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Volume 16, Issue 3: Pooh's Think

Covenant and Knowledge, Part 1

Michael Metzler

Currently, two medium-size theological words represent more than just two medium-size parts of theological reality. `Covenant' is the word of interest in our systematics, and `knowledge' is the word of all words in our prolegomena, particularly with respect to the theory and practice of apologetics. The phrase `Covenant and Knowledge' sums up what we are doing in our theology from top to bottom. Unfortunately, I think this phrase also represents what we are doing wrong in our theology from top to bottom. Both these words are prominent words in scripture, and in fact I think the phrase `Covenant and Knowledge' sums up biblical revelation from Genesis to Revelation. Our interest in these words is not the problem; this is a good thing. But this goodness fades fast as we go from the letters on the page to the way we use these words: the context, the mode, the ethos, the intention. We know longer understand and speak these words the way Augustine, Gregory the Great, Luther, or the Apostle Paul would understand and speak these words; not surprisingly, we are also far from the biblical usages of these words. We know longer speak as the passionate apostle or the driving reformer or the contemplative medieval; rather, we speak as schoolmen, prattling university chairs, philosophers. We have turned into the pseudo-apostate philosophical theologians and have lost the Spirit. We have consequently lost the reformation. And the way we use our words finds us out.

But if we have the right words and the wrong hearts, what can we do? If the Lord was giving us new hearts and beginning reformation in the church, what would this look like in our theology? My answer to these questions is that we must return to the language of scripture.
In the case of the word `covenant' we find a poetic crescendo of meaning throughout the Old Testament. The people, places, ceremonies, and direct actions of God expressed by this word are rich in harmonic variation. However, we have successfully ripped this word out of its biblical and historic-redemptive context and turned it into a concept, a definable, rarified entity, a building block for our clunky, rationalist systems. Currently, we see this illustrated by theological mother bears trying to protect another rarified entity: the timeless philosophical proposition of "justification by faith alone." These schoolmen are committed to maintaining of a system of covenant theology in order to protect the `the gospel': reject the proposition of the covenant of works and you are on the way to rejecting the proposition of justification by faith alone. In the gnostic realm of concept dots and crayon inference connections, slippery slope arguments like this seem very important. Consequently, old, impersonal systems begun during the rise of reformed scholasticism are appealed to for adjudication, rather than live church courts and a fresh unleashing of the power of preaching. A general talk of `a covenant' and `the covenant' has already been in vogue in like rationalist fashion, and so the stage is well set. The word `covenant' becomes the battle cry on both sides of theological reformation. So what do we do? We return to the language of Scripture.
In the case of the word `knowledge,' the situation is the same. Although the church has historically associated `logic' with heresy (from Tertullian to Luther, from preaching to church courts, from East to West), we do the reverse. Traditionalist schoolmen associate new `heresy' with the sin of being `illogical.' Our theology of knowing has turned into a mere philosophical fascination with philosophy, symbolic logic, and the epistemology of the old, pre-incarnation age. But if we return to the language of Scripture, we find something wholly different. The `epistemological' language of scripture rebukes our chalk-board vanity; the robust mystery and personalism in scripture's use of `knowledge,' `believe,' `truth,' `understanding,' and `wisdom' is fertile soil for new theological devotion, repentance, and beauty. Indeed, returning to the language of scripture will turn our prolegomena and our prolegomena to prolegomena inside out.
Next issue, we will explore some preliminaries. I want to paint a picture (far different from the prevailing modernist picture) of what I consider the long battle between `philosophy and the church,' and explain further what this has to do with our current dilemma. I also want to investigate further the nature of religious and biblical language in general, drawing some cursory insights from C. S. Lewis. This will involve the contrast between poetic language and our current fascination in defining our `knowledge' and `covenant' concepts. (the poetic and exegetical gold nugget will be a short exegesis on `wisdom and the garden.')
In the next few issues after that, we will explore the biblical usage of `covenant' and its relation to the women of scripture and the other glorious word `hesed.' And the last issue in this series will introduce the other biblical language under consideration: `knowledge,' `believe,' `truth,' `understanding,' and `wisdom.' Another series for another day, tracing these words through scripture, would be in order from there.
When the lost words of the Lord are found once again in the temple, we will be delighted and refreshed in what we find. Pray that we can faithfully press on to that end.

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