Friday, April 8, 2011

Discipleship as Covenant: A Review of Following Jesus, The Servant King

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 “Why” Question: Why should I be concerned to obey all of Jesus’ commands if I have been saved by grace?
  2. The “What” Question: What is it that Jesus demands of his disciples?
  3. The “How” Question: How can the disciple obey Jesus’ high demand, while experiencing his “yoke” as “light” and “easy”?
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 “How is it that we are motivated and enabled to obey all that Jesus commands?” 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 Jesus’ role as our representative (ch. 13), our Redeemer (ch. 14), the restorer of God’s 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.

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