One of the most difficult passages for ordinary readers of the Bible is the last pages of Exodus which focus on the building of the Tabernacle. Up until that point, the Bible has been mostly stories and while some of the laws given seem strange to modern ears, we can readily make adjustments as to how it applies to our lives. But of what import are lists of building materials? Or Priestly vestments? What does the building of the Tabernacle and the mode of worship in the desert have to teach us in our contemporary Western context?
J. V. Fesko, the academic dean and professor of Systematic and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary, has written a book which explores this portion of scripture, revealing how this wilderness tent and the practices associated with it pointed forward to the person and work of Christ. Each of the chapters focuses on an aspect of the Tabernacle (the building, utensils, significance of various elements) and brings it into conversation with key New Testament passages which draw out their significance:
The building materials for the Tabernacle (Ex. 25:1-9; 35:4-9) were given by the people as a voluntary offering. Fesko uses this talk both about the quality of our giving and the foundation we use to build our final temple on (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-16).
The significance of the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:10-22; 37:1-9) is seen in that it prefigures our final atonement (through Christ’s cross) and represents God’s presence with his people (points forward to the Incarnation).
The Table and the show bread (Exodus 25:23-30; 37:10-16)pointed to God’s provision for his people and can be connected with Christ’s miraculous feeding of the five thousand, the Lord’s Prayer (our daily bread) and the Lord’s supper.
The Lampstand and Oil (Exodus 25:31-40; 27:20-21; 37:17-14) and the perpetual light it gave, points forward to Jesus the light of the world and the church.
The Tabernacle (Exodus 26: 1-37; 36:8-38) was the visble sign of God’s presence with Israel and the New Testament connects God’s indwelling presence with the incarnation, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and God’s abiding presence with His people.
The Altar and the courtyard (Exodus 27:1-9; 38:1-7, 9-20) represents the place where sacrifices were made on behalf of Israel and point forward to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.
The Priests garments (Exodus 28:1-43; 39:1-31) were endued with symbolic significance and pointed forward to Christ, our high priest. Likewise the consecration of the priests (Exodus 29:1-46) also would point forward to Christ’s ultimate expiation of our sin.
The Census Tax (Exodus 30:11-16) reminded Israel of their redemption from Egypt. Fesko reminds us that when we take ‘a census’ of our own life, we should think of our unworthiness and Christ’s redemption of us.
The Bronze Basin (Exodus 30:17-21; 38:8) points forward to baptism and the cleansing work of the Holy Spirit.
Oholiab and Bezalel (Exodus 31:1-11) were craftsmen gifted by the Holy Spirit for the building of his tabernacle. Fesko uses their example to speak of the future outpouring of Spiritual gifts to the church for service of the church and world, and God’s continual indwelling presence.
Finally, Fesko ends his reflection on the temple with a chapter on Sabbath (Exodus: 31:12018) and he reflects on the way in which trusting in Jesus is our entry into the Sabbath rest of God.
Fesko uses the New Testament to shed light on the Old. He takes his cue from Augustine who once wrote, ‘what is hidden in the Old is revealed in the New, and what is revealed in the New is hidden in the Old (133).’ Fesko reads the section on the Tabernacle through a Christocentric theological grid. I appreciate this perspective and it made me think of the first time I read Hebrews after a fresh reading of the Pentateuch. All scripture is God breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When Paul wrote those words, the New Testament was not canonized yet and the Bible of the early church was the Old Testament. Thus we need to learn to wrestle with passages like the building of the tabernacle (or genealogies) when we encounter them in our Bibles.
Unfortunately there are no footnotes and there is no bibliography in the book. Many readers will not miss them, but I like to know where an author has gleaned some of their ideas and who they are conversant with it. Fesko is not the first (or the last) to traverse this ground, and I want to know who he’s read. But these chapters first had life as sermons which Fesko preached at Geneva Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Woodstock, Georgia) when Fesko was pastor there. So I am left guessing which commentators and scholars Fesko consulted in his pastor’s study. I think Fesko has a lot of valuable things to say and makes sound theological judgments; however he offers few clues for those who would desire to dig deeper into the topic.
But Fesko wrote this book for those who find the treatment of the Tabernacle in Exodus boring and inaccessible. I think he does a great job and makes some good suggestions for how lay Christians can use this portion of scripture to deepen their appreciation for all that God in Christ has done on our behalf. If the tabernacle has always mystified you, Fesko will show you how to appropriate these texts in ways that are worshipful and worthy of deeper reflection.
Thank you to Cross Focused Reviews and EP Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this review.
The cross is the Triune God’s way of addressing human sinfulness and reconciling the world to Godself. Yet theologians and popular preachers make certain inferences which undermine a robust doctrine of the Trinity. In Forsaken: The Trinity and the Cross, and Why it Matters, Thomas McCall (associate professor of biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) aims at answering some of the thorny questions people ask when they consider the cross and the Trinity. The title comes in reference to Christ’s cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and is the subject of the first chapter. McCall asks what can we and should we infer from this cry and how do we understand this in light of contemporary scholarship, patristic and historical theology and attention to the actual text.
