I think most who identify as Progressive Christians believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—which is how the Bible describes Him. But when they read the Bible, or at least when they hear other people talk about the Bible, they determine that the Old Testament shows God as different from the New Testament. Consequently, only one testament or the other can reveal the true nature of God.
Of course the mistakes in that line of thinking are many, starting with the idea that the Old and New Testaments differ in their revelation of God. Both show Him to be sovereign, loving, just, righteous, holy, omnipotent, merciful, omniscient, gracious, forgiving, patient, and on and on. The Progressives have this snapshot of God as WRATH in the Old Testament and Jesus as LOVE in the New. It’s a false dichotomy, and a sincere look at what Jesus taught and what the prophets and the psalms reveal, should make that clear.
What can we say about the differences in the Old and New Testaments? Is one accurate and the other false? Categorically, NOT. Both are accurate and both are true.
It would be helpful to remember what “testament” means. In theological terms, it means “agreement,” specifically God’s agreement with His people. So, while God does not change, His agreement with His people does.
Until Jesus came, the agreements or covenants God established were most often (but not always) conditioned upon humankind’s response: if they did certain things, God would bless them, but if they did certain other things, they put themselves under God’s curse.
Adam and Eve essentially had such an agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would live, and if they disobeyed, they would die. Abraham had a covenant with God, and so did Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon. In truth the Abrahamic covenant was with his descendants, too; the Mosaic covenant was on behalf of the people of Israel; and God’s agreement with David was with those in his lineage, culminating in Jesus.
And Jesus initiated a new covenant, a new agreement.
And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:27-28)
Paul referenced the new covenant on more than one occasion. He wrote of it to the church in Corinth, for example:
Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:4-6a)
The writer of the book of Hebrews went to some length to explain the new covenant and how it differed from the old:
But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,
“BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD,
WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT
WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH;
NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS
ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND
TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT;
FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT,
AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD.
“FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL
AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:
I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS,
AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS.
AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD,
AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” (8:6-10; see also chapters 9 and 10)
I don’t want to get sidetracked with a long explanation about the old and new covenants, but it’s important, I think, to understand that God is exactly the same in His character from everlasting to everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that He treats every person the same way or that He deals with every people group the same way.
I think in this age of “tolerance” we’re looking for uniformity. Nothing is “fair” unless we all have the exact same hand dealt to us. Then, and only then do we think it’s fair because it’s now up to us to do with that hand whatever we can.
Such a silly notion. If that were the accurate view of justice, then none of us could be smarter than any one else. We couldn’t be more athletic or better singers or taller or ambidextrous or more mechanical or . . . well, anything that could be perceived as an advantage. We have to have that same hand to play as the next guy.
In contrast to that silliness, God seems to delight in working with people that have a disadvantage. David was the youngest in his family, Abraham didn’t have any sons, Ruth was a widow, Joseph was a slave. The whole nation of Israel, in fact, God said was not His pick because they were more numerous or stronger or more righteous than the other nations. In fact, He said the opposite was true.
He used the small and weak in order that we could all see Him at work. It’s hard to take the credit for a victory when we’re outnumbered, when the other army has more advanced weapons, and when they have the tactical advantage. In those circumstances, when God brings the victory, we can only say, Praise God!
No matter what, though, God’s point and purpose is to make Himself known. He says it over and over again. He wanted Israel to display His glory to the nations. He wants His Church to make disciples of the nations. Always God has done what He’s done that we might know Him, even when what He did was to kick His children out of the garden He’d made to be their home, or exile them from the Promised Land, or give His Son as a sacrifice that all who believe might be reconciled with Him.
Our ways aren’t God’s ways, so we don’t always recognize what He’s doing, especially if we expect Him to treat everyone the same, or worse, if we expect Him to act the way we would act.
But no mistake. The Progressives have it right: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we need to believe what He’s told us about Himself and stop looking for Him to behave the way we think He should. After all, He is God, not an idol we can move from place to place or dress up in purple if it suits us.
He is the sovereign, and He tells us what is righteous. How dare we shake our fists at Him or tell Him He was wrong to judge people whose heart He knew intimately. Who are we in comparison to who is He?
I’m not perfect in love or goodness. I don’t know all truth. I’m certainly not sovereign or all powerful. And if it comes right down to it, I am most certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever. I’m more like a vapor that appears for a little while and them vanishes away.
Not God. He’s as sure as His word, and His word abides forever!