Following Jesus, the Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship
Practical biblical Theology
Zondervan has undertaken the Biblical Theology for Life Series to bring "groundbreaking academic study of the Bible alongside contemporary contextualization and proclamation." So that you do not have to break out a thesaurus, the series goal is to cover a subject in scripture and apply it primarily within 21st-century American evangelical culture. That does not automatically make the book yet another pint of fad-imbued swill, but if the person who wrote this copy for the back cover is an indicator of the content, we are in trouble. Thankfully, the text is only a marketing gimmick. Instead, Jonathan Lunde develops a theology of discipleship grounded in the biblical understanding of a covenant. This approach separates the work from other popular methodologies driven along by strictly New Testament or even denominational lines to a richer and deeper understanding of walking and working in a covenant relationship with the triune God.
Lunde begins by asking three simple questions which drive the format of the book:
Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus' commands if I have been saved by grace?
What is it that Jesus demands of his disciples?
How can the disciple obey Jesus' high demand, while experiencing his "yoke" as "light" and "easy"?
The "Why" is dealt with in detail by examining what a covenant is, what types are present in scripture, and the content of the different major covenants made from Noah through the New Covenant in Christ. Considered in these are the gracious dealings of God to man, righteous demands, and the proper place of faith and works in each. This broad view allows the reader to understand how God developed his suzerainty and grant covenants from one revelatory period to another as his eternal plan, developing how God's grace was a basis for each with the view to a loving response. Jesus is finally presented as the fulfillment of the covenantal demands and the proper intermediary for that to occur.
As a side note, Lunde develops the major covenants beginning with Noah, not because the covenant with Adam was insignificant, but because scripture does not develop it to the degree of the others. The author does point out the relative covenant pattern within the Adamic without overly pressing the text to make the connection.
The "What" is presented in Jesus' varied roles in his work and teaching in the Gospels. As the giver, administrator, and best interpreter of God's word, what Christ says concerning past covenantal commands during his incarnation is examined. Each part of this section examines the gospel accounts and understanding of prior covenants with the view to understand how those are practiced today, if at all. Jesus is presented as the Prophet-King in the Davidic line and type who has authority over men as sovereign and as the Father's mouthpiece to properly interpret and administer the commands and precepts of God. During his incarnation, he acts as filter, lens, and prism of the Law and Prophets for use by a New Covenant community. Each of these three facets are examined in individual chapters with sufficient examples, followed by their understanding in the culmination to be a people behaving within the local sphere as on a mission with the gospel.
Finally, the "How" is developed by examining Christ's person and work in the New Covenant. What was promised to which current believers adhere? How does the Lord's position with its resulting role and responsibility to be played out in the life of a believer? What of his earthly work is to be brought forward in each Christian and to what degree? As Jesus went about doing his Father's work, he represented God to the people, redeemed the exiled, restored the broken, and began unveiling his current and future work as king. Taking each of these separately, Lunde explains the place believers have as co-laborers with Christ in his mission and work, particularly as it means in being a disciple.
Finally, there is a chapter laying out the relevance that all theology has for the average Christian. What all is meant to be a disciple in today's world?
Two points are in order here. First, the author does not shy away from presenting his own view when it may in the minority. In the discussion of Jesus as the servant-redeemer (chapter 14), we are presented with the faithful remnant as a possible first intent of Isaiah's servant passages. This differs from both the typical Jewish understanding which has the entire nation of Israel in view without reference to the future messiah and the Christian view which looks solely at the Christological implications apart from any immediate reference. By putting forth the notion of the remnant, Lunde (and others from whom he derived the hypothesis) offers a possible solution for a contemporaneous use in Isaiah's time that is typical of most prophetic writing with their Ã¢ÂÂnow and not yetÃ¢ÂÂ application.
Second, I am disappointed with the short shrift given to baptism as an integral part of the biblical theology of discipleship. While Jesus' own baptism in relation to the fulfillment of all righteousness is given sufficient space, the Christian's is nowhere to be found though it is in clear view both when Christ commands the apostles to Ã¢ÂÂmake disciples of all nationsÃ¢ÂÂ and when Paul teaches the Corinthians of the baptism into Christ as the anti-type of the Red Sea crossing. Regardless of a reader's understanding of baptism (means of grace or mere symbol), discipleship begins at that point. It is the discernible marker of a commitment to the Father by virtue of the finished work of Christ in the empowerment by the Holy Spirit.
Overall, the book is quite worthwhile. The arguments are sound and clear without being overly academic. This makes this work well within reach of most teenagers and adults. Interspersed throughout are sidebar quotes commenting on the subject matter being presented helping to elucidate the points made. Even the book's printed format is favorable with its wide margin for plenty of notes. I recommend this as a useful tool in not just understanding my own walk of discipleship, but in teaching end encouraging others in their spiritual growth and service.
