In the past couple months, I have engaged much discussion pertaining to soteriology (the doctrines of salvation). In March 2018, I participated in an online debate against the “Israel Only View”, wherein I presented a case for understanding the continuance of Biblical salvation by developing the Biblical narrative and the overlapping meta-narrative, and I also asserted my Calvinistic leanings. Also, in March 2018, I presented two lectures at the Examining Crossroads: Biblical Controversies Conference regarding salvation – Conceptual Salvation (in which I explained that the Hebrew notions of salvation were oftentimes pictorial and abstract) and Soma Salvation (which detailed the salvation of a “body” of people as expressed in and through the New Testament; oftentimes understood as “resurrection of the dead”).
Due to the variety of interpretative styles that are brought to the details of Scripture, in my presentations I have harped on the need to develop a narrative-historical interpretation. This interpretative style not only runs against the all too popular method of “proof-texting” (which lacks context), it also stands contrary to the historical- grammatical method of interpretation, the continuous-historical method, and the redemptive-movement method. Many have seemingly missed how these interpretative methods influence their own interpretations, not to mention the various principles that are outlined through each of the methods. However, the narrative-historical method of interpretation is no easy effort, and often requires detailed explanations (akin to storytelling), rather than the easy answers and superficial responses many have developed and offered up (either by assumption of “Tradition”). The narrative-historical approach allows for us to truly think through the details as presented in the context of the story.
THE BIBLICAL CONTEXT OF SALVATION
The consistent framework of understanding salvation as revealed through the Scriptures has been referred to as “historia salutis” (the summary of salvation history). As I have studied through the topic of salvation and have come to have almost an obsession with developing the Biblical narrative, I have realized how tightly woven together other doctrines are with the details of our “common salvation” (cf. Jude 3). For example, the congregation at The Blue Point Bible Church recently participated in a group discussion about the influence of Preterism on the doctrines of salvation. Noting things such as the importance of the Old Testament influence on the New Testament, the different tenses of salvation found in the New Testament (simultaneously being saved and waiting for salvation), and much more – many of us admitted that coming to understand Preterism changed or enhanced our view of salvation.
A PRESUPPOSITIONAL CALVINIST
Admittedly, despite the all-too-common frustration many seem to have with the doctrines of Calvinism, I have felt rather comfortable in my “Calvinistic presuppositions” until more recently. I preached an entire series on Calvinism while I was studying through the Institutes of the Christian Religion back in 2014-2015. My Calvinistic leanings have not gone un-challenged both than and today. You can read an article I wrote back in 2015 on the topic at the following link, https://mianogonewild.wordpress.com/2015/01/28/always-reforming-confusion-clarity-controversy/
Many students of Scripture seeking a “ring of truth” while examining doctrines of Calvinism have offered up differing explanations of the details. Navigating Calvinistic circles of influence, it’s common to hear people speak of what point Calvinist they are (“I am a __ point Calvinist). This is usually done to speak to which details of Calvinistic doctrine one holds to (also highlighting the tenets not held to). I had also read a great book a while back called, PROOF, by Daniel Montgomery, wherein he offered a different acronym (PROOF instead of TULIP) and clarifying details, as well as some challenges to the systematic theology as offered up by 15th century reformer, John Calvin. In my humble attempt to understand these things I have come out saying that “I am a presuppositional Calvinist”, which means I generally agree with the doctrines of salvation as noted in the Canons of Dort, and/or summarized through the acronym TULIP.
So…what I would like to do through this blog, which may become a series of blogs, is go through the systematic details of understanding salvation all the while surveying the Scriptures through a narrative-historical approach. As advocate of such approach, Dr. Andrew Perriman has said, “The narrative-historical approach to interpretation of Scripture provides us with a much more rigorous and credible connection with Scripture than the selective, reductive and distorting approach of much modern evangelical theology (paraphrased)”. That being so, our study will take on a few dimensions – looking at and examining various aspects of the redemptive story that graces the pages of Scripture, proving/ examining certain doctrinal tenets, and arriving at conclusions based on the developed narrative – not presuppositions or “proof texts”.
