Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way Of Doing Theology" by Dennis F. Kinlaw. Part III

Earlier, we have looked at Dr. Dennis F. Kinlaw's treatment of three metephors which explain God's relation to His created world and His purposes for a redeemed mankind.  The Royal/Legal metephor, which is the contextual background for the development of the Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith, dominates Reformed soteriology.  Kinlaw, in "Let's Start With Jesus: A New Way of Doing Theology," convincingly argues that this metephor alone does not give a full picture of God's relation to His created world nor adequately explain why God sent His Son to die for all humanity upon the Cross.  In chapter two, "The Level of Intimacy God Desires: Three Metephors Illustrate God's Purposes for Us," examines the three metephors in greater detail.  In the process, Kinlaw points us to a new understanding of two portions of scripture: the Covenant between God and Israel at Mount Sinai in Exodus and Paul's letter to the Romans.

The first metephor which describes the intimacy God wants with us is the Royal/Legal metephor.  This metephor denotes both a royal court where the sovereign reigns as well as a legal court where judicial decisions are made.  God is both king and judge; the ruler who announces judicial decrees and enforces them.  God is responsible for both justice and order; He protects the weak and the vulnerable and punishes evil doers.  These two roles of God are developed throughout scripture.  Ps. 93: 1-2 declares the unchallenged royal rule of God in the universe; Ps. 99: 1-5 does as well, also declaring God's love of justice.  Ps. 23 portrays God as the shepherd king, guiding those under His rule.  When God destroys Sodom and Gomorrah in Gen. 18, God is fulfilling His role as judge, guarenteeing righteousness.  Abraham comments on God's nature: "...Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?...Far be it from you to do such a thing--to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike.  Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18: 23,25)  Sure knowledge of God's unequaled sovereign power and His righteousness in judgement should produce fear and confidence in those who believe in Him: "Say to the nations, 'The Lord reigns.' The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.  Let the heavens rejoice, he comes to judge the earth.  He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth." (Ps. 96: 10-11, 13)  In the New Testament, John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul develop the theme of God as king through the proclamation of the Kingdom of God.  Revelation tells us that all humanity will face the creator-judge.

As stated earlier, the Royal/Legal metephor provides the contextual framework for the development of the Protestant doctrine of Justification by faith.  Justification by faith can be explained briefly.  Man, God's greatest creation, violated God's law, bringing eternal condemnation upon all humanity.  Sinful Man's greatest need is salvation, but Man is powerless to earn salvation.  The good news is that Jesus has taken upon Himself the judgement against us, satisfying divine justice.  By accepting Jesus' sacrifice for humanity by faith, we are forgiven and redeemed.  Salvation is not given to us for what we have done; it is God's gift.  It is this truth that sparked the Reformation and it still dominates Reformed soteriology today.  Augustine laid the foundation for this doctrine through his articulation of the unity of God.

Kinlaw points out that in gaining a complete picture of God's relationship to creation and His purposes for Man, the Royal/Legal metephor is inadequate.  It defines human personhood solely in legal terms; it is solely concerned about whether a man or a woman is a legal citizen in God's kingdom.  It views Christ's saving work only in terms of a change in status for the sinner.  The problem of sin's penalty is dealt with, but no answer is given for the problem of human sin.  An exclusive focus upon the Royal/Legal metephor has lead the Calvinist Reformed tradition to define justification as declaring a sinner righteous, but not making that sinner righteous.  Kinlaw quotes Louis Berkhof to illustrate the Reformed tradition: Justification as a legal act "applies to all sins, past, present, and future, and therefore includes the removal of all guilt and every penalty." Berkhof states that this act does not admit of repitition.  Kinlaw responds: "In other words, justification is an answer to the problem of the consequences of my sins but not my sinfulness.  Righteousness is imputed but not necessarily imparted to the believing sinner.  A lost legal position is restored, yet the problem of a rebellious or a divided heart is not adequately addressed.  More than imputed righteousness is required if one is to walk joyously in fellowship with the Holy One." (Kinlaw, p. 51)

This Reformed view of salvation has its roots in the Reformed interpretation of Romans, neglecting what other Biblical writers say concerning salvation, especially John.  Reformed soteriology is laid out in terms of the Law.  But Paul's Old Testament model of salvation in Romans (and Galations)is Abraham and the Law was not part of Abraham's world.  Abraham's relationship was with God Himself, not with God's commands.  "The failure of Israel to understand the difference between relating to God himself and relating to God's law lay at the heart of Paul's charges against Israel in his Roman letter, a failure that ultimately led to Israel's rejection of the Messiah.  For Paul, Abraham is the prime picture of the justified person, so one gets the feeling that justification for him includes more than a change of legal status." (Kinlaw, p. 52)

