Dr. Bradley on Campus

November 25, 2012

Chapel and Interview

Dr. Anthony Bradley (Ph.D. '08), associate professor of theology and ethics at King's College, recently came on campus to speak at chapel.  He also sat down for a video interview with Rev. Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue about the Church, race, and culture.

Dr. Bradley's chapel message is available for download and streaming in the media center.

See below to watch the interview and read a transcript of Dr. Bradley's chapel.

Interview with Dr. Jue

Part 1

Part 2

Transcript of "Kingdom, Covenant, Mediator"

Chapel Message by Dr. Anthony Bradley

Years ago, I was introduced to the Dutch Reformed Theologian Gerard Van Groningan. In his work From Creation to Consummation, he developed an idea called  “The Golden Cable.”  He mentioned that the three themes that thread their way through the entire biblical narrative are kingdom, covenant and mediator.  What I have noticed recently is that in the broader evangelical nest that we have, you do not hear much about kingdom or covenant.  What happened to that?  You also do not hear much about mediator. 

My contention is that there is a lot of theological confusion in the world because these key things that have been so central to understanding the redemptive narrative of the entire story are missing. My contention, at the core of everything that I know to be true of the scriptures, is that this particular seminary, that this particular generation of faculty and students are desperately needed to speak into this space. This is the place where these themes of kingdom, covenant and mediator can have some sort of resurgence back into the discourse, because there is theological confusion right now.

There are some people who do not know how many kingdoms there are.  There are some who are attempting to redefine covenants to mean things they have never meant before.  We also have a context where Jesus Christ as mediator of the covenant has been lost in the discourse.  I believe today that this could be the beginning of recapturing and reorienting ourselves around this “Golden Cable,” because there are people out there who need to hear it.

In the book of Matthew beginning in Chapter 3, John the Baptist is preparing the way for Christ and he announces his coming and encourages people to do something amazing.  He encourages them to repent. “In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the desert of Judaea and saying, ‘repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.’  This is he who has spoken through the profit Isaiah, ‘A voice of one, calling in the desert, “prepare the way for the Lord.  Make straight paths for him.”’”

I find it absolutely fascinating and wonderful that John is calling people to repent.  The call to repentance comes not because Jesus wants to cuddle with them, not because Jesus wants to be their best friend, not simply because they need to get out of their situation, but because of the kingdom. They are being invited to turn back to God and to covenant obedience.  The establishment of this kingdom of God’s rightful sovereignty and judgment and salvation is near, and it is at hand in the work and person of Christ.

This sovereign Christ, who is the Creator, Ruler, Maintainer and Judge, is the fulfillment of all that was promised in the kingdom.  This son of David, this Davidic heir, is near; this is the start of the inauguration of the king and the call is to turn people back to covenant obedience so that they can be the kinds of human beings  God created them to be in his image, that is, to be truly human. This coming of the kingdom, this inauguration, this fulfillment in Jesus Christ—this is the big good news.  It is so huge that John is calling everyone to it.  “Repent for the kingdom is at hand.”

A few years ago, I had an opportunity to immerse myself in what was then called “The Emerging Church.” Do you remember that movement, and when that was hot?  Everybody was worried about it.  I remember years ago, I was telling Dr. Oliphint about this emerging church movement, and about how we need to get on it, and he just looked at me and said, “Ah, it won’t last.”  I was thirty years old, and I thought, “This is huge.”  But he was right; it didn’t last.

I will say that in the Midwest, when I was heavily immersed in this church of ten thousand people for a few years, I heard from people in their twenties and thirties and their late teens  that they did not feel like they were connected to anything big.  Their Christianity was too individualistic.  It had been reduced to Jesus’ meeting their personal needs and they were sick and tired of a Christianity that just told them to move to the suburbs and live a nice suburban life.  They wanted more; they wanted something ancient-future, something big, something cosmic, something historic.  There were moments when I wanted to run up on the stage and say, “Hey, the kingdom! Remember that? Remember the kingdom of God?  Remember the establishment of God’s rightful reign over all of creation, inaugurated in the person and work of Christ?”  We didn’t hear that.  What did you hear?  You heard things like “digging wells”, which is good.  “Taking care of stranded animals”, which is good.  However, there was this desire to have something big.  Therefore, what happens when we lose this cosmic, transcendent theme of the kingdom is that we miss opportunities to thwart the things that compete for our hearts and our souls as we are drawn to something greater than ourselves. Instead, what often fills that space is charity.

