Session 7 Recap: Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum, “Panel Discussion”
Editor’s Note: Nathan Sherman is the Pastor for Preaching Christ Church,
Albuquerque, NM. This post is a summary of a panel discussion from Saturday
afternoon, March 17, with Trent Hunter and Stephen Wellum
Question: Fill in the blank: The Bible is __________
Trent Hunter: …like a puzzle. We can think of how the Bible comes to us in 66 books and almost too many details to fathom. It’s not like a mosaic that we can do what we want to do with it—it comes from one place with one Author. It’s not like grass—it endures forever.
Stephen Wellum: …God’s love letter to us. It’s a grand mystery novel that unfolds chapter by chapter across time—where all of it’s going needs time and attention.
Question: Why are all of the historical, structural issues important? How does this help us love God more?
Trent Hunter: On the road to Emmaus, their hearts burned within them precisely by simply seeing Jesus in the words of Scripture. I’m so glad the people who made The Lord of the Rings didn’t shorten it to a 15-minute commercial. We learn more about God and can love him more deeply by understanding the structure of the narrative.
Stephen Wellum: Because we want to be faithful to how God has given it to us. If we don’t read it how God intends us to read it, then we will inevitably draw wrong conclusions. We are to love the Lord our God with all of heart, soul, strength, in mind. We are always in danger drawing wrong conclusions about him or the world. Paul rebukes the Judaizers because they don’t understand the Bible.
Question: Why did God take so long to bring the Messiah?
Trent Hunter: By the time that Jesus comes, it is clear that this is precisely the kind of Savior that we need. Without the broader story, we cannot possibly comprehend what is happening at the Cross.
Stephen Wellum: The first answer must be that we don’t fully know God’s purposes—we’re pretty dull and we need repetition. But in the grand scheme of things, we think that it’s long, but does God think it’s long? In light of eternity, our lives are but a vapor, and from eternity to eternity, I wonder if we’ll still think it was really that long?
Question: If the chronology of the Bible is so important, why isn’t the Bible arranged in a chronological order?
Stephen Wellum: The basic shape of the Bible follows its chronology, but mostly things are arranged within their covenantal context. When we read a book, we should be asking, where are we in the story, covenantally? Books are given to us as parts of literary units, and we should be very hesitant to divide these units. Chronicles is covering the same territory as Samuel and Kings, but is giving you different theological emphases; for instance, there’s no mention of Bathsheba in the Chronicles. By finishing the Old Testament narrative and then followed by the prophets, Chronicles is looking forward to the Ideal David.
Question: Can you circle back with how promises can be conditional and unconditional?
Trent Hunter: In ancient Near East covenants, you’ve got different kinds of covenants between parties. Often as we look at covenants in the Bible, many have tried to differentiate between the two: can this thing be broken or not? The thing is, that in nearly all of the covenants, God is making all kinds of seemingly unbreakable promises mixed in with conditions of obedience. These covenants create tension in the storyline of the Bible. Because humans always fail and never keep their ends of the covenant in obedience and faith, the tension finally gets resolved when Jesus comes and actually does what others couldn’t do.
Stephen Wellum: Ancient Near East history is helpful, but we need to first be careful in imposing everything from history and other cultures onto the Bible. The fear of observing the covenants conditionally, is that it makes it look like we are saved by our works. But yes, there is tension there. From the beginning—right from Adam—humans are meant to live under God and obey, but of course that never happens. The tension is that throughout the Old Testament is that God continually forgives his people, but that cannot continue forever. Which is why the Cross comes as such wonderful resolution. The grounding for a proper understanding of justification comes from a proper understanding of the covenants—that God always demands obedience in his covenants, and now Jesus finally fulfills the obedience for humans.
Question: We’ve been learning that the Old Testament stories are ultimately pointing to Christ, so does that mean that these stories have no moral value and can’t be used as examples?
Trent Hunter: When you finally find out that Christ connects everything, it can become a tendency to overreact and avoid all moral examples, but in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul uses Israel as a example for us to avoid. In Romans 15, he tells us that these things were written down for our instruction.
Stephen Wellum: We want each text to function in light of the larger contextual story. Hebrews 3-4 tells us to learn from Israel’s negative example, but there is a larger theological truth behind it—that the judgment awaiting us is worse than Israel’s. The rest offered to us is better, but to miss that rest would be worse than the rest that Israel missed. We should absolutely learn that adultery is bad from the David and Bathsheba story, but we are also learning that this Davidic king is not the One.
Question: Is it possible to see Jesus too much in the Old Testament?
