A Question I Was Asked:

Does Our Christian Theology Lack Substance?

The Questions:

Your "Christian Theology" is exposed as lacking substance. You wrote the following:

Quote: -

"Abraham is vitally important within Christian theology since, as Paul is at pains to explain, he became the 'father of the faithful' - Abraham effectively lived under, and tasted, the New Covenant ahead of time because He stood in a relationship with God which was based entirely on faith. His divinely-granted faith allowed him to be covered by God's grace, whereas Moses stood in a relationship with God based entirely on obedience to the Law. Today Christians stand in Abraham's - rather than Moses' - status and relationship to God."

The Spirit of God Came Upon Him...

The Spirit of God appears to manifest Himself somewhat differently in the Old Testament compared to the New Testament.
In the Old, He often seems to externally empower people in quite a dramatic fashion, as with Samson, for instance.
Moreover, the Spirit only appears to work with important figures in God's plan.

In contrast, the New Testament presents the Holy Spirit in a much more internal way in which He enters the minds, consciences and hearts of true Christian believers, reminding them of the mission of Jesus, empowering them for works of service and and helping them to grow in the Faith. The fruits of this internal working of the Spirit with Christians should include such things as love, joy, spiritual discernment and peace (See Galatians 5:22-26, for example). Rather than being restricted, the Holy Spirit also now becomes available to all true Christian believers!

This is wrong. May I suggest you read Hebrews 11. Please consider and review The Covenant of Promise and the New Covenant. Consider when and how God's Promise was fulfilled in Christ: Luke 24: 44 -53.

You stated, "Today Christians stand in Abraham's - rather than Moses' - status and relationship to God." You do err - Moses too had the gift of God's Spirit. David and all the prophets are all of the faithful. The New Covenant was called the Covenant of Promise until the Promise was fulfilled in Christ. .... (It was) Offered to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai but they refused and disbelieved for 40 years and their carcases lie in the wilderness.

In my opinion, "Christian theology" is not led by God's Spirit.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, now, with respect, there is obviously a little confusion here! Let us look at these 'charges' which are levelled against me.

To take the last point first, the word, 'theology' simply means 'speech of God,' or, 'words of God.' To practice Christian theology is simply to properly expound and explain the Christian Gospel and what it means for you and I today. Unfortunately, a few always seem to think that there is something inherently evil about 'Christian theology.' Yet the only reason to be involved in it is to better understand the Holy Bible. Of course, some theologians have distorted things and nobody can excuse that. Yet others - usually of a 'fundamentalist' type - will spend an hour expounding the Scripture then say something like, "Of course, I never teach theology!" If that person claims not to speak theology there is no good reason for you and I to listen to him if we are interested in the Word of God. Come on, let's be sensible about this!

So to state that "Christian theology is not led by God's Spirit" (as my questioner states) may or may not be an acceptable comment; it is only an acceptable comment if the theological understanding one is being offered is liberal, or based upon 'process theology' or some other theological aberration. Since I personally (and the UK Apologetics website), only preach and teach biblical, evangelical theology that complaint cannot be reasonably levelled in our particular direction.

Okay, now the quote of mine which my questioner has pulled from one of my articles (he does not identify which one, and I write rather a lot) is this:

"Abraham is vitally important within Christian theology since, as Paul is at pains to explain, he became the 'father of the faithful' - Abraham effectively lived under, and tasted, the New Covenant ahead of time because He stood in a relationship with God which was based entirely on faith. His divinely-granted faith allowed him to be covered by God's grace, whereas Moses stood in a relationship with God based entirely on obedience to the Law. Today Christians stand in Abraham's - rather than Moses' - status and relationship to God."

I have obviously looked at this statement of mine very carefully to see if I have inadvertently erred somewhere - entirely possible since I don't claim to be perfect! - but, in all honesty, I still think that the statement is scripturally accurate. But, I must confess, the statement is theological, assuming just a little greater knowledge within the reader.

My questioner scolds me and admonishes me to review Hebrews 11. I have done that. No problem. That is the chapter which mentions various Old Testament personalities and how they were outstanding examples of faith. Noah is mentioned so are such personalties as Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Abraham and Moses. The point is that all these men and women of faith will be in God's kingdom. Of course, I agree and nothing which I stated in that rather large paragraph suggests that I might think otherwise. So I don't know why I am being scolded and told to look in that particular chapter. All those Old Testament personalities stand in the community of the faithful and of the saved. I will only point out, however, that their knowledge of God will probably have been a little variable, yet they knew the true God and were faithful to Him. They are all saved by the blood of Christ even before Christ had been born.

But did those personalities fully understand the New Covenant back then? Of course not, although Abraham, very likely, as 'the father of the faithful' will have eventually had a little more understanding. A bit later Jeremiah the Prophet certainly prophesied of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31 (which we look at later) but, of course, it was yet future - awaiting the coming of the Messiah to be more fully revealed and is now revealed in full in the pages of the New Testament.

