Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sine Qua Non and the Doxological Center

Charles Ryrie has now been in the proverbial doghouse for almost 50 years since fingering a doxological center as one of the three sine qua non of dispensationalism. The response has been nothing short of vicious in some quarters, because, after all, Reformed theology is all about doxology (first question of the Catechism anyone?). But while It is likely that Ryrie’s abbreviated explanation of this point has lent to some of the vitriol, at the end of the day, I think he’s on to something: the unifying center of all God’s activity is not redemption. The Bible is more than heilsgeschichte. There’s more to God’s decree than saving his elect via the Christian Gospel. It’s bigger than that. It’s about God ruling his whole universe and extracting glory from all its parts.

While in theory Reformed theologians would agree with this assessment, in practice this does not always seem to follow. Which is part of the reason, I think, why there were such strong objections to my post of last week, where I suggested in passing that Christ and the Gospel are not themes of the OT. It was not enough for some readers that I identified in the OT a redemptive thread and a prophetic motif that takes Messianic shape (OK, maybe that adds up to a theme—fine, I won’t quibble any more over semantics if it prevents heart attacks). For some, though, calling these “a” theme is not enough—I must instead call these “the” theme of the Old Testament. Sorry—can’t go there, heart attack or no.

Why not? Because I see the Gospel as only a piece of God’s decree, not the whole. God extracts glory from his universe via the Gospel, to be sure. But he also extracts glory and satisfaction from his universe apart from the Gospel—from the heavens (Ps 19:1), the angels (Job 38:7; Ps 148:2), the pre-fall universe (Gen 1:31), and even the damned (Rom 9:22). All this leaves me uncomfortable with saying that it’s all about the Gospel.

Certainly the Gospel of God’s special grace in Christ is a big deal. You can’t enter the Kingdom of Christ without it. But there is also in God’s universal kingdom a common or civic aspect, detailed in the dominion mandate, formalized under Noah, and realized in part in the Jewish theocracy, that operates independently of and even prior to the theme of Gospel. And much of the Old Testament revolves around the theme of covenant faithfulness within whatever dispensational arrangement in which one found himself.

I’m not saying that one can be SAVED by covenant faithfulness (the error of the New Perspective, and perhaps also a few key early dispensationalists [Scofield Reference Bible, p. 1115 n. 2]). Salvation is secured only by trust in the redemptive promises of God that find their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of and extended his own righteousness to all in every age who will believe. Please don’t hear me say anything else.

What I AM saying is that there is more to God’s plan than merely saving people. And so I’m comfortable (with this explanation) agreeing with Ryrie that the underlying purpose of God in the world is not the Gospel, but God’s Glory.


Mark Snoeberger said...

The last thread went a bit off topic and ended up focusing on an undeveloped sentence in my original post. So I'm reviving the last piece of dialog from that thread here. It's a worthy question.

Chris wrote:

OT and intertestamental Jews awaited the Messiah as a result of the Hebrew Scriptures' continual emphasis on a coming Redeemer (1 Pet 1:11; Luke 2:25-26). How much more should we who read the OT with the inspired commentary of the NT see Christ--and at the very least the preparation/need of Christ--in the sacrifices, or covenants, or Kingdom promises, or cycles of failure/judgment/restoration, etc. Especially in light of multiple explicit statements from the NT (Luke 24; John 5:46; consistent explanations of OT passages in apostolic preaching and the epistles, etc.). Passages which I feel like a simpleton to even point out. I can't imagine not seeing Christ all over the OT, as THE dominant theme, much less being "refreshed" by the perceived Gospel-less-ness.

Chris, You've probably figured out that I have only limited agreement with what you just wrote. The reason is that I am convinced, based on (what sems to me at least) a normal hermeneutic, that Calvin's two-government model (broadly), and a dispensational model (narrowly) suggest a different take than yours.

Likewise, your approach, while textually based, appears to flow from similar commitments (conscious or otherwise) to a post-Reformed model (broadly) and a neo-Kuyperian model (narrowly).

