God’s New Deal – Where I’ve Been Part 1

So I’m finishing a paper today about “subversive biblical leadership” for my MOL601 class. In the process, I have returned to something I’ve found endlessly fascinating and a meaningful spiritual reservoir for a decade now–God’s new deal, or (more precisely in theo-speak) New Covenant. It was my involvement in PCA Presbyterian circles that introduced me to Covenant Theology as opposed to the unconsciously native Dispensationalism of my Baptist and Pentecostal youth. I really sank my teeth into Reformed exegesis, and my faith-curiosity (and subsequent interest in house church ecclesiology) led me to Jon Zens and his wonderful decades-long periodical Searching Together. It was this that publication that was (and is) a hub of sorts for New Covenant Theology, a way of taking seriously Reformed and Anabaptist (and Baptist and even Church of Christ) ways of framing God’s covenant relationships with humanity, culminating in the gratuitous-grace (to use a redundancy to make a point) situation we find ourselves in now.

I am still indebted to New Covenant theology for getting me “unstuck” from Calvinist-only ways of understanding grace and covenant, as well as deepening my house church relationships and sticking my little toe into the ‘postmodern Christian’ dialogue, which later became the ’emerging church’ conversation (Zens had an essay or two in the late, lamented, greatest-ever pomo Christian rag, Stranger Things Magazine. Anyone remember that one??). At the same time I feel I’ve grown and changed yet further, in a ‘transcend and include’ kind of way.

All the same: I am including today the first part of three ‘journal entry’ reflections I did as an undergrad Religion Minor, for a New Testament class taught at Berry College by the inimitable Harvey Hill. I do so without alteration or apology for the text or style, only with the caveat that I’m pretty sure I lifted some of the middle portion of the entry (which was originally an email to my best friend, not intended for publication or a grade) directly from In-Depth Studies or John Reisinger‘s page. Read on, and lemme know what you think…

Bonus Journal

Exploring The New Covenant of Christ

Mike Morrell

New Testament

(Circa 2000, 2001)

Recently, I sent my good friend Seth an article about why we didn’t need to “tithe” and why free, from the heart giving was the emphasis of the New Covenant. Here is what he wrote to me:

“I want to respond to the one on tithing by asking what is the law of the new covenant?

What this person says seems like it has no teeth. It sounds like he is saying “do whatever you want.” Maybe I am just missing it but if the old law was the baby teeth what are the new teeth or are we only left with gums. What compels us to do anything under the new covenant? What is the law? Honestly reading it made my heart beat faster in anger. It seemed that he was not writing in wisdom but arrogance.”

Here is what I responded, or would respond, if I had polished it:

Dear Seth:

Yes, the New Covenant is “do whatever you want” but with a twist. The twist is that you have a brand new heart and brand new desires, and what you want matches what God wants. It is because you are a New Creation in Christ, and in your truest self you are not a sinner but a saint. Thus the law is not teeth but braces. “Braces” existed for a time but only for the purpose of bringing the teeth to their appointed place. Thus, in salvation history, in the fullness of time Christ came. Our teeth became crooked with sin and needed something to hold them together, so Yahweh God gave us braces. But they were metal, external, and they hurt. The New Covenant feels like gums because we’re so used to external, man-made religion (which is similar but not quite analogous to Old Covenant Law). The New Covenant is uplifting and gentle.

The Law was “training wheels” for pre-salvation humankind (and even our pre-salvation selves) but now we can bike because we’ve internalized the means to ride. This isn’t on our own merits but on the basis of “the new covenant of Christ’s blood,” which we celebrate with communion. “What compels us to do anything?” you ask. The inner compulsion of the Holy Spirit (See Jeremiah and Hebrews), the Royal Law of Love written in our hearts. It’s not the ten commandments, its the Sermon on the Mount. But even this is too hard, and that’s the point. Whenever we look here and there, on the outside, to figure out “what to do,” we’re looking in the wrong place because “the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17) Thus it is possible to (as occultist Aleister Crowley and St. Augustine admonish us) “do what thou wilt” with concerns to giving, and everything else in the Christian life because what you will is what HE wills. Because of the glorious work on the cross which initiated the New Covenant, our spirits are made one with God…

This post originally published on October 7th, 2007.

