One of my favourite Christian thinkers at the moment is Tim Keller. A theology lecturer turned pastor who leads Redeemer church NYC, one of the most influential churches in the US. What I like about him is that he is both a practitioner and thinker. He is adapt at reading the culture of the day, and offering a persuasive and critique and a credible Christian alternative.
In a recent article he addresses a charge often a made against Christians, that we are inconsistent in our application of Scripture. That we freely ignore many of the Old Testament laws regarding dress, food, worship, the Sabbath – yet at the same time wish to take literally other Scriptural injunctions – particularly in the area of sexual ethics. At best this makes us naieve, at worst hypocrites. This is a criticism that appears again and again in the British press and media (reared it’s head on QI recently) – it is presented as something of a knockdown argument, and rarely is it challenged intelligibly. I think Keller does a great job of articulating a brief, thoughtful Christian response, at the heart of the argument is the recognition that the Bible is composed of Old and New Testaments (witnesses) to God and are to be read in different ways accordingly, the New Testament and Jesus indicating how we should read and apply the Old Testament.:
The New Testament gives us further guidance about how to read the Old Testament. Paul makes it clear in places like Romans 13:8ff that the apostles understood the Old Testament moral law to still be binding on us. In short, the coming of Christ changed how we worship, but not how we live. The moral law outlines God’s own character—his integrity, love, and faithfulness. And so everything the Old Testament says about loving our neighbor, caring for the poor, generosity with our possessions, social relationships, and commitment to our family is still in force. The New Testament continues to forbid killing or committing adultery, and all the sex ethic of the Old Testament is re-stated throughout the New Testament (Matt. 5:27-30; 1 Cor. 6:9-20; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). If the New Testament has reaffirmed a commandment, then it is still in force for us today.
The New Testament explains another change between the testaments. Sins continue to be sins—but the penalties change. In the Old Testament sins like adultery or incest were punishable with civil sanctions like execution. This is because at that time God’s people constituted a nation-state, and so all sins had civil penalties.
But in the New Testament the people of God are an assembly of churches all over the world, living under many different governments. The church is not a civil government, and so sins are dealt with by exhortation and, at worst, exclusion from membership. This is how Paul deals with a case of incest in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 5:1ff. and 2 Cor. 2:7-11). Why this change? Under Christ, the gospel is not confined to a single nation—it has been released to go into all cultures and peoples.
Once you grant the main premise of the Bible—about the surpassing significance of Christ and his salvation—then all the various parts of the Bible make sense. Because of Christ, the ceremonial law is repealed. Because of Christ, the church is no longer a nation-state imposing civil penalties. It all falls into place. However, if you reject the idea of Christ as Son of God and Savior, then, of course, the Bible is at best a mishmash containing some inspiration and wisdom, but most of it would have to be rejected as foolish or erroneous.
Read the whole article here.