SBTS hosts first Alumni Academy course, Schreiner’s New Testament theology

Communications Staff — January 10, 2012

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary held its inaugural Alumni Academy course taught by scholar and author Thomas R. Schreiner, Jan. 4-6, 2012.

An event hosted by Southern Seminary’s alumni relations office, Alumni Academy offers ministry enhancement and ongoing theological learning to the institution’s alumni free of charge. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation and associate dean of Scripture and Interpretation at Southern, taught four sessions about New Testament theology.

In his first lecture, Schreiner surveyed the Old Testament storyline, giving an overview of its theology, themes and events. Appealing to biblical theologian Graeme Goldsworthy, Schreiner prefaced his presentation of the Bible’s unfolding narrative by telling an audience of pastors that “your people will learn biblical theology mainly from you.” The life of the church, he said, is where the truth of Scripture is primarily communicated.

Beginning with creation and fall and concluding with exile and the Prophets, Schreiner elucidated biblical themes, such as “sanctuary,” “sin,” “seed,” “covenant,” “blessing,” “curse,” “land” and “kingdom,” as the narrative unveils them across the Old Testament canon. This, in turn, gave rise to Schreiner’s discussion of the kingdom of God in his second lecture in which he dealt with “the-already-and-the-not-yet” dynamic of the kingdom of God presented in the New Testament.

“Already-not-yet” is a term that theologians use when discussing eschatology in the New Testament. It refers to the phenomenon in which the first coming of Jesus Christ — through his life, death and resurrection — inaugurated the realities of the age to come, these realities breaking into the present age while not yet coming to complete expression until his second coming.

Providing the background of the Jewish expectation for the coming kingdom during the centuries prior to Jesus’ coming, Schreiner surveyed the occurrences of kingdom throughout the synoptic Gospels and the nature of eternal life presented in John’s Gospel. The lecture also dealt with the already-not-yet theme in Paul’s writings, particularly the tension between his use of indicatives and imperatives.

On one hand, Paul declares what is true of believers with respect to the already, and on the other hand, Paul exhorts believers to pursue or await what will become true of them in the not-yet. As 1 Corinthians 5:7 states, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” In one sense, believers must actively work to purify themselves, but in another sense, they are already pure. Schreiner illuminated this dynamic by examining a number of passages related to primary themes in New Testament theology, such as “adoption,” “redemption,” “salvation,” “justification” and “sanctification.”

For the third lecture, Schreiner discussed the “New Perspective on Paul” controversy, tracing the movement’s development beginning with religion scholar E.P. Sanders’ initial objections to historic Christian thought concerning the apostle Paul’s understanding of first-century Judaism. Sanders, by arguing that the Judaism of the New Testament era was not legalistic in nature as assumed by Protestants since the time of Martin Luther, offered a new paradigm for understanding Jewish religion, that of covenantal nomism.

Rather than earning God’s favor by obedience, covenantal nomism suggests that Jews understood themselves to enter the covenant by grace but stay in it by keeping the works of the law. Thus, in understanding Paul’s doctrine of justification, Sanders and his adherents contend that justification has more to do with ecclesiology than soteriology, namely that Jewish Christians neglected to understand the inclusive nature of the gospel by maintaining boundary markers such as circumcision, Sabbath-keeping and dietary laws in order to prevent Gentiles from becoming part of the people of God. Schreiner pointed out that reading Paul this way seems foreign to his discussions of justification.

Following his assessment of Sanders, Schreiner offered responses to adherents of the New Perspective, such as James Dunn and N.T. Wright. He concluded the lecture by examining the New Testament authors’ understanding of legalism, the Mosaic law and good works. He gave considerable attention to the doctrine of justification in Paul’s letters, examining how Paul uses the word “righteousness” throughout Scripture.

In the final session, Schreiner discussed the topics of justification in the Book of James and the warning passages in the Book of Hebrews. In his lecture about James, Schreiner presented various positions regarding how a person should understand the relationship between Paul and James with respect to justification. Some non-evangelical scholars argue that the two authors contradict one another while others, such as confessional evangelicals and Roman Catholics, try to resolve the apparent tension.

Although Schreiner offers the same resolution regarding the faith-works relationship as most people in the Reformed-evangelical tradition, he differs with them about how to understand the word “justify” in James. The same Greek word that Paul uses, James uses “justify” in response to a different situation than that to which Paul responds, the former to antinomianism and the latter to legalism. So, in a real sense, according to James, Schreiner argues that a person is justified before God according to their works, his or her works evidencing a genuine, saving faith. However, works are not the basis of a person’s justification. Rather than the term “justify,” Schreiner explained, the difference between Paul and James is the kind of faith each author discusses. James criticizes a form of faith that consists only of intellectual assent, whereas Paul addresses authentic saving faith.

Finally, Schreiner offered his position concerning the nature and function of warning passages in Hebrews. Readers should understand each warning in relation with the others, because the book is a single sermon with one point, Schreiner suggested. As opposed to understanding warning passages according to more traditional Arminian and Calvinist schemes, Schreiner interprets the warnings as dealing with the legitimate consequences of eternal damnation should a believer commit apostasy. Yet, no true believer will finally fall away from the faith because the warnings serve as God’s means of preserving believers to the end. The warnings will always positively effect believers resulting in their final perseverance and salvation.

In addition to Schreiner’s lectures, Alumni Academy held a question-and-answer panel Thursday evening, Jan. 5, featuring Schreiner and Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Dan Dumas, senior vice president for institutional administration, moderated the panel. The panel answered questions related to elders, church government and discipline, preaching preparation, the local church’s mission and more.

The next scheduled Alumni Academy course is May 15-17, 2011. Bruce Ware, professor of Christian theology at Southern, will teach the class, “Beholding the Glory of Christ: ‘Eternal Word, Incarnate Son, Exalted Lord’.” The class will explore the person of Jesus Christ in a Trinitarian context, looking at him as the eternal Son of the Father who became incarnate and living in the power of the Spirit sought to fulfill the Father’s will.

Alumni Academy is free for Southern alumni, and for a nominal fee, attendees may bring members of their church staff with them. More information about Alumni Academy is available at events.sbts.edu

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