Introduction to “Getting the Garden Right: Adam’s Work and God’s Rest in Light of Christ,” from Founders Press

 

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Introduction

 

 

This book, in one sense, concentrates on hermeneutics and theological method. I contend that New Covenant Theology (NCT) gets the covenant of works and the Sabbath wrong because it gets the garden of Eden wrong, and it gets the garden of Eden wrong because it gets crucial aspects of hermeneutics wrong. The garden of Eden (and its surrounding context in the Genesis narrative) contains “the principal themes of biblical theology displayed in epigrammatic brevity” and “these simple but far-reaching affirmations . . . become the presuppositions of the rest of the sacred story.”[1] Eden sets the stage for the drama of redemption revealed to us in subsequent Holy Scripture. Though Eden was glorious, Adam failed his task as the representative of man and fell short of the glory of God. He fell short of something he did not possess via creation.

The redemptive stream of Holy Scripture takes creation to its intended end, the eternal state of glory. The agent appointed by God to do this is our Lord Jesus Christ. The last Adam, our Lord, takes his seed where the first Adam failed to take his. Adam had a goal to obtain, a goal he failed to achieve. Adam fell from the righteous state in which he was created and did not enter glory due to his sin. Though the potential for attaining glory was endowed upon him by his Creator, he never reached it. This means that eschatological potential existed from the beginning. Eden, though a glorious place, was not the end, but the beginning to an end. It had within it the seeds of a better world; a better world where sin could not enter and which could never lapse into a cursed condition. In the words of William J. Dumbrell, “Eden is the representation of what the world is to become . . .”[2] What the world is to become is what we call the eternal state of glory, the new heavens and the new earth. This being the case, a proper understanding of the garden is crucial for understanding many scriptural doctrines, such as God as both Creator and divine exemplar, man’s identity and vocation, the law of nature, the covenant of works, the Sabbath, and even Christology and eschatology. Those who get the garden wrong end up robbing themselves of the foundational doctrines necessary to make proper sense of redemptive history. In order to properly understand the promise of Genesis 3:15, the unfolding and function of the biblical covenants, the function of old covenant Israel, and the new covenant inaugurated by our Lord, one must understand creation and its various doctrinal and ethical entailments. Indeed, as Dumbrell asserts, “the foundational factor in biblical theology is a creation theology.”[3] The redemptive story line of the Bible assumes and develops from the original revelation of the state of Adam and Eve before the fall. Going astray at the level of the foundation creates problems when trying to assemble the structure of the Bible’s teaching on many crucial subjects.

 

Why the Covenant of Works and the Sabbath?

I chose to interact with NCT on the covenant of works and the Sabbath because, as will be argued, both of these doctrines are revealed to us in the beginning of the Bible and both are denied or modified by NCT advocates. In addition, the formulation of these doctrines demands the application of hermeneutical principles with which most NCT adherents agree, though, as will also be argued, they apply them inconsistently. The ongoing nature of the Sabbath under the inaugurated new covenant, in many respects, is the most obvious doctrine wherein NCT and Covenant Theology disagree. The covenant of works is probably second to the Sabbath in this regard. The formulation of these doctrines will serve as test cases to illustrate the differences in hermeneutics utilized by NCT and Covenant Theology.

 

The Structure of the Book

The first two chapters deal with defining NCT (chapter 1), the importance of hermeneutics in theological formulation, and charting a course of study for the main sections of the book (chapter 2). Part I is entitled “Adam’s Work in Light of Christ.” This section discusses NCT’s view of God, Adam, and covenant (chapter 3), the confessional formulation of the doctrine of the covenant of works (chapter 4), and the scriptural arguments in favor of the doctrine (chapter 5). Part II, “God’s Rest in Light of Christ,” is more involved. After a chapter discussing NCT’s position on the Sabbath (chapter 6), and a chapter on the confessional formulation of the doctrine (chapter 7), seven chapters are devoted to the scriptural arguments for a Christian Sabbath (chapters 8-14). The reason so much attention is given to the issue of the Sabbath is due to its foundational place at creation and its subsequent function in both the Old and New Testaments. The biblical doctrine of the Sabbath begins at creation and follows the story line of the Bible to the consummation. Understanding it properly requires the examination of many biblical texts. Because of this book’s particular focus on the problems within NCT, the present writer has attempted to provide significant interaction with those who agree and disagree with the confessional position advocated herein.

 

Why Read this Book?

The book contains exegesis, biblical theology, systematic theology, and historical theology. It is crucial that the subject matter of this book be addressed through these methodological disciplines. This book will deal with texts, seek to help the reader understand those texts in their immediate contexts and the wider context of the entire Bible, and interact with systematic and historical theological concerns along the way. Interacting with voices from the past keeps the discussion within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy, where the Spirit of Christ has been helping the people of Christ understand the Word of Christ for thousands of years.

Some of the chapters are long and contain sustained arguments that must be followed carefully. Each chapter assumes and builds upon previous discussion. Readers are encouraged to read carefully and recall previous discussion often.

Though NCT is primarily a Calvinistic Baptist phenomenon, some of its tenets are held by others who do not identify with that theological tradition. There are Presbyterians who deny (or modify) the covenant of works and the Sabbath, though these doctrines are contained in the Westminster Standards. There is also a school of thought known as Progressive Covenantalism which denies (or modifies) these same doctrines. Progressive Covenantalism is relatively new. Books advocating its distinctives are just coming off the press. More time is needed for them to articulate their views and for others to listen carefully to them before interacting on a substantive level, though some interaction with it will be provided here. These things being the case, this book is not aimed at Baptists alone. My hope is that it will benefit any inquiring mind on the issues discussed. If you are interested in hermeneutics, theological method, biblical theology, creation and its ethical entailments, man in the image of God, the covenant of works, the Sabbath, the old and new creations, and the relationship between protology, eschatology, redemptive history, and Christology, you are invited to read carefully and prayerfully the pages before you.

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[1] Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word, 1987), 39.

[2] William J. Dumbrell, “Genesis 2:1-17: A Foreshadowing of the New Creation,” in Biblical Theology: Retrospect & Prospect, ed. Scott J. Hafemann (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 61.

[3] Ibid., 65.