The Bible speaks of the “heart”, the central concentration point of our deepest hopes and desires. In all things the heart is the centre of human orientation (whether or not they recognize themselves as ‘religious’). For a Christian, it is in the heart that each person encounters, and responds to God. God speaks to all human beings, but the human response can be distorted by over focussing on one or other element or aspects of experience.
In the story of the creation of humanity in the first chapters of the book of Genesis, the key point in the coming to be of humanity is the encounter with God — so that the human race can be described perhaps not just as homo sapiens but homo religiosus. The Adam and Eve story in Genesis 2 marks a boundary in terms of the human response to God, resulting in a signal act of disobedience. This in turn led to the whole story of judgement and redemption, in which humanity’s relation to God is seen through the experience of key figures, such as Noah, Abraham, Moses and David, each with a covenant associated with his name — a progressive revelation of the judgement on humanity for its disobedience but, at the same time God’s gracious provision for human beings to be restored to a right relationship with himself. This process culminates in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God becoming fully human, and dying and rising to provide the sole basis for the redemption of human beings through the power of his Holy Spirit.
Human beings are inescapably religious, and this is true both of those considered conventionally to be religious (i.e. of the traditional relations, such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism), but also those who are secular, not least the most aggressive secularists such as Richard Dawkins, who, in his attack on religions “fundamentalisms” creates a new fundamentalism of his own with its own creedal basis.
A. It is critical to distinguish between three covenants, each between the three Persons in the first instance — each with the appropriate human response.
- The first is the covenant of creation: the Father calls all things into existence, through the Son and the effective operation of the Holy Spirit. The proper human response to this is obedience to the creational and revealed laws and norms.
- The second is the covenant of redemption: the Son vicariously lays down his life as the sole basis for salvation in agreement with the Father, and the Holy Spirit ‘opens the gate of heaven to the elect’ (as Calvin puts it). This from a human point of view is justification by faith alone through grace.
- The third is the covenant of glory: the Holy Spirit transforms those who have been justified according to the will of the Father to ‘the fullness of the measure of Christ’ This culminates in the entire purging of the universe of all evil and the new heaven and earth. Applied to elect humanity, this is sanctification.
B. In each of these covenants, a different Person takes the leading role. In creation the Father takes the leading role, in redemption, the Son and in transformation, the Holy Spirit. However, not exclusively. In each of the great acts, the other two Persons are involved perichoretically, as we see above. In creation, the Son is the Word of the Father, made effective through the Holy Spirit. In redemption, the Son is appointed as Christ by the Father and anointed by the Holy Spirit. In transformation, the Holy Spirit is send by the Father according to the measure or shape of the Son.
C. The three covenants can also be seen in the threefold character of the Son’s office as Christ, the Second Adam. As Second Adam, he is first of all the example of what created humanity was created to be — this is his prophetic role calling fallen humanity back to God’s creatorly intention for humanity. ‘Second Adam’ also refers to his substitionary role, as the one who died in Adam’s place, that is on behalf of the elect — this is his priestly/sacrificial role, both High Priest and Lamb, ‘Second Adam’ finally refers to his eschatological role — the human being of the future, the first fruits of the dead and the prototype and king and of the transformed and restored creation. In broader terms, the Son is Word (through whom all things were created), Christ (in whom alone is redemption), and Lord (who alone has the authority from the Father and power from the Holy Spirit over all areas of the transformation of the created order).
D. Office is a function of the Person (the Son in relation to the Father and the Holy Spirit) not the nature. he Son’s role as Christ should not be assimilated to his humanity (in contrast to, say, his role as Logos which is then seen purely as a function of his divinity). Rather, the Son’s office as Christ is as both fully divine and fully human.
E. The three covenants should not be confused. For example, we are saved not through works (creational) nor through our sanctification (transformational), but solely through the death of Christ (redemptive). At the same time, these covenants build on one another — the basis for setting right the failure of humanity to respond rightly to the creation mandate, provided by the Son in his role as Logos, is the act of redemption to provide justification fo the elect, accomplished by the Son in his role as Christ, for which the final act of consummation, prepared for by the sanctification of the elect and the inaugurated restoration, indeed transformation, of the fallen creation as a whole, is the return of the Son in his office as Lord and Judge.
F. The different biblical covenants (Adamic, Noachic, Mosaic, Davidic – are all mixtures of all three covenants. It important to distinguish the creational, redemptive and transformational strands in all these). These biblical covenants should not be regarded as successive dispensations, but rather as the progressive revelation of God’s purposes.
- A Framework for Life: Elements of a Working Christian Philosophy
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- 2. The Idea of Coherence
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- Presuppositions (or “Ideas”) Foundational to any Philosophy
- The Centrality of the Heart
- The Three Covenants
- Biblical Reflection 3: The Holy Spirit
- Biblical Reflection 2: Jesus the Son of God
- Biblical Reflection 1: The Father
- All of life redeemed – Christian philosophy for all of life
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