You’re not kingdom people. You may be a social justice kind of person or you may fill that gap with some sports team, or you may fill that gap with some nationalistic identity, or some political party.  I believe that because this call to repentance because of the kingdom being near, this fulfillment of all that God has promised, that we have to reclaim this space.  Imagine what it is like to walk into a trailer park community where people are disenfranchised, they are poor, and they are often called “white trash”.  Imagine what it is like to tell some woman or some man in that context that you are not trash.  That God has called you to be in the kingdom.  Imagine what it is like to be a mover and operate in parts of Harlem.  Imagine what it is like to walk into a housing project where people feel that their humanity is worthless, where they do not have a call so they join a gang.  “I’ve got something better than a gang; how about the kingdom?”  What does it mean to be a kingdom man or a kingdom woman? 

My brothers and sisters, this is missing.  And just as kingdom is that one thread that runs itself from Genesis to Revelation, this kingdom does not function outside of covenant. 

Later on in Matthew 6, Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom.”  Go after it, seek it, pursue it, and let the kingdom orient your life.  And as the covenant mediator, this to me makes complete and perfect sense.

When I was introduced to reformed theology, back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, everybody who planted a church named it “Covenant something.”  Seriously. Get your directory to the Presbyterian section and you’ll see that churches planted in the late ‘70s through the ‘80s all had the word “Covenant” –  Covenant Pres, Covenant Community, Covenant Christ Covenant, covenant, covenant, covenant, covenant. 

Do you hear “covenant” much anymore? Nope, because some people are too missional for covenant.

Exodus chapter 6 says - “Then the Lord God said to Moses, “Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: Because of my mighty hand he will let them go; because of my mighty hand, he will drive them out of this country.”  God also said to Moses, “I am the Lord.  I appear to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God almighty, but by my name the Lord, I did not make myself known to them.  I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, where they lived as aliens.  Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving and I have remembered my covenant. 

“Therefore, say to the Israelites, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.  I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with my mighty acts of judgment.  I will take you as my own people and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give Abraham, Isaac and to Jacob.  I will give it to you as a possession. I am the Lord.” 

You all know this covenantal formula that “I will be your God and you will be my people,” and that this threads itself through the entire redemptive story.  We do not hear much about it anymore, but this is the second thread of this golden cable that runs itself all the way through the task.  As one commentator put it, “this bond in blood sovereignly administered, God’s life and death bond to his creation.”  He commits himself to his creatures and declares the basis on which he shall relate to them.  He tells them right here in the text that he is going to be their God and they will be his people and that he will redeem them and deliver them according to his covenant commitment to them.  This bond of love and life includes these promises, assurances, obligations, and warnings.  It is immutable; it is a permanent bond between God and his people.  These promises are huge, they are big, they are cosmic, they are transcendent, and they are eschatological. Some of them are small, the little blessings and the little promises. 

God, in this covenantal framework, promises to bring the Messiah to fulfill all of the covenants.  He even promises to bless covenant families.  You remember when we used to talk about covenant families, the primary means through which God will grow the kingdom? There is that one verse in Psalm 103, verse seventeen.  “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.”

One of the awesome opportunities I have as a professor is to meddle in my students’ lives.  I have been doing it for years and it is great.  One day, I was talking to this one student, and as I was getting to know him, I asked him about his family and he began to start crying.  What kind of eighteen-year old man chokes up about his family?  He said, “You know I am really thankful for the grace of God in my family’s story. When I look at my father, what I see is God’s faithfulness to him and it is amazing.  In fact, I believe and I am confident that I am united to Christ, that Christ died for me because of what my father taught me.  What my father delivered to me through the word,” and I thought, “Okay, this is too much.”  He continued, “You know my father got it from his father. When I think about my father and I see God’s faithfulness to my father and then growing up I also saw God’s faithfulness to my grandfather, who passed it on to my father, it just makes me cry.” 

So he is in my office, he is talking about God’s faithfulness from one generation to another, he is crying, and now I am crying.  What I tell him is, “You are a Psalm 78 kid. What happened in your family is called ‘normal.’  You are supposed to have a boring testimony, because God’s covenant faithfulness as promised passes from generation to generation, as your grandfather was faithful to God and God’s faithfulness to your grandfather and God’s faithfulness to your father, you recognize that you are a son of the covenant.”

We were just sitting there, both of us bawling because the text is true and real and God is a covenant-keeping God.  So, this eighteen-year old’s identity is now formed and shaped, not just by the fact that Jesus died for him individually, but also because he has seen God’s covenant faithfulness in his entire family.  His behavior is now formed and shaped by that fact.  He said, “How can I live a debaucherous life when I have come from this?”  So, I told him that he has a great responsibility and a great privilege as a son of a covenant.

