The third lesson in the Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study is “Covenants and God’s faithfulness.” The biblical text is 2 Corinthians 3:1-4:6. This lesson, written by Hinson-Hasty, covers a wide range of theological issues. Yet, the most important issue in this lesson is the author’s denial of the biblical teaching that “God’s full and final revelation is only in Christ.”
Three theological issues drive this study: (1) Hinson-Hasty’s misunderstanding of evangelical eschatology and its connection to covenant theology; (2) God’s covenant/s; (3) the denial of the uniqueness of Jesus.
I have added the first issue, eschatology, the return of Christ, to an already loaded posting because of a quote by Hinson-Hasty. Under the subtitle, “Paul’s Jewishness and the Consistency of God’s Covenant,” when writing of the new covenant, she states:
For example, premillennial evangelicals promoting what is known as “new covenant theology” look upon such passages as these in Paul’s letters to support their belief that clear distinctions are made throughout the biblical text that prove that the “new covenant” supersedes the “old covenant.” In other words from the perspective of “new covenant theology,” God’s full and final revelation is only in Christ.” Judaism is an unfulfilled religious faith and represents only a partial fulfillment of God’s covenant.
First notice the words ‘premillennial evangelicals.” There are the dispensational premillennial evangelicals who uphold a teaching called the rapture, a fairly recent teaching. They believe in two second comings of Christ, once to gather believers out of the world and then again to set up his kingdom. But the other branch is classic to many of the early church fathers and mothers. That is the teaching that Christ will return and set up a thousand year kingdom.
There is one other teaching that is classic and that is amillennialism. That is the teaching that the thousand year kingdom refers to the whole church age. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), among evangelicals and orthodox, the latter two definitions are probably well represented. Dr. David Torrance, a brother to Thomas and James Torrance is undoubtedly, from his writings, a premillennialist, and he sees the Jewish people, whether in rebellion or in obedience, as the elect of God. But he also believes that to experience salvation they must experience the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
Earlier Hinson-Hasty insists that those who claim that “God exclusively reveals the path to salvation in the person of Jesus Christ,” have used the claim to “marginalize people of other faiths,” and later infers that because of the Holocaust the church must rethink her position on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. For Hinson-Hasty, this all revolves around the idea of God’s covenant. The question is has God annulled the covenant with the Jews in order set out a new covenant?
Hinson-Hasty writing of God’s covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12 & 15) calls it a perpetual covenant and divides it from a conditional covenant giving the text of Deuteronomy 12-1 as an example of the latter. She sees the abrahamic covenant as different because it rests solely upon God’s faithfulness and the consistency of God’s care. And it does rest on those two attributes of God.
However, Hinson-Hasty in attempting to make an allowance for salvation outside of Jesus Christ empties the covenant God made with Abraham. The promises in each instance of God’s covenant making are all there in the covenant to Abraham, not only land, a small thing compared to the promise of being God’s people and blessing the nations, but also all the promises of the Messiah are in God’s covenant. It is the Messiah who will bless, redeem and sit on the throne of King David ruling the nations. The ‘new’ covenant does not change the Old Testament covenant it fulfills it. It is one covenant.
The Jewish people have not ceased to be the chosen, in obedience and disobedience they are still the Lord’s. God, to fulfill the promise, sent them into exile in Babylon, away from the land, that they might return minus the idols they so loved. This was God’s consistent care and faithfulness to all of us, Jew and Gentile. God in consistent care and love fulfilled the myriad promises to Israel that a redeemer and king would be sent and this was for all of us. Salvation comes through Jesus Christ.
Hinson-Hasty is making the case that both the covenant to Abraham and the ‘new’ covenant that Paul writes of which is tied to Jeremiah 31:31-33 rests on God’s faithfulness and that “the new covenant should not be seen as contrary to the first.” I think she is right but she is missing the messianic part of the whole covenant. Hinson-Hasty quotes Romans 3:1-4 which is:
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision? Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness? Not at all! Let God be true ….
While I concur with that verse, Paul doesn't leave the matter there. He goes on to speak of how God is faithful. It is the fulfillment of rich promises to the Jew first and then to the Gentile:
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. (Romans 3:21-25 a.)
Although, as I have stated, Hinson-Hasty appeals to the Holocaust as a reason for Christians to change their views about the superiority of Jesus, the truth is it was those Christians who held to the superiority of Jesus Christ and his Lordship who refused to be fettered by Hitler’s bigotry. In answer to the German Christians who were insisting on the Aryan clause in the church’s constitution which would exclude Jewish Christians from the church, Karl Barth wrote:
The fellowship of those belonging to the Church is not determined by blood, therefore, not by race, but by the Holy Spirit and Baptism. If the German Evangelical Church excludes Jewish-Christians, or treats them as a lower grade, she ceases to be a Christian Church.
And yet, Barth is the one who wrote most of the Theological Declaration of Barmen which among other things states:
1. I am the way and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the father, but by me.” (John 14:6) Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. … I am the door: if any one enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.)
Jesus Christ as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death.
We reject the false doctrine, as though the Church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events, and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation. (8.10-8.12)
Truthfully, Hinson-Hasty is simply pushing for Christians to deny that salvation is only in Jesus alone. She, like most pluralists, denies the uniqueness of Jesus. She writes:
There is a wonderful diversity of faith traditions beyond Judaism and Christianity that make up the religious landscape of the world—Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Muslim, Sikh, and many more. Amid this colorful diversity, Christians need not insist on their own superiority to explain or claim the efficacy of their own faith. Learning about the faith traditions of other peoples, entering into authentic relationship with others, and seeking to understand the mysterious God who inspires us all bears the greater promise for us to deepen our understanding of God’s unconditional love and begin to embody that love ourselves.
Certainly, we should not claim our own superiority, we like everyone else are sinners, but we should winsomely, kindly, joyfully proclaim the superiority of Jesus Christ. But what is that superiority? It is that God took on our flesh, lived among us, suffered and died for us and rose again. It is, that in our faith, given by the Holy Spirit, we are united to the resurrected Jesus and are given in grace, eternal life, his righteousness, and forgiveness.
Picture by Ethan McHenry
Picture by Ethan McHenry