10 Responses to God’s New Deal – Where I’ve Been Part 1

  1. kevin beck October 8, 2007 at 6:51 pm #

    Mike,
    This is something I wrestled with for several years–attempting to lay down and explicate the law of God. My favoriet phrase was “obey the Gospel.”

    “Law of the New Covenant” is a curious phrase too. It does raise several sticky questions, as your friend Seth indicates. Can we do whatever we want with “no law”?

    Yet, I wonder, can’t we do whatever we want with law just as easily? David murdered a man and raped that man’s wife — clearly against the law. I broke the speed limit, clearly against the law.

    I’m asking if the real question behind the question is one of “accountability” and/or enforcement of certain norms. And then I wonder if there is a question behind that one, such as, “What’s so important about accountability? — especially if I take accountability one step beyond accountability to God.”

    Even then, our view of God shapes whether or not we’re concerned with accountability. Jesus stopped calling his disciples “servants” and began calling them “friends.” Perhaps (and I say “perhaps”) if we reconceptualize God and God’s interaction with humanity as a whole and individual persons then we might come up with different answers to the law/no law debate.

    Beyond that, I’ve always been drawn to Galatians 6:2. It seems to me like Paul is saying, “If you really want a law, try this. Bear one another’s burdens. Once you do that, then we can talk some more.” This is brilliant, becuase it takes the focus off of holding others to standards by investing ourselves into their lives by becoming their servant — not their teacher, pastor, mentor, judge, etc.

    It’s really quite a relevant and important conversation for people who have been shaped by Christian teaching. Thanks for bringing it up here.

    Blessings,
    Kevin

  2. Lenz October 9, 2007 at 8:33 pm #

    “subversive biblical leadership” – you read “Subversive Christianity” by Robert Inchausti, maybe?

  3. zoecarnate October 12, 2007 at 1:31 pm #

    Yeah Kevin, ‘law’ is tricky. I tend to think that Jesus fulfilled all law, and agree with your psychological observation that law doesn’t particularly prevent or restrain evil. And yet I recognize that it is human to say “show me how to live,” and desire concrete guidance. And who better to give this, law enthusiasts ask, than God? And of course our pal James talks about a ‘royal law of love,’ which I think I can handle. As I can Jesus’ two great commands of loving God and neighbor. But to think that 600+ specific rules ought to apply to us today (or even the 10 Commandments) ignores their original historical-contextual specificity. As to whether ‘the Beatitudes’ constitute a new kind of law, well, we can certainly treat it that way. I prefer to treat them as achievable high-water marks for humankind, practical descriptions of the new world we inhabit. But the way to actualize these, I’m with Paul, is via Spirit rather than letter. The life of spirit is way more difficult as it is open to constant improvisation and local negotiation, but its way more rewarding I think.

    And Lenz, I am reading Inchausti’s book right now! It’s incredible.

  4. Peter K Bell October 13, 2007 at 9:47 pm #

    I can’t resist a confirming reply here too:

    Yes, we can “do what we want,” as long as what we want is radically new and different! And, in Christ, it is.

    Mike, I have to say that I didn’t know this before, but I am finding myself in full agreement with the doctrines you are presenting here, particularly concerning our liberty in Christ. In this liberty [and only in it] we will be able to live the life He died to give us.

    Yours in Jesus,
    Peter

  5. Matthew October 18, 2011 at 11:58 am #

    I like New Covenant theology as you have it here, but I admit it doesn’t much resemble my experiences in Reformed Baptist circles. Good job, as always, Mike…

  6. Tana October 18, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    I look forward to the second and third parts. Interesting, I’ve seen this topic of tithing twice now today.

    I find that for me personally, I relied on the law when I didn’t know how or what to trust. But if I start trusting not that God is “out there” but “in here,” then the law becomes meaningless and unnecessary. But I can certainly understand why believers who do not believe in oneness consider themselves dependent on the law. Been there, done that.

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    […] of Love writ large upon our hearts, revealing nothing less than our union with God. Here my turn-of-the-century email to my good friend Seth continues, with why I think that only God-with-us can please God, and the […]

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