The Purpose of the Bible

Nicely summarized by Dr. Robert Plummer of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in 40 Questions about Interpreting the Bible (Kregel Academic, 2010)

The Bible itself is evidence of one of its main claims—that is, that the God who made the heavens, earth, and sea, and everything in them is a communicator who delights to reveal himself to wayward humans.  We read in Hebrews 1:1-2, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.”

These verses in Hebrews point to the culmination of biblical revelation in the eternal Son of God.  This Son became incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth, forever uniting God and man in one person—100 percent God and 100 percent man (John 1:14).  The prophecies, promises, longings, and anticipations under the old covenant find their fulfillment, meaning, and culmination in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  As the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.”

The purpose of the Bible, then, is “to make [a person] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).  The Bible is not an end in itself.  As Jesus said to the religious experts in his day, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).  So, under divine superintendence, the goal of the Bible is to bring its readers to receive the forgiveness of God in Christ and thus to possession of eternal life in relationship with the triune God (John 17:3).

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Book Review — God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom

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  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press (December 30, 2009)
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  • Christianbook.com (CBD)
  • InterVarsity Press
  • Graham Cole’s Faculty Page
  • God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom by Graham A. Cole is not the book you might expect. The main purpose of the book is not to introduce the various theories of atonement and evaluate them in order to determine which theory best explains what happened on the cross. Rather, Cole’s main purpose is to explore how God the peacemaker brings shalom to man and creation through atonement. Cole observes, “Atonement brings shalom by defeating the enemies of peace, overcoming the barriers both to reconciliation and to the restoration of creation” (229). In the process Cole does discuss the various theories of atonement (the death and vindication of the faithful Son), but also develops the overarching story of God’s plan of salvation. In so doing, he rightly places Christ at the center of the story. He thus presents a strong argument for the absolute necessity of atonement for man because of our sin, and rightly puts the emphasis on the fact that this atonement was brought by God alone who is the peacemaker.

    Cole begins with God, who is holy and righteousness, to show that divine action flows from God’s character. He is love, holy, and light. The cross is where the character of God was revealed (Ch. 1). He then discusses the problems and effects of sin upon creation, including man (Ch. 2 and 3). As a result of sin, God’s creation became tainted and man is desperately in need of reconciliation with God. But God, who is compassionate, gave the foundational promise (the protoevangelium) that the offspring of Adam would crush the head of the serpent. And as He promised, He provided His faithful Son, Jesus, to atone for our sin (Ch. 4, 5, and 6). Through this atonement, God brought peace over man and creation. Man is now able to be reconciled with God and consequently with one other and creation (Ch. 7). In the next chapter, Cole shifts the focus from the benefits that Christians receive as a result of atonement (e.g., forgiveness of sins) to the responsibilities that come to beings who are caught up in Gods atonement project (Ch 8). In the final chapter, he concludes that the grand purpose of all of this is to bring glory to God who is worthy of all praise and glory (Ch. 8).

    I appreciated this book very much. Perhaps what I most appreciated was Cole’s comprehensiveness and faithfulness to Scripture. His treatment of the reconciliation and restoration of creation (not only the human soul) in light of atonement is evidence of such thoroughness. As noted above, his main purpose is to show how God as the peacemaker brought peace to the world through atonement, rather than simply discussing various theories of the atonement. When one seeks to understand atonement, it is important to consider the background story, namely, God’s salvation project. Without such background knowledge, our understanding of atonement can fall short and we are unable to comprehend what God has truly revealed on the cross.

    Similarly, I appreciated the fact that Cole did not stop at the cross, but continued on to the return of Christ. This again shows his holistic approach to Scripture. In my opinion, chapter eight is the treasure of the book. Here he speaks to contemporary Christians and explores the responsibilities that we have as God’s agents in His atonement project. In other words, Cole’s book is not simply a book that discusses theories, but also contains practical insights for his readers. Cole states regarding the Christian life and our responsibilities,

    “It is an other-person-centered life that expresses itself in self-donation on behalf of others rather than the selfish pursuit of one’s own interests. This is a life prepared to suffer for Christ’s sake and to take its part in spiritual warfare. It is a sacrificial life lived in response to the mercies of God expressed in the gospel. Importantly, it is not a life lived solo. It is lived as part of a great company of salt and light that pursues mercy-showing and shalom-making as agents of peace, and that tells the story both in evangelism and in witness of God’s great reconciling project and Jesus who stands at the heart of it” (217).

    This is a well-put statement of how we should live a life that was bought by the blood of Jesus. Jesus’ ministry did not end at the cross. Rather, His ministry continues through us. We must carry on the cross as agents of peace to advance the reconciliation and restoration of God’s creation.

    One area I would like to see Dr. Cole explore further is the section on union with Christ. I agree with him that Paul’s language indicates an organic rather than simply a moral sense. It would be interesting to see how he could further develop this fascinating topic in light of atonement.