Trent Hunter: Yes. Seeing Jesus on every page isn’t bad language to use as long as we know what we mean by it. As preachers, we might be teaching our people that they ought to read a page and look for really clear picture of Jesus . But if we’re thinking about the Bible as a mystery novel, and there are small bread crumbs being laid slowly, then yes, every sentence of every chapter of every book contributes to the whole—just more like a novel. We read a novel slowly and expect that the author is taking us somewhere. I prefer to say seeing Jesus from every page. This passage that I’m reading right now has a relationship with his coming and I can learn more about Jesus by this passage. But If I’m thinking on every page, then I might have my eyes too low and miss where the story is going.
Question: What are some of the big themes and threads to watch for in the Bible?
Trent Hunter: We’ve talked about covenant being the backbone or train tracks across the country. I’ve seen some people list out a bunch of themes that has Covenant tucked in there as one of the themes. We ought to rather think of the covenants as the tectonic plates which there are other themes on sit and move on top.
Stephen Wellum: Temple, priesthood, kingdom, land, marriage, sacrifice, substitution. These are all themes that sit on top of the covenants.
Question: Let’s play Bible Roulette. I’ll give you a random passage, and then you situate us and themes to look for.
Trent Hunter: 2 Samuel 1 – Saul just died and David mourns.
Stephen Wellum: In the storyline, you are seeing the coming of the king, anticipated all the way back to Adam and time and time again following. In Samuel now, you have this foil between the people’s king and God’s king, and we are anticipating David’s rise in his covenant.
Stephen Wellum: It’s Post-Davidic tied to the Prophetic Era. God is keeping his promises—he promised Jeremiah to return the people back to the land—but there is so much trouble. If this land of trouble is all we have to look forward to and enjoy, then there must be something more and greater to come.
Question: Joshua 1
Trent Hunter: Moses has just died, and his covenant at Sinai is still in play. The people are now moving into the land under Joshua, who is given the charge to be strong and courageous. He is to lead the people into the land, and how the success of that hangs on his obedience to the Word of the Lord. Throughout the book, we have obedience and victory tied very closely together which is exactly what was happening under Moses which highlighted blessing and cursing based on obedience. In that sense, we shouldn’t draw a straight line from Joshua to me because I don’t live under the Mosaic Covenant. But there is a connection to me because the Mosaic Covenant moves through the Cross and through Jesus’ obedience, he gives to me God’s victory.
Question: Does God save differently in different eras?
Stephen Wellum: God always saves by grace on his initiative and through his provision through his people’s faith. In the Old Testament, this is always looking forward. The Abrahamic Covenant is looking forward because, as Paul is thinking through in Romans 3, God is passing over their sins, but it won’t be that way forever.
Question: What changed from the Old Covenant to the New?
Trent Hunter: One new humanity—the wall of Jew and Gentile is broken down.
Stephen Wellum: The completion of what God has promised has come in Christ. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been and shown throughout the Old Testament, but the major difference in the New Covenant is that everyone under the Covenant receives the Spirit. In the Old Covenant, there were people under the Covenant who did not have the Spirit (Isaac v. Ishmael).
Trent Hunter: Jeremiah 31 looks forward to the day when everyone in the Covenant and in the Church community knows the Lord. They know longer have to be taught, in other words, there is no one in covenant with God in the New Covenant who does not first know God.
Question: If Gentile Christians can now be Sons of Abraham through their faith, what does that now mean for ethnic Jews?
Trent Hunter: Ephesians 2 and Galatians 3 were huge in unlocking this mystery for me. We’ve already touched on God’s one people through faith. As you watch the story unfold, these things are clearly going global. Think about the end of Amos, with the promise of Israel flourishing. But at the Jerusalem Council, we see that they are rejoicing because the promises to Israel are being realized in a new Jew-Gentile humanity.
Stephen Wellum: There is now not one distinct and outstanding promise that is made to ethnic Jews other than that perhaps Romans 9-11 might suggest that ethnic Jews will come to faith in Christ in saving belief. All of these promises find their terminus and fulfillment in Christ.
Question: What would you suggest to someone who wants to read their Bibles better but are overwhelmed with some of the things they’ve heard this weekend? Other resources that you would recommend?
· Tom Schreiner – The King In His Beauty
· Paul House – Old Testament Theology
· Don Carson – For the Love of God
· Graeme Goldsworthy – According to Plan
· Vaughan Roberts – God’s Big Picture
But in all of these books, read the Bible first. All of these are helpful, but keep reading the Bible over and over and over.