In a nutshell, the neo-Kuyperian model holds to a one-kingdom idea that sees all revelation funneled into a single redemptive "kingdom" centered on Christ. Christ and the Gospel, as such, "fit" necessarily into every text of the OT as THE singularly redemptive motif of Scripture.

The two-kingdom model sees a dual purpose in God's universe--redemptive and common. The redemptive has to do with man's salvific relationship with God. Revelation about this sphere begins with the protoevangelium, surfaces sporadically throughout the OT, and intensifies in the latter prophets, where its distinctly messianic shape emerges (and if this is what you mean by Christ being a "theme" of the OT, I'm with you). This idea dominates the NT, where it becomes THE major theme. Revelation concerning the common or civic sphere, on the other hand, begins with the dominion mandate, takes peculiar shape with the Noahic Covenant and the second table of the Law, and dominates the theocratic period.

Dispensationalism, I think, can be demonstrated to be a variation of this latter model (some would say a perversion) that offers multiple adminstrations--not just two. The various purposes of God are inter-connected, but what is key is that they are not limited to redemptive concerns. What binds them together is not so much the Gospel as it is the manifold glory of God. It's BIGGER than the Gospel.

Let's take one example: the OT sacrificial system. There are diverse understandings within dispensationalism on the OT sacrifices, but one that I have felt comfortable embracing is John Whitcomb's theocratic understanding of the sacrifices, viz., that the sacrifices were only incidentally connected with being redemptively right with God; instead they were concerned with being theocratically right with the (K)ing and with the covenant community. That these sacrifices became a pattern for the redemptive arrangement in the death of Christ is not accidental, of course. And God certainly arranged history so that there is a continuity of form. However, it seems to me that rather than seeing the OT sacrifices as anticipating Christ, it is better to say that God modeled Christ's sacrifice retrospectively after the theocratic system.

If this is the case, then the the Mosaic system has its own meaning, known plainly by the OT saint, without reference to Christ. It was not intrinsically anticipatory.

Mark Mincy said...

Hi Mark,

I've always enjoyed your writing. I've rarely commented. The thing about your "Country Drive" post that stood out to me was when you said:

"But the thing is, when I stop reading between the lines and just start reading the lines, Christ and the Gospel do not emerge as major OT themes. In fact, they're not themes at all."

In your present post you acknowledge that you do see redemption/gospel/Christ as *a* theme in the OT. That is much easier for me to swallow :-).

FWIW, this was an extremely helpful statement in your post today:

"Salvation is secured only by trust in the redemptive promises of God that find their fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ, who bore the sins of and extended his own righteousness to all in every age who will believe."

That's one of the best, concise statements I've seen regarding the work of Christ in every age to all who believe.

Chris Anderson said...

Thanks for the response, Mark. I don't have time to get into a prolonged discussion---or even to make this comment, frankly---but it seems that Christ himself faulted the Jews of His day (pre-epistle) for not seeing the anticipatory nature of the Pentateuch in passages like John 8:39 and 46.If we're missing in Moses what Christ said was essential, perhaps our hermeneutic is bit more refined than, well, His. :)

I'm out. I appreciate your response and respect your scholarship even when I disagree with you. Grace to you.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that 1 cor 15:24-28 relates to the ideas you are expressing in the last couple of postings?

Ben said...


Though I disagree with much of what you've argued, I'll happily agree that a narrow focus on human redemption as the central theme of the OT is off target. I'm not entirely sure which CT people would affirm that narrow a theme, either consciously or functionally, but that's a separate question.

I'm wondering if you're familiar at all with Jim Hamilton's God's Glory in Salvation through Judgment? I've only read reviews so far, but I'm interested whether his incorporation of judgment might address some of your concerns.

Chris Anderson said...

Mark, reading back over my comments, they're more "snarky" than I intended. I spoke casually, but I didn't mean to be so disrespectful. I apologize.

jaredmcompton said...

Mark said : However, it seems to me that rather than seeing the OT sacrifices as anticipating Christ, it is better to say that God modeled Christ's sacrifice retrospectively after the theocratic system.

If this is the case, then the the Mosaic system has its own meaning, known plainly by the OT saint, without reference to Christ. It was not intrinsically anticipatory.