THE CREATION OF LIGHT IN THE MIDST OF A FORMLESS & VOID EARTH
A failure to read Genesis 1:1 in context of the whole of Scripture and to properly assess “heaven and earth” as a term used for God’s people has caused many to assume to that the “Genesis creation account” is about the beginning of the planet and/or the universe. “Rightly dividing” the creation account allows for us to begin a healthy understand of what God was doing in and through His covenant people to further develop His working in and through them. This has led me to embracing a view referred to as “Covenant Creation”.
Approaching Genesis chapter 1 through the lens of “Covenant Creation” highlights God’s sovereignty in calling and creating a people for Himself. In the ancient near eastern world (ultimately where the Book of Genesis finds its emergence), the people would develop cuneiform tablets called “temple texts” that highlighted the sovereignty of a certain God over certain things. When we look at those “temple texts” (many of which were unearthed during excavations in the 1950’s), we can see similarities between them and the Book of Genesis. This gives us good reason to read the Book of Genesis and the details therein as a “temple text” considering the historical context and audience relevance rather than the modern presupposed perspectives. Rather than obsessing about and noting all the confusion within Christian circles regarding what day God created certain things and the specifics of how long the days were, a proper reading of Genesis chapter 1 highlights all that the One True God is sovereign over (all the while appreciating the 7-day structure of the “temple text”). Outside of all the debated features of the text, one thing is for sure, the sovereignty of God is presupposed by the text (the silliness of modern atheism is defeated by understanding how the ancients viewed and valued the wonder of creation).
As the term “heaven and earth” denotes, God’s people, have a dual reality. God’s people are called by heaven all the while having purpose and a living situation on earth. Genesis 1:2 details what that living situation was like at the beginning – “formless and void, darkness over the face of the waters. However, God’s Spirit hovered over the waters”. Doing an in-depth study into the Hebraic words used in Genesis 1:1-3 reveals so much imagery and covenant details. The imagery of the head of a river (Hebrew word “bereshit”), a “tohu wabohu eretz” (formless and void land), a darkness over the waters, and the hovering of God’s Spirit, all point to God doing a work in the midst of a chaotic environment. Some have come to refer to this work of God as a “covenant creation”. Of great importance is that God’s first creative act in Genesis 1:4 is the creation of light. This is not to be confused with a physical/ material light (as is later mentioned in Genesis 1:14-19). Rather, this light as cited and detailed by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:6 is the light that brings awareness and knowledge of God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:5). It is the giving of that light that represents God forming something of value from the previous condition of being “formless and void”.
The creation of Adam as the “image of God” in Genesis 1:26-28 also bears striking resemblance to the image-creating and image-bearing of the ancient near east. Not only did the ANE “temple text” highlight all that the certain god was sovereign over, the “temple text” also made known what image should be used to represent said god. The Genesis creation account departs from being similar to other ANE temple texts in that it elevates humanity over other creatures, and humanity (specifically the progeny of Adam) is made to display the image of God. Unfortunately, many have tried to create a consistent theology of putting all men in the image-bearing identity (all men in Adam), which must be repudiated as inconsistent (we will deal with that as we go through this series of articles- simply by following the context of the Biblical narrative).
“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens (Genesis 2:4)”.
ADAM AS ISRAEL’S STORY
Reading through the unfortunate details of Genesis chapters 2-3, with a healthy understanding of the Biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation, should cause us to see what sort of story is being developed. Simply put, the creation of “heaven and earth” and the story of Adam highlights the beginning of Israel’s story, not the story of all mankind. This is an important and challenging concept, especially as so many have come to believe that Adam’s story is all humanity’s story. Therefore, our coming to grips with what is taking place through the Genesis creation account, and specifically Adam, will cause us to see divergent approaches to salvation as made known through the Scriptures. A proper frame of reference and following the historical context will demonstrate how and why the Gospel went forth to the Jew first, and then the Gentile (cf. Romans 1:16).
DARKNESS/IDOLATRY – LIGHT/TRUTH
What this narrative approach does to our study in soteriology is it removes the all to easy approach of demanding that whatever happened to Adam and his progeny is the story and identity of all humanity (specifically, “dead in sin”, cf. Romans chapter 6). The Blue Point Bible Church Constitution states, “We believe that man was created in holiness, under the law of his Maker, but by voluntary transgression fell from that holy and happy state; in consequence of which all mankind are now sinners, not by constraint, but choice; being by nature utterly void of what holiness required the law of God, positively inclined to evil; and therefore under just condemnation to eternal ruin…”.
