In answering the question, “Is the God of the New Testament different than the God of the Old Testament?”, let’s ask this, “Is the Old Testament different than the New Testament?”; “Are there changes from the Old to the New?”
Well, duh. The first clue in answering the question is the name given to each part of the Bible – “Old” and “New.” The “old” has changed so it is called “new.” Old way, new way. Old contract, new contract.
Look at some changes between the Old and the New:
A change in the priesthood: Hebrews 7:12 – “For when there is a change of the priesthood there must also be a change of the law.” According to God’s law, priests had to come from the tribe of Levi: Deuteronomy 18:1. Uh oh, We’ve got a problem. Jesus came from the tribe of the Judah, not Levi: Hebrews 7:14. How did he get to be priest? God obviously did something different. Something changed.
A change in the agreement: 2 Corinthians 3:6, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” See also, Hebrews 7:18-19; Hebrews 8:13 where the writer says the “old is obsolete.”
A change in sacrifice: Hebrews 10:9, “He abolishes the first in order to establish the second.”
A change in ethics: Exodus 21:24 and Leviticus 24:20 give us the “law of retaliation” – “eye for an eye.” Jesus radically changed this law in Matthew 5:38-42 with His “turn the other cheek” ethic.
Peter experienced some of this “change” himself. Before Acts 10, Peter could not eat Mac’s Sausage Biscuit. Nor could he eat “endless shrimp” at Red Lobster. Why do we not lobby for capital punishment when church members run around on their mates Deuteronomy 22:22? Why does no one think twice of me preaching with glasses Leviticus 21:17-21?
Something has changed. Who? What?
The reason Peter could eat a ham sandwich or toss around the pig skin is because God changed His law Acts 10:15.
In Sunday School I was introduced to a Bible interpretation principle called “progressive revelation.” Progressive revelation means that God progressively revealed more truths about various subjects. The Bible wasn’t dropped out of heaven in bonded leather with a red book mark. God delivered what we were ready for a bit at a time when we were ready for it. God revealed only what people were able to grasp. John “Paradise Lost” Milton said, “For such is the order of God’s enlightenment of His Church, to dispense and deal out by degrees His beam, so as our earthly eyes may best sustain it.” J.R. Sampey, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1928-1942 expressed his understanding in this way, “The Bible slopes upward.”
How about this take on it:
“To be able to interpret plainly consistently, it is imperative to recognize that revelation was given progressively. This means that in the process of revealing His message to man, God may add or even change in one era what He had given in another. To fail to recognize this progressiveness in revelation will raise unresolvable contradictions between passages if taken literally.
That must have been a quote from some crazy liberal, right? Not so fast. Those words are from none other than Charles C. Ryrie of Dallas Theological Seminary, in his book Basic Theology. He actually said, “God may add or even change in one era what He had given in another.”
Kind of blows up our theological boundaries doesn’t it?
Does “progressive revelation” help you to better understand – notice I didn’t say “completely understand” – some of the difficult Old Testament passages? Maybe a bit? Maybe not?
How does God “changing” His revelation help us to answer the question, “Is the God of the New Testament different than the God of the Old?” Well, let’s keep practicing a “faith seeking understanding.”
I want to add another voice to this discussion. I now live in KC so I have not been a part of FBC for a while. I have some questions and maybe an attempt at answering a couple.
First, let me calibrate the character of God from the Old to the New Testament. I think it is a mistake to think that “something changed”. We have a God with two extremes:
First, He is an extremely just God. In the Old Testament we see a God that is intolerant of any imperfection. The consequences of disobedience are death. Any deviation from perfect results in death and eternal damnation. We see God destroy whole civilizations that oppose his people, yes, even those that you and I would call “innocent”. We see the story where Elisha called out the bears to maul and kill a group of kids that were teasing him. The message to mankind? God is intolerant of anything that is not perfect. Mocking His prophet gets you a painful death. There are no excuses and there are none that get the label of “innocent”. Make no mistake, this is God. He demands perfection or we get death. We don’t get to put that aside because it violates our sense of fairness. It is a mistake to convince ourselves that our God has somehow become a little less severe in his demand for perfection. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, “we do not have a tame God”. The Old Testament shows this character of God and how He will respond to our condition. Without this we might be tempted to say things like, “I’m a good person and live a good life; I will be ok”. No! Any little infraction on our part and we get death. A covetous look at the neighbor’s boat and we get death. Eating pig may very well be a death sentence. (still not sure on this one) In the Old Testament, He was pointing out our condition, pointing out His response to our condition, and then pointing to the coming of the Messiah. The New Testament also talks about God’s justice and intolerance of sin.