Jared : If I'm reading you right, then your point is the exact opposite of the one the author of Hebrews makes when he talks about the cult's "self-confessed inadequacy"--which is to say--the cult's intrinsic anticipation of something better (see, e.g., 9:6-10, 13-14; 10:1-4). The sacrifices proclaimed--to any who would listen [to their conscience/Holy Spirit]--that something better was needed. They were the shadow--the God-ordained shadow--the reality cast and they knew it.

Jared Compton

Tim Davis said...


Are the problems you are addressing related to a lack of clarity (not yours, but in broad Christianity) on the unifying theme (purpose/principle) of God's activity? It would seem that a failure to properly account for this principle explains the man-centered focus of the gospel vis-a-vis the gospel as a revelation of God's glory (1 Timothy 1:11; 2 Corinthians 4:6). Likewise, it would seem that the issue of the unifying theme of God's activity bolsters your argument regarding separation.

Mark Snoeberger said...

I'll respond to a few of these before I run to class. The rest will have to wait.

First, anynoymous's question (I don't always accept anonymous posts, but it was a decent question): Yes, I think 1 Cor 15:28is illustrative of my point. If Jesus cedes his Kingdom to the Father at the end, then it does seem like there's something greater than Gospel. Even more to the point are divine activities that are divorced from Gospel entirely (Creation, especially, but also angels, the non-elect, the universe at large, etc.).

Ben, yes, I have looked at Jim Hamilton's book, and I am pleased that he connects judgment with redemption in a significant way in his biblical theology. What I'd like to see hammered even harder (and this is by no means absent in the book) is creation/dominion. This seems to be a major motif in both testaments that stands outside the Gospel (well, at least for the non-supralapsarian).

Chris, I haven't been offended. We do seem to have some disagreement on issues that are dear to us both, but I've never thought that you transcended the bounds of propriety for either Christian or friend.

Mark Snoeberger said...


Looking at those passages, my quick take is that the shadow that the Mosaic sacrifices offered is one of form, and that the thing that is better about Christ's sacrifices is that it does something permanent and redemptive (rather than temporary and theocratic).

When 10:4 says that the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins, I don't see that in an absolute sense (otherwise, why offer them at all?). The point seems to be that while the sacrifices did not finally or redemptively take away sin, they did result in temporary, non-redemptive rectitude within the theocratic community. That's what I mean when I say that "the Mosaic system has its own meaning, known plainly by the OT saint, without reference to Christ."

Now Hebrews 9:8 does suggest that the curious lack of activity in the Most Holy Place invited people to ponder issues of eternal rectitude. So I'm not saying that there is nothing incidentally anticipatory about the sacrifices. But I don't conclude that the sole or even the primary purpose of the sacrifices was anticipatory. The sacrifices did something very important in their own right for the OT saint. They just didn't save him.

Christ's sacrifice retains the form of the OT sacrifices, but accomplishes something different and better. It gives final (rather than temporary) expiation in a redemptive (not theocratic) context.

That's my quick take (which may be all I can offer today--I'm a bit behind). Pick it apart for specifics.

Brian said...


What an interesting discussion! I think I understand and am sympathetic to the reason for your statements, given the somewhat faddish nature of "Gospel-centeredness."

It appears that you are not in agreement with the idea that Redemption is the overarching theme of both Testaments, but rather is found as a "thread" in the Old.

I had a similar thought to Chris' in relation to a passage like Luke 24. Here, Jesus refers explicitly to Moses and the prophets (law and prophets, e.g. the OT) and "he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." (ESV)

So, my questions would be:

1) Does "all the scriptures" refer to the OT? Some of the OT? All of the OT?

2) Could we say from a passage like this that the overarching theme of the Scriptures, both Testaments, is Christ Himself, similarly to what you said, e.g. God?

3) If the Scriptures are replete with "things concerning himself," what "things" about Jesus are the Scriptures themed around?

It seems to me that from the later verses (vv. 44-47) indicate that it is indeed the redemptive aspects of Christ's earthly ministry that are in view. Now this is just one passage, but how would you reconcile this with your assertion that the Gospel of Christ is NOT a theme of the OT?