May 9, 2011
What does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus? That's the main question addressed in Lunde's book, which is part of the Biblical Theology for Life series. He asks three questions:
1) Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus's commands if I have been saved by grace?
2) What is it that Jesus demands of his disciples?
3) How can the disciple obey Jesus' high demand, while experiencing his "yoke" as "light" and "easy"?
Lunde begins working through these questions by going through the Old Testament covenants. He discusses how grace was involved in them, and the demands that were placed on the people involved in those covenants. He then discusses how Jesus has become the fulfillment of those covenants and the establishment of a New Covenant.
What I liked about this book: I never really thought of discipleship as a form of covenant before, so that was enlightening and I got to see the Old Testament covenants in a new light.
What I didn't like about this book: Lunde has a tendency to use $10 words when a much simpler word could be used. I think I have a pretty decent vocabulary, but I had to grab the dictionary several times. It was distracting to have to keep stopping, especially since this is not a "light-reading" topic. Explanations also tended to be repetitive and wordy. The insets were also distracting: short paragraphs of about 3 or 4 sentences set off to the side of the page, sort of indented into the paragraph. Authors usually use these to highlight a piece of information in their book that they feel is important, putting it in sight for people who like to skim through books for main points. Lunde didn't do that. Here they were used for additional pieces of information that went along with what he was saying. It was distracting to find a place where his train of thought paused so you could read those extras... and there were so many of them.
Unfortunately, I had a hard time getting through this book, and I was really disappointed because the topic was interesting to me. The back cover says that the book is for "pastors, church leaders, students, and lay readers," but I have to disagree. I think the average person isn't going to make it through this book. I would recommend it for seminary teachers and students, and maybe pastors. Not lay readers.
April 8, 2011
Excellent overview of covenants and discipleship
Jonathan Lunde, associate professor of biblical and theological studies at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, is the editor of a new series from Zondervan Academic entitled the Biblical Theology For Life. The series aims to answer the question "What does the Bible have to say about that?" More specifically, contributors engage the dual tasks of describing biblical theology and contemporary contextualization with the goal of "accosting the reader's perspective and fostering application, transformation, and growth" (19). The structure of the volumes therefore, proceeds along these lines: The first section, entitled "Queuing the Questions," allows the authors to introduce the main questions they seek to answer. This is followed by the section deemed "Arriving at Answers," where authors develop the biblical theology of the topic they are to address, while "constructing answers" to questions posed in the previous section. The third and final section, "Reflecting on Relevance", is where the theological rubber meets the road of real life, namely, how theology might be lived out in the world today. Along the way, each chapter concludes with "Relevant Questions", encouraging the reader to reflect on what he/she read, and frequent use of sidebars, including quotes, diagrams, charts, etc.
Lunde as editor of this series, has also managed to contribute a volume to this new series, entitled, Following Jesus, The Servant King: A Biblical Theology of Covenantal Discipleship. Lunde's book focuses on answering these three questions:
1.The Ã¢ÂÂWhyÃ¢ÂÂ Question: Why should I be concerned to obey all of JesusÃ¢ÂÂ commands if I have been saved by grace?
2.The Ã¢ÂÂWhatÃ¢ÂÂ Question: What is it that Jesus demands of his disciples?
3.The Ã¢ÂÂHowÃ¢ÂÂ Question: How can the disciple obey JesusÃ¢ÂÂ high demand, while experiencing his Ã¢ÂÂyokeÃ¢ÂÂ as Ã¢ÂÂlightÃ¢ÂÂ and Ã¢ÂÂeasyÃ¢ÂÂ?
Beginning with the 'why' question (ch's 2-5; 35-110), Lunde does a wonderful job of guiding the reader through the various covenant types (grant and conditional), and how these types are the foundation of the Noahic, Abrahamic, Mosaic, Davidic, and New Covenants. Broadly summarizing, Lunde sees that no matter the covenant type, "the covenants are always grounded and established in the context of God's prior grace toward the people entering the covenant..." (40; italics original). Another valuable insight for this reader at least, was Lunde's handling of the Pauline material. Chapter 5, seeks to answer the question "How do faith and works of obedience relate to the reception of the blessing of the new covenant?" (91) After surveying the span of the Noahic to the New Covenant's, Lunde makes the observation, that unlike the conditional nature of the Mosaic Covenant, the New Covenant is lacking any conditional qualifiations, "placing the prophetic emphasis on God's action..." (99). Lunde's conclusion of Paul's stance is striking and worth quoting in full:
The nub of Paul's argument, then, is that those who seek to receive the blessings of the gospel as if they were mediated through a conditional covenant-- conceiving of obedience to the law as the continuing means by which the blessings are received--miss the point entirely. At one level, then, Paul is not rebuking legalistic merit theology so much as a fatal misrepresentation of the New Covenant that leads unintentionally to legalism. In other words, because of the nature of Jesus' fulfillment of the Mosaic Covenant, those who treat the law as if it were still in effect place themselves back under the demand of the law and therefore under its conditional curse. This seems to be the way in which Paul is arguing in Galatians 3 (103; italics original).
