Today When You Hear His Voice

Scripture, the Covenants, and the People of God

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Gregory W. Lee
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , June
     2016.
     336 pages.
     $30.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780802873279.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

How does the Old Testament relate to the New Testament? What is the theological relationship between salvation history and scriptural interpretation? These questions are at the forefront of Today When You Hear His Voice. Author Gregory Lee’s main goal is to commend the Epistle to the Hebrews as a fruitful starting point for a theology of scripture. In order to draw out Hebrews’ unique contribution, Lee begins by reading Hebrews next to Augustine and Calvin.

For Augustine, Lee explains, the relationship between the Old and New Testament is determined by “a two-tier architecture of sign and referent” (18). The Old Testament signifies the New Testament while the New Testament replaces the Old as the fulfillment of the reality signified. The sign-referent framework extends beyond the Old/ New Testament relationship to the relationships between Israel and the church, and the literal and spiritual senses of scripture. First, Israel exists between the earthly city and the heavenly city, operating as a sign of the heavenly city in the midst of the earthly city. Second, the literal sense of scripture signifies the spiritual sense. The result of Augustine’s sign-referent framework is that he broadly construes the relationship between the Old and New Testaments as two covenants, the relationship between Israel and the church as two peoples, and the relationship between literal and spiritual interpretation as two levels of meaning. The underlying unity of each pair is a “unity of reference” whereby the first term refers to the second.

Alternatively, Calvin suggests a “unity of identity”, which—according to Lee—emphasizes one covenant, one people of God, and one sense of scripture. First, the covenant that God makes with Israel is the same covenant revealed in Jesus Christ. Israel and the church share the same hope and receive the same mercy. The difference is one of dispensations. The earlier dispensation takes the form of veiled promises, while the second takes the form of unveiled fulfillment. This means that, second, Israel and the church together comprise the one people of God who share one common hope of salvation. Third, the plain sense of scripture can account for multiple interpretations without the need of a second “spiritual” sense. The one sense of scripture, both in the Old and the New Testament, is that Jesus Christ is the God who redeems. This God was known to Israel before the incarnation such that, when the incarnation occurred, God’s people were able to recognize Jesus as redeemer.

Lee then turns to the Epistle to the Hebrews in order to consider these same questions in a new light. The central theme of Hebrews is the establishment of Christ as the great high priest. This draws out a series of contrasts between the temporal Levitical priesthood and Christ’s eternal priesthood, suggesting that Christ supplants the Levites. Christ’s priestly enthronement occurs with his ascension into heaven; therefore, prior to the ascension, the benefits of Christ are not experienced. For this reason, there is a clear distinction between an old covenant and a new one. Even so, the church does not replace Israel. For the author of Hebrews, the two clearly share one hope for eternal life and are, therefore, one people of God. In this way, Hebrews casts a vision that partially confirms, and partially refutes, both Augustine and Calvin. With Augustine, Hebrews affirms there are two covenants. With Calvin, it affirms there are one people. This happens as the unity between the testaments is construed as neither a unity of reference nor a unity of identity, but a “unity of transformation.”

According to Lee, Hebrews is an alternative construal of the relationship between the Old and New Testament. It reads the Old Testament in a manner that neither relies on allegory nor reduces it to a static literal sense. For the author of Hebrews, the psalmist’s words become the words of God as they are received anew. They both remain the word of God to his people then, while simultaneously becoming God’s word to his people today. Thus, Hebrews can account for a number of things: the fixity and flexibility of the word of God, God’s continuing faithfulness to Israel and Jesus’s high priestly mediation of salvation, and the validity of what the text “meant” in its original sense and what it “means” today as an authoritative word from God in a figural sense—which is in fact the true literal sense.

All of this has the effect of validating and limiting the historical-critical method. On the one hand, historical criticism inquires after what the original sense of the text was in its original context. This helps us to limit the range of possibilities for what the text can mean here and now, says Lee, because while God’s word is dynamic, it is never inconsistent. On the other hand, the historical-critical method is relieved of the burden to secure the foundations of scriptural authority by determining once and for all what a text means.

Hebrews further sheds light on the relationship between scripture and the tradition, in Lee’s estimation. That God speaks today means that the Holy Spirit’s work does not end with the inspiration of a written historical artifact. To the contrary, the work of the Holy Spirit continues to offer guidance to the church in its ongoing practice of hearing the word of God for the people of God. God speaks to the church today when the Spirit illuminates scripture such that God’s people recognize it as God’s voice. Tradition is the historical testimony of the Spirit’s continual presence to the church as the one who directs it to God’s Word. Thus, scripture and tradition are related as Word and Spirit: the latter illuminates but does not overtake the former.

Today When You Hear His Voice is a highly imaginative monograph that demonstrates an impressive competence across various disciplines. Lee holds his own with the Augustinians, interpreting Augustine alongside of some of the best contemporary scholarship. The same can be said for his treatments of Calvin and Hebrews. While Lee occasionally wades into intra-disciplinary minutia, he remains focused on his main goal: to propose a doctrine of scripture that can bridge the gaps between theology and biblical studies. The result is an interdisciplinary work that commends Hebrews as: (1) exemplary for reading the Old and New Testament alongside one another in a manner that balances historical-critical concerns with theological interpretation; and (2) suggestive for how scripture might relate to tradition in a manner that assuages historical Protestant concerns regarding tradition without compromising its fundamental commitment to sola scriptura. Scholars working in theological interpretation and historical theology will find Today When You Hear His Voice immediately contributes to ongoing conversations in the field, while specialists in Augustine, Calvin, and biblical studies will find portions of the work that are worthy of their consideration.

About the Reviewer(s): 

David B. Hunsicker, Jr. is a Ph.D. candidate in Systematic Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Date of Review: 
September 30, 2016
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Gregory W. Lee is assistant professor of theology at Wheaton College and senior fellow at the Wheaton Center for Early Christian Studies.

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