Secondly he is a God of extreme love. We see this through the Old Testament in the way of countless foreshadowings of the coming Savior. In the New Testament we see this Savior and Gods providence. Don’t you see that without God showing us His intolerant character in the Old Testament then we would never understand the need for something to pay the price for our condition. God couldn’t stop the consequences of the kids teasing the prophet without changing His character. His answer is to let the bear maul and kill his Son in their place. Crazy extreme love. If God was willing to change His character from the old to New Testament then we wouldn’t have needed Christ. He could just say, “hey I’m going to change, you guys are all forgiven, just go to church once in awhile and we are all good.” He took a different route. He demanded extreme justice for our littlest failures and paid the ultimate price for our failure to meet his standard. Make no mistake, if we reject his provision then we get to meet the God of the Old Testament. I can’t imagine a God that is so intolerant. His justice seems downright cruel. On the other hand, I can’t imagine the kind of love for this world that would cause me to give up my son. God is incomprehensible to me…
All in all, the message of the Bible is amazing. A book that was written by dozens of authors over thousands of years yet it has a consistent theme of who God is and nearly every book points to Jesus and our need for him. He sets up His character and our need and then shows us the rest of his Character and Him love.
So I have a couple of unrelated questions. Why are there so many church splits? It seems like Springfield has a new church on every corner as the result of a split. The destruction is hard to believe. Community of groups breaking up, friends taking sides, and new Christians and those that came to FBC as unchurched and looking for something different are saying, “well I guess they aren’t any different”. I’m not sure how Satan manages it. I think it is because church leaders stop making things about glorifying God and make it about themselves. Do we really think that God would cause this destruction over the distinction between “an inerrant word of God” and “an inspired word of God”?
Philip there are four teachers in my life that God has used their teaching to change my life. You are one of those four, so I ask you with all kinds of respect: When did this become about you? Who gave you the right to be understood? This blog points to you and your wisdom. While you are one of the wisest I have met, it’s not about you. I have often thought that some of the elders of FBC were immature in their faith, but I believe God put them there and he put you in a position under them. They and others were not ready to take on these questions. What should you have done? What should you do? I think the answer is that you should submit to their leadership. I realize that lines have been drawn and sides picked. New church plans are underway. Even today I believe that God could reconcile this church. This will never be possible if things remain about you and your rights.
I realize they fired you. I realize that they should listen to you. I believe you are beyond them in spiritual knowledge and maturity. Nonetheless, you should submit and put your needs secondary.
Isn’t it also possible that God has caused this split to multiply his word and to touch other lives that would not be touched otherwise. I feel things happen for a reason and as long as we are glorifying god, then where and with who we do it makes no difference. I do not think that this is about Phillip and his ego or that his feelings got hurt. There are times in all of our lives that we must take a stand and go with what we believe to be right. I am not as well versed in the Bible as either you or Phillip, but his heart is in the right place and to me that is what matters.
Great discussion on the particulars of the Old and New Testament, the differences we see, and the views of God we see in each and the way they all come together into the redemption story and the build up to the once-for-all sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus.
I’m intrigued by the ending of your comment, though. You obviously hold Phillip in high regard, and you make that clear. But I just wanted to jump in because you make some pretty strong statements regarding his pride and his posturing and his need to submit to the elders at Fellowship.
