Archive for the ‘Trinity’ Category

4. The Three Basic Phases of the Covenant

We have introduced the three phases of the covenant, from childhood to adulthood to full maturity. Let us look more fully at each of these three phases.

The Bible speaks of the Church as Daughter in this Old Creation phase: Daughter Zion, Daughter Jerusalem, and for converted nations, Daughter Tyre, etc. This is a time of childhood, of immaturity. We think of immaturity as something bad, but it is not. It is a gift of God appropriate for our first phase of life. We have said that the Son has eternally “become” mature, but this also means that the Son is also eternally moving from being immature. There is nothing wrong with such immaturity. It is what being a son means: to look up to one’s father. The Son is eternally immature, being a Son to his Father. He is eternally becoming mature through the Spirit. And he has eternally become mature, so that he is fully like his Father.

We need to remember the difference between created time and the Divine eternity. In time and history, maturation is a process, while in eternity it is a condition.

Thus, in the Old Creation we are like the Son in his Divine immaturity. We are under the Father, who has sent the Son to us as his Angel (messenger) to teach us the rules we are to obey during our childhood: the Law. The Father has sent his Spirit to cause us to grow up into adulthood. He wants us to become fully mature, just as his Son is eternally mature.


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3. Covenant Maturation

Let us now turn to the application of this One Eternal Covenant into history. We have been looking at Covenant Theology. Covenant Theology has to do with the persons of God and their relationships, with God’s relationships with humanity, and with our maturation toward being junior partners in the Divine community. Thus, the large focus in Covenant Theology is on persons, and we can link this with the Father-aspect of reality. Literary Theology studies how the Word is organized, and thus engages the Son-aspect of reality. When we move to Typology and Ritual, we are moving into the area of artistic imagery and of time sequences, the Spirit-aspect of reality.

These are the three large zones of Biblical Theology. Obviously, since God is One and “all of God does all that God does,” these three aspects of Biblical Theology cannot be separated fully from one another. What we begin to do in this essay is consider how the Spirit applies the one Covenant in history. We shall see that He does so by carrying humanity through ever-widening and ever-deepening spirals of maturation. These spirals or cycles correspond to one another, and thus are typologically related to one another. Thus, in this essay and those that follow, we are beginning to put Covenant and Typological Theology together.

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The Reformed faith has traditionally spoken of God condescending to reveal himself in creation. Presupposed in this assertion is that God is infinite in his own essence, both qualitatively and quantitatively. God is of a different type of “being” altogether, existing wholly within himself, outside of our plane of space and time. He is outside of our scale of being. In order for us to have knowledge of this wholly other God, God has revealed himself in an appropriate fashion. Calvin referred to this as accommodation, and this has given some occasion for question. It is very easy to interpret this accommodating as a less desirable way of relating, as if in the best of all possible worlds man could overcome this situation. However well-intentioned such a desire may be, it is indeed quite fatal, for what is called “accommodation” is really just one attempt at the larger Christian doctrine of analogy, that is, the relationship between the infinite and the finite.

This concept is indeed not free from controversy. I do not wish to touch on Aquinas’s use of the analogia entis, nor will I tread upon Eastern Orthodoxy’s distinction between God’s essence and his energies. These are all attempts to get at the same thing, and postmodernity has given a new popularity to questions of “being.” For our purposes, I would like to examine what the Reformed faith’s doctrine of the covenant has to offer on this question.

There is some diversity within the Reformed tradition as we well know. Everyone remembers the Van Til/Clark controversy, though few understand it still. Calvin scholarship is also divided on just what he meant “accommodation” and “condescension” to achieve. Was it specifically aimed at salvation or was it simply the relationship between Creator and creation? In order to get beyond some of these disputes and to the point of interaction with the topic at hand, I am basically assuming Van Til’s position, and I am assuming Van Til’s position to be basically consistent with Reformed Orthodoxy. Muller’s Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics supports this, and as I proceed, I will interact with Scott Oliphint’s Reasons {for Faith}, which will also substantiate this point. And in doing all of this, I believe that I will interact with a few points mentioned elsewhere concerning the sacraments and the covenant.


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