Christian Church and the Old Testament (Van Ruler)

Van Ruler, A. A. The Christian Church and the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. trans. Bromiley.

The book’s initial purpose is to justify the Christian’s use of the Old Testament. He does, however, put the brakes on more fanciful readings. For the reader today much of it is dated, as is most OT work post-Vos (and certainly post-Beale). Nonetheless, there are a few fascinating and controversial sayings that are worth engaging.

He wisely points out that the OT’s identifying God as “Yahweh” and even “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” puts to rest any generic “God-in-general” god of the ecumenical movement (Van Ruler, 17; the comments on the ecumenical movement are mine, not his).

He argues that Calvin used the model of progressive revelation (II.x.2). On one level this is obvious. God didn’t give Adam and Eve a complete canon of Genesis-Revelation. That sounds silly, I know, but there are super-internet-covenanters today who say that any use of “history” or “organic” or “progressive” = pantheism. I leave that to you. On a more substantial note, however, we must question how glibly we can say that “Jesus” is in the Old Testament. He certainly is (1 Cor. 10; he is the Rock from which our fathers drank). Here’s the problem, though. If Scripture (and texts in general) have only one meaning–the meaning for the original audience is the intended meaning–then we need to ask if the original audience saw Christ as the rock. Indeed, that’s a tall (but not impossible) claim. Van Ruler questions that we can simply put Jesus wherever we want in the OT, since such knowledge, at least for the original audience, needed the death and resurrection at the very least (21).

Good quote by Kuyper: If our ideas of the Old Testament can’t incorporate national Israel in them, then those ideas are wrong” (Uit het Woord, II, 1, 180). Outstanding. In our conservative circles we might not realize how radical this claim is. A particular Israel is hard to square with “universal messages” or “timeless truths” or the ecumenical movement.

If you are somewhat familiar with Van Ruler, then you know the dangerous area he is now taking us. “The whole concern with Scripture is not with Jesus Christ” (69). That’s a fairly startling claim. What does he mean by it? He says the Spirit embraces more than Jesus does. That’s a vague statement and I am not sure how to take it. He then echoes 1 Cor. 15 that the Son’s mediatorial kingdom will come to an end. (Side note: Berkouwer claimed in The Return of Christ that Van Ruler said Jesus’s humanity will fade away, but Van Ruler doesn’t say that here). Van Ruler does leave us with a startling suggestion, though: “Jesus Christ is an emergency measure that God postponed as long as possible.” Suffice to say he probably isn’t a supralapsarian.

He does point out the wisdom of Reformed Christology and how it is anchored (and further develops) in Reformed anthropology. We believe that original righteousness “was natural rather than supernatural.” Rome believed in a pure nature to which was super-added a gift of grace. So far this is standard dogmatics. From it Van Ruler draws the inevitable but not always obvious conclusion: this means that Jesus doesn’t add a “higher life” dimension to created life. This is why with Reformed we say that grace restores, rather than perfects nature.

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