For context, I’m one of the three elders who stood beside Phillip and defended him and his positions through this whole process and who, as part of this process, ended up leaving Fellowship after committing the last 15 years of my life to that body. To keep this short, I refer you to comments I’ve already made on the blog regarding the process that took place, the things that were said about Phillip publicly and privately that were patently untrue about his theology and about his attitude through the whole process. I wrote about the theological statements made about Phillip here — https://phillipwright.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/this-i-believe-continued-2/comment-page-1/#comment-99 — and I wrote about the attitude perspectives or perceptions of Phillip here: https://phillipwright.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/this-i-believe-continued-2/comment-page-1/#comment-115
I can tell you for certain that Phillip has not made this about him. I can tell you that Phillip did submit to the leadership of the elders through the process. They put him on leave — he questioned the timing, but he went on leave. They gave him direction as to what to do during that leave, and he did. They gave him directions as to what he couldn’t do during that leave — including attend or have a voice in the elder conversations — and he followed those directions. He was cut out of the conversation for about 70 days. In the two meetings in which he was allowed to speak with and to the elders, he spoke out of humility and acknowledgement of their position in the church and over him as pastor. When it was all over, the public statements about him, his beliefs and why this had all happened were not accurate, and he was not allowed to address them. What was said publicly about him caused confusion about him and his beliefs in the local community, to everyone who was there that Sunday morning, and to the crowd of people who knew he wasn’t at Fellowship anymore but didn’t know why.
I think any of us would fight pride in that kind of moment. As a front seat spectator and participant in the whole situation, I think Phillip has done an excellent job of keeping his pride in check. This isn’t about him, and he knows it. He really, at the end of the day, just wants people to come to know Christ more. Has he probably felt like a target? Yes. Has he responded in kind? No. In fact, I would say that he didn’t even really dig in his feet or push back in the conversations — he explained his beliefs, his direction, his goals, his view of church, the Bible and the Christian faith, usually saying that he felt that everyone was probably closer together in all of those things if a conversation was allowed about them. But ultimately, they asked him to step aside and he did, very quietly and humbly.
This blog was set up to get out the truth of what he actually believes and where he actually stands to clear up the confusion. It wasn’t designed to shine the light on Phillip. It’s here to clarify where he is on things so those who have sat under his teaching can hear, straight from him, where he is on things. Many people have asked for that clarification, and he, again very humbly in my opinion, is laying it out there. There’s alot of water under the bridge at this point in the Fellowship situation and the “why did this happen?” discussion, and he could have handled this in a completely different, much more aggressive, much more direct way, and he’s chosen not to, and I give him credit for that. Many of us would have lashed out in hurt or anger in this moment. He is instead simply answering the questions that have been asked about what he actually believes, and that’s it, and I respect him for that.
Wow, well said, I wish I could express my ideas as well as you and others. I have read your comments and the other comments made previously on what happened. Most of my opinions about what occurred were based on your previous comments. By every standard of fairness, Phillips rights have been abused. He has been misrepresented. I don’t debate this and I find it frustrating. I was not trying to paint Phillip as someone who was making this all about him. But Phillip’s ideas and rights have become the central idea of this blog and this new church.
In the case of FBC, a family is being split up. A divorce if you will. Without a lengthy discussion on God’s sovereignty, I ask “is this really the path that God preferred”? I also have no doubt that Phillip’s heart is in the right place. A friend from FBC asked me that if I was still living in Springfield would I be going to the new church. I answered that yes I would. When he asked me why and I said because that is where Philip is going to be. Philip tends to put a spotlight on truth that is life changing. It is one of the main reasons my family when to FBC. Philip has the ability to shine a light on Christ that changes lives. I have never heard Phillip speak where I came away thinking that he had ego issues or was anything other than humble.
However, some questions come to mind. Does Springfield really need another church? Should we split a church around one man? As a litmus test, ask yourself why this church is being created. Did a group of people get together and say “God is showing us that Springfield is lacking a church that allows for the idea that….” Or “God’s word can reach more people if we create a church that focuses on…”? I don’t think this is the case. People got together and said “If we start a church and invite Phillip then he will come”. If Phillip announced tomorrow that he was reconciling with FBC or that he and Denise were headed to the mission field and would not be a part of a new church in Springfield, then what would happen to the momentum of the church plant? Churches should be formed so that God can be glorified not built around loyalty and love for a man.
