As one who spends a great deal of time with students who are being shaped to lead the people of God in ministry, I can tell you that much of the attention in the literature is given to the pragmatic tasks of ministry. Most of these books are not needed.

It’s not to say that students don’t need informative accounts of the practice of ministry—far from it! But they are inundated on a regular basis not only with voices promising them better and more apt ways of “loving on people.” All of the attention on the tricks of the trade becomes dull background noise, noise which obscures a more fundamental and far more boring question: who are the people of God?

It is this question which is hard to answer, and even harder to actualize as a ministry practice, but one which precedes all other questions of praxis. From Adam and Israel to the Church by Benjamin Gladd inaugurates a new series with IVP Academic, The Essential Studies in Biblical Theology. Offering a canonical account of God’s people, Gladd’s book traces the organic development of God’s people through both testaments by using the three-fold office of prophet, priest, and king to organize the story. This is not only to fend off the Marcionite temptation of cutting off the Old Testament as somehow “not the people of God,” but to put aside a dispensationalist reading of God’s activity which divides history in a series of distinct and non-overlapping covenants.

For non-Jewish Christians, this continues to be one of the most vexing questions: how do we relate to what has happened before? How is the story of God’s people—the Jews—include all of us Gentiles as well? As Gladd argues, it is because there has only ever been one covenant, a covenant which spans time and catches up all humanity in its folds. Describing this people is the task of Gladd’s book.

Creation exists to image God, which means that there is an interrelationship between the cosmos and the people in it. Designed to be priests within the temple of God, humans were created to live within the temple of Eden and to extend that place of God’s presence to the whole of creation. It is here that we see the first humans embodying a vocation which will recur throughout the canon: that of prophet, priest, and king. The humans—as emissaries of God in this tri-fold vocation—are to take the goodness of Eden (the holy of holies) and the garden (the holy place) into the outer world (the outer courts). In this way, the whole of creation will be sanctified with God’s presence as humans live out their vocation to be the images of God in the world.

The Fall both distorts this story, and typologically points toward its resolution. If the vocation of God’s humans is to bring the holy into the place of the unclean, then sin is the reversal of this vocation: the exchanging of the holy for the unclean in manifold ways. Here, the anti-image of God’s people emerges, as the serpent as the one who trusts his own judgments (king), vision of the Law (priest), and ability to speak for God (prophet) over against God’s.

Israel, both in its history and in the promises of its restoration, are likewise described in this tri-fold motif: they fail repeatedly in their calling to be prophets, priests, and kings, and it is to this vocation they are promised to be restored. With the introduction of Jesus, we find not only the culmination and restoration of humanity in this way, but the expansion and augmentation of this motif as well. In his person, Jesus embodies the true and faithful Israel, but in doing so, also inaugurates a new vision of what these offices of king, prophet, and priest entail.

It is here that the needle which the book proposes to thread by way of the prophet-priest-king motif is most important, but encounters its biggest problem. To be sure, Jesus—the firstborn of creation, the one who is both God and human, the one who both commands and fulfills the command—is the one who is capable of fulfilling the human vocation.

But the question now becomes: Now that the fulfillment of the Law has come in Jesus, is it possible to say that there is continuity between the testaments? Or must we say that the two testaments do not relate to each other but rather that each only relate to Jesus? These are two very different claims: the first emphasizes common faith and practice between Israel and the multi-form and multi-cultural church, and the second emphasizes that both are in Christ, though at times very different in form from each other.

Gladd, in wanting to put aside dispensationalism, has emphasized the unity of all humanity in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, but now in Christ, we find that Christ’s enactment of that unity does more than simply carry forth the Old Testament vision of God’s people unaltered; Jesus opens space for Gentiles to be the people of God such that there is now, as Gladd puts it, a formally perfected image of Christ passed on to the disciples, and then to Israel and then to the nations (120). It is this perfected image as an image which allows for Gentiles and Jews to both lay claim to Christ’s perfection without having to be contiguous with one another.

The remainder of the book carries out the vocation of being the people of God in the New Testament, again following the pattern of kings, priests, and prophets. The descriptions in these chapters take great pains to show the Old Testament echoes, that what is envisioned by the apostles is nothing radically dissimilar to Israel, for if this unity is compromised, then the conceit of the book is undone.

But this emphasis—the unity of vision between Israel and the church—is different than saying that these two bodies are united in Christ. To be sure, to be in Christ is to be united with Christ’s body, but the degree to which this involves uniform practice with other aspects of Christ’s body is contested.

The unity posited here is underscored by the way that Gladd tells the story of the relation between the testaments, which culminates one testament and begins the next: Christ, the hinge, creates the continuity which plays itself out in terms of a singular common vocation to be the kings, priests, and prophets of God. But in no place is the ongoing role of the Holy Spirit described by Gladd as the way in which this continuity occurs. Christ is appropriately described as the form of the church, but in a way which simply assumes that the work of the Holy Spirit is one of uniformity in time.

But with Pentecost, unity in the person of Christ now cannot mean uniformity of practice except in the formal carrying forth of the categories of king, priest, and prophet. If anything, this unity of testaments now must bear within it the dissention and non-uniformity with other members of the body, lest the work of the Spirit in bringing together the wild vines of Gentiles into the tree of Israel be for nothing.

It is not so much that the categories of king, prophet, and priest—carried forth across the Scriptures—are inadequate vehicles by which to describe the unity of the people of God. It is that Gladd, in emphasizing their unity, overplays what that unity, both theologically and Scripturally, must consist of in neglecting the Spirit as an essential dimension of his narrative.

By jumping straight from Jesus (ch. 5-7) to the church (ch. 8-11), Gladd assumes the presence of Christ via the Spirit in the body of the church, but assumes the presence of the Spirit as one of straightforward repetition of the modality, vocational vision, and narrative restraints of what was seen in Israel. Had the Holy Spirit received an intervening chapter between Christ and the church, this singularity of vision would be more textured and cohesive. But as it stands, the impression is given that what Israel was is what the church must be, for what Christ is is just what Israel was, without remainder.

As a teaching vehicle, Gladd’s book should find a good audience, but not without the supplement described above. For without acknowledgment of the Spirit’s work, one is left with the impression that perhaps it was too much for the Gentiles to ask that they not simply be repetitively Jewish in their practice, or that what is needed for the church to be church is simply to repeat the actions of Jesus. To be in the body of Christ is to be joined to Christ ever only by the work of the Spirit, who joins the members of the body of Christ to the head together, without asking that their vocation to be kings be identical with one another, or identical in form with Israel.

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Posted by Myles Werntz

Myles Werntz is Associate Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology, and the T.B. Maston Professor of Christian Ethics at Logsdon Seminary, Hardin-Simmons University, in Abilene, TX. He is married to Sarah, and the dad to Eliot and Arthur. He is the author of Bodies of Peace: Nonviolence, Ecclesiology, and Witness (Fortress, 2014), and the editor of four other books in theology and ethics. He is also at work on an a monograph on 20th century ecclesiology, as well as a co-authored introduction to Christian nonviolence, both for Baker Academic.