The Familial metephor begins early in the Old Testament and takes center stage in Jesus' ministry.  God commands Moses to tell Pharoh, "...This is what the Lord says: Israel is my first born son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me..." (Ex 4: 22-23)  In speaking of Israel as His first born son, God was indicating that His family will extend beyond Israel's borders, that Moses' call was the development of God's promise to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations.  The Old Testament is filled with references to Israel as God's offspring:  Dt. 32:6 (Is this the way you repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people?  Is he not your father, your creator, who made you and formed you?"), Hosea 11: 1-2 (When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.  But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me...), Ps. 2:7, 2Sam 7:14. The New Testament declares that Jesus is the Son of God and the purpose of the Incarnation and atonement was so we can be sons and daughters of God.  Our relationship to the Father and the Son is analogical to the ontological relationship existing between the Father and the Son within the Godhead.  Paul in Romans speaks of our adoption, John in Revelation 3:21 writes, "To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne."  To become a member of God's family requires a change of heart.  The promises of such a change in the Old Testament provides the framework for the New Testament description of this change.

In the Familial metephor, human personhood is viewed as who we are and what God intends for us to be, not just a legal person, but a human person.  In familes we learn how to relate to others in intimacy.  We learn about personal obligation, respect, love.  We develop moral and ethical sensibilities.  We learn self-giving love and experience the mingling of our lives with others.

Kinlaw gives us further insight concerning families.  The roots of the family are not in biology or sociology but in theology.  To fully understand the family, one must know it in terms of God's nature and eternal purposes.  This leads me to state an insight of Kinlaw's I have not included in these posts thus far.  In our falleness, our human families are not a perfect model of the Fatherhood of God and how a father relates to his children.  The Heavenly Father's relationship with His only begotten Son serves as a model as to how our families are to be.

The Nuptial metephor is the most intimate of the three metephors.  Kinlaw tells us that we can find this metephor's roots in the Mount Sinai Covenant. The Covenant is not just a legal covenant, but a marital one.  While there is some justification for analyzing this Covenant in the context of other ancient covenants from Israel's pagan neighbors, we do not arrive at our understanding of God through alternative ancient concepts of diety.  We gain our understanding by consulting the understanding of the Prophets, Jesus and the New Testament.  The Prophets spoke of Israel as an adulterous woman, forgetting her marriage covenant. (Ezk 16)  As a husband, God, through the Prophets, beseeches Israel to remember her covenant and return to the one she is betrothed to. (Jer. 2: 2-3, Is 54, 62: 4-5)  Hosea is commanded by God to marry an immoral woman and to take her back when she has been unfaithful.  In obeying God, Hosea was modeling not only God's forgivness but God's pain at being forsaken by the one He was in covenant with.  The New Testament writers assumed that their readers would be familiar with this Old Testament background. (Mt. 22:2, Jn 3:27-30, Rev 19: 6-8, 21:2, 9, 22:17)  The sin of Babylon is identified with adultery.  (Rev 18: 3, 9) References to Babylon's adultery makes it  evident that God wants a nuptial relationship with all humanity.  God's judgement against Babylon is spoken of in marital terms. (Rev. 18:23)  As the starting point for understanding the family is not biological but theological, the same is true for the understanding of human sexuality, says Kinlaw.  In the Song of Solomon, there is no mention of offspring, but there is a celebration of intimacy.  As human sexuality is a model of the Church's union with Christ as His bride, God has a claim on human sexuality, how it is to be exercised.  The relationship of Christ and His bride is to a union of personal choice in which both view the covenant between them as no restriction upon them, as it should be between husband and wife.  The human sense of betrayal when a spouse is unfaithful witnesses to us that the two who entered the covenant were made solely for each other.  And this is the model of the Church's relationship to the Son; the Church is being prepared to be Christ's bride.

These three metephors demonstrate that the purpose for the Incarnation and Atonement was not just for freeing us from judgement.  God's ultimate purpose was to bring us into such intimacy with Him that we share in the life, fellowship and love that the three persons of the Godhead share with one another.  Also it was God's purpose that our nature would be changed to be enabled to enjoy Him in self-giving love now and forever.  "Any understanding of the atonement that does not make provision to get us ready for that intimacy with him is inadequate, incomplete, and only partially biblical." (Kinlaw, p. 68)

The next chapter in "Let's Start With Jesus" is called "Personhood and the Concept of God."

All Scriptural passages are from the NIV.


Brian said...

this is really good stuff - I cam appreciate the familial metaphor and see how it needs to be preached/taught more!

John Phillips said...


You should check out N. T. Wright's book on Justification. He tries to widen the courtroom language in to that of covenant and the family of God.

John Phillips said...


You should check out N. T. Wright's book on Justification. He tries to widen the courtroom language in to that of covenant and the family of God.

Mr. Guthrie said...

John, you must be refering to Wright's new book on Justification, what he describes as his mature thoughts upon the subject. I'm glad he is moving in this direction. While I prefer Kinlaw as a theological writer, Wright has a greater readership and should be influential in making the public more aware of other metephors concerning God's relation to His creation and His purposes for us. No doubt those who oppose this theological move will make their opposition public and the resulting public debate will further publicize what Wright and Kinlaw are articulating. I can only hope. Thanks for stopping by.