I have moved a lot for my job. I have attended dozens of churches. Phillip is one of the best teaching pastors I have heard. I would genuinely put him in the same class as John Piper (my all-time favorite). So I ask this of anyone who cares to answer. Why hasn’t God used Phillip on the scale of a James River Assembly? This question came to my mind shortly after hearing him speak. This same thought was repeated to me by a friend that went to Jefferson Ave Baptist and knew Philip from many years ago. Maybe God is getting ready to do great things with Phillip. But then again, maybe Phillip’s humanity is getting in the way of God’s plan.
I believe the model of an Elder led church is biblical. My comments about submitting were not based on Phillip being wrong or that Phillip approached this in an arrogant way, but reading your previous posts it’s clear that there was a level of submission that some of the elders were looking for that they didn’t get.
I do not pretend to know God’s plans, but when I read this blog I don’t see it bringing focus to the great things God is doing. I see it satisfying our (and Phillips) human need to be understood and not misrepresented. People are reading it and saying “Phillip is spot on” not “God is awesome look at what he is doing in Springfield”. I think Paul talks about a similar issue in 1 Cor 3.
All great questions, Ben. I can honestly say that I’ve asked myself and others each of those questions through the last several months.
I, for one, have come to a peace with where we are now and what God is doing through it. I’ve had to realize that this really isn’t about Phillip but about God. Yes, it does heavily rely on Phiilip as the teacher who at this moment and in this place and time speaks to the truth and the understanding that we see of God in Scripture and through the life and teaching of Jesus.
When people speak about Phillip, they do so in the same way my James River friends speak of John Lindell and my North Point (Atlanta) friends talk of Andy Stanley and so many female friends speak of Beth Moore. They give them such high regards not because of who they are but because of how God has used that particular person in their lives to reveal truth and understanding and to effect life change. I think that gets lost in the language, and I’ve questioned it myself and realized the heart of what they are saying. This isn’t about Phillip — it’s about how God uses Phillip and how Phillip lets God work through him.
Building a church with Phillip in the teaching role isn’t Phillip worship. That would be to deny all of the gifts, talents and skills that the multitude of people involved bring to the table. It’s only an acknowledgement that God uses him when he teaches, just as He uses so many others in so many ways. The church doesn’t revolve around Phillip any more than it revolves around any of the dozens of individuals taking part in planning out this endeavor. He just happens to be the speaker.
Does Springfield need another church? Maybe it does. In the past, I wouldn’t have said that but I’ve been surprised at the organic uprising of people who have come together out of a desire to live out God’s will in the lives of those around them and who aren’t satisfied anywhere else in Springfield. If the church is the people, it’s a little too late to ask if Springfield needs another church, because the people have already come together. God is moving somehow here and many of us are simply following His lead.
Phillip didn’t call anyone to start a church. This group of people formed around the Jesus they know and have heard about and who has personally begun to live through them, and they wanted to make sure there is still a venue for that Jesus to shared openly to all people. It was a surprising and spontaneous eruption of people seeking to push forward the unapologetic love of Jesus into our community. The split at Fellowship was just the catalyst that kicked it off. And, by the way, I’m not knocking Fellowship at all. I’m personally praying that God multiplies His ministry through both of us.
Can God work through splits? Divorces and church splits both stink and hurt. I’ve been right on the front line of this one, and I can attest that I never want to do it again. But I’ve seen God work great things through splits. I’m a Protestant today thanks to a church split caused by Martin Luther. 🙂
Please know that we are all wrestling with these same questions and have been doing so for months. I don’t discount your questions at all because I’m with you. We’re taking this one day at a time, one step at a time, asking God to lead. It’s not a perfect process, but like I said, I personally am at peace with where we are right now. We’d definitely appreciate your ongoing prayers.