Thanks for tackling the subject.

Brian McCrorie

Mark Snoeberger said...

Hi Brian. See my post on February 1st. I addressed Luke 24 there.

Brian said...

Thanks for the link. Wish I had read that first! I will be the first to affirm with you that Christ is not found under every stone in the OT; neither should we allegorize the text to make Him the subject of every OT sentence.

However, I do think the "thread" of redemption running through the OT is quite a strand and still think the allusion to Moses and the Prophets in places like Luke 24 is typically used to refer to the entire OT. So I would personally affirm that Christ is a central theme in the OT, but not the exclusive theme. It seems difficult to discount or minimize the Pauline example of "preaching Christ crucified" as normative for all NT era preaching. Obviously, Isaiah 53 will lend itself more cogently to the discussion than other passages; but even passages like Psalm 104 could be coupled with NT exhortations on worship resulting from spirit-filled and word of Christ-residing hearts, couldn't they?

Thanks for the late night cogitations.

Brian McCrorie

jaredmcompton said...

I suppose "incidentally anticipatory" is slightly better than "not intrinsically anticipatory," though it's still not what the author of Hebrews is saying. If the sacrifices, e.g., are an annual reminder of sins, because they couldn't deal with them finally (see 10:3-4), I'm not sure "incidentally anticipatory" (and certainly not non-anticipatory) would have satisfied the author as a summary of their function or his point. Much the same could be said of the other texts I mentioned (esp. 9:6-10). Further, "incidentally anticipatory" is out of step with the author's larger concern to show that the cult--priesthood, covenant, and sacrifices--proclaimed its own inadequacy and, thus, was necessarily (or, not-unexpectedly) replaced. In other words, the new word given by God through the son (1.2) is in harmony with/is the fulfillment of the old word God gave through the prophets (1.1) and angels (2.2).

I'll have to leave to the side, for the moment, this distinction you're making between theocratic and redemptive value. I'm not sure I buy it (which isn't just a kind of saying I don't). Still, at the moment it seems a bit artificial.

Thanks for stimulating my thinking.

Mark Snoeberger said...

Brian, much of what you are saying I have little quibble with, but two caveats.

(1) In expressing doubt that Christ was a theme in the OT, I never intended to say that he is absent in the OT. I have no problem saying that Jesus was able in the Luke 24 incident to pull out Messianic-redemptive data from the OT—it’s scattered throughout the whole. So I agree with you that "Law and Prophets" means the whole OT. I have a picture in my mind of Christ saying, “Remember Genesis 3:15? That was about me. And remember Job’s redeemer? He was right, and I am that redeemer. And Psalm 110? I am David’s Lord. And remember Isaiah 53? I’m the suffering servant. Etc.” But what some in this thread are suggesting is that an invisible reference to Christ is latent in every OT Scripture—every pericope, every stanza, every verse; and, further, that no sermon is complete until we discover it. I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind.

(2) You're right, of course, that apart from redemptive union with Christ no man can do anything truly good. So every homiletical directive defaults in that most basic sense to Christ. But that to me is not the same as saying that every sermon is “about” Christ. Beyond this, there are at least two fields that seem to fall outside clear redemptive reference:

(a) Segments of God’s universe exceed the redemptive bubble, such as the pre-fall earth, angels, the universe at large, and the damned, all of which give glory to God apart from the cross.

(b) There is also a common sphere that, while not totally unrelated to Christ (I see even common grace in the atonement), is not redemptive in nature. Psalm 104, it seems, is an apt example here: it speaks to the Father’s decree and wisdom relative to his general providence, not redemption. In this realm God receives glory even from the birds that sing, the trees that drink their fill, the ground animals that find refuge, and the wild animals that receive their food from God. That does not seem either Christological or redemptive truth. Now if a preacher wants to link to Colossians 1:16–17 and say that Jesus is also involved in this, I’m OK with that. But that detail seems incidental to the thrust of Psalm 104, and does not seem to me to be homiletically necessary.

Mark Snoeberger said...

