the fact that the believer is blessed rather than cursed through the work of Christ (Oath/Sanctions), and, finally, the wise testimony of the saints as representatives of God (Succession).

When compared with actual Covenant history, this is really only the first half, ending at Pentecost, which completed the hope of Israel, a human household filled with the Spirit just as Yahweh had dwelt in the Tabernacle and the Temple. Guinness has conflated a few “matrix” layers, shifting from the shape of history to its microcosm in Christ, but his ordering of events remains sound for the purpose of witness, and it does follow to some degree the first half of the Tabernacle order: Ark, Veil, Altar, Table, Lampstand. The Pentecost-to-holocaust generation was, after all, the end of Israel according to the flesh.

Now if we could just get the modern hermeneutical establishment familiar enough with the way the Bible is constructed, and why, we might not only enjoy more effective witness but also more refreshing and thorough Bible teaching.



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