    — Reviewed by Naomi Noguchi Reese.  Naomi is pursuing a PhD in systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.  She has also reviewed The Great Theologians and Buddhism: A Christian Exploration and Appraisal.

    * Thanks to InterVarsity Press for a review copy of this book.

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    Would Christ Have Come Even If Man Had Not Sinned?

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    “[T]he primary purpose of the Incarnation, according to the Christian creeds, was ‘for us and for our salvation.’  However, philosophically minded theologians have given some thought to the wider implications of that ‘for us.’  One way of doing so is to ask, as Austin Farrer did, whether Christ would have come even if the human race had never sinned.  Farrer’s answer was a categorical yes.

    Christ would still have come to transform human hope, and to bring men into a more privileged association with their Creator than they could otherwise enjoy.  For it is by the descent of God into man that the life of God takes on a form with which we have a direct sympathy and personal union.

    . . . [Richard] Swinburne expresses some doubt as to whether there are strong arguments allowing us ‘to say what God would have done under certain unrealized circumstances,’ but he does consider a number of reasons, over and above the soteriological ones, why God might well become incarnate.  Incarnation would manifest divine solidarity with God’s creatures; it would demonstrate the dignity of human nature; it would reveal the nature and extent of God’s love for his personal creatures; it would exemplify an ideal human life; and it would provide uniquely authoritative teaching.  A sixth reason, based on God’s willingness to subject himself to suffering and evil, spells out the themes of solidarity and love . . . ”

    — Brian Hebblethwaite, Philosophical Theology and Christian Doctrine, 70-71.

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    Book Review – The Climax of the Covenant by N. T. Wright

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  • Paperback: 330 pages
  • Publisher: Fortress Press (October 1, 1993)
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    * * *

    A subject that is often ignored within discussions of who Christ is involves Covenant theology, specifically, the theology of the Torah. How exactly does Christ relate to the Covenant that God made with the people of Israel? N. T. Wright discusses this very issue in his book, The Climax of the Covenant.

    First, what is the Torah? The Torah, in Wright’s usage, is not just the Mosaic books of the Bible or the Law, but the promise of God to His people, Israel. The problem was, of course, that God demanded perfect obedience to the Torah, to the Law. As His covenant people, Israel was to keep the Torah and to cherish it. But Israel constantly strayed. Thus, the power of the Torah became death, the consequence of sin (209).

    So how could Israel fulfill the Torah? The short answer is that Israel simply could not. It demanded perfection, and the people of Israel could not be perfect. God had to intervene directly in history in order to accomplish His covenant with His people, and to open this covenant up to all people.

    Finally, how could God keep this promise in light of the failure of Israel (and mankind at large) to keep the Torah? Christ, argues Wright, is the “Climax” of the covenant. “The Messiah is the fulfillment of the long purposes of Israel’s God” (241). How does this happen? Wright argues that the “…answer must be that sin, by causing death, stood in the way of the divine intention of giving life; when, on the cross, God condemns sin… then sin is powerless to prevent the gift of life” (209). God’s plan of salvation “always involved a dramatic break, a cross and a resurrection written into the very fabric of history” (241, emphasis his). Thus, Torah and Covenant Theology can be summed up by saying that “Christ on the cross is thus the goal of the Torah” (243, emphasis his). It is in Christ that we become the people of God.

    * Reviewed by J.W. Wartick.  J. W. is a student of philosophy and apologetics. He believes that the Lord Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and he defends that truth with the tools of reason, logic, and philosophy. He writes on various topics including Christian Apologetics, Philosophy of Religion, and Theology on his website at http://jwwartick.com.

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  • Three Views on the Atonement

    Michael Bird at Euangelion hosts three views on the question, “For whom did Christ die?” by

    Paul Helm (Calvinist View)
    Michael Jensen (Amyraldian View)
    Ben Witherington (Arminian View)

    Paul Helm goes first, followed by Jensen and Witherington, each writing about 300 words on their respective views.

    According to Paul Helm (Highland Theological College):

    ‘Definite atonement’ is an improvement on ‘Limited atonement’, but neither phrase clearly captures and expresses the idea, which is not exclusively to do with the atonement. The view is that the Triune God ensures the salvation of men and women, boys and girls. He does not merely make possible their salvation, leaving it to the sinner to make up his own mind. Rather, whom he intends to save, he saves, through the distinct but inseparable work of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Augustine puts it in his letter to Simplicianus in AD 396, God’s grace is effectual, effective, actually ensuring that those ordained to eternal life believe, secured by the golden chain of Romans 8.

    What is at issue is an estimate of divine grace. The biblical basis for the view does not rest upon a single proof verse, or a few of these, (though verses such as John 6.37 and Acts 13.48 and of course Romans 8 28f should be borne in mind). Rather it is founded on the implications of Scripture’s overall witness to God’s powerful love, to the spiritual death of fallen mankind, and to the actual salvation of countless people.  (Continue)

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