How awesome would it be to have your grandson or your granddaughter bawling in somebody’s office when they recognize God’s covenant faithfulness from generation to generation? This is God’s covenant commitment.  Do we not want people to know that God is not just nice?  That God does not just love, but he is a covenant-keeping God?  Do we not want people to experience this?  Because the minute you realize that life is hard and tough and if you are receiving chemotherapy and you are in the midst of pain, you need to lean on a covenant-keeping God, his promises and his assurances. When you miscarry, it is a covenant-keeping God that allows you to persevere.  When your covenant-breaking child gets arrested again, it is God’s covenant promises and his faithfulness that allow you to persevere in the midst of that.  When your church fires you.  When you preach for ten, fifteen years and you experience negative growth. When your church’s attendance decreases from 112 to 67, it is God’s covenant-keeping promises that allow you to persevere and push through.  When you realize that you are not that special.  When you get that reality check, it is the covenant keeping God who has re-identified you as a kingdom person bound by the covenant that he intends to use for his purpose. What is so amazing about grace is that Christ is the fulfillment of this covenant.

Lastly, turn to Hebrews chapter 9, verse 15.  Just as you have this kingdom thread that runs through the text of this covenant, this third thread that we have seen from Genesis to Revelation is the office of mediator.  But, you do not hear much about Christ as mediator anymore.  However, it says it right here in Hebrews chapter 9, verse 15.  “For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant.  Those who are called will receive the promise eternal inheritance.  Now that he has died as a ransom to set free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

I do not have enough time to unpack this new covenant and old covenant language, but you know it to be Christ’s fulfillment of what was promised in all of the other covenants.  There is this sense that people feel alienated from God, they feel disconnected from Him.

I had an opportunity once to do evangelism. I guess you can call it evangelism; I was yelling at somebody’s face.  I was, in a Jesus-loving kind of way, yelling at them and saying, “How come you don’t go to church?” He said, “Well, I’m not clean enough.  My life is a mess. I cannot go to church.  I am jacked up; I am torn up from the floor up.”  And I looked at him and said, “No, no, that’s exactly why you need a mediator.  It is because of your sin and your brokenness, your shame and your guilt, that Jesus died and guess what; it has always been this way.  It’s always been the case that there needs to be a mediator between God and his people.”  This is what your union with Christ is all about.  The promised one, the benefactor of the fulfillment of the progression of the covenant makes you clean.  That is why Jesus Christ is the perfect mediator of this new covenant, through whom you receive the promise of eternal inheritance, this ransom that frees us from the consequences of sin.  As you know, mediators have mandates and responsibilities.  They have roles to play, goals, and purposes that must be in line with Yahweh who initiates and keeps covenant.  We are the ones who break it.

The other mediators were Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Judges, Prophets, the Priests and the Kings, and all those were limited. Therefore, the good news is that Dr. Tipton is right; the gospel itself is not primarily about the benefits of justification and adoption and sanctification. It is, as he says, a Son-focused gospel, a Son-centered gospel.  Jesus Christ has come as the covenant mediator to fulfill all that was promised through the covenants.  Christ fulfills that which was promised to Noah and promised to Abraham and Moses and David.  This is about the story of Jesus Christ, the son of David who has come to be the mediator of the covenants. 

So, our union with Christ, your union with Christ and my union with Christ allows me to benefit from the benefactor. When you are confronted with your sin, you need to benefit from the benefactor.  When you deal with your own pride, arrogance, narcissism and disconnection from God, you need to benefit from the benefactor.  You need a mediator.  What is so awesome about the new covenant is that Christ has come to be this mediator for us. 

I am convinced that the only thing that is going to save American Christianity from therapeutic deism, individualistic narcissism, and celebrity Christianity is remembering the kingdom and God’s covenants and the history of the role of the mediator.  When I think about the communities, the schools, and the institutions that can press these things on God’s kingdom and covenant and mediator into the present discourse, this is the only school I can think of that can do it.

There was a time when Machen gathered some friends to address the issues of his day and I am convinced that this is the school that it starts with – this faculty and this student body – to reestablish the importance of these things.  It is time for a new chapter.  It is time for a progression.  It is time to realign what we know about something called biblical theology.  Remember when we used to talk about redemptive history? Therefore, my prayer for you is that you all will study with great resolve.  That you will make popular the things that you are teaching, in your preaching, in your writing, and in your tweeting.  That you will support your faculty as they research and write and that you who are on staff will recognize that you are also a part of this mission.  That this seminary, this school, this place that has for so long been, as some would argue, quality control for much of American Evangelicalism, would see that this is the time; this is the hour for Westminster to step it up.

Dr. Bradley's chapel message is available for download and streaming in the media center.