I am then told, "Please consider and review The Covenant of Promise and the New Covenant." Well the phrase 'covenant of promise' is usually used to refer to the Lord's covenant with Abraham (although sometimes writers use that phrase a little differently). Obviously, once again, no problem there. Paul mentions this in Galatians:

6. So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
7. Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham.
8. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you."
9. So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. (Galatians 3)

Paul is making the point that Abraham was a man of exceptional faith. His faith and belief were credited to him as 'righteousness.' We, as Christian believers, are now considered as 'children of Abraham.' (verse 7), because of our faith. Have any of us seen God or Jesus? Of course not - we believe because of faith (actually such faith is, in itself, a gift of God). So - in that sense - and the sense that this all looked forward to the coming of Jesus, all nations are indeed blessed through Abraham (verse 8).

10. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”
11. Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.”
12. The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”
13. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
14. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3).

Paul is now showing us that Abraham was not really a man of the law (how could he be? The Old Covenant, given at Mount Sinai, was yet future in his day!), yet his righteousness was accepted upon his faith and belief. Paul even states that those who came to believe that the law, in itself, could save them were actually under a curse! (verse 10). Reliance upon a law cannot lead to justification before God (verse 11). Christ redeemed us from that, showing the inadequacies of law as a path to salvation (verse 13). In this manner, the Christian is on a path similar to that of Abraham.

17. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.
18. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
19. Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.
20. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.
21. Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.
22. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (Galatians 3).

So Paul is saying that we should look upon what the Lord revealed to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-4) as a covenant, a covenant which actually went above and beyond the later Mt. Sinai Covenant.

1. The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2. “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
3. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12).

This, of course, is just the beginning. Suffice it to say, the Abrahamic covenant was about the formation of Israel, and, later, of course, of the Church. It included the coming of our Saviour and all the blessings which would come to the world through Jesus Christ. All of this is there in the Abrahamic Covenant! But this covenant, of course, is not about law as a legalistic package, it is about the divine promise of faith and grace which would spread out from Abraham, eventually to become available to the entire world! Ultimately that Abrahamic Covenant is about the full revelation of Jesus Christ.

Okay, so hopefully by this point, it will be becoming clear that nothing I stated in that paragraph is in opposition to anything here, on the contrary, I think all of this corroborates what I wrote.
Now my questioner asks me to review the New Covenant, well I think I have already stated sufficient to show that there is no problem here either. As already stated, Jeremiah looked forward to this:

31. “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.
32. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to[d] them,” declares the LORD.
33. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
34. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Without question this looked forward to Christ with His revelation of the New Covenant, and to His Church. Later Jesus was able to state,

27. Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you.
28. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matthew 26:27-28, NKJV).

In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. (1 Corinthians 11:25, NIV).

But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. (Hebrews 8:6).

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance— now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15).

So I think that all of the above should be clear to all of us. Truly, we are left in no doubt as to what constitutes the New Covenant! Why did my questioner accuse me on this point? I truthfully have no idea.

Finally, he asks me to review Luke 24:44-53. So let us look at that:

44. He said to them, This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.
45. Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.
46. He told them, This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day,
47. and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
48. You are witnesses of these things.
49. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.
50. When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them.
51. While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven.
52. Then they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.
53. And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God. (Luke 24:44-53).

Obviously there is nothing there which might be a surprise to any of those who are well-versed in the Christian Faith. Why did my questioner suggest that I check this out? Well supposedly to bring me back on track from my supposedly erring theology. But I genuinely do not know what the problem is, save that - at some point - he has possibly misunderstood me.

He then states that "Moses too had the gift of God's Spirit." Well, I think that he obviously did, but the interesting thing about the Old Testament (not just my idea, several Bible commentators have commented upon this) is that God's people appear to be blessed with the Holy Spirit in a much more external way and less of the internal way which we tend to find in the New Testament. So the Spirit "came upon" people like Samson and even Saul but it seems to be less of a way of working internally with the mind and conscience and much more external and physically dramatic. Overall, this is what we seem to find. But Moses - certainly at times - was empowered by the Spirit of God.

Finally, my questioner erroneously states that the Holy Spirit was "offered to the Israelites at Mt. Sinai." No, it was not. That is completely incorrect. The promises of the Old Covenant were almost entirely physical and national. The Holy Spirit was not generally offered to Israel at that time, but the Lord was certainly prepared to externally empower certain individuals, such as Moses, Joshua and the prophets, who were part of His plan.

I think that just about concludes my response to the charge that my Christian theology "lacks substance." I honestly believe that I attempt to painstakingly base everything which I - and UK Apologetics - teach upon the plain teachings of Holy Scripture.
Robin A. Brace. February 16th, 2011.