I really like McCall’s approach of taking popular questions which we’ve all encountered (or asked!) and addressing them theologically. Although this may make this a somewhat lengthy post, let me walk you through each chapter before concluding with some general reflections on the book:
Chapter 1- “Was the Trinity Broken? -The Father, the Son and Their Cross- How are we to understand Christ’s cry of dereliciton? Does it mean total desperation and desertion of the Son by the Father? Was the Trinity completely ruptured? McCall points to contemporary theologians and biblical scholars which conclude that Christ was completely abandoned by the Father. But McCall reads these contemporary conclusions against traditional readings (Patristic and Medieval sources) and observes that traditionally, these words have been understood, not as a broken relationship within the Trinity, but as the ‘Father forsaking the Son to this death for us and for our salvation. McCall also invites readers to reread the passion narratives in light of the allusion to Psalm 22 (the cry of dereliction is a direct quote from Psalm 22:1) and a Christian understanding of the Trinity. He reviews the Social Trinity and Latin Models of the Trinity and concludes that for either model, the Father’s complete abandoment of the son is impossible (For the Latin model, if the Father abandons the son entirely, he also forsakes his own fatherliness and the unity of God is broken; for the Social trinitarians a broken relationship within the Trinity brings God into an ontological crisis (following Zizuoulas, God’s being is bound up with his ‘ being in communion’). He also argues that the biblical evidence does not warrant a complete break within the Trinity, and that we ought to read Christ’s cry with the stunning reversal in mind that is implied by it’s allusion to Psalm 22. Finally he concludes that we should avoid any position which says Jesus did not suffer and was not ‘really abandoned’ but also reject any approach which asserts God’s abandonment of the Son’s humanity during crucifixion. We should affirm that the Father did abandon the Son (to death on the cross) but that this no way implies a break in Jesus’ union with either humanity or in the Son’s relationship with God.
Chapter 2 Did the Death of Jesus Make it Possible for God to Love Me? “Righteous Wrath, Holy Love and the Heart of the Triune God” –McCall begins by observing that the God of scripture is revealed as a God of wrath, which is directed againt human sinfulness; however wrath is not presented in opposition to God’s love but both are affirmed in scripture. He reviews the ways contemporary theologians sometimes ignore , minimizing and depersonalizing God’s wrath, or place them in opposition to God’s love. Yet McCallseeks to place God’s love and wrath within the context of the doctrine of God. He argues that Divine impassibility does not imply that God does not love, but it does point to his eternal trustworthiness and solidity of divine love. He also points at the doctrine of Divine simplicity to frame the discussion of what we mean when we refer to divine attributes and the unity of God’s character. He concludes that God’s righteous wrath is a contingent expression of what is essential or necessary to him against sin, and a contigent expression of the holy love of the Trinity. Furthermore, God’s wrath is an expression of his holy impassible love. From this discussion, McCall concludes that we should avoid downplaying, depersonalizing, or anthropomorphizing God’s wrath, or any explanation which posits tension or ‘strife of attributes’ within God but we need to affirm that God’s wrath is real and personal and that it finds it source God’s holy love. McCall claims that this is important because if we ignore God’s wrath we ultimately trivialize his love and if we put God’s love in opposition to God’s wrath, we malign the character of the Trinity. Furthermore, by clarifying our thinking we see that the atonement ‘did not procure grace, but flowed from it.”
Chapter 3-Was the Death of Jesus a Meaningless Tragedy? “Foreknowledge, Fulfillment and the Plan of the Trinity– This chapter addresses the meaning of the cross. McCall first points to how it was foreknown by God and foretold in scripture (though he is careful to frame how this is different from determinism). He then discusses the nature of Christ’s work. He discusses the substitutionary dimension of the cross, but also how it achieves Christ’s victory (Christus Victor) and sets an example for us (Moral influence). He concludes by saying we should avoid understanding Christ’s death as just a tragic accident or meaningless tragedy, avoid saying God killed his Son, avoid determinism, and avoid pagan notions of substitutionary atonement or one-sided affirmations of Christus Victor or moral-influence themes. Instead, we should affirm that Christ’s death was according toGod’s plan, and that through it Christ makes satisfcation for our sin and guilt, wins us a decisive victory over the powers through his death and resurrection and shows us how to lead lives pleasing to God.
Chapter 4- Does It Make A Difference? “The Brokenness of Humanity and the Unbroken Work of the Trinity?” – In chapter 4, McCall ties together the themes of this book to discuss what it means to understand the cross as the work of the Trinity. He places the concept of Justification under the category of ‘primary justice,’ referencing a rightly ordered social whole, rather than ‘secondary justice’ (rendering judgment). This doesn’t alter the traditional view of justification, but it places it on a ‘broader soteriological canvas.” Thus forensic judgment (important as it is) describes God’s secondary justice, while primarily the cross is about ‘God bringing us home.’ McCall also moves beyond the doctrine of justification to discuss the process of sanctification as flowing out of our justification (and involving the Spirit’s work in our salvation). He concludes that we should avoid understanding our salvation, only in legal terms, and that we need to reflect on the relationship between justification and sanctification. We also need to affirm the proper order of salvation (we can’t sanctify ourselves into justification by the cross) and realize that justification entitles more than where you go when you die, but also how you live now.
Conclusion- “A Personal Theological Testimony” McCall closes with a moving tale of his father’s final day and how the Triune God’s work through the cross brings him hope.
As the above summary should indicate, McCall’s reflections are theologically rich and he draws from variety of sources (philosophical, historical and biblical theol0gy). I really appreciate the way he is able to affirm the substitutionary and forensic character of the atonement while avoiding the popular (and tritheistic) caricature of penal substitution which paints the father as the angry father and Jesus as the God of love. To my mind McCall is judicious in his conclusions and is able to demonstrate both biblical and theologically the ways in which the cross was the work of the entire trinity for our salvation.
There were a couple of places I wish he unpacked certain scriptures because I have heard them used as proof texts for alternative positions (i.e. He claims that the Bible never teaches that God killed Jesus, but I have heard preachers point to Isa. 53:4 as evidence that God did). But this is a short book (171 pages) and you can’t address everything. McCall really does a solid job untangling many of the issues surrounding the implications of the trinity and the cross.
I recieved a copy of this book from IVP Academic in exchange for this review. The views above are my own.