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The Kingdom of God As Scripture’s Central Theme: A New Approach to Biblical Theology, Part 1

 

Editor Introduction to The Kingdom of God As Scripture’s Central Theme

Editors Introduction: David Burns’ proposal that the Kingdom of God is the central unifying theme of Scripture was published in two parts in the print version of Pneuma Review in 2001. Brought online in October 2014, we invite all readers to begin a conversation on the Last Days (eschatology) and approaches to biblical theology by leaving comments under the article.

 

Introduction

Have you ever wondered what God is doing? What is He up too? In this article we will be answering those questions by taking a look at the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the primary theme that binds the Scriptures and indeed all of history together. Only the kingdom theme flows easily from the pages of the biblical writers. It alone does adequate justice to the progressive unfolding of biblical revelation by viewing the historical covenants of redemptive history as keys to revelatory development in the Kingdom of God. It is also the only theme that incorporates within it all the major and minor subthemes of Scripture without doing violence to any of them. The Kingdom of God places our Lord Jesus at its center and emphasizes covenant as the vehicle of our redemptive relationship with God. In that respect it considers the Bible not only to be a book about covenant, but a covenantal book itself, governing the relationship of God with the subjects in his great Kingdom. Thus the Kingdom of God becomes the unifying theme of Scripture with covenant providing its structure.

Popular Approaches to Understanding the Scriptures

Before we go on to present a Kingdom centered approach to understanding Scripture, let us look at the two main interpretative schools which have dominated the conservative Christian community this century—Covenant Theology and Dispensationalism.1 If you grew up in a Reformed church, you were taught Covenant Theology. If you grew up in an independent, Pentecostal, or Baptist church, you were probably taught Dispensational Theology. Each one of these approaches is helpful to understanding Scripture and has its good points, but in my opinion each also has its shortcomings. I have learned a tremendous amount about God and the Scriptures from the godly men of both schools. Any criticism of these systems in no manner implies disrespect. What better way is there to honor one’s teachers than to critically evaluate their teachings and to come to one’s own conclusions? To the degree that any of this author’s conclusions are accurate, they have been built upon the shoulders of his mentors. Any failure is due to his own shortcomings.

 

Covenant Theology

Covenant Theology generally sees covenant as providing both the unifying theme and the structure for Scripture. It is through covenant that God enters into relationship with man and brings salvation to him. Covenant Theology divides biblical history into two major covenants, the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace. A third covenant, the Covenant of Redemption, is the covenant that stands above history and becomes the basis for the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Redemption is an everlasting covenant established between God the Father and God the Son in eternity past before the creation of the world. It provides for the salvation of sinful man through the sacrificial death of the Son.

The Covenant of Works historically began with Adam and continued until the fall of man in the garden of Eden, but legally it is still in force today. Under it God promised Adam eternal life as long as he perfectly and totally obeyed his commands, but death should he disobey. The Covenant of Works shows the inability of man to save himself by attempting to perfectly obey the laws of God. Jesus Christ was the only one who could perfectly obey the law of God and thus satisfy the requirements of a holy and just God.

The Covenant of Grace began at the fall of man and continues throughout eternity. It brings into history and puts into action the plans of salvation made between the Father and the Son in the Covenant of Redemption. It is through the Covenant of Grace that God begins to rescue the human race from its sinfulness. God does this through two different dispensations or administrations of the Covenant of Grace, the Old Covenant Dispensation and the New Covenant Dispensation. The various covenants under the Old Covenant are stages in the development or revelation of the Covenant of Grace. The two dispensations are not different in kind but only in degree. They are both part of God’s single plan to bring salvation into the world. Their difference lies in their place along the historical path of revelatory development. In other words, as times goes on God reveals more and more of his plan of salvation, until his greatest revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ, comes into the world.

 

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 2001

About the Author: David D. Burns, M. Div. served as a pastor for seven years. He presently attends a nondenominational charismatic church and is the father of five home-schooled children, one of which has graduated and is attending college. He has worked over 16 years developing his Kingdom of God Theology and has taught it on several occasions. He is available to do seminars in churches.

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