The 'what' question (ch's 6-10; 115-183) focuses on Jesus' dual role as Prophet and King. Jesus is the culimination of the line of prophets announced by Moses in Deut 18:18-19, but his role here is to be subsumed as the King where he demands that his disciples follow him in ushering in his Kingdom. Lunde explores Jesus' relationship to the law, using three metaphors: Jesus the filter, Jesus the lens, and Jesus the prism. The chapter on Jesus the filter, seeks to explore continuities/discontinuities between the Mosaic Law and the New Covenant. Lunde, correctly highlights that Jesus is the 'culmination' of certain aspects of the law, i.e. the Levitical Laws (sacrifices, food laws, circumcision, and Moses' provision for divorce). This does not however, entail that Jesus has lowered the bar with regard to the law's demand for righteousness. The next chapter, Jesus as 'lens' demonstrates that His interpretations of the law, always reveals the greater scope of the law's commands, allowing Jesus to recover and preserve the law's demand for righteousness. Jesus' identification of the law's intent can be boiled down to the love of God and neighbor (Matt 22:34-40).
Finally, Jesus is the 'prism' because He changes the trajectory of the law after his interpretation of it. Laws prohibiting murder, adultery, and justice are moved to a higher plane. It is crucial to note, that Jesus "stands before any would-be disciple and conveys commands that cannot be avoided" (165).
The third and final question, 'how,' gets to the heart of the matter, with Lunde calling it the "crux of our dilemma "(185). The question centers on Ã¢ÂÂHow is it that we are motivated and enabled to obey all that Jesus commands?Ã¢ÂÂ The answer begins with looking for clues concerning the Kingdom of God, namely the "inaugurated kingdom" (already not yet). The covenant blessings have been inaugurated, but the promised transformation of God's people has only begun, and in no way, is complete. In the chapter, "Life in Covenant with God (195-209), Lunde focuses on three main themes, remembering, receiving, and responding. We are to remember God's provisions what God has done for us in redeeming us (e.g., Sabbath), we are to receive grace from God through the Holy Spirit enabling us to respond by living a life marked by faithfulness. In following chapters, Lunde discusses JesusÃ¢ÂÂ role as our representative (ch. 13), our Redeemer (ch. 14), the restorer of GodÃ¢ÂÂs people and kingdom (chs. 15 and 16), and the reigning King (ch. 17). The book closes with a brief chapter which reflects further on practical application.
Although Lunde's volume seeks to see discipleship to Jesus in light of the covenants, and does this exceptionally well, I think an undervalued contribution the author makes is in his lucid discussions of covenant types, as well as the discussions regarding Paul's view of the Law. Regarding the latter, I can envision Lunde's suggestions on Paul and the Law serving as a springboard for future research in the field. For me, these two contributions are noteworthy, and would recommend this text to the seminary classroom, especially a biblical theology course.
April 8, 2011
"Following Jesus, Servant King" is a theology book that explores Scripture using cultural background information to help explain what Jesus expected from His followers. The author explained how the two types of covenants (grant, conditional) work. He then talked about the covenants found in the Old Testament, how God's grace was always involved, and how this provided insights into the grace/works aspects of the New Covenant.
He also explored the three ways in which Jesus brought the law to its fulfillment: by changing our need for it (like the sacrificial system), by explaining the original intent (like loving your neighbor), and by heightening it by getting at inner thought issues (like Jesus' anger/murder, lust/adultery commands). He also explored how Jesus intended for us to be able to met these high standards.
The author quoted verses from the Old and New Testament to make his points, but he also used cultural background information about the different types of covenants, the law, and discipleship to help clarify some seemingly difficult or confusing points in Scripture. He did an excellent job of explaining the tensions found in Scripture. The writing was formal in tone but not difficult to follow.
The author gave good illustrative examples and made thorough arguments (with excellent footnoting of his sources), but the writing in the first section sometimes seemed wordier than necessary. Overall, though, I found this book very interesting and informative. I would recommend it to those who want to better understand the role of grace and the law in the Christian life.
I received this book as a review copy from the publisher through the KOINONIA blog.
April 4, 2011