Being fair, this is a citation from a Baptist Manual going back to 1853, and our congregation has seen much growth and thus changed in doctrinal details since that time. However, I believe us, and others are still prone to a subtle presupposed view of that quoted statement. Is it true? Prayerfully at this point you are catching my point, I will respond with a yes and a no.
So many get caught up in the discussion as to whether or not people existed prior to Adam (which seemingly involves a study of anthropology, history, and/or science). My goal is to move us past that, since so much has been done to prove that, into considering the outworking of how Adam represented “covenant life”, rather than the often-presupposed responses. How did Adam come to “covenant life”? How did Adam die to that reality? What would happen next?
Before we get to how Adam came to “covenant life” and his being the Image of God (which again I will assert becomes the story of “Israel of the flesh” through the Old Covenant), we must consider his state prior to that. Of course, many will assert that Adam was “uncreated”. While I agree with that notion regarding his position in relation to God, however I do not believe anything in the text speaks to Adam not being materially created (it’s imperative to realize the theology behind the creation of man in Genesis 2:7-8 – is NOT material creation). Dr. John Walton, in his book, “The Lost World of Genesis One”, goes to great lengths in detailing that the non-creation in Genesis is speaking about the lack of function/purpose in regard to worshiping God, not the non-existence of material creation (this is also consistent with understanding the Hebrew terms for “darkness” and “formless and void” which seemingly necessitate human life before Adam). Simply put, prior to God bringing forth light, all (including Adam) were stuck in an idolatrous world (“in the world without God, without hope” cf. Ephesians 2:12).
If “darkness” is idolatry and “light” is worship of the One True God, as I believe is demonstrated from the text, then the next question becomes, “How does Adam come into the light?”
It would seem that all throughout the Scriptures, man is beset by sin (weakened not necessarily dead), oftentimes wandering in idolatry (darkness). So, it also seems that God brings forth His light (Truth), and it shines offering mankind the opportunity to pursue, walk toward, and dwell in it. The determining factor seems to be what man sets his mind on and pursues. Those with good and honest hearts, God strengthens and draws in. Those steeped in idolatry and leaning upon their own understanding (cf. Proverbs 3:5), being unreasonable and set against the Truth, God rewards in keeping with their idolatry, and so they stay stuck in darkness (cf. Proverbs 4:19; Ezekiel 14:4; John 3:19-20).
If you have followed my studies and teachings for some time, you should have noticed a shift. I am becoming more and more convinced that it is improper to develop a systematic approach to New Covenant soteriology based upon what was revealed in and through Adam (as I have previously said and asserted a few times). Namely, because what is revealed through the story of Adam is the story of the Old Covenant. Sure, God’s covenant people were called from utter darkness by His creating the means for their salvation through His sovereignty and election. They were then subjected to death/ futility for the purpose of a greater reality (cf. Romans 8:20-21; Galatians 3:19-22). However, it seems that within that covenant, many were (and through the call of the Gospel today are) invited, however few were chosen to be His elect in that first century, and pertaining to that election, it would seem it was revealed through those who sought God with a good conscience and pursued His purposes (cf. Luke 8:15).
Thanks for following through these thoughts. Prayerfully, I have demonstrated a case for God’s sovereignty as expressed in and through the Genesis creation account. Also, I have marked out a difference regarding salvation for those “In Adam” and for those who come to Christ through the call of the Gospel today and have challenged some (if not all) of the presupposed views of being “dead in sin” due to identity in Adam. Lastly, I offered a contextually approach to the details of the Genesis creation account and the display and covenant and light as God’s sovereign work which calls all men to pursue Him.
Written by Pastor Michael Miano, The Blue Point Bible Church
Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion
Walton, John. Dr. The Lost World of Genesis One
review – https://voice.dts.edu/review/john-walton-the-lost-world-of-genesis-one/
Scollard, Brett. http://gracemccook.org/blog/genesis-1-2-as-a-temple-text/