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How Tightly Should We Hold On to the Term “Historical-Redemptive”?

March 15, 2010
How important is the term historical-redemptive?  The term is found nowhere in the Bible and its birth is fairly recent in Church History.  Is it a fashionable theological trend that allows pastors to make every text about Jesus?  Does the term cause readers to lose sight of the multifaceted, multilayered nature of the Bible?  Is the small corner of reformed evangelicals who stress a historical-redemptive reading of Scripture doing so at the expense of clear moral demands of personal holiness?  Does the stress of “seeing the big picture” lose sight of particular doctrines, individual stories, or genre?
The study of the unity of the Bible has been a hot topic since the heretic Marcion in the second century.  While Biblical Theology didn’t become a formal discipline until after the Reformation, history shows that the questions that are being raised are nothing new.  Yet, as the Enlightenment began to infiltrate Protestant churches and orthodoxy became passé, the discipline of biblical theology seemed to produced as many schools of thought as there were scholars.
If we wanted to simplify things we could step back from the history of biblical theology and generally see two common errors.  The first would be the pursuit of a “pure” theology.  This pursuit tries to understand the message the original biblical author intended in its context, find the normative truth in all biblical passages, and determine eternal truths that transcend what is merely time-conditional.  These eternal truths are universal and, therefore, a “pure” theology.  The “pure” theology effort usually fails in a few ways:  it ignores history and removes biblical truths that are distasteful to the modern reader.
The second error reads the Bible as simply religious history, in order to see how the apostles invented Christianity from ancient Judaism.  There is no intended benefit for the Church.  The aim is to produce objective history.  Faith is only a hindrance to the objectivity of the the discipline.  The failures here are obvious: the text is not inspired, there is no biblical unity, there is no theology, and there is no God!
Now it may be clear why the term historical-redemptive in conservative, evangelical circles is tightly held on to.  We believe that Jesus is rightly understood by understanding history.  We believe that, although Adam sinned against God and all the human race with him, Jesus has come to act in obedience on behalf of those who believe.  We believe that although Israel – God’s son – after being redeemed from Egypt, wandered in the wilderness and murmured against God, handing their devotion over to idols and baals, Jesus came as God’s Son, with whom God was well pleased.  We believe that although the Old Testament priests had to make atonement every year, not only for the sins of the people, but also for themselves, Jesus came, by the power of his indestructible life, as our great High Priest, making atonement for our sin once and for all.
Since we treasure Christ and his Gospel, we believe that God has inspired history, poetry, prophecy, and apocalyptic writings.  Through which, we understand God’s saving work in Christ Jesus.  We do not separate theology from the genre.  We are saved, we persevere, we love others, we resist temptation, and trust in the goodness of God because God himself has condescended in human history to save sinners and give us new hearts.
The term historical-redemptive is not a throw away label.  I hold on to it tight.  I won’t go to the stake for it like I would the Trinity or substitutionary atonement.  But I suspect we lose more than we know if we abandon it.
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