Jared, it seems to me that your interpretation of Hebrews 9-10 (your first paragraph) rests squarely on the assumption you make in the second, viz., that there is no theocratic/redemptive distinction. If that assumption is correct, I agree with you 100%. If the Mosaic sacrifices were strictly redemptive, then yes, they were cruelly inadequate. They did nothing at all to satisfy God. They were just forms designed to frustrate the participants, leaving them unfulfilled and deperate for something more.

But the theocratic/redemptive distinction to me makes all the difference. Those sacrifices DID do something. They were more than a colossal waste of time and sheep that left God shaking his head in dissatisfaction. They made a person right within the theocratic arrangement. And so they were a cause for joy. At the same time the sacrifices did NOT address the redemptive problem, a fact seen most clearly in the lack of access to the Most Holy Place (9:8). And so OT saints, while delighting in what the sacrifices DID do, were genuinely aware that there was something they did NOT do.

The sacrifices did something; Christ did everything.

Follow-up: If the only function of the sacrifices was redemptive, and they were inadequate to that end, then why do we find over and over in Leviticus that the sacrifices took away guilt?

Here's my (theocratic) answer: the sacrifices took away culpability within the theocratic arrangement (much like jail time satisfies a criminal's culpability before the law and pays his debt to society). They didn't redeem him, but they did relieve temporal culpability before the community law.

But if they have no function other than redemptive, what is the removal of guilt that the offerers received? Is it just a promise of future expiation? A temporary redemption by works? A semi-redemptive reprieve? A covering?

That's what I don't get about the redemptive-only theory of the sacrifices. It makes a plausible case in Hebrews, but doesn't seem to explain the whole of Leviticus.

DMD said...


It seems to me that you're missing a significant point of the Hebrews issue.

E.g., God gave explicit and specific instructions about the details of the tabernacle because they serve as "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things" (8:5) and 9:8 states that the "Holy Spirit is signifying" something by the construction of the tabernacle. IOW, the design of the OT was intended to foreshadow what was coming, so it seems woefully deficient to say it only does this retrospectively. I think that Colossians 2:16-17 suggest the same type of point.

It is just as faulty to read out of the OT what is there as it is read into it what is not there, true?

Mark Snoeberger said...

Pastor Doran, I don't think I'm saying much that's different that this, but let me explain further:

(1) Regarding 8:5 I would say pretty much exactly what I said above: "That these sacrifices became a pattern for the redemptive arrangement in the death of Christ is not accidental, of course. God certainly arranged history so that there is a continuity of form."

(2) With respect to 9:8, I agree that the inactivity at the Most Holy Place, specifically, was intentinally designed to arouse curiosity. I was just talking to Jared about this a few minutes ago, and explained it this way:

In the midst of the joyful celebration of what the sacrifices had accomplished...

A Jewish lad might say, "Daddy, can we go into the Most Holy Place?"

Dad: "No."

Lad: "Why not? We gave a sacrifice."

Dad: "True, but as valuable as that sacrifice was, it can't get us into the Most Holy Place."

Lad: "What do we have to do to enter the Most Holy Place?"

Dad: "God will provide...someday."

That's why I say that the sacrifices had the intrinsic value of rendering one immediately (if temporarily) right within the theocratic arrangement, but incidentally reminded them of a redemptive deficiency.

Maybe "incidental" is too weak (that's what Jared suggested), suggesting that it's a trivial afterthought. That's not what I mean. What I mean is that it is ancillary to the real (but non-redemptive) efficacy that was realized by the OT saint.

About Me

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After growing up in the great state of Pennsylvania, I settled down in 1994 with my new bride, Heather, in Allen Park, Michigan, and have been here at Detroit Baptist Seminary ever since (with a bit of time away for doctoral work). Since 2007 I have been privileged to be a part of the systematic theology faculty here. I love teaching, researching and writing, hunting with my two boys, and enjoying any little bit of God's unadulterated creation I can find (which means I occasionally have to get out of Detroit). But all these things matter to me only because theology matters. For it is God himself who gives all men life and breath and everything else (Acts 17:25).